For all who seek to live according to the Way of Jesus.

© 2013

About the Author ......................................................................... 1 Introduction ................................................................................ 1 Seek God’s Will: The Best Sermon ................................................. 5 Children as Precious: Persisting for the Children ............................ 12 Treasure in Heaven: How Much is Enough? ................................... 19 Spread the Word: Being and Making Disciples ............................... 25 Live with Humility: Surprised by Sainthood ................................... 33 Love: The Jesus Creed................................................................ 39 Pray: A Concert of Prayer ........................................................... 46 Heal: Your Healing Touch ............................................................ 51 Bibliography .............................................................................. 58

About the Author
Greg Smith is a progressive post-denominational follower of Jesus who serves in parish ministry, teaches religion at the University level, blogs about matters of faith that matter, and works as an instructional technologist. You can learn more about him by visiting his blog:

In September 2013, I was called to serve as the Interim Senior Minister of United Church of Marco Island (a congregation affiliated with the United Church of Christ and with the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches). My first sermon series at UCMI, “The Jesus Priorities,” seeks to familiarize my listeners (and now also my readers) with what mattered to Jesus as a way of helping rethink our own priorities as those who seek to follow the Way of Jesus. Preached during the months of October and November 2013, the eight sermons that follow are based on each of the eight priorities identified by Christopher D. Maricle in The Jesus Priorities: Eight Essential Habits.1 Maricle – a Catholic lay person who has worked in K-12 education as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, and consultant – wrote the book to share his answer to the question “What did Jesus consistently say and do during his public ministry that would be instructive for us?”2 He tabulated what Jesus prioritized by categorizing his words and actions in the four Gospels. He counted the following numbers of
1. Christopher D. Maricle, The Jesus Priorities: Eight Essential Habits (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2007). 2. Ibid., 14.


events (unique occurrences) and recordings (total times an event is recorded in the Gospels)3: Priority Heal Love Pray Spread the Word Treasure in Heaven Seek God’s Will Children as Precious Live with Humility Events 36 24 23 18 12 14 6 9 Recordings 63 35 32 36 25 16 14 12

3. Ibid., 18.



He also placed Jesus’ priorities into two broad categories4: Our Relationship with God Pray Seek God’s Will Our Relationship with People Heal Love Spread the Word Treasure in Heaven Children as Precious Love with Humility

The sermons appear in the order they were preached. Readers need not read the collection in order, but will benefit from reading the first (“Seek God’s Will: The Best Sermon”) and last (“Heal: Your Healing Touch”) in their original order since they are intended to frame the series. Preaching is an oral form of communication. The manuscripts that follow served as my guides, but are not word for word transcripts of what I said. Links to the sermon audio are provided for those who welcome audio as a supplement to the written words. All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, is from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

4. Ibid., 17


Seek God’s Will: The Best Sermon
October 6, 2013 Matthew 5-7 Audio: (20 minutes)

I begin in a way I never have before and likely never will again by offering a bold guarantee. I assure you that this morning's sermon will be the best sermon you will ever hear. With this in mind, let us pray . . . As those who seek to follow the way of Jesus, may his wisdom continue to be our guide. Take and use the words I will speak to empower our imaginations, awaken us to new possibilities, and embolden us in our actions. Amen. When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, "You shall not murder'; and "whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, "You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.


You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. It was also said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, "You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.' But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be "Yes, Yes' or "No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one. You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.


For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast,


put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, "What will we eat?' or "What will we drink?' or "What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, "Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you. Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.


Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.' Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!" Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Amen.


Children as Precious: Persisting for the Children
October 13, 2013 Luke 18:1-8 Audio: (22 minutes)

I want to begin in an interactive manner. Most of you have heard hundreds if not thousands of sermons. You know what God is like. Let me ask for your help in understanding some of the best attributes you associate with God. God is or God is like what? Go ahead. Don't be shy. Share your answers. (Listen to then repeat words spoken by the congregation.) With these words in mind we prepare to hear the first eight verses of the eighteenth chapter of Luke. These verses contain one of the more challenging parables Jesus told. David Lose, a professor of preaching at Luther Seminary, sees it as "ambiguous as it is provocative."6 Most believe this parable includes imagery for God that is unfamiliar to most: God as being in some way like an unjust judge. Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, "Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, "Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.' " And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?

