Sermon: Discerning the Body

Paul tells the Corinthians that if they are confident in their spirituality, it is OK to go ahead and eat with nonbelievers. It would be better to share in a meal rather than shun another person. Paul consistently tells the Corinthians it is more important to think of others, rather than think of what others may think of them. And we should treat others with dignity and respect out of love for them, and not so we will be recognized as good people.

As we discern our next steps as a church in regards to how we welcome and show love towards our LGBTQ friends and family, we should remember this advice from Paul. We need to reach out to those who need us, but ensure that we are serving them out of a place of love rather than self-righteousness.

Sermon: Discerning the Body

“Discerning the Body”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
1 Corinthians 10:23-33
March 31, 2019 • Fourth Sunday of Lent

Sermon: Running to Win

“The needs of the world are so great, that the only way to serve and love in the pattern of Jesus is that we require ourselves the same discipline that Jesus had … Before we rush to ensure that we are saving our own time, maybe we should pause for a moment and let God waste it for the sake of the Gospel.”

Sermon: Running to Win

“Running to Win”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
1 Corinthians 9: 19-27
March 24, 2019 • Third Sunday of Lent

Sermon: The Folly of the Cross

Church means many things to different people. But Paul keeps returning the focus of the church to the cross.

But the cross is often used by people use for their own personal gain. Paul warns about this. The cross is not something that can be humanized. It’s a gift from God that allows us to see the world beyond a human perspective.

In the midst of our path in the world, God has placed the stumbling block of the cross. When we encounter it, we might have to do something others deem foolish, but is right in the eyes of God.

Sermon: The Folly of the Cross

“The Folly of the Cross”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Feb. 3, 2019

Listen to The Word in Song: “What the Lord Has Done In Me

Sermon: Plundering the Pagans

When Paul went to Athens to spread the word of God to the Greeks, he did so in a different than previous disciples preached.

Paul met the ancient Greeks where they were in their beliefs — even debating in Areopagus, the same place where ancient Greek thinkers like Aristotle philosophized. He didn’t downright shun their vision of God, but rather works Jesus within their culture, respecting their previously held beliefs.

As the Greeks had their many gods, we are surrounded by “gods” of our own: technology, popular culture, consumerism. Rather than shun our pop culture, we should try to find God within our pop culture. But that will require us to take a break and step into silence, eliminating technology and our anxieties, eventually connecting us with God to understand how God is fitting within our society.

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“Plundering the Pagans”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Acts 17: 16-34
August 6, 2017

Sermon: In defeating death, Jesus became the ultimate authority

Christianity is no fun if there’s no resurrection. The resurrection of the body of Jesus Christ is at the root of God’s authority over every other authority.

Powerful people — from kings to emperors, to dictators to Presidents — have consistently used death as a tool of power. It’s the final enforcement for rulers — if you disagree with them or cross them, you are met with death. The fact that Jesus conquered human death renders the powerful powerless. The resurrection of Jesus is an interruption in the power that allows us to transform the world for God’s intention.

Christian hope is not blind optimism. It’s a deep trust that the intentions of God will not be overcome.

“From First Fruits to Last Battle”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
1 Corinthians 15:12-26
May 14, 2017

Sermon: Your financial gift to the church is a ‘test of genuineness’ …

istock_000003781492mediumPaul launched the first Christian stewardship campaign. Writing to the Corinthians — a mostly well-off population that prided themselves on being educated and doing good work — Paul warns them that their tithes to church pale in comparison to the Macedonians, a population not nearly as wealthy. Paul said our financial gifts are a test of our genuineness.

Paul’s words are very relevant today. Giving — as a proportion of income — begins to drop off the wealthier one becomes. It’s the poorer, less educated “red states” that give more proportionally than the richer, more educated “blue states.” Meanwhile, it’s the wealthy, well-read liberal “elites” that are often at the forefront of calls for social change. But are we putting our money to the cause?

