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Sermon Notes

Bro. Michael's sermon notes are posted here each week.

"The Greatest Conversation Ever!" - Luke 1:26-38

December 20, 2020

Yogi Berra once complained, “We couldn’t get a conversation going because everybody was talking too much!”


At first, that sounds pretty ridiculous. How can there be too much talking to get a conversation going?! That’s what conversation is. Talking!


But Yogi was right. Conversations are made up of talking. But they also are made up of listening, too. For without the listening part, it’s not a conversation. It is just a bunch of monologues that happen to be going on at the same time!

Mary and the angel, Gabriel, had a conversation. They both spoke, even if Gabriel spoke more. And they both listened, as evidenced by Mary’s thoughtful response to the angel when she did speak up.


Despite the biological impediments to what the angel promised, and despite Mary’s all-too natural question about that promise, Gabriel stood firm. It was then that quiet Mary got the last word:


“Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

While many of us are concerned that some Christians make too much of Mary, let us not over-correct by making too little of her. For not only did heaven declared Mary favored of God, and not only did she give birth to our Lord. It seems to be the case that our hope was at last realized when Mary made herself available to do her part in God’s plan of salvation.


May we do our part in God’s plan as faithfully, and as eagerly, as Mary did hers.


Grace and peace,

Michael

Epiphany Sunday - Matthew 2:1-12

January 3, 2021

A few years ago, I mentioned to some clergy colleagues that I was reading a book called What Every BODY Is Saying, and that it was written by a former FBI profiler to help lay people better understand what our body language tells others about ourselves. Well, no sooner had I mentioned that I was reading this book when others around the table started to squirm nervously in their chairs. Evidently, they were uncomfortable with the thought that they might be revealing more about themselves than they meant to just by their posture and by their gestures!


One of the main insights I got from reading that book was that there is a direct correlation between the height of our gestures, and the way we are feeling inside. When we are excited or happy or confident, we raise our hands and lift our faces. Sometimes we even jump into the air! Conversely, when our faces are down and our hands and our shoulders are lowered, we probably aren’t any of those things.


I know we cannot read the Lord the way an FBI profiler might be able to read us. But what if there is something to this height thing? What if altitude really is a reflection of attitude, even for the Lord?!


If there is anything to this notion, then the Star of Bethlehem was more than just a practical signpost in the heavens designed to reach the wise men in their faraway lands. If altitude really is a reflection of attitude, then it stands to reason that the day the Christ child was born, and a new star appeared in the heavens, was as much a highpoint for God as it was for us!


Epiphany, and the story of the wise men, is all about the insight that the Lord worshipped by the Jews was not just Lord of the Jews, but Lord of all who will come to Christ. Thank God!


But perhaps there is another epiphany to be beheld today. Perhaps we are not the only ones to leap for joy at the salvation that Christ brings. Perhaps even God in heaven leapt for joy as well.


Grace and peace,

Michael   

"Limp Mode" - Isaiah 61:1-3

December 13, 2020

I recently discovered—fortunately, no the hard way—that a lot of cars these days come equipped with a function called “limp mode.” What happens is that if your car’s computer system detects an issue that might damage your car’s engine or transmission, a sensor starts to shut down nonessential systems. The thinking is that you will have enough power to “limp” home, but not enough power to do further, unnecessary damage to your car.


I don’t know, but it seems to me that we have been in something of a “limp” mode ever since COVID started to appear last March. The worst part of COVID hasn’t been having to wear masks or not doing all the things we were so used to doing. The worst part has been being separated from family and friends. No wonder we are all so excited about the possibility of a vaccine!


But not even a vaccine can fix everything, for we had plenty of problems before COVID. People are hungry. People are hurting. People are frustrated, they are frightened, and they are vulnerable.


But what vaccines can’t fix, Christ can. For as was foretold hundreds of years earlier, the Spirit of the Lord is upon Christ, and he is the one powerful enough, and merciful enough, to bring good news to the poor, release to the captive, and to comfort those who mourn.


In days of, well, today, we need a word of hope, too. We need help because of COVID. But we need help with all the things we needed help with before COVID.

And that is what Christmas is all about.


Grace and peace,

Michael

"Starting in the Middle" - Mark 1:1-8

December 6, 2020

I don’t know about you, but it always messes me up when a movie goes out of order. I like a beginning, middle, and end. In that order. When directors start fiddling with that order, I get lost.


Like an edgy movie maker, Mark begins his gospel in the middle. Completely skipping over Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and the wise men, Mark plunges straight into the story of John the Baptist, and Jesus as a grown man.


There is nothing very Christmas-y about John. In a time of year when we are more used to robed wise men bearing treasure chests overflowing with gifts of gold and other expensive items, John appears in ragged clothes stitched together with camel hides, and bugs and honey caught in his wooly beard.


And yet, even this is appropriate. Unlike those who would argue that all Sundays should be the same, and that we don’t have any need of seasons or the Christian calendar, I would suggest that there is a rhythm and an ebb and flow in the Christian year, just as there are in the seasons of our lives. The time will come in the next few weeks when we will spend all our time thinking about the wise men, and their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But today we are going to heed the words of wild, rugged, and unruly John the Baptist.


“Prepare the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight!”


Some messages are so important, and so urgent, that we don’t have time for polish and the other niceties of polite speech. John’s message is one such message.


The Lord has given us the choice, and the honor, to decide how we are going to respond to John’s message. Let’s get to work on straightening those paths!


Grace and peace,

Michael

"Grenades and Deadlines" - Mark 13:24-37

November 29, 2020

When I was seventeen, I threw a live grenade.


Don’t worry! I was supposed to have that grenade, and I was supposed to throw it. It happened when I was a Marine Corps recruit training at Parris Island, South Carolina in the summer of 1982.


I mention this because grenades, like a lot of things in life, have a definite countdown.


Deadlines work fine, as long as you know what they are. I knew my grenade had a deadline of four or five seconds. I know that every Sunday is my deadline to preach my next sermon. And I know that about twenty or twenty-five minutes from now is my deadline to be finished with my sermon!


That’s what the First Sunday in Advent is all about. Today begins a four Sunday countdown until the dawning of Christmas Day. Today reminds us that we have these four weeks to get ready the fully and wholeheartedly welcome the arrival of our Lord, Jesus Christ.


Traditionally, the First Sunday in Advent is less devoted to the birth of the babe in a manger, and more devoted to the belief that one of these days, our Lord is coming back! That’s what our reading from Mark is all about this morning. We may not know the exact day when he is coming back. But may this Sunday together serve to remind us that whenever that day comes, we need to be spending the days before then getting ready!


