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“He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.
“He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52)

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘royalty’? Or how about the word ‘king’? Do these words conjure up childhood stories that end ‘…and they lived happily ever after’?

Or maybe we remember waking up at five in the morning to watch a royal wedding on TV? If you’re my age it would be Charles and Diana’s wedding, if you’re a bit younger, William and Kate’s wedding. We remember the horses and carriages and handsome young men in uniform and beautiful women in long dresses and hats (love the hats!)

Here’s why I ask. In today’s scripture reading, Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven. And it occurs to me that we, living as we do in 21st century America where democracy has been the law of the land for over 200 years, we really don’t have much experience with kings or kingdoms. We have a president, and a president has power, but not absolute power. We can vote for a new president every four years if we want to. But you don’t get to vote for a king.

A friend and I were talking about this the other day, and we were asking each other “if Jesus was alive today, would he still be preaching the ‘kingdom of God’ or would he use a different word?” Would Jesus use some other word to describe God’s leadership and power?

For now, ‘kingdom’ is the word we have, so I’m going to go with it.

Is the word important? Yes I believe it is, and here’s why. I ran a word search the other day on some of the words Jesus used when he preached. In the four gospels Jesus mentions the word “peace” 21 times; he mentions the word “mercy” 21 times; he mentions the word “love” 51 times; and he mentions the word “kingdom” 114 times!

The kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven, is one of the major themes of Jesus’ teaching, if not THE major theme. When Jesus begins his public ministry, in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, the very first thing he preaches is kingdom of heaven. In Mark 1:15 he preaches: “The time has come! The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (‘Repent’ being an old-fashioned word meaning to ‘change course’ or ‘to come to a new mind’.)

The kingdom of heaven is also one of the main themes of the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3) And again, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:10)

The kingdom of heaven is the first request we ask of God in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God’s kingdom is the core of Jesus’ message. Having said that, let’s take a look at today’s scripture reading, where he talks about the kingdom. Three things I’d like to point out from today’s reading: (1) God’s kingdom comes in unexpected ways; (2) The kingdom of heaven is valuable and costly; and (3) God’s kingdom is good news.

In the first parable, Jesus says that God’s kingdom comes in unexpected ways. “Like a mustard seed” he says: small, humble, and hidden. A mustard seed is a little smaller than those black poppy-seeds you get on bagels sometimes. It’s tiny. And this tiny seed is taken and hidden in the ground. But when it grows up it becomes a huge plant – big enough for birds to nest in.

The kingdom of heaven is like that. It starts small. It breaks into our world quietly. When Jesus was born, his birth was announced to shepherds and foreigners, not to kings in palaces. The kingdom of heaven enters our world so quietly you might miss it if you weren’t looking. But when all is said and done it will be large enough for all of God’s family to find a home. As Jesus said, “in my father’s house are many mansions…” (John 14:2)

Contrast this with the kingdoms of earth. Human kingdoms want to be big. Always growing, always expanding. Small is of no use to them. Governments, CEOs, sports teams, celebrities, are all about BIG. Even clergy sometimes fall into the trap of measuring a church’s success by its size. But that’s not how God sees things. In God’s kingdom small is beautiful. Small is blessed. Small grows into the biggest of all… big enough to become a forever-home for all of God’s people. And that’s good news.

In the second parable Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven is like yeast” being worked into dough. Yeast is like the mustard seed in that it is hidden and unseen, but it has one other quality: it is active. Yeast is alive. Yeast changes whatever it is put in. The kingdom of heaven is like that – in people and in society. In a person, the kingdom effects inner changes… in a society, the kingdom spreads quietly… from person to person… over backyard fences, in text messages, in tweets.

Have you ever wondered how the Christian faith stays alive in the countries we hear about in the news, where people are trying to put an end to Christianity? Because the kingdom of heaven, like yeast, spreads quietly, hidden, active. That’s how Jesus came into the world in the first place. As it says in the old Christmas carol: “how silently, how silently the wonderous gift is given / Yet God imparts to humans hearts the blessings of his heaven.”

The world – when it notices God’s kingdom at all – tends to mistake its smallness and humility for weakness. But God’s ways are not humanity’s ways, and the values of the kingdom turn earth’s values upside down. And this is good news.