5.David Lose, "Commentary on Luke 18:1-8." Working Preacher, October 17, 2010,


I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" May God bless the reading and hearing of these difficult words attributed to Jesus. Let us pray. God of Many Names, you are always larger than the boxes we place you in or the labels we prefer to use to explain your identity. Help us to see that you are just, and that you value those who are persistent in seeking justice. Take and use my words to empower our imaginations, awaken us to new possibilities, and embolden us in our actions. Amen. By now many of you are learning that I am all about Jesus. Over the last decade or so, I have given more thought to Jesus' parables, prayers, and priorities than to any other religious topic. Today these three come together in a single reading. Depending on your perspective, you may focus on either of the two dominant characters. You could see this as a story about a damnable judge and a distressed widow. You could label it as the Parable of the Unjust Judge or the Parable of the Persistent Widow. While both sides are worthy of consideration, our focus this morning will be on the persistence of the widow, and on her role in reminding us that we are called to persist. Since none of us lived in biblical times, it is often difficult to imagine what the world was like. When we read the Bible, we often unknowingly read our 20th or 21st century worldviews and assumptions into the passages we ponder. Knowing this and recognizing the power of parable, I was thrilled when I came across a well done video series that retells many of Jesus’ parables in ways that communicate the message that make sense in our modern world. Unlike most productions that simply update the language or scenery, this one seeks to take the big idea of the original parable and then create something new for a contemporary audience. The retelling of the Parable of the Persistent Widow is set in the late 1960s or early 1970s, and filmed in black and white. It vividly portrays a prejudiced and corrupt judge who simply refuses to hear

the case of a poor black widow. He is happy to pretend she doesn't exist. He wants nothing to do with her or with her case. Rather than accept this, she does everything she can to be heard. Despite numerous obstacles, she persists. She is always around. She is determined to have her day in court. Her resolve is unwavering. Day after day, she presses on. Eventually she wears down the judge, and receives the justice she has been seeking.7 In both the modern retelling and the original parable, you can't miss the huge power difference between the judge and the widow. The widow has limited resources, limited mobility, and limited options. The judge is supposed to play by the rules but has decided he is above them. The persistence of the marginalized widow is appealing. It is an admirable quality that resonates with readers and viewers alike. They want what she wants. We want what she wants. We all crave justice. We want to be on the side of justice! We believe our God is just. We know that we are called to help make our world a more just realm. There are so many ways we might endeavor to achieve this. Today, we focus our persistence on one of Jesus' priorities: children are precious. Let’s return to the biblical text of the eighteenth chapter of Luke. The first eight verses are our parable: the Parable of the Persistent Widow -- the one who persists and prevails because of prayer. It is followed by another parable about prayer. Then, after these parables, Jesus reminds us how important children are in his eyes. People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, "Let the little

7. Thomas Purifoy, "The Widow & Judge," in Modern Parables: Living in the Kingdom of God, Vol. 1 (Nashville: Compass Cinema, 2007).


children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs."8 Every week we gather here and say together or sing together the Lord's Prayer. We ask that God's kingdom come; we commit ourselves to work to make it so on earth as it already is in heaven. If God's realm is to expand, children must be valued. We must be inspired by the widow's boldness. We must seek to understand the challenges facing this generation of children, and be willing to persist in prayer and advocacy on their behalf. The scope of the problem is staggering. Children experience injustice globally, nationally, and here in our community. On the global level, injustice is pervasive!  1 billion children are deprived of one or more services essential to survival and development, and  Over 100 million children who are of age to attend primary school are not receiving an education.9 On the national level, here in the United States, we have the second highest child poverty rate among the world's 35 richest nations10. In our country 22% of all children live in poor families, and that number grows to 45% when low-income families are included11 On the local level, right here in what many think of as a wealthy place, injustice is all too real. In Collier County alone,
8. Luke 18:15-16, NRSV. 9, UNICEF, "The State of the World's Children - Special Edition: Celebrating 20 Years of the Rights of the Child," Child Info (November 2009) 4, 10. Valerie Strauss, "The Cost of Child Poverty: $500 Billion a Year," The Answer Sheet (blog), July 25, 2013 (6:00 a.m.), 11. Sophia Addy, Will Englehart, and Curtis Skinner. "Basic Facts About Low Income Children," National Center for Children in Poverty, January 2013,


