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Examining one of Jesus’ most well-known parables from different perspectives
Prodigal: The Older Son
In our second look at this parable, we turn our attention to the older son who dutifully stayed home while his younger brother left. Upon the return of the younger brother, this older brother was angry and jealous, refusing to join the celebration. Pastor John talks about Rembrandt’s own bitterness expressed in this painting, the trap into which many oldest siblings fall, and ways to overcome resentment in order to experience true joy and vitality.
Prodigal: The Younger Son
We begin our four-week series on this well-known parable by looking at its namesake: the prodigal son. This younger son asked for his inheritance, left home, squandered it all, hit rock bottom, and returned home looking to be a servant rather than a son. Examining this story from his perspective reminds us how easy it can be to forget our identity as children of God and how difficult it can be to accept God’s unconditional love.
Stories We Don’t Tell Our Children
A look at less-familiar and even disturbing or offensive stories from the Bible
July 9-30, 2017
Stories We Don’t Tell Our Children: Assassination of King Eglon
The people of Israel are being oppressed by the Moabites and their fat king Eglon. The solution: an elaborate assassination plot that is pulled off to perfection by the left-handed Ehud. This story raises all kinds of issues about how God works, who God uses, how we tell right from wrong, and what topics are off-limits. Listen as Pastor John retells the story and explores these issues in turn.
Stories We Don’t Tell Our Children: Elisha and the Bears
In this puzzling story, the prophet Elisha calls down two bears to maul 42 young men who were jeering him for being bald. While Pastor John can intimately identify with the need to respect bald preachers, there is a deeper identification here between the great prophet Elijah and his disciple Elisha who has now taken on the mantle of leadership. Most importantly, though, this passage reminds us that we all have bad days when we offer disproportionate responses and act out of our hurt and anger, but God loves and uses us anyway.
Stories We Don’t Tell Our Children: The Rape of Tamar
Guest Preacher: Rev. Shelby Slowey
How do we talk about rape in church? Guest preacher Rev. Shelby Slowey explores this difficult passage in Samuel to share how important it is to confront sexual assault in a way that does not seek to silence or ignore, but to expose it to the harsh and healing light of justice and God’s righteousness. While it may make us uncomfortable, we are called as God’s people to identify and name injustice when we see it so that the true pursuit of justice can begin.
Stories We Don’t Tell Our Children: Sodom and Gomorrah
God destroys the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness, but what exactly was the evil that had taken hold in them? For centuries, the church has taught that it was homosexuality, but a closer look at the connection to the story of Abraham and Sarah’s visit from three strangers, at the story itself, and at the earliest interpretations of it all reveal that the real sin was a lack of hospitality. The people of Sodom were unwilling to share what they had and instead wanted to take from and abuse others. As people of faith, we have experienced God’s generous hospitality and are invited to share it in our homes, our church, our city, and our nation.
Stories We Tell Our Children
Fresh lessons from familiar Bible stories that we often tell our kids
June 11 – July 2, 2017
Stories We Tell Our Children: Jonah and the Whale
Note: audio is not available for this date.
In our final story, the prophet Jonah is told to go and preach to the city of Nineveh, but he flees in the opposite direction. A great storm comes and Jonah is saved by a big fish. He then decides to go to Nineveh as he was originally instructed. The people of Nineveh repent from their sins and are saved, but Jonah is not happy about it. At its heart, this story is about mercy…mercy that Jonah receives from God but is unwilling to extend to the people of Nineveh. All too often, we are like Jonah: ready to receive but not to give. Thankfully, God is full of mercy and abounding in steadfast love!
Stories We Tell Our Children: Baby Moses and the Bulrushes
Our third story in this sermon series is another well-known one: Baby Moses and the Bulrushes. Pastor John tells the whole story of Moses and the Exodus in reverse order, beginning with the entrance into the Promised Land and ending with Baby Moses. God’s mighty acts of salvation throughout the story are possible because the midwives and Moses’ parents stood up against the evil, injustice, and oppression of the Pharaoh. As people of faith, we are called through our baptisms to do the same!
Stories We Tell Our Children: Noah’s Ark
Our second story in this sermon series is Noah’s Ark, which begins in Genesis 6. This story is much more disturbing than we usually acknowledge, what with God’s destroying nearly all life on the planet. Pastor John highlights various portions of the story and lifts up some of the tensions within our understanding of God that it can help us to explore: God’s righteousness vs. God’s mercy, God’s relationship with the particular vs. the general, and God’s goodness vs. the evil in the world. In the end, we see how grieved God is at the evil and corruption in the world, and we are invited to join with God in making the world a better place.
Stories We Tell Our Children: David and Goliath
Guest Speaker: Steffie Misner-Wampler
We begin this series as our “stART from Scratch” art camp comes to a close. Steffie Misner-Wampler, our director for the camp, shares briefly about the story of David and Goliath, the importance of storytelling, the theme from the camp of understanding God’s love and grace, and highlights from the week of camp.