In the third parable Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.” Now the focus shifts and Jesus talks about how good and desirable the kingdom of heaven is. Just in case we had any doubts – we who may have been burned by earthly kings or kingdoms in the past. We may need reassuring that God’s kingdom is good.

So that’s the message of the parable of the treasure. When a man finds this treasure in a field, his heart leaps with joy and he hides it and goes and sells everything he has and buys the field so the treasure will be his.

I used to think, when I read this parable, that the man was being kind of selfish hiding the treasure and keeping it all to himself. But then I realized he couldn’t share what doesn’t belong to him. He doesn’t want to risk losing it, but once it’s his, he can share it with anyone. The kingdom of heaven is like that too. It’s a treasure we don’t want to miss out on, but once it’s ours we can share it with anyone.

Jesus continues along the same lines saying, “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who finds one of great value…”. In this parable, unlike the man with the field, the merchant is actively searching for what he wants. The man with the field just kind of stumbles over his treasure. But the man with the pearls is a collector, and he desires the very best.

This parable reminds me of something I saw on TV recently. It was a show for people who love cars, and somebody had found THE car that once belonged to the son of Henry Ford, custom-made to his specifications. It was perfectly restored, and there was no other car like it in the whole world. If I were a car collector, this would be the holy grail of cars. And the owner of the car was putting it up for auction.

The car sold for $900,000. Somebody spent more than most of us will ever earn in a lifetime – for something that will someday be a pile of rust. How much more will we give for the kingdom of heaven and a joy that will last forever? That’s the question our merchant of pearls puts to us. When you find the one, will you go for it? No questions asked, no holds barred, with your whole heart, with everything you’ve got?

These two stories tell us that the kingdom of heaven will cost all we have to enter. But it also cost Jesus all he had to open the doors of the kingdom so we could go in. He gave up heaven to become human, and live and die like one of us. When we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, we are – in a very real way – making Jesus our king, and he gets to command us from now on.

That can be a scary thought. We’re not used to rulers who put our best interests above their own. But in God’s kingdom the values of this world are turned upside down. Valleys are exalted, mountains are made low, and the greatest in the kingdom are the servants of all. And this is good news.

The final parable in our reading comes with a warning. It leads off with good news: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, catching fish of every kind…” The good news is that God’s kingdom includes all kinds of fish. God does not discriminate the way people do on the basis of nationality, race, gender, whatever… his net catches every kind.

The warning is not all fish are good. Once the net is in, we see the angels sitting on the beach sorting the fish into piles, good and bad. Some fish got caught up in the kingdom net because that’s where they want to be. They want to belong to God. They want to live in God’s kingdom. Those are the good fish. But other fish got caught up in the kingdom net for less honorable reasons. They think they can use God’s kingdom for their own purposes – wealth… power… prestige. They don’t really believe Jesus’ words, and they don’t really care about his kingdom. They’re rotten fish ( ‘rotten’ is the correct translation from the Greek). Jesus says in the last days the angels will separate the good fish from the bad, throwing away the bad and keeping the good.

Which, in my mind, begs the question: why do the angels wait till the end times to do the sorting? I mean, if they did it now, got rid of all the bad fish now, what a wonderful world this would be! Which takes us back to last week’s scripture reading about the weeds and the wheat. The weeds and wheat grow up together until the harvest, because if the angels pulled up the weeds now, some of the wheat would get pulled up with it. And God is not willing to risk one single good grain, not one. God in his mercy says, ‘wait until the harvest’.

There will come a time when justice wins and the people of God will be free from the evils of this world. There will come a time when God’s righteousness will be the order of the day, when captives will be set free and those who oppress and bring evil into the world will be no more. There will come a time when in the words of the prophet Amos, ‘”justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24). For good fish this is good news.

Jesus ends his teaching by saying that any disciple who understands these things is wealthy in the kingdom – able to pull treasures old and new out of the storehouse. He is speaking here of God’s word – in Scripture and in the Spirit. This is a kingdom wealth passed down through history, from generation to generation – from century to century – and yet at the same time is ‘new every morning’. We are children of the king, and already God’s treasures are becoming available to us as his heirs.

The kingdom of heaven is like nothing this world has to offer. Starting small, humble, hidden… but in time filling the whole earth with God’s glory. Be encouraged, brothers and sisters, children of the king. Jesus says: the kingdom of God is at hand. Believe the good news. AMEN.

