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Rev O.'s Sermon Archive

Fall 2020 Series:

"It's Love Again" (Text: Romans 12:9-21)

"Meant for Community" (Text: Matthew 18:15-20)

"You Get What You Need" (Text: Exodus 16:2-15; Matthew 20:1-16)

"An Iota of Difference" (Text: Matthew 22:34-46)

Full Text:

“It’s Love Again” (Text: Romans 12:9-21)

Grace and peace to you from the one who was, is, and is to come, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please join me in prayer: Gracious God, grant that as your Word was read and is now proclaimed, our hearts may be open to you and our lives transformed into living testaments to your love. Amen.

A few years ago, I had the honor of sharing a stage with Congressman John Lewis. It was a conversation about race, the church, and the response to Freddy Gray’s death. I think about that now; it was believed that after Ferguson and Freddy Gray the national awareness would have elicited deep and impactful self-reflection and meaningful change. We, as a nation, have the distractibility to acknowledge a wrong, but struggle on the labors to consider what systemic change looks like and implement them.

When asked, in that time, what it would take to change our society from its racist attitudes, Congressman Lewis replied, “It’s going to take love, love, and even more love.”

There was dissatisfaction with that answer from the audience at this conversation, and so the congressman was pressed as to whether the answer of “love” was really adequate to the needs of our time.

To paraphrase from memory, the great civil rights icon responded: Do you know how hard it is to love? To love the person so downtrodden that they look to you to raise them up out of their struggles? To risk your own status and well-being to care for someone else’s need? Love is hard when you stand before those who oppose you, sometimes violently, to invite them to rise to the good, rather than demonize them. To continue to love them enough to believe that they can find the light of truth, to love them into loving. Love is not the easy answer; it is not a passive answer. But, for us to change our world into something new, love is the only answer.

Here we are at the start of the academic year, and we are gathered and gathering in a different way. Classes exist on screens, and discussions are engaged through chat bars and virtual hands. Videos are posted as a constant part of course content, and syllabuses now include disclaimers about electronic materials, recording, rights of materials, and course material distribution. We are all finding our way in this new space. I have spent the last couple of weeks constructing IKEA desks for my children, developing zoom schedules for the kids and my partner, and rearranging the house to fit all this inside of it. We are engaged in a completely different experience of life, with a greater awareness of six feet and a constant need to remember where you left your mask.

And yet, talking about how unexpected it is, how much of a struggle it is at moments, discussing the “unprecedented” nature of our current circumstances, is becoming as tired as replying to the question, “How are you?” with, “I am busy.” I mean, busy-ness, is not a badge of pride, nor proof of one’s value; at best, it is a statement of one’s calendar. We all are growing into our current circumstances and talking about our growing edges is just a part of all our reality.

So, it can be with conversations about “love” in the Christian community. There can be a sense of, “We are talking about love, again?”

Paul’s epistles are foundational to the church’s understanding of what it means to be a community of Christ and the expectations of discipleship. Paul gave us those favorite wedding passages of 1 Corinthians 13 – “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude . . . And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love.” And here again, Paul expands on the direct instruction of Jesus to love God and love our neighbor, to explain what that looks like:

“Hold fast to what is good. . . outdo one another in showing care . . . rejoice in hope . . . live in harmony with one another . . . Do not be overcome by evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.”

These are not easy instructions. It is easier to claim the affections of love, rather than live in challenge of actually loving. The Christian understanding of love is not an adjective describing a disposition of affections; it is instead a verb naming a way to live in life. The world encourages and teaches us to center life only in self, to move to antagonism and demonization of those in opposition, to seek only for that which will principally enrich the self. These sorts of attitudes win elections, make one rich, and looks like our understanding of success. But, the instruction of love sits in opposition to that. Life is centered in self AND other, to recognize those in opposition as being beloved, to work for the betterment of all. It is a counter cultural instruction that contradicts the instructions for “success” in our society. You risk looking like a “loser” to society, while claiming a different perspective on success and “winning”. Given the burn out of our society and the struggles of self-worth and meaning, maybe it is time to change our perspective.

So, love is not the tired mantra of a tired faith with nothing new to add to the public discourse; love is the constant instruction of a people seeking to make the world a gentler place. If we are to be change makers in a changing world, we need to allow ourselves to proceed into the world with an alternative approach to life. We need to confront the evils of our world with the blessings of good that come out of love.