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The Word in Song: “Take My Life and Let it Be”

“The Privilege of Sharing”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
2 Corinthians 8:1-15
Nov. 20, 2016

Sermon: Life is what happens when we’re making other plans

“Life is what happens when we’re making other plans”
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
John 12:20-26, Corinthians 4:7-11, 16-18
March 8, 2015

Choir Anthem: “I Choose You”

Sermon Audio

Not many of us like change. It means adjusting to something different, and adjusting is not something we do easily. It is so much easier to keep things as they are. We rely on routines and predictability in our lives for a sense of stability and safety. We seek equilibrium. Sr. Joan Chittister says “we want to sink into the marshmallow of life and enjoy what we have gained.”[i]

Even good change is difficult. Becoming debt-free, or getting in shape, or staring a new job, or moving to a new place, these are all good changes to make, and to make them, takes a lot of determination and effort. But at least these are changes that we want to make; we are ready for them even if they may take time and effort on our part, and even if they are temporarily uncomfortable or stressful. There’s a greater good that we’re working toward and believe we can achieve.

But what about those changes that we don’t chose to make, the ones that come in to our lives uninvited? It’s one thing to decide to find a new job; it’s another thing to find out your current job is being eliminated.   It’s one thing to decide to get into better shape, it’s another thing to find out that your body is doing things you didn’t realize, and exercise alone won’t cure it. I read yesterday about a young man who began to put on a lot of weight. He chose to begin an exercise and diet plan, but it didn’t seem to do much good. He continued to gain weight. He was finally diagnosed with a pituitary tumor that had been quietly growing at the base of his brain and causing all the trouble and required unexpected surgery to cure him.

In life there are changes we would never choose, but if we live long enough, they are a part of life and will come to us uninvited ,unexpected, and unwelcomed. If we made a list of them, all of the items would probably have certain things in common – shock, loss, and interruption. This kind of significant change does more than create a little temporary anxiety or stress, it can make us feel powerless, helpless , overwhelmed, and afraid. In these situations, our natural inclination is to be in denial, to hold off the future, to run away, to escape, to avoid the pain because frankly, loss feels like death, and who wants to die? But because many of the losses we experience in life are inevitable and unavoidable, trying to forestall the future is futile and trying to hang on to the present forever is impossible.

We know that the only constant in our lives is change. Change is present at every stage and phase of our lives, and it is necessary for the sake of carrying us on to the next phase of life. We experience biological and social change; internal and external change. Some of it we control, but much of it is beyond our control. How we respond to it then, is all important.

In our gospel reading today Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth, and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Somehow for Jesus, change and loss are not defeat, but gain; not the end; but somehow a new beginning.

One of the real blessings for me as a pastor having served this church for almost 14 years, is the opportunity to have watched the truth of Jesus’s words lived out in individual lives within this congregation. There are all kinds of stories of unwanted change and loss in this room this morning – and all kinds of struggles in the aftermath, and most miraculously and most beautiful, all kinds of new life that has pushed its way from the earth and into the sunlight. Each of us has a story to tell.

For me, unwanted change came in the deaths of two people closest to me. it was the loss of my mother when I was 35 years old that brought me back to church after many years away; and it was the death of my husband 13 years later that brought me first to seminary and then here.   Both events forced me to think differently about who God is and who I am and what God is calling me to be and to do. In the process, and it is a process because it doesn’t happen overnight, I have come to understand that although they are both physically absent from this life, their lives continue to bear much fruit. And I have come to trust that there was nothing in life or in death that they or any of us has to face that Jesus himself did not experience, and that he walks with us each step of the way.

In both events my life was changed through circumstances I could not control, in significant ways, and I found myself on an unwanted, unexpected path, pushed in a new and different direction, one that has given me despite my grief and loss, a good and a blessed life; and no one has been more surprised than I have been. Paul’s words, Mikell read earlier express it best; In the Message it reads this way: “So we’re not giving up. How could we. Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without God’s unfolding grace. . . .There is far more here than meets the eye.”

I know that for some people that old saw about a door closing and another door opening is a whole lot of hooey! Too trite, too clichéd, too easy, too pat. But nevertheless, for me it proved true. Not that the second door opens immediately after the first door closes. No, there can be a good bit of time standing in the hallway looking for a door, or going from door to door and finding each one locked. Endurance plays a large part. But Paul says elsewhere that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint. And sure enough, it takes a while to imagine, first that anything can come next, and second to imagine what will come next. But we can do more than simply endure. We can rediscover hope, and with hope we can begin anew.

My story is not so unusual – there are many who have experienced new life through the unexpected loss of the old. But even in the most unexpected and most unlikely circumstances, miracles can occur. Earlier this week, I shared some thoughts with you in a Lenten devotional and also in a newspaper article about Kelly Gissendaner. Even though 18 year ago she was found guilty of murder, to which she has confessed, even though she was sentenced to death, she has not died prematurely, but instead, surrounded by death, she has found new life, and she is a new person in Christ. She is not the person she used to be. As the prison doors closed behind her, the door of faith opened wide for her.