Preached Sunday July 27 2014 at Castle Shannon United Methodist Church and Hill Top United Methodist Church.

Preaching: A Culinary Art

The Fall 2014 edition of In Community magazine for Carlynton-Montour features an interview with Burgatory’s executive chef Brad Kohut.

In the interview Kohut offers advice to beginning chefs — and on reading it, I thought “this is pretty darn good advice for preachers as well!”  Here’s what he said:

First, learn how to use a knife well and how to sharpen it.
Second, always taste your food – you don’t know what’s good and what’s not if you don’t taste it.
Third, try new things and be creative – you never know what will work.
Fourth, keep it simple…
Fifth, use real food [fresh ingredients and raw products]
Finally, listen to those trying to help you.  Whether it’s your boss, another chef, or just a critic, always invite constructive criticism.”

Saving this here as a sermonette to myself. May it be a blessing to others as well.

South Sudan – a new nation that came into being in 2013 – has been wracked by violence in recent months, sparking a mass migration of refugees across the borders of neighboring countries.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled to neighboring Gambella, Ethiopia, where the Rt. Rev. Grant LeMarquand, former New Testament professor at Trinity School for Ministry, is joined in ministry by his wife, Dr. Wendy LeMarquand. Between the two of them they are ministering to both the physical and spiritual needs of the refugees.

Last month Grant and Wendy were joined by the Baroness Carolyn Cox in an appeal for the refugees of South Sudan:

This crisis has had little to no attention in western media. Please share the information with others you know, and consider supporting their relief efforts if you can.

St. Barnabas Day

Today is the feast day of St. Barnabas, so it seems only right to say a few words about him this morning. Scripture actually has a great deal to say about Barnabas. He was a ministry partner to Paul for many years, traveling with him on the first of his missionary journeys. He was a prophet and teacher. He was much loved among the leaders of the early church. They even gave him nickname – Barnabas. His original name was Joses, or Joseph, but they named him Barnabas, which in Hebrew means ‘son of encouragement’.

It’s a rare gift, being able to encourage others. When you think about it, there are so many sources of DIScouragement in the world! Illnesses, losses, maybe a grouchy boss, or a grouchy spouse, or grouchy kids… maybe what we hear on the news, or find in our mailboxes. But how often do we hear ENcouraging things? And when we do, doesn’t it tend to stick with us?

I heard a wonderful example of encouragement this week. Some of you may know Ms. Martha who has been on our prayer list. She’s currently in the hospital for leukemia. This past week was a particularly tough one for her. When word of this got out on the internet a group of around 25 people came to the hospital and took Martha to the chapel and prayed with her, shared communion, read scripture, sang songs, shared stories. If you’ve ever been in the hospital you can imagine how encouraging this would be! If healing is going to happen, encouragement like this lays the foundation for it. Sadly, encouragement like this is all too rare in our world.

Barnabas was an encourager like this. Just by way of background – Barnabas was a Levite – a member of the priestly tribe of Israel. He was born on Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean, an important stop on a lot of trade routes. As a result Barnabas grew up being comfortable with foreigners and outsiders. He became a Christian early in the history of the church and was of the five “prophets and teachers” of the church in Syrian Antioch.

But this morning rather than giving you a biography of the man I’d like to try to tell his story from the point of view of someone who might have known him, a member of the church in Jerusalem. Speaking as that person, who might say something like this:

“Life hasn’t been easy for us believers here in Jerusalem but we are a joyful group anyway. 1500 years from now a guy named Shakespeare is going to write the words, ‘we few, we happy few, we band of brothers…’. And it kind of feels like that to us. Many of us here are poor, and there are lots of needs but we share whatever we have with joy. Seeing these needs, Barnabas went and sold some of his family’s land and brought the money and gave it to the apostles to provide for our poor and our widows and our children. (Acts 4:36) He wasn’t doing this to show off, he gave quietly, happy to know his land would be producing a crop of a different kind from now on.