Love is not easy. It is a constant process of self-reflection, commitment, and action. And, it is life and society changing. This is why John Lewis, who was impacted and changed by this message of love, should write in his final message to us all:

“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”


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"Meant for Community" (Text: Matthew 18:15-20)

Sometimes, I have conversations, and afterward, as I reflect on the discussion, I think of what I could have said; what I wished I had said. It would be the perfect comeback, the unrestrained burn, the darkest shade, the response that would invoke a mic drop. I dream of that moment, and then everyone turns to me and compliments me on my perfect rebuttal. Sometimes, I manage to say that perfect thing.

My wife and I were have a discussion one day, a conversation of sorts; I will call it what it was – we were having an argument. In the midst of our disagreement, she brought up a previous misstep I had made. And in that second, I knew my moment had arrived. I knew the perfect comeback; after all, all that seminary and Biblical study, those years of reading my Bible had prepared me for this moment, and I seized it with great gusto.

“You need to let this go,” I said, “Jesus said that we should forgive seventy times seven, which really means perpetually.”

My wife just stared at me for a second, and I privately congratulated myself for my winning retort. Then, I learn to regret having the best response.

“I will bring up whatever I feel I need to, and DO NOT EVER use the Bible as a weapon again when we are fighting!!”

As a society, we love that moment of justification. The best burn and the most vicious clap back gets the attention and accolades. We as a community observe these disputes and become the character players in all the movies who yell, “Dang” with every response. Social media gives us so many chances in a single day to watch one person take down someone else. In some ways that is the genius of it, that moment to come up with the perfect burn is given to us online. I have relished when someone I casts serious shade on someone I do not.

But, how much does this cost us all? We destroy relationships, even weak ones of just vague awareness, for the spectacle of them. I have a friend whose social media come-backs and attacks are so vicious and pointed that I am ever so grateful that they are my friend, and I intend to keep it that way. This is not new either, in the “new” media format of the printing press, Martin Luther, the great Reformation leader, was the champion of put downs and attacks in his time; his withering comments so pointed and aggressive that critics feared his public scorn, and it makes for entertaining reading these 500 years later, even if calling someone a devil doesn’t have the same poignancy.

We know from the beginning of the Christian church there were debates inside of the community. One of the first debates was how open the community would be, pitting St. Paul vs St. Peter. St. Paul’s letters themselves are addressing early questions and early debates inside of the church; and his criticism were not mild. St. Paul once wrote in response to a debate on righteousness, “You stupid Galatians!” At our fundamentals because we all have different perspectives and different experiences, human community has some disagreement and conflict.

So, it should be no wonder to us, that Jesus said something of it, and that there would be some instruction as to how to proceed.

 In conflict, our most trusted resource when someone has said our written something that offends us is to tell someone else about it to share in our disgust. We don’t go and ask the other person what they meant or seek to explain how their statement impacted us, it is easier to talk about someone than talking to someone. Even easier to do this when our social connection is weak. I have an easier time in speaking meaningfully to my parents about my disagreements with their opinions, than I do some stranger I would rather just tear down for their ignorance.

What Jesus expects of us here then is both hard and not widely embraced. We are told that when we have a disagreement, we are to seek to speak privately to that person. In these days, it is asking us to private message someone who has challenged us in social media – how likely is that? And, if the conflict continues, to involve others in the conversation. To invite others into the discussion to help draw understanding from both. Finally, if there is not resolution, to take it to the community.

But, it is hard to care for human relations in the tension of these moments, and our society does not reward with attention those who engage without resorting to public embarrassment. Our brains are wired to believe all threats, even intellectual and personal ones, are immediate threats to our physical person. Adrenaline pours into the blood, and we physically get ready to fight.

However, if we truly believe that Christ has called us to live in the world in a different way or even if we embrace the American University mission to become change makers for a changing world, then we have to confront the way we engage each other. To fill our social media engagements with vitriol and attack only furthers the purposes of a polarized and tension filled society and pushes further into tension. We have to find another way, or we will continue to make false images of each other for our own self-aggrandizement.

Does this mean there is no seeking for truth, no criticism of wrong, no tense discussions, of course not. We are called by faith and needs of our world to speak openly what we believe to be true and fight for that truth. We cannot let the false promise of civil discourse to silence the cause of justice, and we must stand, sometimes disruptively, against the injustice we hear and see around us. But, we need to do so without publicly demonizing each other for the spectacle of the exercise and the proof of our own political righteousness.