MORE Than a Method
Distinctive Beliefs and Practices of The United Methodist Church
April 23 – May 21, 2017
MORE Than a Method: Arminianism
While United Methodists share a common set of beliefs with other Christian traditions, we do have some theological perspectives that set us apart. One of these is Arminianism, which stands in contrast to Calvinism and the idea of Predestination. Pastor John explains the Five Points of Calvinism using the acronym TULIP and how our theological heritage differs on each one. In the end, we emphasize God’s offer of free grace to all people and God’s gift of free will to humanity through which we can choose to respond to grace.
MORE Than a Method: Sanctifying Grace
We United Methodists understand God’s grace as operating in three different modes throughout our lives: Prevenient, Justifying, and Sanctifying Grace. Pastor John continues using the image of a trip to Disney World as a way to understand this grace and talks about enjoying the whole Disney experience – rides, shows, characters, food, and more – as being like Sanctifying Grace. Our way of understanding salvation is not just about a moment of repentance or forgiveness, but about the entirety of God’s work in our lives, which leads us – guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit – to love God and neighbor more fully.
MORE Than a Method: Justifying Grace
We United Methodists understand God’s grace as operating in three different modes throughout our lives: Prevenient, Justifying, and Sanctifying Grace. This week, Pastor John takes a look at Justifying Grace through the extended metaphor of a trip to Disney World. The grace of forgiveness and reconciliation to God is like those moments of wonder, awe, contentment, or thrill that we may experience at Disney World. God continually offers this gift to us and invites us to experience the love and acceptance offered to us through Jesus Christ.
MORE Than a Method: Prevenient Grace
Note: Audio not available for this date.
We United Methodists understand God’s grace as operating in three different modes throughout our lives: Prevenient, Justifying, and Sanctifying Grace. Pastor John begins a three-week look at these modes of grace by comparing them to a trip to Disney World. Specifically, Prevenient Grace – the grace that “comes before” us – is like all the preparations that go into making Disney the happiest place on earth….from the travel infrastructure to the park itself to the cast members who serve you while you are there. God’s grace never stops and always goes before us.
MORE Than a Method: Our Story
As we kick off this sermon series about what it means to be United Methodist, Pastor John shares the story of the beginnings of the Methodist movement with John and Charles Wesley in the Church of England in the 1700s within the larger context of church history. He also tells the story of Blakemore United Methodist Church from its humble beginnings in a one-room building in the 1890s to the present day with many struggles as well as meaningful ministry in between.
How God Uses the Interruptions in Our Lives – Big and Small
Lent: March 5 – April 16, 2017
Interruptions: The Great Interruption
On Easter Sunday, we hear the story of Jesus’ resurrection through the experiences of Mary Magdalene as detailed in John 20:1-20. Mary is trying to deal with feeling overwhelmed by all the interruptions in her life and finds herself alone and weeping outside Jesus’ empty tomb. God turns her tragedy into triumph and brings good from the interruptions in her life – just like in ours. In the end, Mary’s life is changed when Jesus calls her by name. Joy and hope are born in her, just like when a seed is buried in the ground and brings new life.
Interruptions: Jesus Enters the City
At the beginning of Holy Week, we mark Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem by waving palm branches and singing, “Hosanna!” Thus begins the greatest interruption the world has ever known: the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. As we explore this story, Pastor John wonders aloud how much of the story was destined to be this way and when we, like the disciples, can claim to know exactly what God wants. In the end, Jesus interrupted many in this story in varied ways – just as our lives continue to be interrupted – and brought good from even the very worst.
Interruptions: Be an Interrupter
Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, interrupts a meal at her own home to anoint the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume and then wipe his feet with her hair. Judas criticizes her actions as wasteful, but Jesus praises her extravagant generosity. Pastor John struggles with the reality that he identifying more with Judas than Mary or Jesus. The foreshadowing of Jesus’ death hangs over this story, as do the relationships of the people involved. In the end, God invites us to be interrupters with love like Mary.
Interruptions: Jesus, the Interrupter
While traveling from Judea to Galilee, Jesus makes a stop at a well in Samaria in John 4:4-23. As his disciples are in town getting supplies, he asks for a drink from a woman who had come to draw water during the heat of the day, breaking multiple cultural norms. In doing so, Jesus interrupts her routine, interrupts the way she perceives herself, and even interrupts the way she thinks about God. Jesus continues to interrupt our lives in similar ways today.
Interruptions: Interruptions Are Messy
Life is full of messes: literal ones that we need to clean and figurative ones that are sometimes of our own making, sometimes beyond our control. Jesus encounters both kinds of messes in Mark 2:1-12 when four friends tear open the roof of Jesus’ home and lower their paralyzed friend down to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t balk at either the literal mess of the damaged roof or the mess in the man’s life. Jesus says yes to the mess and calls us to say yes to the messes and interruptions in the lives of one another.