“Some time ago there was this Pharisee named Saul. He had nothing better to do with his time than to go around persecuting the church and throwing people in jail and accusing them before the Sanhedrin. He was one of the ones to blame for the murder of that wonderful young man Stephen. Such a gentle soul Stephen was. This Saul… he stood and watched while they killed him… and he said nothing. Then a few months later he shows up calling himself Paul and claiming he saw a vision of the Lord Jesus on his way to Emmaus! Sounds like just the kind of thing he would make up to fool the simple. But Barnabas – he listened to Saul/Paul. He asked questions. He was thoughtful. And he became convinced Paul was telling the truth – not so much convinced by Paul’s words, but convinced by the Spirit of God. Barnabas was the first believer to call Paul ‘brother’ and invite him into the church. He introduced Paul to James and Peter and the apostles and spoke on his behalf until they trusted him. (Acts 9:27) As it turned out, Paul ended up being one of the most convincing preachers our church has ever seen!

“Some time later we got word here in Jerusalem that the church in Syrian Antioch was growing like crazy – and mostly with Gentiles! We also heard a lot of the new believers were from Cyprus. Barnabas – being from Cyprus himself – volunteered to travel to Antioch at his own expense to support these new converts. And when he got there he sent us back glowing letters saying how deeply these Gentiles loved Jesus. Barnabas’ preaching was so powerful the church grew by thousands! Ended up the church got so big he needed an assistant pastor, so he sent for Paul. A few years later, when famine broke out here in Jerusalem it was Barnabas and Paul who took up a collection for us and brought it as a gift from the church of Antioch. (Acts 11:19-30) They don’t just talk the faith up there, they live it.

“But I think the thing that really showed Barnabas’ true colors was the way he always defended the underdog. Like the time a bunch of old-fashioned religious types started saying the Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved. They almost caused a church split! But Barnabas, along with Paul, went and spoke to the church leaders in Jerusalem, and told them all about the miracles and faith among the Gentiles. And after searching the scriptures the leaders decided Barnabas was right. They wrote a letter to the Gentiles putting their minds at rest about circumcision. In that letter they described Barnabas and Paul as ‘beloved [disciples] who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ And that’s pretty much how we all feel about them. They are much loved by all the people.

“Another time Barnabas defended the underdog was the time he defended the disciple John-Mark to Paul. (Acts 15) Paul invited Barnabas to revisit the cities they had preached in together and Barnabas agreed but wanted to bring John-Mark along. John-Mark had been on their first journey but never got to complete the mission – he was called home about halfway through. We never did find out why, but Paul thought John-Mark was a quitter and said so to Barnabas. Barnabas stood up for John-Mark, which ticked Paul off big-time, and they had such a falling out they decided to go their separate ways. Paul took Silas with him on his journey instead of Barnabas, and Barnabas took John-Mark on a journey to Cyprus. It was a sad day for us to see Paul and Barnabas divided against each other like that. It didn’t last though. True, the two of them never traveled together again, but Paul had wonderful things to say about Barnabas in his letters. And rumor has it that Paul, talking to Silas one night, said he was sorry for the way he had treated Barnabas, saying ‘…but love is supposed to be patient and kind, not arrogant or rude, not insisting on its own way…’. They say that’s where it came from.

“So if you ask me about Barnabas – ask anyone who knows him for that matter – we’ll tell you he’s a man who is generous and courageous, faithful and dependable, discerning God’s truth, risking his life for the gospel, putting his reputation on the line to support others. He’s full of mercy and forgiveness. And he’s not one to fall for ‘proof-text’ arguments. You know the kind of arguments I mean: where you get caught between a rock and a hard place, like ‘should we pay taxes to Caesar or not’ – remember that one? Jesus was always good at finding a third alternative to these proof-text arguments, and Barnabas is good at that too. A better prophet and teacher would be hard to find.

“The world could use more like Barnabas, but I think they broke the mold when they made him. Still we could do a lot worse than to take a few pages from his book. We don’t all have the same gifts, but all of us can be encouragers.

“One word of caution though – where it comes to a man as good as Barnabas, people sometimes forget that he’s just the messenger, not the message itself. God, Father Son and Holy Spirit – is the best encourager of all. Not to take anything away from Barnabas, mind you – but even he would say that his life is meant to point to Jesus.

“In Scripture, the Holy Spirit says Barnabas is “a good man, full of the Spirit and of faith” – and the Spirit doesn’t say things like that about just anybody! He’s someone whose footsteps we can follow. But even better, he gives us a picture of how much God wants to encourage us with His mercy and His kindness, His faithfulness and His truth.

