For Sunday April 7, 2013 Second Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31, I Corinthians 15
“Blowing in the Wind”
By Bill Cotton email@example.com
According to the Gospels, the Resurrected Christ appears six times to the Disciples and Followers.
To Mary in the Garden,
To the Disciples in the Upper room,
A second visit to the Upper Room to include Thomas.
To strangers on the Road to Emmaus
To Peter and the disciples by the lake side one bright morning
To Paul on the road to Damascus (as one untimely born)
In his Easter Sermon, I Cor. 15 , Paul tells us that the risen Christ was seem by 500 witnesses many whom had not yet fallen asleep. Apparently death was not the last word. What could it mean?
When our daughter Leslie was in the second grade she wanted her Mom and me to go to school with her. She said she needed help cleaning out her locker and was afraid to tell the teacher. We opened the locker and suddenly the hall way was inundated with floating milkweed seed—a literal silent explosion of the fluffy seed. —Leslie had brought the pods home from one of our camping trips and put them in the locker.
Later I would remember something that Walter Wink said about the Crucifixion/ Resurrection. The death of Jesus was like hitting a milk weed pod and watching a host of seed swept by the wind into the entire world—Death could not hold him—who he was, what he revealed-- word and deed were released--- gone out to the whole world. Frighten disciples, those slow to believe, doubters, betrayers, skeptics --know this-- there is for each of us a new way to be alive—to love --to soar—Yes! Easter faith cannot be contained, it is blowing in the wind. Christ is Risen Indeed! Go Tell.
March 24, 2013 Palm Sunday
“Ride on, King Jesus!”\
By Bill Cotton firstname.lastname@example.org
What can we make of his day? We will have palm branches to wave. We will sing “all glory laud and honor” and little children will hear the stories of Jesus. It’s a strange day, a prelude to things to come. My old teacher Fred Gealy said it best: “Although Jesus appears to be thwarted, rejected and defeated, he walks like a conqueror. He bears none of the gorgeous trappings of a king—only rags of royalty and a crown of thorns—yet everyone who reads the gospels knows that he is a king. Thus his entry into Jerusalem is indeed a triumphal entry. And somehow what he did and said 1900 years ago—offers blueprint for each of us to follow.”
Paul Tillich taught that there is an element or potential for greatness in every person. The goal for humanity, common folk, and public figures is to seek their greatness-- not in the sense of boasting or looking for some religious pay off. One does not set out to become a great person. One simply develops a life of integrity---striving to do the right thing, have the right kind of relationships, regardless of the personal risk or cost. Tillich also speaks of the cost, reminding us that those who follow the path to greatness—who strive to do the right thing-- find themselves paying a great and sometimes ultimate price. One only has to look at our national heroes, who led without thought of cost, to understand what Tillich meant. These people endured pain, criticism, abuse, and often paid the ultimate price.
But faithful people nonetheless must seek to do the right and just thing regardless of the cost.
Persons who refuse to follow the path to greatness -- those who take no chances, color within the lines, give in and give-up -- settle for a life of smallness, and fall beneath tragedy. These days when public cynicism rules the day, the palm branch reminds us that there will be a triumphal entry only when each of us faces with integrity what is required of us.
Now all of this is a bit heavy—What I am getting at can be summed up in the wisdom of Hattie Woeste, a kind lady who watched our children. She said, “I always tell the truth and then I don’t have to remember what I said.” And telling the truth means living the truth – integrity!
Let us break Bread Together, Abingdon Press. Nashville, p. 56.
