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Lexington United Methodist Church

Lexington, AL

Sermon Notes

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

“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.