“A blessed St. Barnabas Day to you all.” AMEN.

Preached at Church of the Ascension, Oakland, Wednesday June 11, 2014

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We Made It!

It only took seven years attending part-time but I finally made it!
Master of Divinity degree, 2014.

Trinity School for Ministry Class of 2014

Trinity School for Ministry Class of 2014

Trinity (formerly “Episcopal”) School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA is an evangelical seminary in the Anglican tradition.  Founded in the 1970s as the only evangelical Episcopal seminary in the United States, Trinity quickly became the fastest-growing seminary in the Episcopal denomination.  The name “School for Ministry” (as opposed to “Seminary”) was given because its founders wanted the focus of Trinity’s education to be on reaching the people outside the school’s walls, not hunkering down in ivory towers.

With the fragmenting of the Episcopal church in the 21st century, Trinity has chosen to shed an exclusive denominational relationship in favor of growing ecumenical and international partnerships.  Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians are now trained for ministry at Trinity as well as Anglicans and Episcopalians.

Jesus Is…

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created…” (Colossians 1:15-16)

How long has it been since you went outside at night and looked up at the at the stars in the sky? You know the feeling you get? Gazing at the stars, you begin to imagine how vast the universe is, and how small the earth is (and we are) by comparison. It’s a feeling like awe mixed with humility, and for those of us who know God there is amazement and praise mixed in too.

There’s a saying that was popular a few years ago: “Don’t tell God how big your problems are, tell your problems how big your God is.” In a way today’s scripture readings send a similar message. They all point to God’s absolute power, including His power to save. But I’m not sure the old saying is right about one thing: I think it’s OK to “tell God how big our problems are”. In Psalm 38 King David certainly does not hesitate to go into detail about how big his problems are! He’s passionate and descriptive, and I think God appreciates the honesty and directness. David also knows that in spite of the situation he finds himself in, his present and future are secure in God’s hands. He says in the end, “It is for you, O LORD, that I wait; it is you, O Lord, who will answer.” (Ps 38:15)

In his letter to the Colossians Paul likewise expresses confidence in God’s power to help and preserve his people.

The letter to the Colossians is an unusual one (as Paul’s letters go), in that he is writing to a church he didn’t start, to people he never met. The subject matter is also not typical for Paul. Many of Paul’s letters are written either as a follow-up to his missionary journeys, or to settle differences between church members. There’s none of that in this letter.

Apart from offering some fatherly advice on how to live a Christian life, Paul basically has two reasons for writing this letter:

  1. To prevent potential problems in the Colossian church, and
  2. To express his gratitude and some words of encouragement.

The potential problems in the Colossian church are only hinted at in the first chapter of Colossians. In later chapters Paul expresses concerns that the Colossians are surrounded by a culture in which other spiritualities and philosophies are popular topics of conversation and practice. He was also concerned that problems in the church a few miles away at Laodicea – mentioned in Revelation Chapter 3 – might spread to Colossae. (Paul intended that this letter be read in the church at Laodicea as well, as he says in chapter 4.) Paul begins to address these potential problems in our reading from this morning, but only by inference.

Paul also wants to send thanks and praise to this faithful church in Colossae. He leads off his letter saying “I have received glowing reports about you” – about your faith and hope and love for the saints. Paul is in prison as this letter is being written, and he takes great comfort and encouragement from hearing these reports… which are being given to him by the Colossian’s own pastor, who just happens to be sharing Paul’s jail cell! Paul and Epaphras are encouraging each other, keeping the Colossians in prayer, and together sending them a word from the Lord.

In their prayers for the Colossians, Paul and Epaphras ask the following: “that [the Colossians – individually and collectively] may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will… in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… so as to walk worthy of the Lord… pleasing to him… bearing fruit in every good work… increasing in the knowledge of God… be strengthened with all power… for all endurance and patience… with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified [them] to share in the inheritance of the saints.” (Col 1:9-12)

That’s a mouthful! But they ask with confidence, knowing who it is they are talking to. The saviour, Jesus, not only gives the Colossians a share in the inheritance of the saints, but gives them an anchor of hope that cannot be moved. Paul is sure of the Colossians’ salvation. When Paul talks about certainty and confidence, he immediately looks to Jesus. And starting at Colossians 1:15 Paul’s words become passionate and poetic – in the original Greek it almost sounds like Paul is singing. (In fact many Biblical scholars believe Paul was either quoting a hymn or paraphrasing one because the language is so beautiful.)

