Easter Sermon: Where is it True?

sermon preached at preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on April 20, 2014.

John 20:1-18
and Matthew 28:1-10

Burnand,Eugene (1850-1921)

The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection by Eugene Burnand.

I want to tell you,

there is rarely a time that I am more unsettled about the life of faith

than when someone asks me the question:

Come on, man! Do you really believe it?

Do you really think its true?

It doesn’t matter if this question is coming from someone I love

or from those who I think are out to test me, test my mettle.

The interrogation could come from someone

who is so FIRM in their conviction

         that they are trying to probe my doubt and prove my heresy,

or from someone who is searching for God

who is suspicious of all the hypocracy

and the judgement

and the rules and requirements…

and they might be looking AT ME

for some glimpse of something they themselves

might latch on to.

Or maybe its your average Joe,

who reads these beautiful resurrection stories with the eyes of faith

but who sometimes…. wonders….


But I also gather, since we are not so different, you and I,

                  that you might also have this experience sometimes.

Where you are asked that question: do you really believe it?

Or, maybe, ask your self that question: Is it true?

And maybe you find yourself, on an Easter Sunday morning,

with flowers and bonnets and plans for Brunch whirling about

when you are struck by the profound questions of faith

and your heart races just a little bit more than what is comfortable. [Read more...]

Meditation: The Love Commandment

A  Maundy Thursday meditation preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on April 17, 2014.

Psalm 116: 1-2, 12-19
and John 13:1-17, 31-35


This time of year, people often ask me where the name for this evening comes from.


The “Maundy” in Maundy Thursday takes its name from the Latin word Maundatum,

from which get our word “Mandate.”

We sometimes use that word, “mandate” is a political sense these days:

If a candidate wins a vote by a large margin,

we say that they have a mandate to pursue their agenda.

And when we draw the word out of this story before us tonight ,

from the Gospel according to John,

we’re talking about the mandate—or agenda—

that Jesus gave to us the night he was betrayed.

Jesus gave a new commandment or mandate that night, and here it is:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.

                  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

                  By THIS everyone will know that you are my disciples,

                           if you have Love for one another.

And, if you were listening closely, you might have heard that

our passage begins and ends with love.

It’s surrounded by it:

At the beginning we’re told that Jesus,

“having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end.”

John begins and ends this self-contained little story with love,

so there’s NO doubt at all that this is what the passage is all about—LOVE.

It’s so easy to say, and so hard to do… [Read more...]

Sermon: Always Go to the Funeral

sermon preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on April 13, 2014.

Isaiah 50:4-9a
and Matthew 27: 11-26, 38-56 



I’m wondering if there are any of you who—

when I was reading this text – your mind started to wander?

I don’t need a show of hands.

Just ask yourself if your concentration was on this text

the entire time it was being read.

If your answer was no, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

When the HBO series “The Sopranos” ended its run several years ago,

somebody uploaded a “7 years of Sopranos in 7 minutes”

compilation to YouTube.

They tried to cover every major plot point of the entire series

in 500 quick cut scenes—

–all in 7 minutes.

It was a don’t blink, don’t breathe or you’ll miss it kind of experience.

It has felt this way through much of Lent,

with the passages of John we’ve looked at,

and so with this reading today:

There is A LOT in this text, this story of Jesus’ passion;

Its packed like that YouTube video,

and I only read an excerpt this morning.

But…I don’t think that’s why we might have wandered.

It’s hard to keep our focus when the text is the suffering of Jesus.

* * *

The great English poet John Milton once tried to write a poem

about the suffering of Jesus on the cross.

He wrote 7 or 8 stanzas, and then he quit.

He quit because he realized that when he was writing about the suffering of Jesus,

ALL he could really talk about was

how John Milton felt about the suffering of Jesus.

How melancholy he became.

How sad it was to read and hear these words.

So he gave up.[i]

[Read more...]

Sermon: Tears

April 6, 2014 ~ – Tears from John Knox Kirk on Vimeo.

sermon preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on April 6, 2014.

Psalm 130
and John 11:1-45


Tom Long makes an excellent point about this text:[i]

It’s the END of this story that grabs us.

We move quickly past the BEGINNING of this account of Jesus and Lazarus.

No, It’s what Jesus did right at the END—his most astonishing miracle:

RAISING LAZARUS from the dead!

That’s the headline, isn’t it?

I mean, Jesus had done a number of OTHER miracles, of course:

He had turned water into wine,

healed a paralyzed man,

and restored sight to a man born blind.

But…to RAISE someone from the DEAD?

                  This was breathtaking…

…unheard of…

…a remarkable sign of something ETERNAL

breaking into normal life…

…it was an anticipation of Jesus’ own resurrection.

The END of the story is where the FIREWORKS are!

Sometimes, however, when we have finished our amazed gazing

at the end of Lazarus’ story,

we still have enough energy to shift our sights

to what Jesus did in the MIDDLE of the story—

namely, HE WEPT.

THIS PIECE is fascinating, too.

Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the Bible—

–but it is NOT the easiest verse to understand.

I’ve always been moved by Jesus’ emotions in this passage.

He is greatly moved and disturbed of spirit. He cries painful tears.

But WHY did Jesus weep?

                  Was he moved with GRIEF over friend Lazarus’ death?

Was he in SORROW over the UNBELIEF around him?

Was he anticipating his OWN DEATH?

…John does NOT say, exactly.

Though the reasons for his tears remain MYSTERIOUS—

–I am drawn to this picture in the middle of the story

an emotional Jesus, weeping.

I think it says something true about Jesus,

his heart hurt at all of this.

He felt pained: for Mary and Martha and Lazarus.

Pained as we all do at the death of a loved one.

So Jesus sheds tears.

BUT, because Lazarus’ raising at the END of this story is so dramatic

and Jesus weeping in the MIDDLE is so MYSTERIOUS—

–It may be EASY to overlook the BEGINNING of the story.

But LOOK anyway:

                  something curious and important is at work here… [Read more...]

Sermon: Quarreling With God

2014 03 23 Quarreling with God from John Knox Kirk on Vimeo.

sermon preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on March 23, 2014.

Exodus 17:1-7
and John 4:3-29, 39-42 

perspectives, not truth

Mark Ramsey warns us about our tendency

to try to keep score with texts such as these:[i]

For those who are tempted to keep score with this text,

         the woman—the unnamed woman at the well

–is NOT Elizabeth Taylor (may she rest in peace)

with a string of marriages to multiple men

living it up in some swirl of indulgence.

This woman is not “living in sin” with a man not her husband.

She is NOT being called out by Jesus for her lack of faith or morality.

Look for it, and those words just aren’t there.

Maybe closer to the truth is the poem that the thirty year old

Emily Dickenson began with the words:

I’m nobody! Who are you?

                           Are you nobody, too?

                           Then there’s a pair of us – don’t tell!

                           They’d banish us, you know.

In first century Middle Eastern culture,

a woman didn’t have a choice when it came to husbands.

This woman – who didn’t even merit a name – a NOBODY –

–had either been widowed or divorced,

and thus passed from man to man to man

probably in the midst of some forced, desperate downward mobility.

* * *

For those wishing to keep score, WHO shows up alone, at noon

in the scorching mid-day heat, at the town well?

Only those who are shunned from “normal” society.

Only those who are NOT welcome in the daily give and take of a village.

…And while we are at it: what’s that despised foreigner, a Jewish man,

                                                                        doing there too?

* * *

While we are keeping score,

there are SO MANY things wrong here:

women didn’t come to the well at noon;

men…didn’t come to the well at all—

–they sent women or slaves to do that;

men and women did NOT speak to each other in public;

Samaritans and Jews didn’t speak to each other PERIOD. [Read more...]

Sermon: So Tempting

March 9, 2014 ~ So Tempting from John Knox Kirk on Vimeo.

sermon preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on March 9, 2014.

Genesis 9:8-17
and Matthew 4:1-11


Lori Brandt Hale tells about the time

her gregarious middle son—almost 4 years old—

–encountered this Gospel story in Sunday School.

“The leader that day was a dynamic speaker and storyteller,” Hale says,

“so I was not surprised when my son

pulled me aside later to ask me some questions.”

“Hey Mom,” he started, “what do you know about the devil?”

“My mind immediately jumped to a spectrum of theological views.

Should I start with Augustine?

Should I couch my answer in general terms

of conservative and progressive interpretations of the text?

Is he ready for process theology?

(Am I ready for process theology?)

…Then I looked at him and remembered that he was 3.”

“What do YOU know about the devil?”

I asked him, in the classic mom/professor mode.

“Well,” he began, “the devil talked to Jesus.”

(Good, I thought, he was paying attention.)

“The devil was mean,” he continued.

(Mean…I began to wonder about the relationship

between “mean” and “evil.”

Was the devil really mean?

Is it possible to be mean without being evil?)

Leaning closer to me and dropping his voice to a loud whisper

he said: “If we were at a store,

                                             and you and Dad were in one aisle

                                             and I was in another aisle, and—”

–his hushed tones became downright conspiratorial at this point—

—and there was candy…

                                             …the devil would say, “You should take some.’”

Now, it was striking to Hale that her son, on hearing this Lenten text,

placed so much emphasis on TEMPTATION…

…and on a PERSONAL tempter.

She told her son that she thought this passage

was more about RESPONSES Jesus gives,

than the temptations he was offered.

That to respond to the temptations like Jesus did—

                                    –and to respond in obedience—

                                                               –was the key to this text.

It then occurred to her that maybe her little boy—

–who had already taken in so much—

–that maybe he understood these very points about the story.

So she asked him:

“Honey, if we were at a store,

and Dad and I were in one aisle and you were in another,

and there was candy,

and the Devil said ‘you should take some!’—

What would you say back to the devil?”

His entire face lit up with a beautiful grin

and without a moment’s hesitation he replied:

You taught me I should say thank you![i] [Read more...]