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Showing posts from June, 2016

C. S. Lewis on Prayer

One of my favorite C. S. Lewis books is entitled, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. And now I hear that my friend, Anglican priest, David Beckmann, is planning to film an 8 part video series on this topic, in Oxford, England no less! I would encourage you to learn more about and support his project here: C. S. Lewis on Prayer from Oxford. I think it will be a great service to those of us who would like to learn more about C. S. Lewis and Prayer.

The Three Cheers of the Gospel

The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Matthew 9:1-8....
And after getting into a boat he crossed the sea and came to his own town.
And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.Forgiveness follows from faith. The Scripture says that when Jesus saw their faith, that is, the faith of the men who carried the…

The Feast of Saints Peter & Paul

Today is the Feast of Saints Peter & Paul. Thus, the lectionary reading for today is Acts 3:1-10. I am currently preaching through the book of Acts at Stowe Community Church. You can listen to my recent sermon on Acts 3 here: Keys to Growth: Healing.

Jesus Calms Our Storms

The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Matthew 8:23-27...
And when Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, you of little faith?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?"Storms were common on the Sea of Galilee. This "sea" is small, only 13 miles north to south and 8 miles west to east. The Sea of Galilee is actually 680 feet below sea level, giving it a warm and often gentle climate. However, there are dangers. On the west side of the Sea of Galilee, the side on which Capernaum was situated, there are hills with valleys and gullies. When a cold wind comes from the west these vall…

A Light to the Nations

The lectionary reading for today is from Isaiah 49:1-6....

Listen to me, O coastlands,
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord,
and my reward with my God.”

And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
he says,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
tha…

Test the Fruit

Our Gospel lectionary reading for today comes from Matthew 7:15-20 ....Jesus told the crowds, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits."This passage raises the question: who are we listening to?

Jesus tells us there are many false prophets in the world. They come to us in sheep's clothing; that is to say, these false prophets come to us claiming to be Jesus' sheep, but they aren't. They are really wolves.

How do we recognize false prophets? Jesus says, "By their fruit you will know them." Is the prophet's life and teaching producing…

The Golden Rule

The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Matthew 7:12-14 where Jesus says:
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
I want to focus on the first part of what Jesus says here, what many have called "The Golden Rule".  This is not a disconnected saying. The sentence begins with "so" or "therefore" connecting it back to what has gone before. The underlying logic is that if God the Father works for the ultimate good of all who seek him then his children must work for the ultimate good of others.

Jesus says that this one rule sums up the law and the prophets. This saying is very close in meaning to a statement in the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus often quoted: "Love your ne…

Don't Judge!

The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Matthew 7:1-5 where Jesus says...
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.Swiss psychologist Paul Tournier once wrote,

Without being fully aware of it we mentally twist this commandment, as if Jesus had said: "Judge not unjustly." He said: "Judge not." He did not deny that there is a mote in my neighbour's eye, but he asks that I should first concern myself only with the beam in my own. This abdication of all spirit of judgment is extremely difficult for us, and seems like surrend…

Looking at Our Father

Our Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Matthew 6:7-15 ...Jesus said, "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 'Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."We pick up today where we left off yesterday. This is the central part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is teaching about the three central acts of Jewish devotion: giving to the needy, prayer, and fasting. I…

Giving & Prayer

The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Matthew 6:1-6. Jesus said,
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.In this passage Jesus begins to addr…

Love Your Enemies?

Our Gospel lectionary reading for today comes from Matthew 5:43-48. Jesus said,You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.These are very challenging words to hear from the lips of Jesus and to take to heart, especially in the wake of the worst mass shooting in recent U. S. history. When you heard the news about the shooting in Orlando, what emotions rose within you? Sadness?  Fear? Anger?

Let's take a closer look at that las…

Overcome Hate with Love

Today's Gospel lectionary reading is from Matthew 5:38-42. Jesus said...
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. These are challenging words to hear or read, especially on the heels of the largest mass shooting in U. S. history. When I heard the news about the shooting in Orlando, Florida yesterday, I was filled with sadness. But such evil also makes us want to strike back somehow, doesn't it?

And yet, that is not Jesus' way. Jesus, here in this passage, and by the example of his non-violent life, invites us to overcome hate with love. I do not know how one does that, especially when evil and hatred…

The Place Where God Speaks

The lectionary reading for today is from 1 Kings 19:9-13....
At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there…

How to Deal with Anger

In Matthew 5:20-26, Jesus says:
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you…

The Weight of Glory

Pulpit of The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford
Today is sort of an unusual anniversary, not one I think I have ever called attention to before. It is the anniversary of a sermon. In fact, it is the 75th anniversary of C. S. Lewis preaching one of his most famous sermons in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on June 8, 1941. The sermon was entitled "The Weight of Glory".

Now, as you probably know, C. S. Lewis was not a priest or a pastor or even a professional theologian. He was a teacher of English literature at Oxford, and by 1941 he was becoming known as a popular author of books, both fiction and nonfiction, some of the latter being in defense of the Christian faith.

Lewis' first sermon was also preached in the same church at Evensong on October 22, 1939, a little over a month after England had declared war on Germany. Lewis later gave to this sermon the title "Learning in War-Time". He was invited to give this sermon by Cano…

Salt & Light

Sheldon Vanauken once wrote, The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians--when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths. (Encounter with Light, p. 10)The Gospel lectionary reading for today goes along rather well with Vanauken's statement. In Matthew 5:13-16 we read where Jesus says...You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good wor…

The Blessing of the King

The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Matthew 5:1-12....
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were befo…

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 15:3-7....
So he [Jesus] told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."
Where do you picture yourself in this story? Are you the shepherd who has lost one of his sheep? Are you one of the ninety-nine, already in the fold, whom the shepherd leaves to find his lost sheep? Or are you that one lost sheep whom the shepherd leaves everything to find, whom he puts on his shoulders and rejoices over?

Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees. And a…

Three Essential Loves

Today's Gospel lectionary reading is from Mark 12:28-34.... One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, 'Which commandment is the first of all?' Jesus answered, 'The first is, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." The second is this, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." There is no other commandment greater than these.' Then the scribe said to him, 'You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that "he is one, and besides him there is no other"; and "to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength", and "to love one's neighbour as oneself",-this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.' When Jesus saw that…

Fear or Faith?

Today's lectionary reading comes from 2 Timothy 1:1-9....
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the powe…