 over 5,000 children live in poverty.12  Nearly 4 out of every 10 children (37%) are in households receiving food stamps,13 and  more than 6 of every 10 school children (62%) are eligible for free or reduced cost lunch based on their family's limited household income.14 While statistics present an accurate account of the challenging conditions facing many children, they tend to be an easy way to keep the matter at arm's length from our own experience. We must get closer to the children. Rather than allowing our friends and family to offer us safe shelter in a different world, we must enter the world of these children. A couple of years ago I took a group of middle school students to St. Matthew's House in Naples to volunteer in preparation for their annual Thanksgiving outreach. Since most of the children who had come to serve had never been to St. Matthew's House before, one of their leaders gave the group a tour and a brief history of their ministry before we started our work. The guide talked about the significant scope of caring they do, but emphasized how their efforts impacted children the same age as my volunteers. When the guide mentioned that homelessness was a much bigger problem than we realized, one precocious preteen asked "really, how big?" The guide stopped our walking tour and said that during this school year each and every public school in Collier County has had at least one homeless child enrolled. After a long enough pause for that to really catch the attention of my young volunteers the guide followed up by saying, "I am sure someone you know is homeless, they are just too embarrassed or too proud to let you know."

12. "2011-2012 School District of Collier County - Strategic Planning and Needs Assessment," 54, Collier County Schools Head Start, 13. Ibid., 20. 14. Ibid., 19.


I can tell you that this one story made a much greater impact on our group that day than any of the many impressive statistics that were shared or any of the labors of love we completed. I can also tell you that months later, many of these volunteers recognized that the few hours they gave up on a Saturday morning really mattered. In the same way, I could stand before you and read the sort of numbers that substantiate our congregation cares about children. I could tell you how many dollars were given to this group or how many items were donated to that group. I could calculate and tabulate, I could gesticulate and exacerbate, I could even pontificate and disseminate. Instead, let me tell the story. United Church is committed to justice for all people, especially for the children in our community.  We welcome children to our campus every weekday into the Mission Place Learning Center.  We welcome children to our campus every weekend for scouting through Boy Scout Venture Crew 320. We provide a place where price isn't a barrier for families to clothe their children at the Bargain Basket. And we use the funds generated by that ministry and the gifts of our generous donors to seek justice for children through many mission partners, including:  Grace Place,  Habitat for Humanity,  Harry Chapin Food Bank  Shelter for Abused Women and Children, and  St. Matthew's House. We are doing a great deal, and yet we cannot lose sight of the Parable of the Persistent Widow. Going back to that biblical story, I want you to ask yourself how did she get to the judge? What was it that she kept on doing that led him to action?


The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes Jr., Senior Minister Emeritus of The Riverside Church and president of the Healing of the Nations Foundation, preached about this parable last year. In that sermon he imagined that the persistent widow handed a note to the judge. Listen to the words he places on that note. Let them be your call to action, your prayer, and your reason to persist on behalf of children. Justice is the air I breathe— I can’t live without it! It’s not enough to complain and grieve, I’ve got to do something about it! I’m gonna strategize and organize— I’m gonna vote and take a stand. I’m gonna pray each day and agitate until justice is the law of the land.15 I may not be able to do much, but I'm gonna put my faith into action. Will you join me? Amen.

15. James A. Forbes, "No Justice, No Righteousness." Youtube video, 18:17, posted by “The Children’s Defense Fund”, August 17, 2012,


Treasure in Heaven: How Much is Enough?
October 20, 2013 Luke 12:13-21 Audio: (19 minutes)