Grace and peace,

Michae

“A Bird in Hand” - Matthew 25:14-30

November 15, 2020

Key Verse: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” - Matthew 25:29


Everybody knows what the phrase “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush” means. It means that the sure thing we already have is better than an unsure thing we may or may not get. I guess that makes sense. Some people are so busy running off after things they don’t have that they never get the things they could have gotten instead!


Jesus seems to have a different opinion on this matter, however. Jesus doesn’t seem to think that a bird in hand is better is better than two in the bush. In fact, according to the Parable of the Talents, Jesus is of the opinion that the two in the bush are better than the bird in hand!


It makes sense in our world, as unpredictable as it is, that a sure thing would be better than something that is not as sure. But in the Kingdom, kingdom things are always a sure thing! The servant who used his five talents to make five more talents understood this. The servant who used his two talents to make two more talents understood this. The only servant who didn’t understand kingdom ways was the one who buried the one talent entrusted to him, and returned to the master that very same talent!


In the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the only risk we take is when we don’t use the talents and gifts and abilities God has entrusted to us. The world may be uncertain. But the Kingdom is anything but! It is the nature of the Kingdom to grow. It is the nature of the Kingdom to thrive. It is the nature of the Kingdom to be productive!


Jesus says that if the kingdom lacks anything, it isn’t a harvest. It is laborers to gather the harvest! Let’s use, and multiply, the talents entrusted to us. 

Sermon Series - "Jesus Said What?! (The Hard Sayings of Jesus)"

Part 6 - “Saving the Worst for Last” - Matthew 5:44-48

November 8, 2020

Key Verse: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

- Matthew 5:48


I saved the hardest of Jesus’ hard sayings for last.


“Love your enemies” (v. 44).


“Pray for those who persecute you” (v. 44).


And worst of all, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (v. 48).


It’s hard enough to make myself care for those who work against me. It is next to impossible to pray for those who actively seek my suffering. But be perfect?! Be perfect in the same way that God is perfect?! That’s just too much to ask!

This may seem unrelated, but I have always loved Christmas Eve Candlelight communion. For an all-too brief moment, one night a year, it seems as if I am finally seeing my church family not the way I usually see them, but rather the way the Lord sees us. There is something about the glow of candlelight on everyone’s faces that reminds me how precious and beloved of Christ we all really are.


I mention that because it’s not just our friends and our loved ones whom Christ sees that way all year ‘round. It is strangers. It is foreigners. It is even our enemies! John 3:16 doesn’t say that God so loved the people we approve of that he gave his only begotten Son. John 3:16 does say that God so loved “the world” that he gave his only begotten Son!


Perhaps part of being perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect is to love and pray for those we might not really want to love and pray for. For if the Lord makes the sun to rise on and sends rain to the righteous and unrighteous alike, maybe we can love and pray for our enemies as well as our friends.   

Sermon Series - "Jesus Said What?! (The Hard Sayings of Jesus)"

Part 5 - “Preaching What You Practice” - Matthew 7:16-21

November 1, 2020

Key Verse: “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” - Matthew 7:21


Well, that’s depressing. Not only does Jesus seem to be saying that we have to earn our way into heaven. Even worse, Jesus seems to be saying that there will be some who cry out to him who will not be welcomed.

Like I said. That’s depressing.


Except . . . On the Day of Pentecost, Peter declared loud and clear “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved!” (Acts 2:21). Lest we miss the point, Paul repeated the exact same thing to the Christians at Rome: “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved!” (Romans 10:13).


What gives? Who is right? Is Jesus right? Or were Peter and Paul right?

It turns out all three were right. The difference is the those to whom they were speaking. Peter and Paul made their promises to those who cried out to be rescued from the power of sin and death. Jesus, on the other hand, was speaking to those who thought they could manipulate the promises of God for their own selfish purposes. They thought it was enough to speak words of piety while, all the while, they were still using and taking advantage of others.

Those who honestly cry out will find hope and salvation. Those who falsely cry out will discover the Lord is not mocked.


No. We are not saved by our works. However, those who have known forgiveness and salvation can’t help but live out the Good News in their own lives!      

Sermon Series - "Jesus Said What?! (The Hard Sayings of Jesus)"

Part 4 - “Busted” - Luke 9:57-62

October 25, 2020

As anyone who has ever worked in sales will tell you, salespeople are constantly under pressure. They are pressured to meet quotas. They are pressured to upsell customers. And they are pressured by the constant threat that they may lose their jobs.


No wonder salespeople are sometimes tempted to cut a few corners. No wonder salespeople are sometimes prone to exaggerate the qualities of the products they are selling, and downplay the costs.


But when three would-be disciples approached Jesus about following him in this today’s scripture reading, Jesus did the unimaginable. Not only did Jesus not exaggerate the ease and the benefits of being his disciple. He actually said enough to cause all three who had already decided they wanted to follow him to turn away and leave.


That’s why today’s message is called “The World’s Worst Salesman.”

It’s not like the three asked for unreasonable delays either. One wanted time enough to bury his father. Another one only asked for enough time to go back home and tell his family goodbye. But even those very understandable—indeed, those very responsible requests—were unacceptable to Jesus. Evidently there is something so important and so urgent about the Kingdom that even life’s otherwise greatest priorities take a backseat to Jesus.


If Jesus was the world’s worst salesman, that is only because he is also the world’s most responsible salesman. Jesus is not here to trick us. Jesus will never try to pull the wool over our eyes to make us believe that our Christianity will either be easy, or without considerable costs. But unless we are willing to put Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven first, then nothing else in our life will ever be in its proper place either.   

Sermon Series - "Jesus Said What?! (The Hard Sayings of Jesus)"

Part 3 - “Busted” - Mark 9:33-37

October 18, 2020

Key verse: “[W]hat were you arguing about on the way?”

- Mark 9:33b


One evening before we were married, I was rushing home from work to pick up Wendy for a date. Unfortunately, I may have been slightly exceeding the speed limit. Even more unfortunately, an Alabama State Trooper traveling in the other direction saw me slightly exceeding the speed limit. He slammed on his brakes. He turned on his blue lights. And he dived his cruiser into the median to turn around to pull me over.


I was so caught that I did the only thing I knew to do. I went ahead and pulled myself over, and I waited.