Tillich, Paul, Systematic Theology, Vol. III, p.92-93, University of Chicago Press, 1964; 51-2235
March 17 Sermon Preparation
5th Sunday in Lent March 17, 2013
Is. 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8
“The poor you have with you always”
by Bill Cotton email@example.com
The lessons for this Sunday do not fit the somber mood of Lent. I have thought for a long time that the church makes a grave error in Lent by its heavy focus on the “Old Rugged Cross”—Lent ought to be more than preparation for a funeral. This week Isaiah 43 tells us that the Lord is about to do a new thing. The people will find a way through the wilderness. Psalm 126 speaks of joy and laughter, obviously a reference to the great homecoming from exile--- they are bringing in the sheaves. Paul in Philippians reviews his past life before he met the Christ and calls it all rubbish—he presses on, his new life now full of hope. Then we come to the Gospel of John. Jesus is having a meal with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Seems like there has to always be a fly in the ointment—in this case, old Judas is grumbling because Mary spent all of that money on a pound of nard that could have been given to the poor. In rebuking Judas, Jesus gives us a new proverb—“the poor you have with you always.”
I think the theme that I will use next Sunday is “newness”—a new way to think about the Lenten journey. On the bulletin board in the Lacona United Methodist Church, someone posted a thank you card with pictures of a group of small children who had all signed their names. The Lacona UM Women had given money to the school milk fund. It seems that a number of children do not have money to buy milk at school. They were drinking water. In Iowa of all places, the breadbasket of the world, kids’ parents cannot afford milk for their children. For me this really put a face on those words “the poor you have with you always,” and it certainly moves me away from simply singing hymns about “the old rugged cross.” Those United Methodist women do more than sing, and in their actions of resurrection and faith, newness becomes reality. It also helps me understand what the Quakers mean when they tell us to “preach every day, when necessary use words!”
The Thursday Memo for Preachers
For Sunday March 3, 2013, 3rd Sunday in Lent
Luke 13:1-9 “Trees and Fruit”
by Bill Cotton
Have you noticed? Jesus expects a lot from fig trees. There was the time when he became impatient and cursed the tree that bore no fruit. (Remember he was on the way to do some temple cleansing). Another time he will speak of the ax being put to the roots of the tree. In the Luke parable for this week, he is ready to rid the garden of a tree that apparently is gold bricking--three years and no fruit. In this case the gardner begs for one more year--you know, just add some manure.
Does it seem providential that this text in some form usually surfaces in the spring during the making of cabinet appointments? Is Jesus really talking about trees? Well it would be easy to moralize this text. After all, the bearing of fruit is important to Jesus too.
But something else is happening here. With the announcing of the new Kingdom that is being revealed in Jesus, there is a struggle between the old and the new. Jesus is the sign of newness. He will speak of the problem of patching old garments and the need for new wine skins to replace the old, because the forms of the old world are passing away--- Jesus is the sign for newness. I think this is always the case. T.S. Eliot once wrote that the “Church must always be rebuilding because it is always decaying from within.”.
All of this seems a bit heavy, so lets visit that tree one more time. In East Peru, Madison County, where I hang out, there is a wonderful story of a Quaker farmer who planted sixteen apple trees. One of the trees appeared to be different. So the farmer cut it down. But the tree came back from the roots so the farmer said, “If thou would live then live,” and he let the tree grow. One year it bore fruit-- our farmer said, “This is the most delicious apple I have ever tasted!”
Later he will sell the grafting rights for enough money to pay off his farm, and the world has the Delicious Apple. The original tree died in a 1940 ice storm but again came back from the roots, and last year it again bore fruit. The old tree is no quitter. There is a sermon here somewhere--Go and bear some fruit...
(A special thanks to Bill Steward for sharing his wisdom last month.)
The Second Sunday of Lent: Psalm 27
Bill Steward: firstname.lastname@example.org
When I began my work as an itinerant United Methodist minister some years ago, I was comforted by believing that no matter where in Iowa I was appointed I would never be without three old-reliable, solid-as-a-rock resources: The Des Moines Register, the United States Postal Service, and Ann Landers/Abigail Van Buren’s advice columns. Duh. And now Ann and Abby have both passed from the scene.
For those of you unfamiliar with Ann (1918-2002) and Abby (1918-2013): They were identical twins from Sioux City, Morningside College attendees, and authors of wildly popular dueling syndicated newspaper advice columns from the 50s-on. Think Suze Orman or Dr. Drew but with bigger audiences. Ann and Abby offered sanctified common sense for the millions.
