The Least, First

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Love others as you love yourself (Bible readings for Sunday, Sep. 7, 2008)

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Abraham Lincoln

A. Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln once promised (so I am told) that if he found a church whose creed was the Golden Rule, he’d join it.  He never found one.

Maybe he’d read what St. Paul recommended:

“Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code--don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of--finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.”

Seems like every time religion goes bad it’s because someone’s persuaded others that something—a doctrine, a tradition, a cause, a nation—is more important than loving others.  Paul and Jesus have no such illusion.

Just below are the rest of the Scriptures I’ll be preaching from this Sunday.  Oops, I’m not preaching this Sunday.  My old friend Jolean Rice, prayer-traveler of Romania and China, will be here telling her story.

Thanks for coming by!

Proper 18 (23) September 7, 2008
Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 119:33-40; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20 Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

September 3, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Sneak becomes hero (sermon of August 18, 2008)

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Birth of Jacob and Esau [www.ratnermuseum.com]Remember Jacob and Esau? How Jacob was born holding-on to Esau’s heel?  How Jacob was given the name “Jacob” because it meant “heel-grabber” or “supplanter” or “schemer”?  How Jacob later extorted the family birthright out of his brother?  How he ran for his life—Esau threatening murder—under cover of going to Mama’s folks to find a bride?

And how, when he got there, he awakened the day after his marriage to discover that the bride of last night’s passion wasn’t the girl he’d intended to marry?  Oops.  Now he’d gotten bamboozled (let alone her, but that’s another story).

Jacob stays there at Haran for 20 years: 7 years for Leah, 7 years for Rachel, 6 more tending flocks, raising his own. He gets astonishingly rich.  And then one day, God said “Jacob, it’s time to go home.”

But Jacob’s afraid of Laban (Pa-in-law).  Laban’s been a shrewd dealer.  Kept him there for 20 years, after all.  Who knows if Laban will really let him go?  So Jacob and Rachel and Leah lay a secret plan. Read the rest of this entry »

Small is what big is made of (a sermon)

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Birth of Jacob and Esau [www.ratnermuseum.com]In one artist’s sculpture, Jacob and Esau burst upon the world.

Remember the story?  They’re born as twins, Esau first.  When Jacob follows, his hand on his brother’s heel.  It’s predicted that “the older will serve the younger,” which was odd in an order-of-birth culture.  Esau should get the privileges.  And the hand on the heel, we said, was representative of something like sneakiness.

Years later, they’re young men, Esau-the-hunter comes in starving, and Jacob-the-chef extorts the family birthright out of him in exchange for food.

Then Jacob gave him some of the soup (Valloton)

Then Jacob gave him some of the soup (Valloton)

Later, Esau is furious, and threatens murder – and remember, he’s a tough guy. So, scheming Jacob’s scheming mother Rebecca told his father Isaac that it was time for Jacob to go find a wife, and that back in Haran, where they came from, her brother’s place would be a good place to start. Isaac says “Sure,” and Jacob runs for his life.

On the way, he sacks out on the bare ground, meets God in a dream, and is terrified. Esau was a threat – but God, uh-oh! To Jacob’s astonishment, God comes not with judgment, but with a promise – a renewing of the promise that he’d made to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham. In the morning, Jacob is amazed at his good fortune, and worships there.

As he approaches Haran, he meets and promptly falls in love with Rachel, his cousin. He moves into Uncle Laban’s home – yes, he’d like to have a wife, but of course, he can’t really go home anyway, thanks to the trick he pulled on his brother. But now, Jacob’s inherited sneakiness is going to come back on him through his mother’s family – and on some others, too. Read the rest of this entry »

A little hope (Pagan Abraham, part 2)

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Milky Way in summer/Jens Hackman


Last week, I opened with these words. See if they mean something a little different to you now: “[God] brought [Abram] outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.”

Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Genesis 15 NRSV

Rich Mullins sang: “Sometime I think of Abraham – how one star he saw was there for me. He was a stranger in that land; and I am that, no less than he.”  A star for me?

And we climbed Sumerian temple steps and glimpsed the worship there. Then we went around the world, and saw that 4,000 year old religions on every continent labored to please fertility gods patterned after sun and moon. That was Abram’s world.

In 2005, I realized a personal connection to all this. Lucas [my son] and I were in England, and we went to a little village called Avebury. We had heard it was like Stonehenge but not fenced-off, and older. So we took a train and a bus, and were dropped off beside a field like the one you see at the right.