I guess that trooper was in such a rush to run me down that he didn’t see that I had already pulled my car over to the shoulder. He went screaming past me, sure that I was somewhere up the interstate trying to get away from him.


I may have missed out on getting a speeding ticket that evening, but make no mistake about it. I was caught. Or as the kids says nowadays, I was “busted.”


The disciples would understand. Jesus “busted” them, too. When Jesus asked the disciples what they had been arguing about along the way, they kept their mouths shut because the thing they had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest disciple. Never mind that none of them had any special reason to think they were even competent, let alone great. That were arguing about who was the greatest.


Rather than embarrassing them, as he easily could have, Jesus pulled a child to himself, and told the disciples, “Whoever wants to be great must be servant to others. Whoever wants to be first must be last.”


Let us be about the business of welcoming and serving those who can in no way help us. 

Sermon Series - "Jesus Said What?! (The Hard Sayings of Jesus)"

Part 2 - “A Broken-Hearted Savior” - Mark 10:17-27

October 11, 2020

Key verse: “Jesus looking at him, loved him[.]”

- Mark 10:21a


You probably knew before we even started this series on the hard sayings of Jesus that at least one of our Sundays together would be devoted to the subject of money. After all, what subject is trickier, what subject is harder, than church and money and giving?


A fellow, whom we have come to know over the years as the rich, young ruler, came to Jesus, and asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. When the rich man informed Jesus that he had kept the commandments all his life (which I happen to believe was true, by the way), Jesus said there was just one thing more.


“Sell everything you have and give the money to the poor. Then you can follow me.”


That was one thing the rich, young ruler couldn’t do. Because he was rich, because he had so much, he could bear the thought of parting with his riches; even to follow Jesus. So the rich, young ruler turned and walked away.

Watching him walk away, Mark makes a special point of telling us that even though the rich, young ruler could not part with his wealth, Jesus loved him anyway.


The truth is Christ did not need the rich, young ruler’s money. And he doesn’t need our money either. The One who created the heavens and the earth, and the fulness thereof, has no need for the relatively meager riches that even a rich man possesses.


What he does desire is relationship with us. He doesn’t love us because we give. We give because we have been invited into relationship with Jesus Christ! We give because we have been invited to love the One who already loves us! Thanks be to God!  

Sermon Series - "Jesus Said What?! (The Hard Sayings of Jesus)"

Part 1 - “Don't Worry” - Luke 12:22-34

October 4, 2020

Key verse: “[Do] not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear”

- Luke 12:22


As we begin our new sermon series, “Jesus Said What?! (The Hard Sayings of Jesus),” the first question we probably want to clear up is this: What makes a particular saying of Jesus’ “hard”? Are they hard because we don’t understand them? Or are they hard in the same way Mark Twain meant when he said, “It ain’t the parts in the Bible I don’t understand that bother me. It’s the parts I do understand that bother me!”


I couldn’t have said it better myself.


Not too long ago, I came across the story of an Episcopal priest who stood up in church one morning an announced that Jesus basically gave us three commandments to live by. Number One: Love God. Number Two: Love your neighbor. And Number Three: Don’t Worry.


While all of us responsible church people might immediately sign off on Numbers One and Two, it is Number Three that is likely to ruffle our feather a bit.


Being responsible is a good thing. Looking ahead and planning for the future is what mature, responsible Christians do. Our churches couldn’t function without those help us plan for the future. But the danger of being so responsible is that we might begin to imagine that we are the authors of our own lives, that we are the ones who provide security and abundance for us and our loved ones. That’s just not so.


When Jesus points to the ravens of the air and the lilies of the field, he reminds us that God alone is the one provides, and God alone is the one who saves. The Holy Spirit may equip us to act in wise ways. But even that is God’s doing.


It turns that “Don’t worry” is one hard saying that actually frees us. It frees us from thinking our burdens are ours alone to bear. But it also frees us from the delusion the world teaches, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”


To paraphrase that old eighties song: “Don’t worry. Believe Jesus!”  

“Looking Out for Number Two” - Philippians 2:1-11

September 27, 2020

Key verse: “In humility regard others as better than yourselves.”

- Philippians 2:3b


There are a lot of good reasons to come to church. It is the best place in the world to come to for hope and encouragement. Church is an island of sanity when the world seems to be spiraling out of control. When I come to church, I am reminded this is the place where we have witnessed baptisms and weddings. This is the place where lives have been changed and we see some of our best friends. This is the place where great weeks start, and this is the place where we have said goodbye to some of our dearest friends and loved ones.

There are a lot of things you can count on getting when you come to church.

There is one thing, however, that you won’t get when you come to church. What you won’t get in church is confirmation of the things the world teaches, and you won’t get God’s stamp of approval on the things we have already decided to be true.


Take Paul’s command that we are to regard others as better than ourselves, for example.


Several years ago, I came across an article in Psychology Today entitled, “Looking Out for Number One: The Importance of Self-Care.” While there is certainly a time and place for healthy Christians to look after their own well-being, I think a lot of us already have that covered. It seems to me that, if anything, the more pressing need is for us Christians to more focused on the needs of others, rather than our own. If anything, what a lot of us need to read is an article entitled, “Looking Out for Everyone but Number One: The Importance of Other-Care”!


In a way, this morning’s scripture is that article!


In an age where churches are prone to split over silly things, like whether or not deviled eggs can be served at covered-dish meals, as well as over matters of genuine theological significance, we would all be well-served to heed Paul’s admonition be of the same spirit and to have the same love. This will not prevent disagreements, of course. But it is in humility that will not only behave in a Christ-pleasing way with others, but that we will also find Christ for ourselves.          

“Three Easy Steps” - Matthew 18:15-20

September 6, 2020

At first glance, it seems that in today’s reading Jesus gives us church people three easy steps for getting rid of troublesome church members. Step One: Confront them privately. Step Two: Take one or two witness with you to confront them. Step Three: Bring the matter to the whole church. If that church member digs in his heels and refuses to repent after all three steps, then, by all means, kick ‘em out!


Except it is not that exactly what is going on here. Of course, the goal is not to kick someone out of the church. The real goal of these three easy steps is for the estranged church member to be reconciled to the one whom he has offended, and to be brought back into the fold of healthy church life! That is why the process begins in the mildest, and most private manner possible, and only incrementally escalates, as is necessary. If it does become necessary to expel a member, such an act represents a failure, not a success.

So far, so good. But here is where it gets tricky.


