Michael’s Sermons

 

Making the Golden Rule Central to Our Lives

May 13, 2018 Matthew 7:12 For many years of his life, John Newton was the captain of a British slave ship. During these years he kept detailed notes of his voyages, which later became published in his 1788 book, “Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade.” Newton wrote that the environment of the slave trading “gradually brings a numbness upon the heart and renders those who are engaged in it too indifferent to the sufferings of their fellow creatures.” As an example, he told the story of a slave woman on the ship who had a child about a year old that would not stop crying. As the child cried in the night, she was warned by a sailor as he rose in anger that if the child did not stop making a noise, he would silence it. When the child continued to cry, he rose for a second time, tore the child from the mother’s arms, and threw the child into the sea. For the rest of the voyage, the sailor had to contend with a lamenting mother, who was too valuable to throw into the sea. Newton describes the passage over the ocean as a hellacious experience where slaves were stacked below deck in two rows of five-foot sections, like books on a shelf, each shackled by a hand and a foot, where they stayed sometimes for an entire week before being brought up on deck, where they were then chained to an eye bolt for some exercise. A passage across the ocean could take up to ten months. (p. 185-186) Imagine the stench. Imagine the pain. Imagine...

Ask, Seek, Knock, Open

Ask, Seek, Knock, Open Matthew 7:7-11 May 6, 2018 I was watching Kirsten Charles feed her son George not long ago.  She and Kevin are teaching him how to sign.  It’s amazing that children can learn how to sign before they can learn how to talk. As early as six months of age, a child can ask for things by signing. Last Christmas a video of a child having his first experience with Santa Claus went viral.  As soon as his parents placed this very young child on Santa’s lap, the child’s eyes and face showed signs of fear and he began to give the sign for help. One of the more common signs children learn is the sign for more.  You place your thumb and your fingers together and then bump both hands together. Asking is a way of life.  It says, “I’m not self-sufficient.  I need others to help me through this world.”  It says, “You have something I need or want.” Children become experts at asking.  A child quickly learns who to ask and when to ask.   It’s an art form.  A child knows if it’s better to ask Mom or Dad.  Grandparents are easy prey. Children will usually ask until they hear the word “No.” They know that one “no” doesn’t always mean “no foreve.” Children are not the best at policing themselves or being judges about limits.   Neither are a lot of adults. We all know that children don’t turn out very well if they always get what they ask for or never have to work for what they get. Such children turn...

When We Face Judge Jesus

April 15, 2018 Matthew 7:1-6 Jesus sometimes seems confusing and ambiguous. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us not to judge, but is that possible? Aren’t we in a constantly judging what is right and wrong, good or bad? Don’t we have to make some judgments about whether we think people are a threat to our safety? Don’t we read body language and listen to the tone of one’s voice and make judgments about a person’s mood, friendliness, or intentions? Don’t we have some responsibility to judge the actions of other people and call them out if they are crossing the line, especially if they are treating people unjustly? Isn’t that what Jesus did when he turned over the money changer’s tables in the temple and chased out the animals as the traders cheated the poor by charging them high prices for sacrificial animals? Whenever we go to the polls and vote, aren’t we judging the candidates’ positions on issues and to some extent the moral and philosophical positions they hold? Don’t we make judgments about who we want to be our close friends, who we want to be our acquaintances, and who we don’t want to befriend at all? Jesus says, “Don’t judge, or you too will be judged.” Jesus might been having a little fun with his audience because he continues by saying, “In the same way you judge others, and with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (7:2) He tells us not to judge but then he concedes that we cannot help judging.  Then he gives us an important guideline to...

Letting Go of Worry

Matthew 6:25-34 April 8, 2018 This morning, instead of looking inside the empty tomb, I want you to look somewhere else, like your wallet.   For all I know, it might be empty as well. Some of you are thinking, “I was just starting to like this church.” This isn’t a trick to get you to put more money in the offering plate.  Just play along.   You’re already here, after all. I’d like every man to reach in your back pocket and pull out your wallet.  Don’t worry.  I’m not going to ask you to pass it to the next person or even to open it.  I just want you to hold it in your hand. Ladies, if you have a wallet in your purse, or whatever you use to carry your cash or credit cards, will you put it in your hands?  I want you to hold on to your wallets throughout my sermon this morning. Lots of people are used to holding on to their wallets at church anyway, so it shouldn’t be a big deal for some people. Seriously, I want to ask a few personal questions. How many of you worry about what this wallet represents?  It represents a lot, doesn’t it? Do you worry about providing enough for your family? Do you worry about having enough money for retirement? Do you worry about paying off the house or having enough for rent? Do you worry about paying for your children to go to college? Do you worry about keeping up with the bills, paying for vacations, day care, credit card bills, cell phones, clothing, cars for teenagers, cell phones, child support,...

Is Life After Death a Fairytale?

1 Cor. 15:35-42 Recently, Stephen Hawking, the world’s most famous scientist died at age 76.  Hawking was diagnosed with ALS at age 21 and was one of the world’s oldest survivors with this devastating disease.  He was able to move only a couple of fingers and he could communicate only through a computer assisted device designed to speak for him. Hawking wrote several books.  One of them entitled “A Brief History of Time” sold more than ten million copies.  It’s one of the most sold books of science.   The book is about the study of laws that predict how things work in the universe.  It’s also about how we see the universe and how the universe exists. There is no doubt within the scientific community about this man’s intellectual capabilities.  He even became part of pop culture and has been spoken of in the same sentence with Galileo and Einstein. A lot of what he offered to us was in the form of scientific theory.  He spent a lot of his time going back in time, theorizing about what might have occurred to bring us up to this point in our existence.  He also theorized about what might happen to humanity in the future if we continue our same path. In the process, Hawking threw a lot of shade on religion and those who believe in a Creator God, saying that such people still seek a divine solution to counter the ideas of curious physicists. Poking fun at those who believe in a Divine Creator, Hawking once asked jokingly, “What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he...

