A Light of Hope

A Light of Hope

Have you ever seen an eternal flame?

They are often a beautiful memorial signifying an event and are meant to cause the person seeing the flame to reflect upon what took place. There are several examples of eternal flames throughout the world. One of the most famous sits adjacent to the tomb of President John F. Kennedy as a way to symbolize his vision for the nation. Among the most powerful exists at the Holocaust museum in Washington and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Both call the person viewing the flame to remember the atrocity of the Holocaust and how we are called to be a light of God’s love so that it never happens again.

These flames – natural gas that is lit to produce fire – are to remain lit, so that these memories, and their values, become a constant reminder of hope in the midst of darkness. It is to never be extinguished, so that the light continually shines for all to see in such a way that it calls the person to remember and reflect. Continue reading “A Light of Hope”

Peacemaking in Difficult Times

Peacemaking in Difficult Times

As Jesus was starting out in his earthly ministry, there was a deep spark and excitement that surrounded what he was doing. He healed the sick. He taught in a way that inspired. Up and down the coast of Galilee, Jesus was making a difference in such a way that people were wondering what was going on. They wanted to be a part of something that inspired and seemed different.

At the same time, though, they were wondering what this Jesus was all about. Why should they follow Jesus with more than just their words and affirmation? What will Jesus ask of them if they were to follow him?

Maybe those are questions we are asking of ourselves this morning. In fact, I hope they are questions we are asking. Never should we assume we have it all figured out. Never should we be afraid of asking hard and difficult questions in the church about what it means to follow Christ in this time and in this place. When we gather in worship, we come together as members of the body of Christ to discern where God is leading us and what it means to be faithful in the world. Because when the worship service ends on Sunday morning, the worship of God continues as we seek to be the hands and feet of Christ in our mission field of Huntington, Cabell County, the Tristate area, West Virginia, and around the world. To do so means for us to take seriously conversations about how our faith interacts with the world. Continue reading “Peacemaking in Difficult Times”

What is Worship?

What is Worship?

One of the most important and misunderstood parts of faith is worship, especially worship as it pertains to a community gathering. It is at the core of who we are as a faith community and, yet, it can be the source of the most complaints and frustrations within a community. Why? Because it is the largest gathering of a faith community each week and, also, the only time some people will step into a door.

Worship is the act of giving praise to God. It is at the heart of everything we do as followers of Christ, but it has its most powerful connotation as the body of Christ comes together to praise God. When we gather as a community for worship, we are joining the entire global body of faith, and those who have gone before us, to express our joy in Christ and to reflect upon where God is leading us as individuals and a community.

That is a very basic definition of worship. Many of us recognize this definition, but we will come to worship with our own expectations. We come to hear from God, but at the same time feel the need to be entertained or affirmed in our basic ideas of how the world should work. So, what is worship and, as well, what is not worship? Continue reading “What is Worship?”

Following Jesus

Following Jesus

Jesus was about to get started.

He was about to get started on a world-shattering mission and ministry that would call people to see the working of God’s grace in the midst of life. A life that was personified in Christ who, as the Son of God, came to show people the way to the Father’s eternal love and how to live that love out in their lives.

We pick up with Jesus as he has moved into a new neighborhood. He has returned from being near Jericho and the Jordan River to start out on this mission. Jesus does not return to Nazareth, which has been his home since he was a young child after his family moved to Egypt to get away from Herod’s and his attempts on their life. He is setting up his ministry base in a city called Capernaum.

At the time, Capernaum was one of several villages that lined the shores of the Sea of Galilee – which is, actually, more like a large lake – and were prominent with the fishing industry. It was also a community that was financially poor and was a contrast, in many ways, to the Galilean financial base in Tiberias. Even today, Tiberias is full of hotels, shopping malls, and a unique McDonald’s, whereas Capernaum is a quiet area reserved for pilgrims to visit and reflect upon the life of Christ.

For Jesus, though, this was home and it was the launching point. Matthew 4:18-22 picks up on Jesus’ initial ministry and calling of his initial disciples. Matthew’s narrative doesn’t include some of the tidbits we pick up from Luke or John. Luke describes this moment coming after a miraculous catch of fish. John says the early disciples came to Jesus, as we looked at last week, after John the Baptist pointed them to Jesus and said, “that’s the one.” Matthew’s account is intriguing for what it doesn’t include and for what it does show. It doesn’t include any previous relationship or conversation, but comes right after Jesus has called people to see the kingdom of God at work in their midst.

Jesus, in Matthew’s account, starts out after preaching the initial message to call people into this new life. This was the ethic and practice of rabbis, like Jesus, in those days. Rabbis would invite people to be guided by their teaching, so they could grow, serve, and learn what it means to follow God in all aspects of life. Continue reading “Following Jesus”

Sermon: Come and See

Sermon: Come and See

Let me ask you a question: How did you get here this morning?

Maybe you arrived like I did and walked from your home to the sanctuary. Maybe you drove by yourself or with a family member. Maybe you got a ride from someone as they were coming to worship. Maybe, just maybe, you rode the bus to get here.

When we hear that question posed to us, our minds immediately turn towards responding with a mode of transportation and some curiosity as to why I might ask.

So, let me ask that question to you again: How did you get here this morning?

I’m not thinking about modes of transportation of feet, cars, or buses. I’m thinking about what motivated us to get out of bed, get dressed on a Sunday morning, and be part of a worshiping community. How did you get here to this place, in this moment, and with this desire to hear what God is saying into our lives?

Maybe, then, we should ask a different question. Why are you here? Presumably at some point in your life someone introduced you to the idea of a loving God who desired to be in deep relationship and connection with us. Maybe it was a family member – a parent, a sibling, a grandparent – who sewed the seed of that connection in our lives. Maybe it was a pastor or Sunday School teacher. Maybe it was someone you barely knew, but who reached out to you to share God’s love with you. Continue reading “Sermon: Come and See”

Sermon: You are Beloved

Sermon: You are Beloved

A lot has happened since we last gathered for worship. There has been nonstop breaking news from Iran to Buckingham Palace. My beloved 49ers hosted, and won, their first playoff game in their new stadium. And, we’ve went through 30 years of Biblical history.

That last part is an interesting detail about how each of the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ life are put together. Two of the gospels – Matthew and Luke – give some details about Jesus’ birth and early life, while the other two – Mark and John – do not discuss his birth and go right into the descriptions of Jesus’ life. Since we celebrated Epiphany Sunday, and gave a little attention to the Magi of Matthew 2, we’ve traversed the majority of Jesus’ life. In fact, only Luke gives us any details about what took place after Jesus was, roughly, the age of 2.

Why is that? The gospels are written in a historical biographical form that was prevalent in the 1st Century AD. That form of writing focused on only including substantial details from the main subject’s life that would give an understanding of who this person was. This often included a focus on the person’s death and final moments. We see that in each of the gospels, which place most of its emphasis on Jesus’ final week before his death and resurrection. Counter this to our focus, today, which would be to include every aspect of an individual’s life from birth through death based upon a common theme.

One aspect of Jesus’ life that all four gospels mention or allude to is his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. It is one of the most significant moments of his early ministry and launches Jesus’ into the public portion of his earthly ministry. You cannot understand Jesus’ ministry without taking a deep look at why he was baptized. Continue reading “Sermon: You are Beloved”