Usually when we get offended, we leave it up to the one who offended us to take the first step. “Why should I call him? He is the one who started it. Let him call me!” Fair is fair, after all.


But Jesus didn’t say that when another offends us, we should wait for them to take the first step. What Jesus did say was that when another offends us, we are the ones who are to go to them. We are the ones who are to take the first step. We are to take the initiative in reconciling our relationship!


It’s not exactly fair, is it? Us having to take the first step and all. But then again, seeing as how all have sinned and all have fallen short of the glory of God, and seeing as how the wages of sin are death, we don’t really want what’s fair, do we?! If Jesus took the first step to save us, then we can take the first step to mend our broken relationships, too. Grace and peace to you as you, through Christ, work to bring grace and peace to others!


“In the Most Unexpected Places” - Exodus 3:1-15

August 30, 2020

On the one hand, you and I have a standing appointment with God. Although our God is mighty and sovereign and is certainly far beyond our control, our God has also scheduled a time and a place in which we can count on him being there. The place is church, and the time is Sunday morning. No matter what else is going on in our lives, no matter else God is attending to, we can trust the word of Christ who said that where two or three are gathered, he is there with us.


On the other hand, our God doesn’t sit quiet and patient with his hands folded waiting on us to show up for our Sunday morning appointment. Not only do we have the assurance that the Lord is with us when we are looking for him. We can also have the assurance that he is there, working for his children’s good, even when he is doing so behind the scenes.


A help wanted ad appeared in a single edition of the Birmingham News in October of 1993. That this one-time-only ad appeared the very next Sunday after a friend of mine suggested I should pray specifically for a job that would allow me to ask Wendy to marry me is probably not a coincidence. I sent a resume to the address in the ad. I interviewed for the job. I got the job. I bought a ring. I asked Wendy to marry me.


God changes lives. God changed my life.


Moses knew that, too. By the time Moses found himself atop Mt. Horeb shepherding his father-in-law’s flocks, he had already lived a lifetime’s worth of excitement and adventure. But on that mountaintop, Moses met God, and neither his life, nor the life of God’s people would ever be the same again!


Even in these days that are so different from anything we have ever known before, God continues to work behind the scenes, and God continues to reach out. May God bless you as much as he has blessed me!


Grace and peace, Michael

“An Unwelcomed Epiphany” - Matthew 16:13-20

August 23, 2020

When I started fourth grade, we had a brand-new teacher. Her name was Mrs. Philips, and I fell in love with her in exactly the same way I am sure dozens of little boys have fallen in love with Wendy over the years.


Unfortunately, the difference in our ages conspired against our budding romance. (Well that, and the fact that there was a Mr. Philips in the picture, too.) I was nine years old, and Mrs. Philips was really old. I think she was twenty-five. Perhaps to ease my disappointment, Mrs. Philips sat me next to the sweetest and prettiest girl in the whole class. Her name was Cathy Burke. Cathy wasn’t quite Mrs. Philips, of course. But she was a pretty nice substitute.


It wasn’t until many years later that I had an unwelcomed epiphany about that arrangement. Mrs. Philips hadn’t gone out of her way to make me feel better by sitting me next to Cathy Burke! Instead, she had done the most teacherly thing in the history of elementary school teachers. She sat me next to Cathy because that is how the alphabet works! “Michel Burgess.” “Cathy Burke.” The only reason Mrs. Philips sat me next to Cathy because our names appeared next to each other in her roll book!


As I was reading and thinking about today’s scripture lesson, I had a similarly unwelcomed epiphany. With a completely straight face, Jesus not only declared that Peter would be the rock upon which Christ would build his church. He also told Peter that his church would be entrusted with the awesome authority of binding and loosing in heaven, and on earth!


Now you and I know that Peter was not the most dependable fellow in the world. Peter said a lot of foolish things. Peter looked at the wind and the waves when he should have been looking at Jesus instead. Also, there was that one time when Peter was so timid that he was afraid to admit even to a little slave girl that he knew who Jesus was. I just don’t see the leadership potential there. And yet, Christ chose people like Peter, and Paul and Doubting Thomas and dozens of others like them, to build and to grow his church.

And he still uses people like them, to this very day. He still uses people like us! Christ sure doesn’t need us. He could do it all himself. And yet, for all our faults and all our weaknesses, he still allows us to share in his kingdom purposes.


Maybe that epiphany about Peter is not so unwelcomed after all.


Grace and peace,

Michael    

“Behind the Scenes” - Genesis 45:1-15

August 16, 2020

Anybody who likes an abundance of structure or regimentation in his or her life could do worse than to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. The Marines have a rule for just about everything, up to an even including how boot laces ought to be laced. (Left over right, in case you are interested.)


Yet even in an organization as structured as the Marine Corps, there is still a degree of unpredictability and arbitrariness. I learned that when a desk sergeant took it upon himself to unilaterally change my military occupations specialty from Food Service Specialist (a.k.a. “cook”) to Fire Direction Control (a much more desirable M.O.S.!). I was pleased with the change, of course. FDC was a much better job than being a cook. But it also seemed quite arbitrary to me. Usually official documents can only be changed by an act of congress. But here was a relatively unimportant E-5, sitting behind a desk in a small office, and he changed the course of my whole military career with the mere stroke of his government-issued pen!


Joseph would have understood. He would have understood that life sometimes takes unexpected turns, and sometimes even unwanted turns. But behind those seemingly arbitrary turns, behind those unexpected changes, the hand of God is often working.


Despite the fact that Joseph had been sold into slavery by his very own brothers, he refused to punish them when he got the chance to do so. Instead he greeted them with hugs and tears of joy. That is because Joseph realized that his brothers’ treachery actually served God’s purposes instead! What they had intended for evil, the Lord used for good.

I share this because it sometimes happens that when things go wrong, or when we struggle or suffer for seemingly arbitrary, or even evil reasons, God is still behind the scenes, and God is still working for his children’s good.


At least Joseph got to see, and therefore understand, the reason for his suffering. Not all of us are so fortunate. At least not this side of heaven.


If you are suffering or struggling, and you don’t understand why things are working out the way they are, perhaps it is because God is the one who is working behind the scenes. And if he is the one behind the scenes, if he is the one who knows the reason why, well, maybe that’s enough. Maybe it is better to know the “who” than the “why.”


Grace and peace,

Michael    

“Playing Favorites” - Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

August 9, 2020

You would think that Jacob learned his lesson about the danger of playing favorites seeing as how his relationship with his very own brother was destroyed by their parents’ favoritism.


