Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, February 7, 2014

You’re Being Watched

1 Corinthians 2:1-11; Matthew 5:13-20
February 9, 2014
© 2014

Both of my grandfathers were born in Sweden and were named Gustav Ragnar, and both left home at age 16 never to return. Gustav Ragnar Stolpe was born at the north end of Sweden inside the Arctic Circle. He came to the United States through Ellis Island to his sister Anna in Connecticut and settled in Detroit Michigan. Gustav Ragnar Erikson was born at the south end of Sweden on the small fortress island of Marstrand, a fishing village in those days, a resort today. He hired onto a sailing ship and sailed all over the world, including around Cape Horn and across the Pacific to Asia at least once. Once, when his ship was docked in San Francisco Bay, he decided he liked the city of Oakland and never went back to the ship. Yes, an illegal alien in his time.
I understand he fit the image of the hard living, hard fighting, hard drinking young sailor. He and some friends went to a Salvation Army tent meeting to heckle but were too drunk to do much damage. After that meeting some of the Salvation Army folk took care of him and eventually led his to faith in Jesus. He married one of the young women from the Salvation Army, and they had a son. Both wife and son died in the 1918 flu epidemic. Some other time I may tell you how he and my grandmother got together, but he always thought of himself as a sea farer who had been saved from wrecking on the shoals of life by the light of the Salvation Army. Let the Lower Lights Be Burning was his favorite hymn, and I’ve asked Michelle to sing the first verse to introduce what Jesus said about light in the Sermon on the Mount.
Brightly beams our Father’s mercy, From his lighthouse ever more,
But to us he gives the keeping Of the lights along the shore.
Let the lower lights be burning! Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor struggling, fainting seaman You may rescue, you may save.
Listen to how Jesus used light in Matthew 5:13-20.
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 
14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 
19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
As Jesus’ disciples, we are his lights guiding floundering people safely into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus used the images of salt and light to convey the impact being his disciples has on the people around us.
Several of the commentators I read spent so many words trying to explain how salt could lose its taste that they almost lost sight of Jesus’ point that if our discipleship doesn’t affect the people around us it is worthless.
Our faith in Jesus is personal but it is not private. Jesus expects us to shine his light on people around us, not so they’ll notice us but to give glory to our Heavenly Father.
As Jesus’ disciples, we are his lights guiding floundering people safely into the Kingdom of Heaven.
As one whose calling includes teaching the Word of God, I take Jesus’ warning about being called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven very seriously. I know God has called me to preach as a pastor of the Church. I love preaching: the prayer and study that go into preparation and presentation. But it terrifies me. How dare I stand before God’s people every Sunday and presume to speak to you on God’s behalf! I better have been listening for God’s voice all week.
To break and teach the breaking the least of the commandments makes us least in the Kingdom of Heaven, but we’re still included. But righteousness that does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees excludes us. The scribes and Pharisees were the pinnacle of external piety and righteousness. Thus, self-righteousness is what keeps us out of the Kingdom of Heaven.
When speaking of the commandments, Jesus linked doing and teaching, indicating that practicing our discipleship and passing it to others are intrinsically linked.
As Jesus’ disciples, we are his lights guiding floundering people safely into the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the 60s Joe Bayly edited InterVarsity’s magazine for college students called His. In the 70s he became a mentor to a number of young writers in the Chicago area, which included me. He had published two books of modern parables out of his years of college campus ministry. My favorite is the title story of I Saw Gooley Fly. (1968 Fleming H Revell Company) This is a parable intended to get you thinking, not as an illustration to explain the point of a sermon. So as you hear it, be thinking.
[Herb Gooley’s] roommate (Jerry Watson, it was) told us about it the next day. Seems Gooley had been studying late, and finally he turns the book over, switches off his desk light and says, "Think I'll go down to Pete's for a malted."