Paul says, “this Son of God, this Jesus, in whom we have redemption and forgiveness of sins: Jesus is _____.” Fill in the blank. Paul takes the phrase “Jesus is…” and runs with it. He goes on listing all things Jesus IS. Follow with me, beginning in verse 15.

Col. 1:15 – Jesus is… “the image of the invisible God.” The Greek word ‘image’ here is icon, which means pretty much the same in Greek as it does in English. Jesus is an image meant to convey truth about God and to inspire worship. You want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus!

Also in verse 15 – Jesus is… “the first-born of all creation”. In Jewish society (as well as in many others) the first-born has a place of prominence, of leadership. Paul is saying Jesus has THE place of prominence in all creation.

Col. 1:16 – Jesus is… “the one in and by whom all things were created” – and Paul goes on to list heaven, earth, what is seen, what is not seen, thrones, powers. In other words, everything!   Everything was created “by Him and through Him and for Him.” Jesus is the source, the designer, and the means. All things created for his pleasure, everything that exists, everything we see, and everything that we don’t see. It’s all about Him!

Col 1:17 – Jesus is… “before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Everything that exists, exists in him. Jesus was there at the very beginning and has been taking care of creation ever since. Just as an aside: I’m not talking about creationism vs. evolution here. That’s not my point, and it’s not Paul’s point either. The point is Jesus is bigger than any human understanding. His is the first word, and His is the last word.

Col. 1:18 – Jesus is… “the head of the body, that is, the church” At this point Paul shifts from the greatness of Jesus in the universal sense to the Jesus who relates to us. Jesus is the founder and leader of our community as Christians.

Also in verse 18 – Jesus is… “the firstborn from the dead” Not just the firstborn in creation, but the first of us human beings to walk out of the grave alive, never to die again. His resurrection is the promise and down-payment of our own resurrection. Jesus has opened the door to eternity.

Col. 1:19 – Jesus is… “the one in whom the fullness of God is pleased to dwell”. This verse actually looks back to our Gospel reading for today. In Matthew 3:17, after Jesus is baptized, the heavens open and the Spirit descends and we hear God saying, “this is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” This phrase well pleased in Greek is the same word used in Col 1:19 – the fullness of God is well pleased to live in Jesus. This is why Jesus can say in John 14:9 “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” and in John 10:30 “I and the Father are one”.

Col. 1:20 – Jesus is… “the one who reconciles all things to himself, in heaven and earth, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Not by power; not by force; but with tenderness and love and self-sacrifice, the creator of the universe steps down from His throne, suffers, and dies to secure and restore all things, including you and me.

Col. 1:22 – Jesus is… “the one who reconciles us in his body through death, in order to present us holy and blameless.” Praise God!

How much of this depends on us? Not one thing.

Given all this as truth, then, what does Paul say to the Colossians? How would he have them respond?

Verse 23: “Be steadfast in faith” – ‘hold on to what you have,’ he tells them. Paul has said earlier in the letter how well the Colossians have been living their faith and their hope, and loving God’s people. Paul says, ‘keep on doing that’. He says, “not shifting away from the hope we have received in the Gospel.”

In these words Paul sounds a lot like the apostle Peter in his first letter, where he says, “By God’s great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you… who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (I Peter 1:3-5)

Peter and Paul agree. They say, ‘don’t let the so-called wisdom of the world distract you’. Stay the course. Continue in the faith; hold on to the hope of the gospel; and in the words of the English pastor Charles Simeon, “Rest assured that He who created and preserves the universe can – and will – preserve you and me.” AMEN

Sermon preached at Church of the Ascension, Pittsburgh, Wednesday May 7 2014
Scripture texts: Exodus 19:16-25, Psalm 38, Colossians 1:15-23

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A friend posted this on Facebook today and I had to re-post it here.  It’s a blast from the past, part of the soundtrack of my young adult life. Glad to have it where I can find it and share it with friends.

Without further ado… comedian/musician/mathematician Tom Lehrer.  Enjoy.

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