You would think that. But you would be wrong. When Jacob grew up and had a family of his own, he continued the cycle of favoritism that started with his own mother and father.

Of all his sons, Joseph was his favorite. Joseph was the eleventh son, but he was the son that was born after the time Jacob thought he was too old to have any more children, and that made him extra special. And Jacob was not shy about showing his favor to his youngest son.

The straw that seems to have broken the camel’s back was the coat of many colors Jacob gave to Joseph. This story may have made for a wonderful Broadway musical. But it ruptured the family. It wasn’t long after Joseph received this incredibly ostentatious gift that his brothers acted on their seething resentment.


One day, Joseph was out seeking his brothers in the fields as they watched their flocks. When the brothers saw Joseph on the horizon, they began to hatch their plot. When Joseph got close enough, they would seize him, they would toss him in an open hole, and they would leave him there to die. Which they did.


Soon after, the brothers had an even better idea. Instead of just leaving Joseph in a hole to die, maybe they could sell him off to a caravan of traders. That way, not only would they would be rid of Joseph, but they would make a little money on him, too! Which they did.


I share this story because sibling rivalry is as old as the oldest book in the Bible. I also share this story because it is going to help us understand next week’s scripture all the better.


While it never turns out well when families play favorites, I would suggest that the Lord is not bound by the same principles. Our favoritism necessarily leads to another’s disfavor. But this is not so with the Lord. While parents would be wise to avoid showing favoritism, because our favor is limited, I would suggest that the Lord does indeed play favorites because we are all God’s favorites! Unlimited love, unlimited authority, and unlimited mercy lead to unlimited favor for all of us! “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” Thanks be to God!


Grace and peace,

Michael    

“Let's Get Ready to Rumble!” - Genesis 32:22-31

August 2, 2020

When I turned nine years old, Gordon Solie wished me a happy birthday on national TV.


For those of you who are not as impressed by that fact as you should be, I will tell you that in the 1970s, Gordon Solie was the announcer for the most important show on television--Georgia Championship Wrestling! And on August 12, 1973, in-between announcing matches and conducting interviews with such important dignitaries as Ric Flair and Mr. Wrestling II, Gordon Solie looked directly at the camera and wished a happy birthday to Michael in Anniston, Alabama! (He never told me for sure, but it had to have been my beloved, wrestling-watching grandfather who arranged for this.)


I mention this because today’s scripture reading has to do with, of all things, a wrestling match. It wasn’t Georgia Champion Wrestling. But it was close.

In one corner, we have Jacob. Jacob was not very big, and Jacob was not very strong. But he was clever. And Jacob was tougher than he looked.


In the other corner, we have the proverbial stranger from parts unknown. Out of nowhere, the stranger pounced on Jacob, and the two wrestled throughout the night until the break of day. As the sun began to rise in the eastern sky, the stranger struck Jacob in the hip, dislocating it. But still, Jacob held on.


Realizing there was no other way, the stranger (whom Jacob later realized was none other than the Lord himself!) asked Jacob to let him go. Jacob replied that he would only let the stranger go if he blessed him. (Jacob evidently had a thing for blessings.) With no other choice, the stranger blessed Jacob.


This story reveals there is more to Jacob that we might have imagined. Though he had spent his days scheming and conniving to get the things he wanted, Jacob discovered that he was stronger than he imagined.


But this story also tells us there is more to the Lord than we might have imagined, too. Our God is not distant from us. He is not removed from our lives. Rather, our Lord is close by; sometimes even close enough to wrestle with us! May the one who is Emmanuel, God with us, bless you and keep you.


Grace and peace,

Michael    

“Angels Ascending and Descending” - Genesis 28:10-19a

July 26, 2020

As an older brother, you don’t know how much it pains me that a younger brother, Jacob, is the hero of our scripture reading this morning! And it’s not just because Jacob was the younger brother. Jacob was a manipulator, and he was a maneuverer. He was a conniver, and he was a conspirator. Jacob was a trickster, a schemer, and a fraud. Worst of all, Jacob was a spoiled mama’s boy!


And yet Jacob, younger brother to Esau, was also the grandson of Abraham. Later on, he would be father to twelves sons who gave their names to the twelve tribes of Israel. Later still, Jacob would even be an ancestor to none other than Jesus Christ himself!


At first glance, however, Jacob seems to be the very embodiment of everything older brothers tend to resent in younger brothers. And for a moment, in that lonely and desolate place between Beer-sheba and Haran, it looked like Jacob was finally about to get his long-awaited comeuppance.

But in that lonely and desolate place in the middle of nowhere, with nothing more than a stone for a pillow upon which to rest his head, Jacob had a dream that changed everything!


In his dream, Jacob saw a ladder that stretched to heaven, and upon this ladder he witnessed a stream of angels ascending to heaven above, and descending to the earth below.

I realize the main point of the story is the promise the Lord made, and reaffirmed, to Jacob.


But I always thought it was interesting that when Jacob saw the angels on the ladder, what he saw first were the angels ascending, and only afterward did he see them descending. Whatever else that means, it means he saw angels already here with us before they returned to heaven. And if they are already here with us, that means we don’t have to wait on our help from heaven to arrive. Help is already here! And reinforcements are coming!


I hope this thought gives you the same kind of hope and encouragement it gives me.


Grace and peace to you all,

Michael    

"A Parable Out-of-Season" - Matthew 13:1-9

July 12, 2020

Though Wendy and I both like to watch movies together, there is one rule that she has about movie watching that I don’t share. While Wendy only likes to watch movies during the actual seasons in which those movies were set, I like to mix things up a little bit. Whereas Wendy would never choose to watch a summertime movie in the winter, I think that is the very best time to watch a summertime movie! It seems to me that a little warmth and a little sunshine go a long way on a cold January day, even if it is only for a couple of hours on my TV screen.


This may sound a little silly, but I have a feeling that Jesus might agree with me on this matter. Of course, Jesus never actually said anything about movies one way or another. But we do know for a fact that on at least one occasion, Jesus did not mind mixing up things so that the setting of a parable he told stood in direct contrast to his actual setting as he told the parable.


Today’s scripture reading is one such example. While Jesus was busy telling the crowds a parable about soil and seeds and agricultural yields, he did so while he was seated in a boat bobbing up and down on the waves of the Sea of Galilee!