This morning's reading comes from the twelfth chapter of Luke, beginning in the thirteenth verse. It relates yet another occasion when Jesus answered a question with a parable. Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry. 'But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." Let us pray . . . In a world where we can purchase anything we want with the click of a button, help us to remember that we are more than consumers. Remind us that abundant living is about living well, not living large. Take and use my words to empower our imaginations, awaken us to new possibilities, and embolden us in our actions. Amen. I don't know much about barns, but I do know a bit about real estate. In all honesty, houses have always fascinated me. All you have to do is to start using real estate terms like location, layout, view, amenities,


finishes, and cost per square foot and I will gladly join your conversation. So, it is my pleasure to be your guide as we go on a tour of my time in Texas through the lens of real estate. I spent the first thirty years of my life in the great state of Texas, living in the Dallas-Arlington-Fort Worth metropolitan area throughout. To simplify my experience, I will divide those thirty years into two parts. Parts one and two are very different experiences. Part one. When I was born, I came home to what was not only the first house I lived in as a child, but also the only house I ever knew during my growing up years. Over the years we had many different neighbors and nearly all of my friends moved multiple times, but we stayed put. I can still tell you the details of nearly every 1 of the 1,600 square feet in that dwelling. Part two. Although the second part is shorter in years than the first, it offers far more sights for us to see. When Susan and I got married, we began our life together in a modest single family brick home. That home was around 1300 square feet and had 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a 2 car garage. It was a great place to get started - it was near perfect as a "starter home." Within a few years, we opted to move about fifteen miles away. It was the first home we purchased together as a couple. It was nearly twice the size of our starter home, and had 4 bedrooms. Since it was new construction, it even came with that lovely new home smell. Our next move covered about twenty miles, and returned us to my hometown. Leaving behind new construction, we found our way to a home that was about as old as we were. The house was even larger than the last with 5 bedrooms and a 3 car garage. Somehow we managed to fill nearly 3,000 square feet rather quickly. And then we moved less than a mile to an even larger home in the same neighborhood. This move gave us even more space - nearly 4,000 square feet. We even had 5 bathrooms for our family of two, along with a lovely pool.


While we never once tore down our old home to build a bigger one, we grew quite competent in trading up to homes that were larger, pricier, and in better locations. Our family size remained constant at two, but the number of things we owned and the number of square feet we air conditioned to contain and maintain them continued to grow. While we never spoke the words, our lifestyle suggested that bigger really is better. When it came to real estate, if you asked me "how much is enough?," my answer for many years would have been something like "I am not sure, but perhaps just a little bit more." The ever-expanding size of our homes seemed to be just another part of the work associated with climbing the societal ladder. Let me take a break for a moment. I want to temporarily halt our parade of homes in order to introduce you to a father and son: Robert and Edward Skidelsky. Robert, the father, is Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at University of Warwick and a fellow of the British Academy. Edward, the son, is a lecturer at Exeter University specializing in aesthetics and moral philosophy. Together the two recently wrote a book that shares a title with this sermon: How Much is Enough? (2012).16 The subtitle of the book is equally important: Money and the Good Life. So why do I bring this text to your attention? Because the Skidelsky's get it. They are on to something that sounds a lot like the wisdom of Jesus in this morning's parable. In a consumer oriented world that always hungers for more, the Skidelsky's offer a much needed corrective about the good life. They envision a more balanced world in which there is less pressure to consume and also less income inequality. Also it is worth nothing that they recognize that while such a world could conceivably come about
16. Robert and Edward Skidelsky. How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life (New York: Other Press, 2012).



in response to many types of interventions, it is unlikely to be realized without religion.17 The elder Skidelsky is widely recognized as an expert on John Maynard Keynes. If you remember much about Keynes as an economist, you are likely familiar with his vision of the future. He pictured a world in which his grandchildren would work only 15 hours a week, yet earn as much as those in his generation thanks to advances in technology alongside a more even distribution of income. In this futuristic world, leisure would be primary. Amazingly, Keynes' forecast of the increased income and productivity were accurate, but the fifteen hour work week hasn't been realized because several of his other assumptions were incorrect. No, in the second decade of the twenty-first century income inequality is widening in part thanks to insatiable appetites for more.18 After surveying history and mining the realities of the present, the Skidelskys construct a way forward that challenges many of the capitalistic assumptions that are taken for granted by most people today. This new framework requires a different understanding of wealth, happiness, and economic progress. It assumes that the basic goods are the good life rather than a means to achieve it.19 We need to remember that the items that comprise the good life cannot be bought or sold.20 In case my preaching is pushing too far into theory, let me return my focus to stuff. You know, the things that clutter our homes and, at worst, confuse our priorities. While I am not a big fan of reality television, there are a few shows in that category that intrigue me. Have you ever seen the show called "Storage Wars?"
17. Greg Smith, “Review of How Much is Enough,” So What Faith (blog), July 9, 2012, 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid. 20. Ibid.


