Sermons

May 22, 2016 — “Know It Alls & Know Nothings”, Luke 2:41-52

Know It Alls & Know Nothings Luke 2:41-52 First Baptist Church Laurens May 22, 2016 In his reflections on our passage for today from Luke chapter 2, Richard Vinson, who teaches at Salem College in North Carolina, calls our attention to two famous paintings that seek to influence our understanding of this story from Jesus life when our savior was 12 years of age. They are the same paintings that you see on the screen this morning. The one on the left is by the Italian painter Duccio who lived in the 13th and 14th Century. (Don’t worry, I had never heard of him either before reading Vinson’s thoughts about him!?!) The painting is called Christ Among the Doctors. In it, as you can see, Jesus is elevated above everyone else and has the halo of divinity over his head so that it is clear that he is their superior. This is true not only of his being elevated above Mary and Joseph who are the people standing to the far left, but, it is also true of his being elevated above the religious leaders despite their being much older and having studied the scriptures for a long period of time. With the painting, Duccio’s point is very, very clear, Christ came into the temple not to learn but to instruct even though he was only twelve years of age. The other painting, the one on the right, is also meant to depict this same moment in Luke’s gospel. It is called The Return of Christ and His Parents from the Temple. It is by none other than the 17th century Dutch master known as Rembrandt. Here, a very different image of Jesus is offered. He is lead by his parents – they are the ones taking him home. He doesn’t look down on them as in Duccio’s painting but rather he looks up to them as his earthly mom and dad. Even though he is clearly the son of God, he still 12 and they are his parents. Vinson mentions both of these paintings because he wants to suggest that a proper understanding of this story is found in averaging out these two works of art not simply gravitating toward one or the other. I happen to think he is right. (Richard Vinson, Luke, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, pg. 74-79). Who was Jesus? He was both fully man and he was fully God. That is what we are taught from the time we are little children in the church until we are very old and this passage holds the two in an obvious tension with each other. Jesus in the temple as a 12 year old possesses uncanny wisdom. He says things that even the sages of the church do not fully understand. He teaches them as much as they offer their wisdom to him. But, Jesus is also 12. He has stayed behind in the temple without telling his parents, he has worried them to death and he has stayed in the temple not only to share his thoughts but also curious and interested in what the religious leaders have to share. He is not 30 as of yet, he is still 12 which is why the chapter, I think, ends with an important yet mysterious verse about the son of God in verse 52 where we read these words, “And Jesus continued to grow in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Now, why do I bring this particular story up on this day when we gather in the church to...

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May 8, 2016 — “Appreciating the Gifts of the Present Acts”, 9:36-43

Appreciating the Gifts of the Present Acts 9:36-43 Sunday, May 8, 2016 You may have seen the little piece of humor that claims to be quotations from the mom’s of famous people. Several of them, I think are rather cute. I like the words of the Mona Lisa’s mom, “After all that money your father and I spent on braces, Mona, is that the biggest smile you can give us?” Or this, from the mom of Christopher Columbus, “I don’t care what you have discovered Christopher! You could have at least written home once every six months or so!” Or the sentiments of Napoleon’s Mom, “All right, Napoleon. If you aren’t hiding your report card inside your little jacket, then take your hand out of there and prove it!” I also love the words from Albert Einstein’s mom: “For Goodness sake Albert, its your senior portrait. Couldn’t you at least do something about your hair or use a little styling gel for once?” Another favorite is from the mom of Thomas Edison: “Yeah, yeah Tommy, your dad and I are both really thrilled about this electricity deal. Now, turn that light off and go to bed!” And finally, from the mother of Goldilocks, “Listen, Goldie, I’ve just gotten a bill for a busted chair from the bear family. You might as well tell me now, what exactly do you know about this little incident??” (Collected from humormatters.com) Of course, all of these quotes remind us that our mom’s are sometimes the voice of reason or the supreme disciplinarian in our homes. Like many of you, I can still hear my mom skipping right over her gentle Rick and going straight to Rickey Alan. I always knew that when she led off a conversation with my full first name and threw in my middle name that she meant business and that things were suddenly more serious that normal. Like you, I know that there are many things that I do because that is the way that my mom did things. I like the bed made up in the mornings because mom always expected us to do so. I like my clothes ironed because our mom ironed everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything – even dad’s handkerchiefs and dare I say in church our Fruit of the Looms were pressed- although I don’t go quite that far myself. And, I like a neat and tidy house which leads to Callie and Caleb calling me a “neat freak” because that is that type of ship that Deborah Letson ran. Our mom’s so often play this type of shaping role in our lives. But, without question, our mom’s and the important women in our lives who feel like a mom to us, are far more than the voice of reason, the disciplinarian of children or the one who keeps us all marching to the beat of the right drum or who create the beats to which we now march ourselves. Our moms and the important women in our life are also the givers of some of the best gifts in our lives and for the vast majority of us the pleasant memories that we have of childhood and home are directly related to them. I think that is why I like so much our scripture for today from Acts 9. It is the story of a woman who had two names. Evidently some folks called her Dorcas and others Tabitha. Although we don’t know whether she was actually a mom or not, she exhibits for us a tremendous example that...