If this world is to be changed, we must be a part of that, and if it is to be more gentle, we need to become more gentle with each other. We can fight for justice; we can stand for the cause of peace, and we can extend compassion beyond ourselves. These are not mutually exclusive, but they are interconnected to a different way of preceding into the type world for which we long.


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"You Get What You Need" (Text: Exodus 16:2-15; Matthew 20:1-16)

It was an incredibly generous thing to do! Each worker, regardless of the time worked, was given just enough for him and his family to survive one day. One denarius was the usual day’s wage for a laborer and, as it happens, just enough for a family’s survival. Those who worked all day got exactly what they had been promised—one denarius. Those who worked less that a full day got more than they earned, but exactly what they needed—one denarius. Had this farmer been a better capitalist he would have realized that part-time help gets a partial salary, can be paid at a lower hourly rate, and aren’t entitled to benefits. But these day laborers were living at a subsistence level and a partial payment would mean some children would go hungry. At the end of the story, the farmer insists that it’s his money and he can be generous with it if he chooses. But, of course, that misses the point. The fulltime workers weren’t complaining because he was generous to the others, but that he wasn’t more generous to them. Well, I suppose they had a point: with that pay arrangement, the next day nobody would show up for work until the last hour of the day. Let’s be realistic: people don’t usually work for the joy of working; they work for rewards. And if an hour’s work produces the same reward as a full day, why would anyone work a full day? But then, I don’t think Jesus is giving a lesson in economics. I think Jesus is trying to tell us something about God (who gives us what we need, not what we’ve earned) and about the dangers of greed.

Back in chapter 19, a young man of great wealth came to Jesus looking for spiritual guidance on how to get (earn) eternal life. Jesus must have sensed that the center of this man’s life was his wealth, so he tells him to go sell all he has and give it to the poor and then become one of his disciples. Apparently the prospect of treasure in heaven (which he had requested, after all) was less attractive that the realty of wealth on earth. This prompts Jesus to explain to his disciples how difficult it is to put wealth in its place. Too often we start out owning the treasure only to discover that within a short time the treasure owns us. Wealth takes first place in our life…and God won’t settle for second. That’s why it’s difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom. It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom. Except for the grace of God, it would be impossible. Peter agrees and reminds Jesus that he and the other disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus. And then he wants to know what marvelous reward God has planned for them. In response, Jesus tells the parable of the generous farmer to explain the ways of God and the pitfalls of greed. 

This story of the Exodus is one of the most powerful and instructive in scripture. It can be read in two ways. I read it the first way in Sunday School—the miraculous, supernatural story of God’s intervention in history to rescue His people from slavery. It was just one supernatural miracle after another—the ten plagues, the parting of the sea, water from a rock, bread from heaven, etc., etc. With such marvelous occurrences, faith must have been easy. How could they possibly doubt God with all that evidence of God’s intentions and power? And yet they complained constantly, they doubted ceaselessly, and they had a real penchant for unfaithfulness. How could that possibly be?

But there is another way to read this story that, I think, makes it more understandable and profoundly more powerful. Every one of the “supernatural” acts can be understood as a natural phenomenon. The timing and sequence is more than coincidental but less than overwhelming—which is to say that the process of understanding what they mean, what they point to, is an act of faith. Red clay run off in the Nile was not unheard of. That cloudy water might very well drive the frogs out and onto land. Dead frogs would attract gnats and flies, and so on. After generations of slavery, a bold and God-filled leader named Moses lead them out of the house of bondage on a journey to the Promised Land. It was no easy trick getting out of Egypt and it was no easy trip to the land of promise. They wandered in the desert for forty years. Forty years is a long time to be lost! They almost died along the way. They were not nomads who knew the ways of the desert; they were brick makers and builders who knew only the ways of the city. Like typical city dwellers they probably thought they were going on a picnic. They packed some supplies, of course, and for a short period they had a wonderful time. They celebrated, danced, sang, and praised their leader. And then they ran out of water. Oh, they managed to stumble across some water, but it wasn’t fit to drink and they got together a “Back to Egypt Committee.” 