Jesus may or may not have meant anything by telling a farming parable from a boat. But if he did, if that was a deliberate choice he made, then maybe it was because the Parable of the Sower and the Seed was not intended for the one seated in a boat. It was intended for those who listened to him from the banks of the water’s edge. The parable about good and bad soil was meant for those who were standing on the earth’s soil as they listened to Jesus speak!


The point of the parable seems to be that the only difference, the only variation to explain the different yields, or even no yield at all, is the kind of soil upon which the seed fell. The sower was the same wherever seed was sown. The seed was the same wherever the sower sowed it. The only difference was the soil itself. Good soil yielded a harvest many times over. Poor soil yielded nothing that lasted.


If this parable was spoken to those standing with the earth beneath their feet, it was also spoken to those who had the opportunity to decide what kind of soil it was that they were going to be. What kind of soil will you be when the Lord of the Harvest comes our way sowing the seeds of God’s Kingdom?


Grace and peace,

Michael    

"Hard to Please" - Matthew 11:16-19

July 5, 2020

When I was a brand-new pastor fresh out of seminary, I learned it was the pastor’s job in my new church to make sure the doors were locked, the lights were turned out, and the thermostats we turned off when worship was over.

No problem. I could do that.


In fact, it wasn’t long before I worked out a route to take care of all those things. I started in the back of the church, and worked my way to the front. My last stop was always the sanctuary.


One afternoon as I was finishing off my custodial duties, I noticed that someone had turned down one of the sanctuary’s two thermostats all the way down to 62°. Obviously, that’s a bit excessive. But I’m pretty hot-natured myself, so I understood. No matter. I just turned the air conditioner off, and went over to the other side to turn that thermostat off, too.


When I got to the thermostat on the other side of the church, however, I saw something I have never seen before, or since. While one of our units was working as hard as it could to pump out 62° air conditioning, the other unit was working as hard as it could to fill that sanctuary with 80° heat! Worried that I was about to find myself in some kind of rip in the fabric of the universe’s space-time continuum, I turned that other unit off as fast as I could.


The funny thing is that people were as hard to please in Jesus’ day as they were when it came to the ambient temperature in that church sanctuary up on Sand Mountain. They didn’t like it that John would neither eat nor drink, and frequently withdrew by himself to lonely, deserted places. But they also didn’t like it that Jesus came eating and drinking too much, and spending too much of his time with ne’er-do-well sinners and tax collectors!


One possible answer to this is that Jesus and John somehow both managed to miss an extremely narrow range of appropriate religious behavior, just in opposite directions. The other, more likely answer, is that what both were doing was right, and what was pleasing, to God. There is certainly a place for righteousness and correction in the Kingdom of God. But there is also a place for mercy and forgiveness, too.


I am grateful for both!


Grace and peace,

Michael    

"Christian Hospitality" - Matthew 10:40-42

June 28, 2020

There are a lot of good teachers, and a lot of good events out there to help churches become stronger and healthier. In fact, it was at an event like that where I first heard the suggestion that most visitors at a church make up their minds about whether or not they are coming back within the first ten minutes of their arrival. Not within ten minutes of the beginning of worship. Within ten minutes of their arrival. Unfortunately for most of us preachers, that means that visitors are making up their minds about our churches long before we ever start preaching.


But if it is not the quality of the preaching that persuades a first-time visitor to become a second-time visitor, what is it? What could be so powerful, what could be so persuasive that in less than ten minutes visitors are already making the decision whether or not they will ever set foot in a church again?


In a word, the answer is hospitality. More important than the preaching, more important than the style of worship, more important than the time or the architecture or theology or anything else, is whether or not visitors are made to feel welcomed when they come to our churches. As Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes others welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”


Now when I was preparing my sermon originally, this was going to be the part of the sermon where I was going to include some general thoughts about how we might show even greater hospitality in the days ahead. But when I arrived at church to worship and preach this message, something caused me to reconsider things.


As I stepped in to our fellowship hall, I saw a couple of people in our kitchen area. Hayden, one of the musicians in our praise team, was making coffee for Stephen, a visitor whom he had brought to church with him. Even though Stephen is a member of a neighboring church, he wanted Hayden to bring him to our church this week. Even though our scripture reading for the day promised a blessing for one who shared a cool cup of water, it occurred to me that surely there was also a blessing for the one who shared a hot cup of coffee, too. Thanks to my friend, Hayden, for a real-life object lesson that was better than anything I would have come up with on my own!

"Some Things Are Worth Fighting For" - Romans 6:1-11

June 21, 2020

Most of the things we fight about are not worth fighting about. To fight over things that are silly or childish is itself silly and childish. To avoid fights over things like that, on the other hand, is the mark of a mature and sensible person.


However . . .


While most of the things we fight over are things not worth fighting over, there are some things that are so important that not only are they worth fighting for, we are obligated to fight for them!

Family is worth fighting for. Friends are worth fighting for. Our community is worth fighting for, and our neighbors are worth fighting for, too. Righteousness is worth fighting for, but justice and mercy and forgiveness are worth fighting for, too.


Our faith, our church, and our Lord are worth fighting for, too.


Jesus thought so, too. He thought fishermen and tax collectors were worth fighting for. Jesus thought good people were worth fighting for, but he also thought those who were not so good were worth fighting for.

Jesus thinks we are worth fighting for, too.


If Jesus thinks we are worth fighting for, then we can fight for him, too. And one of the ways we can fight for Jesus is found in today’s scripture reading. Though Paul is clear that salvation is by our faith—that is, a gift—we can still stand up for that gift. And one way to fight for that gift is to not take it for granted.


Though some seemed to suggest that our sins are an opportunity for God’s grace to abound all the more, Paul was horrified by that thought. Rather, the best way to honor such a great gift is to appreciate it, and to fight for it. One way to fight for that gift is to allow the power of Christ to transform us so thoroughly that we allow him to help us become the disciples he created us to be.     

"Like a Good Neighbor" - Genesis 18:1-15

June 14, 2020

In June of 1996, I stood up in the pulpit of my own church for the very first time. Of course, I was nervous. To make things even worse, the organist and the song leader were gone on vacation that day, and the people they had arranged to take their places that day forgot. Preaching for the very first time was hard. But leading singing for the first, and last time in my life, was even worse!


Even though my first seminary class didn’t begin until a couple of months later, I did receive some very good, if abbreviated, training at Licensing School at Camp Sumatanga. And one of the best bits of advice I received there was this: “Whatever you do, make sure your church members know before you drop in for a visit!”


Abraham’s three visitors must have missed that day in Licensing School.

