Isaiah 2: 2-5
In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
Judgment Pronounced on Arrogance
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!
Isaiah 9: 2, 6
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness--
on them light has shined.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Mark 1: 1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
A Formula for Potential Peace
It is normally fair to assume that there is no formula to achieve life’s deeper purposes. As we consider our four Advent themes, we know that no simple equation will ensure hope, no religious rubric will guarantee peace, no template will automatically exact joy, and no blue print will lead to the construction of love. And yet, as we this morning ponder the peace of the season, I will leave us with a mathematical idea that can help us achieve and and promote peace. The violence in our world makes the need for peace a premium. Our journey to the Bethlehem is a journey to the “Prince of Peace.” How is it, that we may map our our steps in the direction of a savior whose salvation is grounded in peace?
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears[a] listen!
Willkommen, kalós órises, benvenuto, foon—yen, bienvenido, welcome! Questionable pronunciation aside, that is how you say “welcome" in German, Greek, Italian, Chinese, Spanish and English. Welcome is one of those words in which how you say it is just as important as the literal meaning. Rare are the cases, at least I can confirm in Spanish and English, that the word be used without reflecting a kind temper by the person saying it. The word in ancient Greek, as it appears in the Matthew passage Clarabella and I read, is δέχομαι (dechomai). It is literally translated, and I will share four different definitions: “He who receives,” “to receive or grant access to, a visitor, not to refuse interaction or friendship,” “to receive favorably, give ear to, embrace, make one’s own, approve, not to reject,” “to receive, i.e. to take upon one’s self, sustain, bear, endure.” In our brief lectionary passage, the word is used six times.
A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the Luke passage from scripture exhorting us to be ready and keep our lamps lit—because in life, we never know when the master will be back for the wedding banquet—stated otherwise, we don’t know when God’s grace will break into our lives. We considered the ways that we spiritually procrastinate, keeping us unready to embrace those instances. Many of us know the desire to journey more deeply through life, to take as author M. Scott Peck calls it, The Road Less Traveled. And yet, we find a multitude of reasons to stay on the easy road—which by the way, ends up not being as easy as it first looks. This week, we look more at the spiritual engagement we are invited not to put off. What might it look like to seize the spiritual opportunities of life? But before going any further…
Let us pray: Tear back the veil of mystery that separates us from you, O Lord. And grant us the courage to draw near. With the power of your Word and Spirit, guide us through the fear that divides, and lead us into love that bridges holy union with you and your purposes. And now, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sought, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
The idea for today’s sermon came to me many months ago, but true to the subject matter, I finished it this morning. Today we celebrate the graduations of friends and members of this community who, in their academic triumphs, have inevitably learned a thing or two about procrastination. We have all been there: soaring in the clouds of noble intentions to begin a project, only to find ourselves starting the work due to a the haunting persistence of a looming deadline.
Let us Pray: Link us Lord with our brothers and sisters at Pentecost some two thousand years before. Not by ideology, culture, or theology, but by the same Spirit. Fill us with your Spirit by blowing the words of scripture right off the page and into our hearts. And now, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
The Holy Spirit—that great force, being, reality that Anna just attested to from Scripture, often elusively escapes our purview. As far as its role as a member of the Trinity, in most main line churches God as the sustaining Holy Spirit undoubtedly plays the third-wheel role to God the Creator and God the Redeemer. According to the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, “The church has always tended toward bitarianism, worshiping the Father and the Son while regarding the Spirit as a marginal member of the Holy Trinity,” (Volume X, Pg. 57.)
This morning we will consider the importance of tone. Not specifically musical tone, although that is related. I am talking also about the tone set in a situation. It may not be something that we very often think about in the context of faith. But, it behooves us to take time to meditate on the issue of tone, because in life, we too frequently underestimate its importance. You may have heard it said, that how you say something is as or more important that what you actually say. That idea calls to mind the words of Maya Angelou, ““I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It is also consistent with twentieth century American author Dorothy Parker’s command, “Don’t look at me with that tone of voice.” How the tone is set and communicated in almost any situation will inevitably impact the situation’s trajectory. Tone directs the present and the future. But before going any further, let’s set the tone for the sermon with prayer:
Let us pray: Gracious God, help us not only to open our hearts and minds to your Scripture that we might better discern and understand your transforming word, but help us also by giving us the strength and will to respond. And now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
There are two pieces of advice that members of this congregation have shared time and again. The first: “do not get old.” To which I usually respond, “I am not sure to follow your advice.” The other recommendation came often since the birth of our children. The advice, “Do not blink, or your children will grow up too fast.” I tried to follow that advice and lasted about a minute. Both pieces of advice relate to how quickly the years pass. Just yesterday at our Presbyterian’s Men’s meeting, I asked a member of our church about how his children and grandchildren were doing. He responded, “Roberto, those grandkids are growing so fast.” To which I thought, maybe you should stop blinking, but I did not say that.
In the passage that Mary and I just read, Jesus calls his disciples, “Little children.” And as we hear his admonition, since we too are his disciples, the designation is for us. In his teachings and actions, Jesus held a special place in his heart for children. Despite being rebuked by church leaders when women brought their young ones to be blessed, he proclaimed, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Children have an innocence and vibrant perspective that is often profound. We find delight in quips that come, “out of the mouth of babes.” Their insights and innocence can enlighten jaded hearts. My daughter’s pre-school teacher has a wonderful penchant for art and has the class regularly scribbling, sketching sculpting, and painting. Last week, as I admired some of the classroom art on display, I saw a quote tacked to the wall attributed to the great Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. It reads: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
The genesis of this morning’s sermon is a conversation with a member of the congregation. For those accustomed to the order of the revised common lectionary, you will notice that our scripture passage is a departure. Normally, on this fourth Sunday of Easter, we hear a Gospel passage about Jesus as Shepherd. But God intervened. A recent conversation with a seven decade member of our congregation went something like this: “Roberto, I keep noticing in the Call to Worship, we say the word YHWH. What is that? No one has ever explained it to me in all of these years. I responded that, “YHWH is an Old Testament name for God?” This perplexed him, and he uttered, “no way.” To which I of course responded, “YHWH.” What we call God is important. God’s name, or names reveal something about God and about us. So this morning, we will take time to consider what YHWH and other names of God mean and what that means for our faith. But first, let us pray:
Palabra de Vida
You will find sermons preached by Rev. Robert Woodruff and guests preachers.