Sermons Archive

July 19, 2015 — “Bethesda – Staying Where We Are,” John 5:1-18

Bethesda – Staying Where We Are John 5:1-18 July 19, 2015 Back in 1938, the United States Congress voted to build a National Naval Medical Center. Eventually, President Franklin Roosevelt got involved in choosing a location where the center would be built. According to the story, one day Roosevelt was driving around what at the time was Maryland farm country when he and his driver came upon the small community of Bethesda. When he heard the name, Roosevelt remembered the story from the New Testament of Jesus healing a man at the pool of Bethesda as told in John’s gospel. Remembering that story and learning that Bethesda, Maryland had been named for that same biblical place, led Roosevelt to supposedly suggested that this was the perfect place to build the facility. For after all, the National Navy Medical Center was to become an oasis of healing as well for those who had been injured in the service of our country. (“Change is Hard: Army, Navy Hospitals Merge”, Joseph Shapiro, 9.2.2011, npr.org) Bethesda was indeed a scriptural location where remarkable healing was said to take place. As a result, it was also an extremely popular place for those with all types of infirmities in the days of Jesus’ time on earth to congregate. This was true for a couple of reasons. First, it was true because there was apparently a legend connected to the pool at Bethesda that suggested that the water there had unusual power. The pool of Bethesda was fed by an underground spring that flowed intermittently. Thus, when water begin to enter the pool from below, the otherwise calm water would begin to bubble. The legend said that the bubbles were caused by an angel who from time to time stirred the waters of Bethesda. Further, the same legend suggested that the first person who entered the waters once the pool began to bubble stood a good chance of being healed from whatever type of ailment that they suffered. Beyond the legend, Bethesda was a popular place for those struggling physically and financially to congregate for a second reason. You see, the Bethesda pool was also situated quite close to the temple. Therefore people passing the pool there were often either on their way to or from worship. The thought was that this put them in a more generous frame of mind and thus Bethesda was a grand location for those who were dependent on the gifts of others for their well being to locate themselves and ask for assistance from those who passed by. Both of these elements become interesting pieces of background information for us as we read Jesus’ conversation with the man in John 5. The text says that this particular man was ill and if we dive further we can quickly see that at least part of his ailment was his inability to walk. According to the text, the man had been this way for thirty eight years and apparently he had spent a good bit of time at Bethesda. As they conversed with each other, Jesus asks him a question that on first glance may seem a bit odd, “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus says. Again, an odd question at first, that is until we read the man’s response. Rather than simply saying “yes”, he immediately responds by giving excuses as to why he has not been made well already. He points out that he has no one to help him into the water and thus someone always beats him into the pool which is apparently an allusion to...

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July 12, 2015 — “Taking A Stay-Cation,” Mark 5:18-20

Taking A Stay-Cation Mark 5:18-20 July 12, 2015 Back several years ago, Ann Marie and I decided that we would save some money when it came time for our annual vacation. Rather than going to the beach or the mountains or to another popular vacation destination, we decided to spend a week at my family’s farm in South Central Tennessee. That secluded, peaceful spot has a nice little A-Frame cabin on it that is perfect for an overnight or a weekend and we had done that several times before. But, it had never been a place that we had considered spending a whole week. In the end though it was a very enjoyable time and it remains a summer vacation that lives in vivid color in my memory. We watched movies, had more time than usual for afternoon naps, went to some out of the way eating spots that were nothing fancy but had good food and we visited two or three old homes and small towns that were within an hour of the farm. As many times as I have been to the farm over the years, I had never been to most of those places, and, truth be told, I have not been back to any of them again since. In short, we saw things and did things that week that made it a totally unique experience when compared to all of our other summer trips and we did it all while virtually never leaving home. During the recent recession, a term developed that mirrors to a degree our week at the farm experience. The term, which you have likely heard before, is “stay-cation”. It derived as a way of describing the decision by lots of Americans and Europeans to save money by spending their summer vacations at home. The trend identified by stay-cations was that families are still taking time off and away from work but more than ever they are choosing to spend that time at home catching a movie, going to a museum or taking a day at a local park. In turn, like our experience at the farm, through stay-cations, many families have discovered a world of opportunity for fun right at their backdoor that they never knew existed. In our text for today, Jesus suggests a stay-cation for the man from Geresa who has just been healed by demons. This is one the great miracle stories of Mark which is the gospel of miracles among the four. Most of you have heard the story and studied it on countless occasions in Sunday School, worship or your own private reading of the scripture. The story is set in the Decapolis, which was an area of 10 towns situated very near each other where the population was more Gentile than Jewish. There in a local cemetery lived a man possessed by demons. The cemetery was his home evidently because he was no longer seen as someone who could safely live in public or near other people. Evidently, he was beyond anyone’s ability to help. Yet, Jesus, showing his power in a remarkable way, comes and heals the man. Jesus does what no human had the power to do and thus in a remarkable about face this man who had been out of control and so dangerous that he had to live in a cemetery is suddenly in his right mind, in control of all of his faculties and able to live in peace. When Jesus prepared to leave him and travel on to the next community, this newly healed man wanted to go with...