Though he was not expecting guests, Abraham went above and beyond when it came to offering hospitality to his unexpected guests. Abraham didn’t realize it at the time, but his guest that day was none other than the Lord himself! Before the Lord left that day, Abraham and Sarah were promised that she would have a son before the Lord returned. Sarah laughed, because she and Abraham were so old. But it was exactly as the Lord had promised.

Is anything to wonderful for the Lord?!


You and I have the same opportunity today to show the kind of hospitality to others that Abraham and Sarah showed in days of old. Although the writer of Hebrews would later remind Christians that some have entertained angels unawares, we don’t need that kind of reward to do what we ought to do anyway. It is enough for us to know that the one two whom we show hospitality is a child of God, created in God’s own image. After all, none other than Christ himself reminds us that whatever we do for others, we do for him as well.


Where there is hospitality, there is Christ. Where there is no hospitality, there is no Christ.  

Matthew 28:16-20

June 7, 2020 - Trinity Sunday

Key verse: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (v. 20)


If you live long enough, you realize that most things are not as permanent they seemed at the time. Childhood friends are not permanent. School is not permanent. Even jobs are not permanent. When I was a young man serving in the United States Marine Corps, my discharge date, 12 APR 1988, seemed like an eternity away. And yet thirty-two more April the Twelfths have come and gone since that date has passed!


One response we might have to all this change and impermanence is just to throw up our hands and decide that nothing is permanent. We are just doomed to be tossed to and fro, like so much seaweed floating in the surf.

Another option—the more theologically sound option, I might add!—is to do a better job of distinguishing between those things that are only temporary, and those things that are indeed permanent. One of those things that is genuinely permanent is Christ’s promise that he will be with us always, even to the end of the age.


That’s not the first time the LORD noticed that we needed company, of course. Did you know this concern goes all the way back to the very beginning of the Bible? Despite all the vast menagerie of creatures that called Eden home, not one of them was a suitable companion to Adam. “It’s not good for Adam to be alone,” God said.


And yet, I have always wondered how was it that the LORD knew it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. Was it simply a case of one of those things God knew because God knows everything? Or was there another, more personal, way that God came by that insight?


I think the LORD knew it was not good for us to be alone because not even the LORD is alone. When Christ commanded his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I think he intended for us to understand that we are to be in relationship with him, and with one another, as the three persons of the Trinity have always been in relationship with one another! The theology of the Trinity might be one of those things that theologians continue to work out, but maybe it’s enough for us to understand that our faith starts with the notion that we are not alone, just as God is not alone either.


Happy Trinity Sunday, Brothers and Sisters!

Michael Burgess  

"The More the Merrier" - Acts 2:1-21

May 31, 2020 - Pentecost Sunday

The “what” of Pentecost is easy to spot: The wind, the noise, and most of all, the tongues as of divided fire alighting on each of the Twelve. The “why” of Pentecost, on the other hand, is not always as easy to discern. Sometimes lost in the spectacle of Pentecost is the purpose of Pentecost. As a “Pentecostal” people, that is, those who believe in God’s presence in the Holy Spirit, we owe it to the Lord to try to discern God’s Kingdom purposes in the Pentecost story!


As soon as the Twelve received the Holy Spirit, the rushed out of the room in which they had gathered, and they boldly marched into the heart of the city to declare the message that in the day of the Spirit’s arrival everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!


Under normal circumstances, even their best efforts would have still been limited, as there were many Jews in Jerusalem who spoke only the languages native to their homelands. But these were not normal circumstances.


Despite the fact that those in the crowd came from the fartherest flung points of the known world, the Spirit enabled the disciples to declare the Good News in all of the languages necessary so that everyone present would have the opportunity to hear, and to respond, to the preaching of the Twelve. And respond they did! Thousands poured forth to lay claim to the promise made by Peter and the others.


The good news for us is that the “everyone” in his promise was even bigger than Peter himself probably imagined. For it was not long before gentiles in gentile lands also heard of the same promise, and they, too, wanted to be a part of the new Jesus movement. Eventually, that word made it all the way to us in Lexington, Alabama.


We may not speak Parthian or Phrygian or any of the other exotic languages Acts mentions in the Pentecost story. But we can speak to our friends and neighbors and others, and we can share our story with them in a language they can understand, too.


Grace and peace,

Michael

"Gone, But not Done" - Acts 1:1-11

May 24, 2020

There is a lot to be said for knowing a Bible story so well that we don’t really have to listen too closely when that story is being read to us. Only someone who has spent a lot of time in church and reading his or her Bible would ever think such a thing in the first place.


Sometimes, however, such lifelong familiarity might cause us to overlook things a new Christian might not precisely because the stories of the Bible are so new to them! Because scripture lives and breathes in the lives of the faithful, even those of us who are old hands at this still need to read and to listen for those new things the Lord would have us understand.

The Ascension is one of those stories.


It would have been an easy thing for the disciples to stand silent and awestruck at the sight of the Resurrected Jesus ascending into the heavens. In fact, that seems to be exactly what they did! Who knows how long they may have gazed at the heavens, hypnotized, had the angels not interrupted them?

But the angels did interrupt them.


“What are you guys doing standing around, gaping at the clouds?” they asked. “One of these days, Christ is coming back. But until that day comes, you have work to do!”


As any adult could tell last night’s graduates, although graduation day may seem like a grand conclusion—and it is!—graduation is really mostly a new beginning.


It is the same way in the life of a Christian, too. Just as the disciples were not allowed to remain atop the mountain following the Transfiguration, just as the disciples were shoo’d away by the angels after the Ascension, so also are we to continue in our walks of faith, even when we reach important milestones along the way, too. And the One who sits at the right hand of the Father, the One who is coming back one of these days, will be with us every step of the way!


Grace and peace,

Michael    

"A Good Word for Words" - Acts 17:22-32

May 17, 2020

“Talk is cheap.”


We have all heard that before. Maybe we have all even said that before. We say things like “talk is cheap” or “actions speak louder than words” or something similar because we know that words sometimes can be used to mislead, and sometimes even to completely deceive us. To be told that one speaks like a fast-talking politician or used car salesman is usually not a compliment.


But this message, based on Paul’s encounter with the Athenians at the Areopagus, is based on the notion that words also can be used to convey the greatest and most profound truths imaginable. The Ten Commandments were God’s words for us carved in stone. The gospels are words written by the evangelists so that those who were not eyewitnesses can still know what we need to know about Jesus in order to come to saving faith in his name. The whole Bible is given to us by the one who is himself “the Word”!