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May 1, 2016 — “Motivational Thinking Acts”, 4:32-5:2

Motivational Thinking Acts 4:32-5:2 Sunday, May 1, 2016 One of the much-loved writers and preachers in Methodist life today is a minister by the name of William Willimon. Some of you might well know that name. After all, he is a South Carolina native. Willimon was raised in Greenville, went to college at Wofford and actually began his career right here in Laurens County with his first congregation after seminary being located in Clinton. In his writings on the book of Acts and our passage in particular for today, Willimon remembers an occasion in church when he encountered a disgruntled member at a board meeting. The man asked, “Why are we always talking about money in the church? All we do is talk about money, giving and the budget. I wish we could get beyond this and talk about the spiritual things that are really important for the church.” In the midst of sharing this memory, Willimon is clear that in spite of this individual’s feelings, Luke, in both the gospel which bears his name and in Acts which he also wrote, makes our possessions and how we deal with them a key topic of conversation. Luke is clear that where our possessions are, our heart will often also be. And, Luke is equally clear that possessions are not necessarily a sign of God’s approval but instead can be the one of the most dangerous aspects of our lives if we fail to constantly be aware of the power that they possess over us. (William Willimon, Interpretation: Acts, pg. 52, John Knox, 1988) In the midst of Luke’s large collection of parables that deal with wealth and possessions in his gospel, there are also several stories in Acts that continue to probe this same issue. Perhaps one of the clearest and most straightforward is our text for today from the end of Acts chapter 4 and the beginning of Acts chapter 5 where Luke tells the story of two individuals – Barnabas and Annanias – and their decisions to make contributions to the early church. In essence, both Barnabas and Annanias take almost identical steps. They both sell pieces of land that they owned and the give the proceeds to the church. But, despite similar actions, the two men were apparently motivated by very different thoughts and idea. Barnabas, on the one hand, after selling his land, gave the full amount that the property had brought to the church as a donation. He apparently did so with little if any fanfare and simply out of a sense that this was what he was supposed to do. Ananias on the other hand, after selling his land, only appeared to give the entire proceeds to the church. He claimed that he was sharing all of his proceeds but in truth he only gave a portion of the amount he had received in the sale. Like Barnabas, Ananias made a contribution alright, but again it seems to have been motivated by very different thinking. In these two similar and yet contrasting stories, Luke highlights for all of us what I think are two very important and different ways that we often are motivated to approach the resources and possessions that God has entrusted to us. On the one hand, Luke reminds us that we often approach what we have out of either generosity or selfishness. We are either motivated to think about what we have primarily out of an attitude that says that our resources are to be freely shared with others or out of an attitude that says that while I...

