Saturday, June 22, 2013

"Why Would God Do This?"

This Sunday (June 23rd), I will be preaching from Genesis 22: 1-14, which is frequently called, “The Binding of Isaac.”  In this story, God commands Abraham to take his only child, Isaac, to a mountain in the land of Moriah.  After climbing to the top of the mountain, Abraham is to offer Isaac as a burnt sacrifice on an altar.  This is a frightening and perplexing command from God.  Earlier in Abraham’s life, three angels had promised him and Sarah, his wife, that they would have a child.  When Isaac was born, it was as though God had kept his promise to the couple.  Now, after Isaac has grown into a young teenager, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his only child to God.  Why would God do this?
            So, Abraham and Isaac start out to Moriah to make this terrible sacrifice.  As they make their way up the mountain, Isaac asks his father what they will sacrifice to God, once they have finished building an altar at the top.  Abraham replies that God will provide.  When they reach the top of the mountain, after Abraham has tied up Isaac and placed him on the altar, an angel of God intercedes.  The angel tells Abraham that God is pleased with Abraham because he has passed God’s test.  Now, God knows that Abraham truly loves God more than anything else.  God can see that Abraham has a strong, unwavering faith.
            Then, Abraham spies a ram caught in a nearby thicket.  He realizes that God has provided this ram for the sacrifice in place of Isaac.  So, Abraham re-names the place, “The Lord will provide.”  Abraham and Isaac complete the ritual sacrifice, using the ram.  Then, they journey down the mountain and back to their home, together.

            This is such a rich story; it is like a prism.  It can be viewed from many different perspectives and it raises many important questions.  In my sermon this Sunday, I will focus on just three areas:

            1. Why Would God Do This?  If God is truly the loving, compassionate God which the Christian faith proclaims, then why would God subject Abraham—and Isaac—to such a cruel, awful test?  The technical term for this type of question is theodicy, which is the theological problem of whether God is responsible for evil in the world.  There are no fully satisfying answers to the problem of evil in the world.  However, I believe that we should not read the story of Isaac’s binding as a separate stand-alone story.  Rather, I believe that we should read this story—and, indeed, all biblical passages—in the context of the entire Bible.  When we do that, then the story of Isaac’s binding points forward to the life, ministry, and crucifixion of Jesus.  Although God tests Abraham’s faith by demanding that he sacrifice Isaac, it is God who sacrifices His own son, Jesus Christ, for each of us.

            2.  The Faith of Abraham and Isaac.  When we pause in this story and put ourselves in Abraham’s place, we quickly begin to imagine how difficult it must have been for Abraham, as he climbed the mountain towards the sacrificial site.  We can imagine the anguish and confusion in his heart, as he climbed the mountain, step-by-step.  We can imagine Abraham thinking, “Have I heard God correctly?  Does he really want me to sacrifice Isaac?  I love Isaac so much.  If only I could take Isaac’s place on that altar.  It would be better for me to die, than to have to watch my beloved son die up there.”
            Yet, a careful analysis of the text does not indicate that Abraham was filled with dread and anguish as he climbed the mountain.  When Abraham and Isaac leave their two servants at the bottom of the mountain, Abraham says, “we will be back after the sacrifice.”  And, when Isaac asks about the animal for the sacrifice, Abraham replies that God will provide.  A faith that strong must be built upon a deep and abiding conviction that God truly loves us and seeks our ultimate well-being.
            3.  What can Christians living in the Twenty-first Century learn from this story?  I will suggest that all of us face three different kinds of tests—or obstacles—in our lives:

a.       Tests or obstacles that the world puts in our way.

b.      Tests or obstacles that we put in our own way.

c.       Tests or obstacles that God puts in our way.
While God may sometimes give us tests and obstacles, I believe that most of the tests and obstacles that we face come from ourselves and others.  We live in an age and culture permeated by stress.  It doesn’t matter how old we are; whether we are rich or poor; whether we are in school or out-of-school; whether we are working or unemployed or retired; whether we own a business or work for a gigantic corporation; it doesn’t matter—we all must cope with stress. 
And, here’s the good news.  While we cannot fully escape from the stresses of life, we can manage our stress, if we like Abraham, we simply have faith that “God will provide.” 

If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, please consider attending Meriden United Methodist Church this Sunday.  Meriden UMC is located at the corner of Dawson and Main.  Our worship service starts on Sundays at 10 am.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

My weekly blog will take a brief one-week hiatus next week.  My brother and I always try to go backpacking on the Appalachian Trail in the summer.  This year, my son, Justice, will be hiking with us in Pennsylvania and Maryland.  The next post will be uploaded, when I return,  at the first of July. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

My Five Good Fathers

            This Sunday we will be remembering and honoring fathers as we celebrate Father’s Day.  In my sermon, I will explore the essential qualities that a “good father” should have.  My scripture for this week is Luke 15: 11-32, the parable of the “Prodigal Son.”  This is one of Jesus’ richest parables and we can reflect on it from many different perspectives.  This time, I will interpret the parable focusing on the father.

            From this perspective, the parable of the Prodigal Son is a story about a parent’s relationship with his two sons.  When we reflect upon the father’s actions in the story, four essential qualities emerge:

1.      He respects his child’s freedom to make his own mistakes in life.  When their children are young, parents become accustomed to protecting them.  For instance, with a young child, a good father will reach out and grab his child to keep her from running out into a busy street in front of speeding cars.  Or, he will resist requests to stay up late and not get enough sleep.  Parents are protective of their children because, when their child is hurt, good parents suffer with their child as he suffers.  As children grow older and mature, parents are tempted to try and prevent any harm from coming to them.  So, when a parent sees their child about to make a bad decision that will likely result in much heartache and suffering, there is an almost irresistible temptation to tell the child that she cannot do something.  While the mother’s motive is pure, it is restrictive and unfair to the older child.  Each of us deserves the freedom to make our own decisions—and to make our own mistakes.