Interruptions: Living in a Culture of Interruptions
In Mark 10:46-52, Jesus heals a blind man named Bartimaeus just outside the city of Jericho. Despite the crowd’s insistence that Bartimaeus remain quiet, he persists and is heard by Jesus. Jesus then stops and stands still, making himself fully present and available. He then asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” God invites us to affirm the value and worth of others, to be present to the sacred interruptions in our lives, and to listen for the needs of others.
Interruptions: Interruption as Opportunity
Jesus is interrupted twice in Mark 5:21-34 – Once by Jairus, whose daughter is on her deathbed, and a second time by a woman who touches his cloak and is healed. Rather than seeing these interruptions as inconveniences or annoyances, Jesus sees them as opportunities to share God’s love and grace. He joins in their interrupted lives, he offers no judgment of their circumstances, and he jumps in with both feet to offer help. Note: Audio not available for this date.
But I Say…
Jesus’ Difficult Teachings from the Sermon on the Mount
January 15 to February 26, 2017
But I Say…Store Up Treasures in Heaven
Jesus uses many methods to teach, most famously parables and aphorisms. Pastor John explores the four aphorisms (memorable one-liners or short, pithy statements) found in Matthew 6:19-34 that all call us to think about where we put our focus. Learn more about our heart being where our treasure is, the danger of confusing light and darkness, the impossibility of serving two masters, and the folly of worrying.
But I Say…Love Your Enemies
In the closing verses of Matthew 5 Jesus rejects the philosophy of “An eye for an eye” in favor of “Turn the other cheek.” This is often misunderstood as passively allowing others to use or even abuse you, but in this sermon Pastor John suggests that Jesus is really advocating non-violent resistance. Jesus’ command to love our enemies can only happen through God’s grace and the power of prayer to change our hearts and lives.
But I Say…Let Your Word Be True
In what is probably Jesus’ most challenging teaching, he likens simply feeling anger to murder itself and having lustful thoughts to adultery. Pastor John tells us that the idea behind what Jesus is saying is that we need to acknowledge and deal with the darkness and mess inside each of us. If we don’t, we might end up like a stinky bag of rotting vegetables (you gotta listen to the sermon for that one). But if we do, then we can be freed from the weight of deception and are better able to love others, especially those who are most vulnerable.
But I Say…Let Your Light Shine
Jesus follows up the Beatitudes by declaring that we are salt and light. These two powerful metaphors remind us that being disciples of Jesus Christ means making a difference in our everyday lives. Salt adds flavor and preserves. Light lets us see to do things. Can you remember a time you had to go without one of these, such as a blackout? They enhance our lives, and we are called to do the same for the world in Jesus’ name. Note: The Children’s Message involving an experiment with salt is included at the beginning of this sermon.
But I Say…Blessed Are They
Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with nine sayings that all begin with, “Blessed are they…” We call these the Beatitudes, but we in the church often misunderstand what Jesus is really saying. Rather than telling us we will be blessed by a reward after we do what they say, he is stating that they are themselves the reward. Of them all, we are particularly called to become peacemakers who build bridges rather than walls in our society that is deeply divided.
But I Say…Enter Through the Narrow Gate
In the closing verses of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers us a choice of how to live. Through the metaphors of city gates and roads along with the foundation on which a house is built (rock or sand), Jesus reminds us that living a Godly life is indeed difficult, but that it will lead to real life, characterized by the good fruit of mercy, peace, justice, forgiveness, love and grace.
But I Say…Do Unto Others
Jesus offers us instructions on how to live in the Sermon on the Mount, but they are not easy to follow. In Matthew 7:1-12, Jesus tells us not to judge others, to pay attention to what God is doing, to trust that God will meet us in prayer, and to treat others with respect and dignity. That last one – the Golden Rule – is so simple yet difficult to follow, but if we do it can change the world.
Stand Alone Sermon
Baptism of the Lord
On the first Sunday after Epiphany, we read the story of Jesus’ baptism. Pastor John tells the story of his own baptism as an 11-year old boy and reminds us that while baptism has many meanings and purposes, it is first and foremost a sign and symbol of God’s grace. In our baptism, we become part of God’s story as beloved children, and it is this story that speaks the deepest truth about our identity.
The Characters of Christmas
Examining the individuals who enliven the stories of Jesus’ miraculous birth
To hear the other sermons in this series, please visit our 2016 sermons
The Characters of Christmas: Magi
On Epiphany Sunday, we hear the story of the wise men, or Magi, following a star in order to visit the newborn King of the Jews. From their story, we learn that God is at work in many different ways: through the natural world, through signs and wonders, through unexpected people, and through the ordinary things of life. May we, like the Magi, pay close attention so that we can notice God’s handiwork.