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April 24, 2016 — “Easter Left – Overs: A Challenge”, Luke 24:44-49

Easter Left – Overs: A Challenge Luke 24:44-49 Sunday, April 24, 2016 In recent years, visitors to the gift shop at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota have encountered an interesting individual. His name is Donald Nick Clifford and he has often sat at his own table while accompanied by his wife Carolyn. Nick and Carolyn would greet visitors to the monument, answer questions about Mount Rushmore and sign copies of the book that they authored about this significant destination in the American West. But, there was something else that made Nick Clifford particularly special and an incredibly valuable part of the gift shop. At well over 90 years of age, he was the last surviving carver of the monument. The Nick Clifford story is an All-American one. When he was 18 years of age, Clifford was an excellent baseball player, and, the Mount Rushmore crew had a baseball team that played in a local Sunday afternoon league. The Rushmore Memorial Drillers, as they were called, needed a few more good players and Nick desperately wanted the chance to work on the mountain. So Nick became a member of the baseball team and received as a result the grander prize of getting to work on the monument. In turn, from 1938 to 1940, Clifford helped bring Mount Rushmore to life working primarily on the face on President Roosevelt. Since that time, equally amazing has been his dedication, for all of these years since, to keeping the story of the monument and its workers alive by serving as the last living witness to a profound moment in American history. (“Last Mount Rushmore Worker Remembers Monumental Task”, examiner.com, October 17, 2010) As Luke 24 comes to a close, Jesus is very specific with the disciples about what he wants them to do. He is preparing to return to God the father after his 33-year tenure on earth. He is leaving them and those who will follow them in charge of this work that he has been about primarily over the course of his three-year public ministry. As he does, he boils down their task to one basic responsibility. After reminding them once more of how his life, death and resurrection fit into God’s grand plan, Jesus says this in verse 48 – “you are witnesses of these things”. As a result, I don’t think it is too much of an exaggeration to say that if we want to also boil down who we are to be and what we are to do in light of the Easter event into one succinct idea then this verse, verse 48, is an excellent summery statement. We too “are to be witnesses to these things”. Just as Nick Clifford spent the bulk of his life bearing witness to what happened at Mount Rushmore, we are to spend our lives bearing witness to the Easter event through both being clear about what we believe happened on that fateful day and through sharing about our own real and personal encounters with this same living Christ. This is our job. This is our primary task and yet it is tremendously easy for us to forget to do it. Life is busy. Life is hectic. Life on a daily and weekly basis takes us all in a million different directions while constantly tempting us to make other things more important than they should be. Honestly, I am not sure that any of us will every completely fix this. To a large degree it simply is the human condition. And, yet, our challenge remains the same – to recognize that as...

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April 17, 2016 — “Easter Leftovers: Compassion”, Luke 24:36-42