The Lessons The Broccoli Tree Have for Easter

Easter Sunrise Service One spring day a photographer living near the Southern shore of Lake Vattern, Sweden took a picture of a tree and posted it on Instagram because he thought it looked like a stalk of broccoli sticking up out of the ground.   Forty-three people hit “like” on the photographer’s Instagram post. Over the next several months, the photographer began uploading more pictures of the tree and life that took place around the tree in the park. Nearly a year after he took the first photo, the tree had its own Instagram and was being photographed through the seasons showing all kinds of life of the Swedish people.  The audience grew into the thousands. The photographer staged an exhibition of his photos of the Broccoli Tree at the Broccoli Tree. A Broccoli Tree calendar was published and was well received.  People all over the world began to purchase Broccoli Tree prints for their homes. Three years after the first Instagram post, a tree that most people just ignored was now famous.  People who went to Sweden went to this park just to photograph the Broccoli Tree. It could easily be found on Google maps.  Its Instagram followers grew to nearly 30,000. The Broccoli Tree became the Internet’s single most famous tree… until last September when someone or multiple people entered the park and sawed the tree down. The next Instagram post made by the photographer contained these sad but true words: “You cannot unsaw a tree.” https://www.wimp.com/the–broccoli–tree-a-parable/ Today we live in a world where we have become afraid to share what is good, beautiful, and pure for fear that some person with evil intentions...

This Is How People Know You Are a Disciple

For most of us, the thought of washing someone’s feet is repulsive unless it is someone we know really, really well and even then we are not very willing. A few years ago, I served as the camp pastor at a youth camp at Ricks Institute, which is sixteen miles outside Monrovia, Liberia.  We ended our time together with a foot washing.   My son John and one of the camp counselors helped me wash the feet of the campers and the leaders. It didn’t take long before the clean well water turned the color of chocolate from the dust everyone collected from walking the dirt trails on the campus.  Most of the students and the campers wore sandals or flip-flops. It reminded me of the dirty job Jesus had washing the disciples’ feet in the Upper Room the night he was betrayed.  He assumed the role of a servant who typically did that foot washing task as people entered a room for a customary meal.  But on that night, there was no servant and no one volunteered for the job. The disciples were taken aback that Jesus would lower himself to do that job.  Peter protested vehemently.  But Jesus told Peter unless he washed his feet he could have not any part of his life. After that, Peter was all in. It’s almost as difficult to allow someone to wash our feet as it is to wash someone’s feet.  We are proud.  We are afraid of intimacy.  We don’t like people knowing that we might smell or be dirty.   We don’t like for people to know that we have...

What is Your M.I.T?

Matt. 6:19-34 March 25, 2018 Back in my youth minister years, some Sunday evenings the teenagers would show up for a field trip. I did not tell them ahead of time where we were going.   Each field trip was a surprise and each destination served a teaching purpose. One Sunday night I loaded the senior high youth up on the church van and we ended up at the county landfill. Let me preface this by saying that youth pastors sometimes have ideas that sound good until they are implemented. First, I am not sure if it’s legal to walk around in the county landfill, but I do remember that we didn’t have to jump over any fences or cut any locks.  I cannot remember if we ignored any signs. I do remember saying a lot of things like, “Hey, put that down.  Remember, I said not to pick anything up.” “Hey, get down off that.”   “No, you can’t take that home.”  “Yes, that does look like a used…”  I’ll let you use your imagination to finish that sentence.   “Yes, I do believe that thing is dead.”   “I know it stinks here.  It’s a landfill.” Despite my not thinking through all the scenarios of taking my teenagers to a dirty, germy, and possibly disease-infested place, the application side of the experience worked out well. I asked them to name a few of the material things they were obsessed with having, besides a car.   Today a teenager might name a Fuji Film Instant Camera that prints Polaroid instant prints, a Marvel Spider-Man Movie Edition Drone, a Bluetooth Turntable System with Stereo...

And When You Pray

Matthew 6:5-15 March 18, 2018 The Gospel of Matthew was written about 30 years after Jesus preached to a large group of people on hillside in Galilee.  It’s not likely Matthew remembered the exact sequence of Jesus’ teachings.  It’s not likely Jesus left him a copy of sermon notes either.  That means that the order of these teachings in Matthew’s gospel is Matthew’s work. So it is not a coincidence that the prayer Jesus taught the people to pray is placed in the middle of chapters 5-7 which we call the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew wants us to see that prayer is center to Jesus’ life and to his teaching. In this chapter, Jesus mentions three disciplines which he believes every disciple should have: giving, praying, and fasting.  Last week we learned that while each of these disciplines should help us in our relationship with God, none of them should be done in way as to call attention to ourselves. Of these three, prayer takes the central position in this chapter and in Jesus’ sermon.  It appears that Matthew has done this intentionally to stress that prayer should take up a central place in our lives. He makes the same point about prayer as he does about giving away our money and about fasting.  Prayer is done to strengthen our relationship with God, not to show other people how religious we are.  While there is an important place for corporate prayer and public prayer, Jesus emphasizes that prayer is very personal and private. Apparently, the people praying in Jesus’ day were not praying personal prayers.  They were not even...