"Too late," Jerry says. "It's three minutes to twelve and he closes at midnight."
"I'll fly down." Gooley says it matter-of-factly, just like he's saying he'll run or something.
So over to the window he goes (Jerry all the while thinking Gooley is suddenly developing a sense of humor), lifts it up, and steps off the ledge.
Their room is on the third floor.
Jerry waits a second for the thud, then dashes into the hall and down the stairs yelling, "Gooley fell out the window! Somebody call a doctor!"
No Gooley on the ground, or anywhere around. So they think Jerry's pulling their leg.
"Honest, fellows, Gooley stepped out of our window. Said he'd fly down to Pete's. Honest, he did."
So they wait around for Gooley to come back, and when he does, they start firing questions.
"Sure I can fly. Jerry was telling you the straight stuff. Here, I'll show you." And with that he takes off into the wild blue yonder.
None of us believed the story when we heard it. Would you? In the first place, people can ride bicycles, people can row boats, people can fly planes even, but nobody can fly. 
In the second place, if anybody could fly, Herb Gooley wasn't the man. That guy couldn't even walk.
It began to snow about suppertime the next day, and it snowed all through the night. Next morning the ground is covered, but some of the walks are shoveled off. I'm walking down the cleared path at the quad when I notice something. Fresh footprints go out on the snow a few yards, then there's nothing. Nothing. No trampled snow, no feet turning around. Just footprints going out and stopping.
Within a few days nobody needs any more circumstantial evidence. We've all seen it—Gooley flying.
He'd be walking along with you, and suddenly he's airborne. Nothing spectacular. I mean it was all very quiet. His rise was almost vertical, and he flew along at about fifteen or twenty miles per hour. Just above the treetops. He'd sort of bank to turn.
That winter and spring you should have seen Gooley come into class on the third or fourth floor of Old Main. Brother, that was a sight to behold. It got to be a regular custom to open the window just before the bell. I'll never forget the day we had a visiting lecturer. Nobody had told him.
Let me tell you, there was a run on the library for books on aerodynamics, aircraft design, and any other subject that even faintly bears on flying. Guys were spending all their free time soaking up all they could learn. So were most of the girls.
I don't want you to get the idea that we talked about it. Nobody would admit that he wanted to fly, but most everybody did. Nothing in the world I wanted more. (Seems sort of funny now.)
The college flying course tripled in size. (Flying planes, that is—but it was as close as we could come to personal flight.) In bull sessions we talked into the small hours about how Gooley probably did it.
You see, Gooley wasn't saying.
Of course, later there was some reaction—a lot of people began to call Gooley a freak. It sort of made us laugh, though, when one of the most outspoken anti-Gooleyites was found with a brain concussion at the foot of the Old Zach monument. (He got over it all right.)
I think the college administration was sort of ashamed to have Gooley as a student. So they bring in this guy Sevorsky for a special lecture series called "Flight Emphasis Week." Brother, were those lectures packed out. Standing room only.
Halfway through the week we realize that Sevorsky can't fly. We're standing outside Old Main, waiting for him to leave the president's office, which is on the second floor. So how does he come down? Why, he walks down the stairs and out the front door. This guy can design airplanes, we say; he has the latest scoop on jets and helicopters; but he can't fly.
About a dozen students show up for his final lecture.
Most of us had heard a myth about some ancient Greek who could fly until he got too near the sun. So we think maybe there's a clue. Interest switches to books on ancient Greek mythology, and the library puts them on the reserve shelf.
You know, I've always been surprised that Gooley didn't tell us how to do it, or at least how he did it. He couldn't help knowing how interested we all were. But he kept his mouth shut. So none of us learned to fly.
It's a funny thing, but I still have a sense of loss of not learning Gooley's secret. And the other grads have confessed the same thing to me.
What happened to Gooley? I've often wondered about that. He transferred that fall to another college where, they say, all the students know how to fly.
Have you seen anyone fly?
Has anyone seen you fly?

As Jesus’ disciples, we are his lights guiding floundering people safely into the Kingdom of Heaven.

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