It is a half hour program focused on storage unit auctions. When people fail to pay the rental fee for their storage units for long enough, they forfeit the contents of their unit. Think about that . . . there are enough people unable to pay for the storage of their stuff that an industry has sprung up around buying and selling the items they lost. Each episode of "Storage Wars" focuses on one day of auctions at a single storage facility. The sizes of the units in default vary as do the types of content they contain. The show's main characters are all in the resale business. Each wants to buy the stuff cheap enough that they can turn around and resell it for a sizable profit. The original show was focused on auctions in California,21 but when it became a hit the show expanded by producing multiple spin-offs, including "Storage Wars - Texas."22 How did we get back to Texas? While I loved living in Texas, Susan and I eventually decided it was time for us to move on to a new place. After we had climbed several rungs on the property ladder and earned our doctoral degrees, we headed for Florida. The economics of life in Naples rather than wisdom of Jesus led us to start life here in a much smaller place. We started off in a rental condo that was roughly half the size of our last home in Texas. If you have ever downsized, then you know that it causes you to really rethink your things. If we needed to eliminate 10% of our stuff, we could have easily taken care of that in a day or two. If we needed to cut back and find new homes for 25% of our belongings, we could have managed after some longer conversations. But, we needed to let go of half of everything we owned. After years of consuming, the idea of getting rid of 50% of all we had was an incredible challenge. We said goodbye to boxes and boxes of books, to rooms and rooms of furniture, to decorations, and to a variety of things old and new - large and small.
21.“About,” Storage Wars. accessed November 29, 2013, 22.“Storage Wars: Texas,” A&E. accessed November 29, 2013,


Somehow we did it. We sold or gave away half of everything we had. We moved to Florida and started our life here in a condo half the size of the home we had in Texas. And then, only then, did it begin to make sense. Jesus was on to something. Living simply really is simpler, and better. It really does free you up to become more generous. It is the kind of lesson you start learning but never finish mastering. Since that time, my fascination with real estate hasn't waned. Only this part of our story, part 3, moves in a different direction. Our first place in Florida, as I mentioned, was half the size of our last place in Texas. It was also our first and only rental. Once we had a sense of where things were, we purchased our first home in Naples: a coach home. It was just a tad smaller than our rental. Yes, we willingly downsized a bit more. Only this time, instead of eliminating the 10% of stuff needed for a place that was around 10% smaller, we got rid of far more. This time, the gifting and selling of stuff came naturally. It was logical since we were buying a place turnkey, and it was easier because we had just given away so much only months before. We were learning to live more simply. Then, we decided to move again. Earlier this summer we moved less than half a mile to a new place that is, once again, smaller than the last. This is the final stop on our tour of homes, though likely not the last place Susan and I will ever live. While Jesus spoke about barns and I have talked about houses, the truth is much greater than the category of real estate. At the heart of Jesus' lesson is our basic disposition about our stuff. Are we ruled by our greed or fueled by our generosity? Which perspective characterizes your attitude about things? How will you live out your response to Jesus' parable? Amen.

Spread the Word: Being and Making Disciples
October 27, 2013 Matthew 28:16-20 Audio: (19 minutes)

This morning's reading comes from the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew. It is a passage that contains what is commonly referred to as the Great Commission. Listen now to the final words in Matthew's Gospel. Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." May God bless the reading and hearing of these familiar words. Let us pray . . . On this Reformation Sunday, help us to celebrate the past, accept the challenges of the present, and live into the future as your disciples. Take and use my words to empower our imaginations, awaken us to new possibilities, and embolden us in our actions. Amen. The Great Commission is about disciples making disciples. It is a call to be authentic followers of the way of Jesus, and to share that experience with others. When it is lived out as Jesus envisioned, growth happens naturally. The number of followers increases, and those who are already his disciples grow as well. As disciples help make other disciples, they grow in their faith. The Great Commission is for the whole world, but it is always personal. It always happens to and through real people.