Even though we say we believe in redemption, it is still is hard, isn’t it, to imagine such a transformation. And yet it has happened. She has opened her heart in that most despairing of places – death row – to the grace of new possibilities. Through the grace of God, she has been given the opportunity to touch lives for the better even as she has felt hers drawing to a close. And now, who knows. The death penalty is now suspended for the time being. But each day that she has, she is living as fully as she possibly can.

The word for us today, is that change, change we will never be ready for, change that disrupts the very center of our lives, is not the end. There is a gift hidden within it if we have the faith and the endurance to persevere and look for it. It is the gift of beginning again. The gift of growth. The gift of bearing more fruit, different fruit from what we’d ever imagined.   We may be as Paul was, afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, but also like him, through the grace of God present with us, we are not crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, or destroyed.

The challenges for each of us are “what are we able to endure? How long will we persist? How much are we willing to learn in order to begin again?   We have a choice even in change that we did not choose – we have the choice to try to hang on to our present life and inevitably lose it, or to let it go, and somehow keep the life that truly is life for eternity. We have the choice to die spiritually, or to begin again, to be open to possibility, to see God, as Sister Joan says, not only as a caring father, but as a “birthing mother, who brings new life with the rising of every sun and the descent of every inner darkness.” And she says, we have the choice “to grow spiritually in the image of our mother God . . . to be open to newness, to expect surprise, to understand pain, to soothe hurt, to nurture difference rather than to deny it. . . . to [welcome] tomorrow . . . rather than to attempt to cement today into eternity. . . . until, at the end, we find ourselves full-statured and full of grace.”[ii] May it be so for you and for me as well. Amen.

[i] Joan D. Chittister, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, 2003, 20.

[ii] Chittister.

Sermon: All Things to All People

All Things to All People
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
Feb. 8, 2015

Choir Anthem

Sermon

Jodie read earlier what has always been for me one of the most confusing sentences in scripture. Paul writes, with his usual confidence, “I have become all things to all people.” And in my experience I have never heard that statement used in a complimentary way. It has always reminded me of people who have no standards, who are chameleons, will-o-the-wisps, wishy-washy, pulled by one force or another, possessing no real identity or independence, willing to twist themselves into a pretzel if that is what is required.

This assertion has made me uncomfortable because, honestly, I’ve been there and done that. I’ve been a pretzel person – tried to be all things to all people — and it wasn’t a good time in my life. Maybe you’ve experienced that feeling of being pulled in every direction, trying to please everyone and feeling like a failure when you couldn’t. And because of over commitments to family, friends, work, school, church, and community there was very little time for you – whoever that might be, if indeed you even remembered yourself anymore. It’s so easy to get lost in the multitude of duties and responsibilities that come with feeling obligated to do everything you can to meet the expectations all of the people in your life who want or need something from you. Being all things to all people is a huge burden. It can cause resentment, alienation, and burn-out.

I think maybe Jesus was feeling a bit of that at the end of what must have been an overwhelmingly busy day. The day had started with a visit to the synagogue where he preached with what onlookers described as great “authority,” and everyone was amazed by him. Additionally, as he preached he exorcised a demon in a man who confronted him while he was preaching. And this healing also astonished the gathered crowd.

Then, after these rather startling and dramatic events, Simon and Andrew invited Jesus home for dinner. Perhaps they were all looking forward to a good meal, relaxation, and conversation together around the table about what all had happened in the synagogue. But when they got there, Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever, so instead of sitting down to dinner, Jesus went to her room, “took her by the hand and lifted her up,” and healed her of her illness.

Maybe he hoped that later that evening there would be time for relaxed conversation and for focusing on and some planning for the days ahead. But instead, people started drifting towards the house. Word gets around fast in a small town and what happened at the synagogue had apparently become the news of the day. People were coming with their sick and disturbed family members in hopes that Jesus could do for them what he’d done for the man in the synagogue or for Simon’s mother-in-law. Who knows how long that went on. Mark says the whole town was gathered around the door – probably a great exaggeration, but bottom line – lots of people wanted Jesus to do lots of things for them. “He cured many,” Mark says, and he “cast out many demons.”