That’s why this message is entitled, “A Good Word for Words.”


The Athenians are a great example of how to listen to words. Because mature, healthy people know that character and reputation matter, we should weigh and test those things spoken by those we don’t know. That is exactly what the Athenians did. They gave Paul a fair hearing. They even promised to hear more from Paul. But they also allowed themselves time to consider the things Paul was talking about—especially the Resurrection.


But if the Athenians are a great example of how to listen, then Paul is a wonderful example of how we might witness to, and persuade, others. Rather than beating them over the head with scriptures they did not know, Paul spoke to Athenians using language and ideas they did know!


Of course, by the time the story ended, the Athenians were still thinking about the things Paul said. But he gave them a chance to believe. And they gave themselves a chance to believe. Thanks be to God!


Grace and peace, Michael

"A Mother's Love" - Matthew 23:37

May 10, 2020 - Mother's Day

In August, 1969, my grandmother presented me with a small, black New Testament. The inscription read, “To Michael Bailey, With Love, Monnie.”

The name my grandmother used to sign that New Testament is a story unto itself. But the more interesting thing about that inscription is the name by which she called me: “Michael Bailey.” Without going into all the details, Bailey was my natural father’s name.


Unfortunately for us, Bill Bailey was not a very responsible husband or father. And it wasn’t long before my mother packed up her meager belongings and brought us back to Anniston to live with her mother and father. A few years later my mother remarried, and her new husband was responsible enough to adopt my brother and me. Ever since that day I have been Michael Burgess.

I mention the inscription in that New Testament because it reminds me of the image Jesus used to describe himself in our gospel reading this morning. 


Standing in the heart of the city that would shortly be witness to his crucifixion, Jesus called out, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I have longed to gather you up under my wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” While scripture is rife with masculine images for God the Father and God the Son, this is surely the most powerful feminine image Christ ever used for himself!


My mother drew her two sons close to her heart, and she protected my brother and me by taking us to the one place she knew we would be loved and cared for the way she thought we ought to be—her own mother and father’s house. I thank God for all those mothers and grandmothers who have sacrificed so much that their children and grandchildren might be loved and protected. And I thank God for his Son who loves us in the same way, and even better! Happy Mothers Day to all who have blessed us! 

"Ordinary Miracles" - Acts 2:42-47

May 3, 2020

There were miracles aplenty in the early Church. For what else would you call it when someone as notoriously unreliable as Peter was able to stand up in the very city that crucified Jesus, and proclaim the Lord’s name with such power and such conviction that three thousand people rushed forward to be baptized, and to become part of the early Church?!

And it wasn’t just Peter. After Christ ascended into heaven, the disciples picked up right where Jesus had left off. They healed the sick. They cast out demons. And on at least one occasion, both Peter and Paul brought the dead back to life!

If only we had such miracles today. Who knows how full our churches might be?

According to our scripture reading this morning, we already have all the miracles we need. They may not be especially spectacular miracles. But even these ordinary miracles had then, and continue to have today, power to draw others into the faith.

For what was it that those in this morning’s lesson saw? They saw the apostles teaching and fellowshipping and breaking bread together. They saw the apostles sharing with one another, and selling their possessions to help the poor. They saw the apostles filled with glad and generous hearts, and they saw them praising God.

There was not one lightning bolt or parted sea in sight. And yet, these ordinary miracles were enough to draw new Christians to the apostles every day.

The best news of all? There is not one thing in this entire scripture reading that you and I can’t do as well!

Let us break bread together, and see what happens.

"Half a Sermon" - Acts 2:14, 22-39

April 26, 2020

When Peter had finished his famous Pentecost sermon, the crowds cried out in response, “Brothers, what should we do?” (v. 37)


That got me to thinking. Most preachers spend a lot of time praying, studying, and preparing our sermons; usually a lot more time than people realize. As you can probably imagine, given all the holy work that goes into a sermon, it is a satisfying thing indeed when those effort results in a message that is not only effective, but faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.


However, the cry of the crowd in this week’s scripture reading reminded me of something I always knew, but sometimes lose sight of. Even the best prepared, most eloquently preached sermon does not end just because the preacher says, “Amen.” Whether it is Billy Graham, or the Pope, or a small-town preacher in extreme north Alabama, we preachers only get the sermon started. We only get us halfway there.


When the crowds cried out at the end of Peter’s sermon, “Brothers, what should we do?” they remind us that no sermon is ever finished, no sermon is ever really complete, until those who hear that sermon supply the conclusion.

That’s why this week’s message is entitled “Half a Sermon.”

When I was a seventeen year old recruit at Parris Island, South Carolina, I learned a very valuable lesson. If a recruit ever tried to do something his way, instead of the way the drill instructors taught him to do it, Sgt. Thomas was immediately there to holler out, “We don’t have any John Waynes in this platoon!”


It occurs to me that the Church doesn’t have any John Waynes either. Everything we do, including the sermon, we do together, as a church family. As Paul once said, there may be many members, but there is only one body (1 Corinthians 12:12). Amen. 

"A Good Word for Thomas" - John 20:19-29

April 19, 2020

It’s really not fair that we should know Thomas as “Doubting Thomas.” It’s true that he didn’t believe the other disciples when they told him they had seen the resurrected Jesus. They hadn’t believed either; at least not at first, or not until they saw Jesus with their own eyes. When Thomas, who wasn’t there that first Easter Sunday evening, saw Jesus with his own eyes, he believed, too. Just like they had believed.


In fact, Thomas took his belief one step further. Whereas the other disciples remained silent after Jesus appeared to them, Thomas offered the best, and most complete, confession of faith to be found in the entire gospel: “My Lord, and my God!”


Jesus did not remember Thomas in his lowest and most embarrassing moment. Instead, Jesus gave Thomas everything he would need to believe, and everything he would need to be the kind of disciple Jesus needed him to be. Just as he will give us, too.


Sometimes lost in the story of “Doubting” Thomas is the promise Jesus made at the end of the story. After making his powerful confession of faith, Jesus asked Thomas, “Do you believe because you have seen me? I tell you this. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet still believe!”


Because none of the disciples believed before they saw the risen Jesus, he was not talking about them. But if Jesus was not talking about the disciples, who was he talking about?

He was talking about us. For we are the ones who have not seen, and yet still believe.


May the Lord give to all of us everything we need to believe in him even more. And may he give to us everything we need to do all the things he needs us to do for his Kingdom, and for his Church. Amen.   

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