When you think of what all is involved in carrying out the Great Commission, the church must play an important role. That role has remained the same, even as the church has changed. Like any multi-national organization that has been around for any length of time, the church has undergone many changes. Many of these changes are ones we may have learned about years ago, but don't think about on a regular basis. Let me help you remember. If you are not all that familiar with church history, let me help you find your way. The date was October 30, 1517. In the city of Wittenberg, Germany, a monk, university teacher, and preacher named Martin Luther decided the time had come to share a list of his concerns about the doctrines and practices of the church. Luther knew that salvation was not for sale, no matter how creatively agents marketed the sale of indulgences or how readily people purchased them. He had already used his preaching and teaching to draw attention to this problem. Finally, the time came when he knew he needed to escalate his protest. Exactly 496 years ago today Luther put a printed copy of his concerns on the only sort of church bulletin board that existed back then: the church door. His act of nailing his "95 Theses" to the church door in Wittenberg is now widely recognized as the start of the Reformation. While Luther's act is in the spotlight, it didn't happen in isolation. Historically speaking, change was happening in many places. As protesting the troubling practice of the established churches spread the term Protestant emerged. The Protestant Reformation changed the church forever, and opened up the possibilities for existence of new associations, denominations, and networks of churches that were not affiliated with either the Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church.


This new kind of church was energized by five statements. Originally in Latin these remarks all contained the word sola, which translates as only or alone. They are  by faith alone,  by Scripture alone,  through Christ alone,  by grace alone, and  glory to God alone. Some say the Protestant Reformation continued for the next 150 years. Whether that is the case or not, it is clear that a central tenet of the Reformation lives on. At the heart of the Protestant Reformation was an affirmation that "the church is always reformed, always reforming." This morning, as we strive to understand what it means to be about the work of being and making disciples, I want us to think about some of the changes in Protestantism during our own lifetimes. United Church is connected to two traditions: the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches and the United Church of Christ. Did you realize both groups are younger than most who are gathered here this morning? The date was November 10, 1955. In the city of Detroit those gathered from Congregational Christian Churches around the country voted to give birth to The National Association of Congregational Christian Churches.23 This new association was committed to "the continuance and growth of those Christian purposes and practices which have been the historic and accepted characteristics of Congregational Christian Churches." 24
23. "Articles of Association of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches of the United States," National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, accessed November 29, 2013, 24.Ibid.


Now, nearly 60 years later the association's current mission statement is "bringing together Congregational Christian Churches for mutual care and outreach to our world in the name of Jesus Christ."25 Put differently, the association seeks to help congregations in the work of being and making disciples. The date was June 25, 1957. In the city of Cleveland those gathered from around the country voted to give birth to the United Church of Christ. This newly formed denomination was created through a merger of two groups: The Congregational Christian Churches and The Evangelical and Reformed Church.26 Each of those two groups was created about a quarter of a century earlier by mergers. In other words, this new denomination brought together what had not long before been four separate traditions. 27 This new denomination was focused on Christian unity - an emphasis made clear by the diversity of the groups that became one in order to form the denomination. Now, nearly 60 years later the denomination is best known for its decade long "God is still speaking" campaign.28 In various ways, Stillspeaking has been a reminder that "God still has a lot more to say."29 Whether you are familiar with it or not, hopefully you have

25.National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, accessed November 29, 2013, 26."Short Course in the History of the United Church of Christ: The United Church of Christ," United Church of Christ, accessed November 29, 2013, 27."Short Course in the History of the United Church of Christ: An Ecumenical Age," United Church of Christ, accessed November 29, 2013, 28. "The Still Speaking Campaign," United Church of Christ, accessed November 29, 2013, 29. Ibid.


heard the Gracie Allen line "Never place a period, where God has placed a comma."30 The date was July 2, 1968. Here in the city of Marco Island this community of faith was legally incorporated.31 Our original charter consisted of 52 members.32 The date was March 26, 1972. We owned our own property and had completed construction. On that day we dedicated the new church.33 The date was March 2, 1980. Our enlarged sanctuary and new classroom space was dedicated.34 The date was February 18, 1996. The beautiful 500 seat sacred space in which we are presently gathered for worship was dedicated. 35 The date was October 26, 1997. Our majestic pipe organ was dedicated.36 The date was May 10, 2013. Our new steeple was installed. The date is October 30, 2013. The Reformation continues. The Great Commission remains.