Undoubtedly, the father of the prodigal son knew that he was making a terrible mistake, when he asked for all of his inheritance and made plans to travel to a new and exciting and foreign land.  Yet, the father resisted the temptation to be paternalistic and try to protect his son from this terrible mistake.

2.      The father took the first initiative to be reconciled and repair the relationship with his sons.  When the younger son asked for his inheritance and left his father’s household, in Jewish culture, he dishonored his father and treated him as though he were already dead.  Later, after the younger son’s return, the older son became indignant when he learned that the father was throwing a party for the prodigal son.  In both cases, it was the father who first took the initiative to be reconciled with his children.  When the father saw the prodigal son returning, he ran to him.  And, when the older son was pouting in the yard, it was the father who went out to reconcile with him.

3.      The father affirms his two sons.  With both sons, the father takes an attitude and posture that affirms them and claims them as his beloved sons.  At the party celebrating the return of the prodigal son, the father publicly proclaims, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”  Even though the prodigal son had dishonored his father and acted as though his father was dead, it is the father who affirms their relationship and proclaims that his son is alive.  When the older son lashes out at his father because of the welcome home party, it is the father who affirms their relationship and re-assures him, by saying:  “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”

4.      The father show compassion and love.  Throughout the parable, in his dealings with both sons, the father exhibits tremendous love and compassion for his two sons.

I think that in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father provides a great foundation for identifying the essential qualities of a “good father.”  Perhaps there are other qualities as well.  Earlier on the Meriden United Methodist Church Facebook page, I asked that readers identify what they think are essential qualities of a “good father.”  See our Facebook page at:  I will be sharing and discussing these suggested qualities during my sermon on Sunday.  If you know of qualities that should be included in our list, it is not too late to share them with me.  You can share them by posting a comment to this blog.

In my sermon this week, I will also suggest that being a “good father” is not restricted to being a biological father.  Actually, most of us can identify biological fathers who are both good and bad fathers.  All of us, perhaps, can identify key persons in our lives who have been like a father to us—or, like a mother to us.  That is certainly the case in my life.  So, in the proclamation this week, I will not just talk about my own, biological father.  In addition to my Dad, I will also share the stories of four other men who have been like a father to me.  Hence the title of my proclamation, “My Five Good Fathers.”


If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, please consider attending Meriden United Methodist Church this Sunday.  Meriden UMC is located at the corner of Dawson and Main.  Our worship service starts on Sundays at 10 am.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

"God Blesses Us through Our Pets"

      This coming Sunday, June 9th, my congregation will be observing a special Sunday of "Blessing the Animals."  We will gather for Worship in the Meriden City Park, rather than our church Sanctuary.  Everyone who has a special pet--whether it's a dog or cat or hamster or snake or horse or something else--is encouraged to bring it to the worship service for a special, individual blessing.  After the worship service, we will stay in the park for a combination cook-out/pot-luck meal, together.  The blessing goes like this:

          "Bless, O God, these creatures [cat, dog, etc.]; fill our hearts with thanksgiving for
           their [his, her, its] being; Give us wisdom and a caring heart that we may be good
           stewards and promote their [his, her, its] flourishing."
      The theme of my proclamation for the service will be that God blesses humans through our pets.  My proclamation will include numerous stories how individual persons, including myself, have been blessed by the pets we keep.  There will also be an opportunity for individuals in the congregation to stand and share their stories of blessing through their animals. 
       My proclamation will be grounded in Isaiah 11: 6-9.  This passage is a prophetic description of what God's Kingdom will look like at the End Times, when it is completed.  According to the prophet, Isaiah:
          "6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf
         and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow
         and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat
         straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the
          weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy
          on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
          as the waters cover the sea."
This passage of scripture, which is recommended by The United Methodist Book of Worship for services that Blessing the Animals, powerfully reminds  us of God's love for all animals and for Creation.  It's not just that God blesses us in the present through our pets.  No.  Instead, all animals and Creation are part of the plan for God's Kingdom, when it is fully established at the End Times. 
      I have to confess that this coming Sunday's is one of my favorite Sunday's in the year, as we recognize and give thanks for the many ways that God blesses us through our pets and other animals.
      If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, please consider attending Meriden United Methodist Church.  Our worship service starts on Sundays at 10 am.  This Sunday, we are worship at the Meriden City Park, located on South Owen Street, behind the Jeff West Football Stadium.  Every other Sunday, we worship in our building, located at the corner of Dawson and Main Streets in Meriden, Kansas.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Church that Prays Together...

            My congregation in Kansas has some important discerning to complete during the second half of 2013, as we look to the future and to what God is calling us to become.  So, in order to inform our discernment during the summer, some of my sermons will focus on key characteristics of the first churches, as recorded in the New Testament book of Acts. 

            This Sunday, June 2nd, my scriptural text will be Acts 2:  40-47.  My sermon will focus on the role of communal prayer in the life of a faith community.  I will explore what it means for a faith community to be in prayer together, with one-another.  While there are some important differences between the communal prayer life of a faith community and the personal prayer life of an individual disciple of Christ, I will also suggest that the components of prayer should be similar.  We can think of five elements in the healthy prayer life for our church:

1.      Centering

2.      Thanksgiving

3.      Confession and Asking for Forgiveness

4.      Concerns and Requests

5.      Listening for God and Seeking Guidance from God 

If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, please consider attending Meriden United Methodist Church this Sunday.  Meriden UMC is located at the corner of Dawson and Main.  Our worship service starts on Sundays at 10 am.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.