Moses had spent a little time in the wilderness and he undoubtedly knew, as most nomads did, that it rains in the desert and that rock formations can hold that water and keep it from evaporating (as water evaporates, it leaves minerals behind; these minerals become seals that hold the water in the rock formation). As the mineral crust is broken off, water flows. It looks like it’s flowing out of a rock and hence is miraculous. This must have happened several times since they were convinced that the magic rock was following them! So, God provided water and they went back to singing and dancing. A short while after that, they ran out of food. Days had turned into weeks and weeks into months, and the desert, after all, is stingy with its resources. Rejoicing gradually turned into complaining and the “Back to Egypt Committee” was called back into session. Confidence became sarcasm and the leaders whom they once thought could do no wrong, now quite obviously could do nothing right, and the God who had already worked so many marvels for their benefit, seemed suddenly powerless. 

That evening they had quail for supper—migrating birds blown off course who flew until they were absolutely exhausted and then fell to the ground. The next morning a strange flaky substance covered the ground. Nomads would have recognized it, of course, but they didn’t. They looked at each other with quizzical expressions on their faces and said to each other, “manna?” (which means, “what is this stuff?”). Eventually they tasted it and liked it and collected it to feed their families. In their excitement they probably forgot that God had said, “I will rain bread from heaven for you…in that way I will test you.” 

They thought it was a free breakfast, but God was testing them. The Hebrew word translated, “test,” means to smell something to determine if it is spoiled. They had been told that they could gather this every day—just enough for that day. If they got greedy and took more than they could use, the manna would rot and give off a foul odor. If someone was greedy, you could tell by the stench coming from their tent! God was putting them to the test—testing for the foul odor of greed and lack of faith. Some people will tell you that greed is good. God tells us it stinks!


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"An Iota of Difference" (Text: Matthew 22:34-46)

In the 4th century the long dispute over the relationship between Christ and the Father came to a head and the church chose homoousios (of the same substance) over homoiousios (of similar substance). It came down to a battle over a single Greek letter (the iota). Blood was spilt, heretics declared and the emperor made and enforced decrees. Being an orthodox Christian required eliminating the iota! 

In A.D. 1054 the church in the west (Spain, I think) added to the creed the affirmation that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son. That split the church in two—a rift that to this day has not been healed. 

In the 17th century the Dutch Reformed Church was nearly split in half by an argument over when God the Father decided to send the Messiah. Was it before the Fall because God knows the end from the beginning (supralapsarianism) or after the Fall because there was no need to do it before the Fall (infralapsarianism). 

Battles have been waged over baptism: is it an unearned gift of grace and hence available to infants or must one first understand and make a commitment and hence available only to adults; is it administered by dunking, sprinkling or pouring. Churches have been split, denominations formed and ill will spread. 

Look, this being Christian is complicated stuff. Are you a premillennialist, a millenarian or a postmillennialist? You almost need advanced degrees to figure out what to believe. And isn’t that what’s important—believing the right things? 

That’s what the Pharisees were up to—they were testing Jesus’ beliefs. They got more than they asked for (two commandments instead of the one they had requested) but what they didn’t get was a dissertation, a lecture or an example of complexity. Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as you love yourself. On these hang all the law and the prophets. The goal of living, apparently, is not affirming all the right beliefs but learning how to love. I’m not discounting beliefs—beliefs can help us see and understand—but learning how to love can transform our lives. And love is something we need to learn because from birth on our tendency is to be turned in upon ourselves. Love is something we need to learn and like all learning it takes practice.   

Love is not sentimentality. It’s not necessarily about emotion or warm feelings. It’s not even necessarily about liking the other. It’s about trust, loyalty and enduring connection. I’ve had neighbors I didn’t like but Christ still expected me to love them—to act for their wellbeing, to not tell lies about them or try in other ways to hurt them and to not break off whatever the connection between us was. We learn to love by loving—by paying attention to the relationship, by spending time in the relationship, and by being present to the possibilities of enhancing relationship.     

I’ve spent a lot of years learning about the importance of a little iota—missing or not—but I expect that at the end it won’t make one iota of difference. All that really counts—counts for eternity—is how well I learned how to love.    

So this is what it comes down to after all the complexity has been cleared away: love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

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Signature Services

The Office of the University Chaplain provides a number of Signature Services through the year.  We take time to reflect on the life and work of an individual or movement and explore what lessons can be learned today. Examples include:

  • Service of Remembrance for Monsignor Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of El Salvador whose work for social and economic justice continues to inspire us today
  • A Service of Commemoration & Commitment for MLK & the Civil Rights Movement
  • Post-Election Prayers for our Nation

There are 24

different communities of faith in Kay

Kay Chapel held 839

worship services in 2016-2017