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July 5, 2015 — “God & Caesar,” Matthew 22:15-22

God & Caesar Matthew 22:15-22 July 5, 2015 During the early part of the 20th century when America faced several periods of financial struggle, one of the industries hard hit was the mining profession. It was a time when miners with poor working conditions and low wages were constantly struggling between two unpleasant possibilities – should they fight for better wages and more appropriate working conditions and risk being fired and thus having to move somewhere else or should they play it safe in terms of keeping quite all while struggling to survive financially as well as by continually putting their lives in danger? It led them to create a uniquely American phrase – they found themselves “between a rock and a hard place”. The “rock” represented the mine where they were and the “hard place” stood for the possible danger of having to go to a new “hard” spot to begin again with no job at all. Again, they were caught squarely between these two options that were both far less than perfect. In Matthew 22, Jesus finds himself between a rock and a hard place too. Jesus’ rock and a hard place was the competing voices of the Pharisees and the Herodians and the question of loyalty – was Jesus’ more loyal to the Kingdom of God or to the Roman Empire? This all emerges with the Pharisees wanting to test Jesus. They approach him with a trick question – was it lawful for good faithful Jews to pay taxes to the Romans? The Pharisees opposed this idea suggesting that to pay taxes insinuated that the Roman Emperor was the leader of Israel rather than God. The Herodians, who were also present that day, however, affirmed the idea. They were also Jews but Jews who had been faithful to the various Herods that had ruled Jerusalem and the surrounding area as representatives of the Empire. Like the Herods, their perspective was that the best way to deal with the situation that Israel found itself in as an occupied land, was to be friends with the Empire and to allow that relationship at times to hold sway over their religious beliefs. They argued that being a good citizen required that taxes be paid! Both sides wanted to know what Jesus’ thought and both sides stood ready to pounce based on what Jesus’ said. Jesus was in a no-win situation. Again, he was between a rock and a hard place cognizant of the fact that to say one should not pay taxes would be to suggest that the laws should not be followed and to say that one should pay taxes may be interpreted as meaning that the Roman Empire deserved a deeper commitment than the kingdom of God. Neither perspective was a great choice and thus Jesus’ surprised them all. Rather than affirming one side or the other and making everyone mad, Jesus advocated finding a middle ground. His perspective was that as believers we must find a way to straddle both worlds. Our commitment is ultimately to the Kingdom of God and we cannot deny that primary commitment, but, as citizens who live in the real world and in real geographic locations, we must also obey and live true to our civic laws and responsibilities. Jesus found the perfect response and yet his perfect response still puts all of us in imperfect places. How do we do both? How do we honor the Kingdom and honor the State? When we agree with the government how do we prevent that commitment and allegiance from overshadowing our commitment to...

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June 28, 2015 — “Tarshish…To The Far Ends of the Earth,” Jonah 1:1-3

Tarshish…To The Far Ends of the Earth Jonah 1:1-3 June 28, 2015 Back in 1966, Barbara McVay was a teenager living in Baltimore, Maryland. One of the things that 17-year-old Barbara wanted desperately to do was to go and visit England. Her father was stationed in the Army there at the time and Beatle mania was in full swing in the US, which led to Barbara having a big crush all boys who were English. One day that same year, Barbara learned that a British submarine was making a goodwill visit to Baltimore before returning home to England and this stroke of unexpected good timing led Barbara to act on her dream. Believe it or not, but, 17 year old Barbara was able to sneak past British naval officers and hide out on their vessel. The truth is that she made it onboard as a runaway for four hours at which point the air supply in the compartment where she was hiding became dangerously low. And, it is a good thing that it did for that very compartment was soon to be filled with water which means had Barbara not recognized her need for oxygen she might very well have drowned. Discovering their stowaway, the British Naval officers on board had no choice but to turn around and take Barbara home remarking that as far as they knew, a goodwill stop in Baltimore did not come with the expectation of taking on teenage passengers. Though her amazing journey took place almost 50 years ago now, Barbara McVay’s story nonetheless made Time Magazine’s 2014 list as one of the best childhood runaway stories of all time. (Five Amazing Runaway Kid Stories, Time Magazine, April 21, 2014) As unusual as McVay’s story might be, there is nothing new about running away. From Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in literature, to Benjamin Franklin and Harry Houdini in American History, to Moses in the Old Testament and the slave Onesimus in the book of Philemon in the New Testament, our culture is full of stories about real and fictional attempts of human beings to flee the hard places in life by traveling to an often overly glorified and mythical place in search of something better, safer or at least secretive. Perhaps there is no better example of this than the story of Jonah. The problem with Jonah is that his is such a wonderful book with so many things to think about that our mind and souls rarely give the aspect of Jonah as a runaway the time and space it deserves. Instead our attention quickly goes toward Jonah and the great fish that swallowed him or Jonah’s struggle with God’s call to go and offer forgiveness to the greatest enemies of Israel at the time – the Ninevites of Assyria. This is where we rightfully invest our time and energies in the Jonah story and thus leave behind the very first few verses and Jonah’s initial decision to simply run away from it all. But, there is much for us to learn right here before the grander story of Jonah ever even begins. For the truth is that running away is a temptation for all of us throughout much of life. It truly is a temptation that we rarely ever grow beyond. And, running away is a real possibility whether we literally hop a train or stow away on a ship and travel thousands of miles from home or whether we simply run away in our minds, souls and in our actions through avoidance or an unwillingness to deal with what life...

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June 21, 2015 — “Egypt: The Return of Our Past,” Genesis 44:18-34

Egypt: The Return of Our Past Genesis 44:18-34

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June 14, 2015 — “Haran: Ready for an Adventure,” Genesis 12:1-9

Haran: Ready for an Adventure Genesis 12:1-9  

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