Jesus must have fallen into bed that night exhausted, maybe wondering what he’d gotten himself into. But in the morning he got up early, before the others – sometimes getting up before everyone else is the only time of the day when you can be guaranteed of some alone time, some peace and quiet. Those of you with small children know that’s true! And he went outside – Mark says to a deserted place, an empty place – a place without people in it – a grove of trees, a garden, a place of solitude. And there he prayed – but probably not the way we might think of prayer – not a lot of words, not a lot of requests, but simply a quiet communion with God, being silent and being present.

But his quiet time was quickly interrupted by his disciples, whom Mark describes as “hunting” for him. It’s not a good feeling to be hunted. “Everyone is searching for you,” they say. Everyone with an ailment who hadn’t gotten to him the night before is looking for him now – needy, demanding, insistent. Everybody wants a piece of Jesus. And he has to make a decision – what should he do now; where does he go from here. Does he go back to people who want him for what he can do for them, not for who he is; or does he go forward to share the good news with others that the Kingdom of God has drawn near. Is he going to be a people pleaser or is he going to be what God has called him to be.

Fortunately for all of us, Jesus remembered who he was. He remembered the voice he’d heard as he rose from the waters of baptism saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Even as the crowds wanted Jesus to be who they wanted him to be, he remembered who he was and what he was supposed to do. If he’d submitted to the need to please the crowds that were hunting for him, he would have become what the crowd wanted him to be – a magician, a wonder-worker, a faith-healer—not who God wanted him to be, the proclaimer of God’s good news.

So he says, “Let’s go on to the neighboring towns so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Jesus’s decision illustrates what Paul was getting at when he said he was being all things to all people, and it obviously does not mean sacrificing your identity or losing your life’s purpose in order to be present to others. Paul explains what his confusing “all things to all people” statement means when he adds, “For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.” The key word is “free.” If one is free, then one can choose. And so Paul chooses how he will interact with people in various circumstances without feeling burdened and without losing himself in the process. And his interaction is not motivated by his desire to please them, but by his love for God.

And it is the same for Jesus as he chooses freely to move to the next town, rather than stay in one place. It doesn’t mean that he would never heal another person. In fact, next week, we will read in the gospel lesson about a leper who says to Jesus, “If you choose, you can make me clean,” and Jesus responds, “I do choose. Be made clean.” It was his free choice just as it was his free choice to leave Capernaum and all the good people who wanted to keep him all for themselves.

Jesus remained throughout his life a free man, free to choose. And he showed by his choices that for him true freedom did not lie in insisting on his own way, or in controlling all the events of his life to secure success; nor did it consist of doing special things for special people, feeling pressured or coerced, in order to gain approval and acceptance. For him true freedom was to choose to give his life in service to others, literally to lay down his life for others. His actions were the ultimate expression of the freedom Paul described in another of his letters, his letter to the Galatians, when he wrote, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:12-14)

Perhaps we can understand a little better now what it means to be all things to all people. It has exciting possibilities and promise. It doesn’t mean being a people pleaser or a doormat. It doesn’t mean being anxiously reactive to every request or demand that is made on us. It doesn’t mean being held captive by the wishes and desires of another. It doesn’t mean being a bottomless reservoir for everyone else to draw on. It doesn’t mean losing our identities. It means being so sure of who we are in Christ that we can choose freely to respond with love; to step out of our comfort zones, to meet people where they are and accept them as they are. It means sharing the love of God that we have found with others, confident that there is enough love to go around. It means we all equally and together are called to participate in God’s work so that the Kingdom may draw near.  It means we are all fellow travelers along the pathway of faith together; so sometimes I help you; sometimes you help me, and we all draw strength from a reservoir that will never run dry.

If there’s one thing we have learned from this first chapter of Mark’s gospel, it is that Jesus has a plan and he is on the move, and he calls us to join him, to follow him and not to hold him back. We can’t hunt him down and demand that he stay with us and do as we say. And although it may sound nice to say we’ve taken Jesus into our hearts, we don’t take Jesus anywhere; he takes us. In John’s gospel, the risen Jesus warns Mary Magdalene, “do not hold on to me.” And Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “The only thing we cannot do is hold on to him. He has asked us please not to do that because he knows that all in all we would rather keep him with us where we are than let him take us where he is going. Better we should let him hold on to us,” and take us to the next town, and the next, and finally into the presence of God “who is not behind us, but ahead of us every step of the way.” Thanks be to God. Amen.