Easter Leftovers: Compassion Luke 24:36-42 Sunday, April 17, 2016 Some of you will recognize the name Dr. Timothy Johnson. For many years Johnson, who is a graduate of Harvard, was the medical correspondent for ABC. He was a frequent contributor to 20/20, ABC Nightly News and the old ABC late evening news program called Nightline. What you may not know is that Johnson is also an ordained minister and before a career in medicine went to seminary. Part of his studies for ministry took place at the University of Chicago Divinity School. It was a year that was both rewarding and challenging for him. It was challenging from the perspective that he felt like that he was regularly bumping up against issues and subjects in spirituality that called into question the faith of his childhood. As a result, the questions and uneasiness that were developing inside of him were taxing on both a physical and spiritual level. In the midst of his struggles, he met a man by the name of Granger Westberg who taught in both the Medical School and the Divinity School at the University of Chicago at the time. Beyond teaching, Dr. Westberg also functioned as a chaplain and he became a good friend to Johnson over the course of that challenging year. In writing about his old friend, Johnson remembered Dr. Westberg as someone with a “gentle presence, a kind smile and a soothing voice”. Westberg listened to Johnson, helped him to see his questions and concerns as normal and shepherded him through that tough year. It was the beginning of a friendship and a respect that would last for the rest of their lives. (Good Grief, Granger E. Westberg with forward by Timothy Johnson, Fortress Press, 2011, pages 7-8.) In essence what won Johnson over to Westberg’s friendship was the fact that in him, he discovered someone who was compassionate. Webster defines compassion as our ability to “show sympathy or concern for others” and Webster also says that the synonyms of compassion are our being “empathetic, understanding, caring, sensitive, warm and loving”. Simply stated this morning, what I want us to see is that one of the enduring qualities of Jesus that is visible in the gospels and reemphasized with a strong focus in the resurrection stories is that Jesus was and is compassionate towards you and I as his followers. More than almost anything else, the Easter story wants us to understand that the God revealed to us in Christ is a God of compassion. In 2016, as a church and as people of faith, I sometimes fear that we are loosing sight of this both for ourselves and for others. If I am confessional, I must admit that my preaching sometimes borders on the “thou shalt nots of faith” and on reminding us week after week of the high bar of expectation that God sets in front to us. I would say though that like many of you, I have been conditioned in this direction by the version of God that was offered to me in the church that I grew up in which was the First Baptist Church of a small southern town very similar to this one. God was a God to obey, there were high expectations of me as a follower, God was disappointed when I sinned, sin was serious business and it carried with it strong consequences. This is what I was taught, and, I still hardily and fully believe all of these things. But, God is also a God of compassion who empathizes with our mistakes, understands...

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April 10, 2016 — “Easter Leftovers: Clarity”, Luke 24:33-35

Easter Leftovers: Clarity Luke 24:33-35 Sunday, April 10, 2016 In 2016, studies say 80% of college students who graduate will do so while no longer pursuing the same major that they were focused on when they began their studies. In fact, according to the same studies, on average, students change majors at least three times from the beginning of college until graduation. This is particularly bad news for those of us who are parents. After all, this now anticipated changing of majors usually extends a student’s time on campus meaning that it will likely take them more than four years to finish their education. This is a particularly painful revelation in these same days when the average tuition cost is $9,000 for in-state students at a public college and $23,000 for students studying at out-of-state public universities. While I hate to be the bearer of bad news on this beautiful Sunday morning, the fact that most students stay in college longer than four years while struggling to choose just the right major illustrates something that most all of us are well aware of – many, many people struggle when it comes to figuring out exactly what it is that they want to or feel led to do with their lives. And, this is not true just of college students. It is equally true of people in their forties and fifties who wake up one day after twenty five years of pursuing the same career only to finally face up to the fact that that they are not content or happy in their work and that they are ready to try something else. Something else that they hope will bring them meaning, purpose and joy. Further, this sense of searching for meaning and trying to figure out why I am here is also common these days with those who have retired. They were for many years defined by their career, but now in retirement they have lots of time on their hands and while they love golf, traveling, keeping the grandkids and catching up on all of those books they had been meaning to read for the last 30 years, they still, at the same time wonder if they are not meant to pursue some deeper or higher calling that gives their lives – and here is that pesky word again – meaning. I share all of this because it seems to me that there is a good word in our text for today from Luke 24 for those of us trying to figure our lives and our purpose out. It is a word about a sense of clarity that these two Jesus followers whom we met last week developed in a flash and in light of the resurrection. And, I think it is a sense of clarity that was also arriving for the eleven disciples and for others among Jesus’ earliest followers. After all, if you look at these earliest followers as a group holistically in the immediate days and months following the Easter event, their lives changed dramatically. With Jesus as resurrected Lord they now had a sense of purpose, direction and vision that had not been theirs before. Think about these two disciples at the center of our text for today. As we discussed last week, we don’t know lots about them. One was named Cleopas and the other’s name is never given leading some to think this may have been simply a traveling companion and friend of Cleopas or either the spouse of Cleopas. We simply don’t know. But, what we do know is that they...

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