Our first glimpse

Our first glimpse of Avebury stones

Lucas climbs out of Avebury's massive trench

At first we saw these stones – and a couple other small ones, and were disappointed. But somehow we got the hunch something bigger was happening, crossed the highway, and began to see more, and then came upon this:

Turned out the little thatched – roof village of Avebury adjoined a giant curve of stones bordered by this immense smooth ditch, maybe 25 feet deep. You can just see Lucas on the far slope.  The ditch was originally much deeper – perhaps 200,000 tons of chalk were dug with antler picks and oxbone shovels, and hauled away.

And then we realized that we were on the edge of a huge stone circle, nearly half a mile across.

Turns out it is the largest stone circle in the world. Some of the stones weighed as much as 40 tons.

No one knows who put these stones here or how they moved them. But we know a few things: there are gates lined up on the points of the compass, there is some sexual symbolism, and we know when: they were put up about the same time as the Sumerians began to build temples for the same purpose. In fact, they were probably built within a few hundred years of Abram’s birth in Sumerian city of Ur.

Avebury: The world's largest stone circle

As far as we know, all of us had ancestors who worshiped fertility gods. Just a few miles from these stones is a village called Ashbury. Perhaps my ancestors worshiped here. It is our world, too.

Last week, I ended with these words: “Why does Abram go journeying with this strange new God? Perhaps its because he’s heard a voice that’s so different, so attractive. Think of it: Unlike the unknowable gods, this God has pursued him. Unlike the gods who see humans as their slaves, this God cares about Abram. Unlike the gods of the endless wheel of life, this God offers Abram a future. Unlike the gods whose rages are only contained by ritual sex and murder, this God invites Abram to become his friend. Unlike the gods that care nothing about human life, this God promises to bless all peoples everywhere through Abram.

Get the context, then: What would you say is God doing with Abram? Read the rest of this entry »

Pagan Abraham, father of three religions (part 1)

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A sermon (and a worship gathering sequence— Proper 8 A), preached in June of ’05 at home at New Oaks Church in Washington, IA.

Monte: [God] brought [Abram] outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15 NRSV)

But how? And when? Ancients thought of time differently than we do – what did it even mean?  And why millions of descendants?

If you could have one thing from God, would you ask for millions of descendants? Is that what you were aching for as you came in this morning?

Abram’s world, 4,000 years ago, was almost incomprehensibly different from ours. The birth of Jesus, 2,000 years ago, in a world so different from our own, is only halfway back to Abram.

I wonder what God was really saying to Abram. I wonder how Abram understood it.

And now, after 40 centuries, I wonder how it could possibly speak to me?

Pray Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

June 26, 2008 at 3:47 pm

What if we already have what we need?

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Sermon of June 12, 2005 – Proper 6A

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7); Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)

Worship order summary:Sarah laughed

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7);
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19;
Come, Now is the Time to Worship
I Waited
Healing Grace
Prayer
Welcome
Ben and Monte: Romans 5:1-8
Sharon: Sharing
Give Thanks
Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)
Prayer
Giving
I Want to Know You

Worship order working copy:

10:42 flash lights
10:45 cue worship opener
when it’s done, lights 100% except spots off

Monte intro
Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)

[Remember the promise from last week’s Genesis reading first, and mention the times they gave up on it]

[cue Sarah laughs]

GOD appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent. It was the hottest part of the day. 2He looked up and saw three men standing. He ran from his tent to greet them and bowed before them. Read the rest of this entry »

On freedom roads

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“On What Freedom Roads Do You Walk?”

Proper 5 A: Genesis 12:1-9, Psalm 33:1-12, Romans 4:13-25, Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
June 6, 2005, at New Oaks Church of the Nazarene, Washington, IA

Night rotation of starsMonte: In Genesis: Last week Noah, today, Abraham. Father of three great religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Read you a bit, then we’ll sing.

Abraham – or Abram, was born, we think, in 2166 B.C. Farther before the birth of Jesus than we are after the birth of Jesus. He lives in Haran – not too far from the city in modern N. Iraq called Mosul. It’ll help you to know a couple things about life there.

1. Abram knows, as far as we know, nothing about God as we know him at the beginning of his story. He’s never heard of Jahweh. He’s never been to a synagogue or church – none exist.

2. Abram is a pagan man in a pagan culture. As much as any headhunter in Borneo ever was. As much as any ancient European ancestor of yours or mine ever was. He’d have household gods set up. The worship he’d participated in might have involved child sacrifice. It probably involved temple prostitutes. Your ancestors’ worship may have, too.

3. Abram’s home culture is sophisticated. It values stability and wealth and probably business over agriculture. It values staying put and getting rich.

And then God starts talking to him. Read the rest of this entry »