Their newspaper columns continue—but without their distinctive charm and chutzpah. Here are some classic quotes.
*”Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as evidence that you are wonderful.” (Ann)
*”People who fight with fire usually end up with ashes.” (Abby)
*”Make someone happy today, and mind your own business.” (Ann)
*”Fear less, hope more. Eat less, chew more. Talk less, say more. Hate less, love more, and never underestimate the power of forgiveness.” (Abby)
*”The best index of a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good.” (Ann and Abby)
I have attended to Ann and Abby through the years. Good advice has its place but don’t you agree that the best things anyone can ever say fall not into the category of good advice but good news? William Sloane Coffin, Jr. got it right: The best things that can be said aren’t in the imperative but the indicative mood. “If God’s love for us is the first and greatest thing that can be said about biblical faith, then the primary religious emotion is gratitude not duty. Duty calls when gratitude fails to prompt. So the great imperatives have to take second place. They are the signposts of faith. The indicatives are the hitching posts.”
Aren’t these some of the best things anyone has ever said:
*”The Sovereign One is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Sovereign One is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
*If my father and mother forsake me, the Sovereign One will take me up.” (27:10)
*”God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
*God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.”
(I John 4:16)
Here’s some free advice: Read over your recent sermons and see whether you have been emphasizing the great imperatives or the great indicatives. When we preachers delete the great indicatives from our sermons, we become wasted and worn, tired and tiresome.
One last bit of unsolicited advice, almost up to Ann and Abby’ standards: “Never give advice---it will just backfire on you.” (Father Guido Sarducci)
Bill Steward: email@example.com
First Sunday in Lent: Luke 4:1-13
The story of Jesus’ testing in the wilderness begins in the waters of baptism (Luke 3:21-22). I have come to believe that the familiar biblical illustrations of Jesus’ baptism misrepresent the event. John and Jesus are often pictured having the River Jordan to themselves, the only two in the water. But where’s the crowd? Where are all the others, young, old, young, rich, poor, yearning for a new life and a new world? The gospel writers make it a mob scene. Jesus was one of a restless, rebellious throng. Jesus came with the flood of people because he was one of them. He knew their hearts. He loved them---and believed that the future of the Kingdom-Reign of God was dependent upon their savvy and strength.
After his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness---where he again affirmed his commitment to the power and place of the people in the coming Kingdom-Reign of God.
Jesus rejected using magical powers to turn stones into bread. He responded: NO---Only God’s people have the power to create a just and bountiful world that will endure. (4:3-4)
Jesus rejected absolute political power. Jesus said: NO---The people are the only rightful possessors of power to govern justly. It belongs to them, not to the Roman Emperor, not to me. (4:5-8)
Jesus rejected absolute religious authority. Jesus said: NO---All power that sustains and has revolutionary traction in history is bottom-up community-power. (4:9-12)
Jesus was embraced by the common people (and crucified by the Roman Empire) because he was uncompromising: authentic power belonged to the people. He understood their essential role in God’s Kingdom-Reign. He refused to assume power himself because he knew that power that lasts through time is communal power. “Greater things you will do than I have done,” he testified. (John 14:13) He refused to do what we the people have the agency and responsibility to do for ourselves.
Black History month is a good time to remember that the civil rights movement triumphed not only because of great individual leaders but also because of the tireless work of many indispensible and unnamed heroes---many of them “church ladies.” Lynne Olson has provided documentation in “Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830-1970.” Behind-the-scenes women were the ones who cooked the meals, set up and took down rally sites, walked and provided transportation during bus boycotts and registered voters. Typically, in 1963 the hundreds of students at Florida A & M University who were charged for protesting segregated movie theaters were mostly young women. Six of the Little Rock Nine, black teenagers threatened for integrating the public high schools in 1957, were young women. Amen, sisters.
Jesus’ time of testing is over. His gaze is now fixed on us. “Follow me,” he says. The test is on us now.