30. "Frequently Asked Questions About Still Speaking," United Church of Christ, accessed November 29, 2013, 31."The United Church of Marco Island, Inc.," Florida Companies, accessed November 29, 2013, 32. "A Short History of the United Church of Marco Island," (The United Church of Marco Island historical records, Marco Island, FL). 33. "United Church of Marco Island Background Data," (The United Church of Marco Island historical records, Marco Island, FL). 34. "The United Church of Marco Island: A Friendly Family in the Heart of the Island," (The United Church of Marco Island historical records, Marco Island, FL). 35. "United Church Announces Dedication," Marco Island Eagle (Marco Island, FL), Feb. 14, 1996. 36. Eric Tiansay, "A Musical Blessing," Naples Daily News (Naples, FL), Oct. 22, 1997.


We are thankful our congregation is affiliated with the NACCC and the UCC. We celebrate the strength these connections offer for our mission and ministry, especially as we live into our calling to be and make disciples. The date will soon be November 2013. Before long it will be December 2013. We must understand our context in order to prepare for our future. Earlier this week, I read an article about the big shifts in the global religious landscape.37 This piece offered many significant facts based on the Pew Research Center's recent comprehensive demographic study of religion in over 230 countries and territories. Their research finds that 84% of all people in the world today practice a religion.38 Christianity is the world's largest religion, and it is a majority religion in 157 countries. Despite these seemingly positive measures, there is cause for concern. This challenging reality is especially true the closer we get to our own geographical location. Consider the recent remark by New York Times best-selling author Frank Schaeffer who critiqued both the evangelical and progressive forms of Protestant Christianity stating that "The problem with North American Christianity is not the window-dressing - it's the whole package."39 Consider the current summary of the state of the American church by someone who oversees research about the topic as the President of LifeWay Research. Ed Stetzer recently wrote that the church is not dying as some suggest, but is in a time of transition.40
37. Yasmine Hafiz, "10 Facts About the Transforming Global Religious Landscape," The Huffington Post , Oct. 22, 2013, 38. "The Global Religious Landscape." Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project, Dec. 18, 2012, 39. Greg Smith, “North American Christianity is Broken,” So What Faith (blog), July 9, 2013,> 40. Ed Stetzer. "The State of the Church in America: Hint - It's Not Dying."


Consider the latest Gallup survey. The results show that nearly 4 out of every 5 (77%) respondents believe that religion is losing its influence on American life.41 Consider the rise of the religiously non-affiliated - the group frequently referred to as the nones. In 30 years they have grown from 7% to around 20% of the population.42 Even more significantly, age matters. The younger the age cohort considered, the higher the percentage of nones. 1 out of every 3 (32%) young adults (those aged 18 to 29) are nones.43 Our world is changing. The Southwest Florida community is changing. The neighborhoods we call home are changing. The date will soon be 2014. Currently many of the leaders of this congregation are planning for what is to come. Some are dreaming dreams, others are crafting early drafts of budgets, and yet others are just starting to feel the gently blowing winds of change. As you think ahead, remember the rich story of our past. Celebrate the Reformation. Give thanks for our congregation's affiliations, and for the many milestone moments in our history. As you think ahead, ponder the possibilities of the future. Remember that the work of reforming is never done. Remember that the call to be and make disciples will be as important in the months ahead as it has ever been. Start imagining how we as a church will seek to fulfill the Great Commission. Start imagining your role.

41. Greg Smith, “Religion is Losing Its Influence,” So What Faith (blog), May 30, 2013, 42. Greg Smith, "Rise of the Nones," So What Faith (blog), Sept. 7, 2013, 43. Greg Smith, "US Jews = Less Religious," So What Faith (blog), Oct. 12, 2013,


Imagine a new year that includes many new faces and new relationships. Imagine a new year that features new educational offerings and an additional service of worship. Imagine a new year that welcomes a new minister and new ministries. And while you are imagining, be sure to imagine what it will mean for you to be a disciple and to help make disciples. Amen.


Live with Humility: Surprised by Sainthood
November 3, 2013 Philippians 2:1-11 Audio: (16 minutes)

This morning's reading comes from the second chapter of Philippians. The passage speaks first of how we should live, then of how Christ lived. If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. May God bless the reading and hearing of these words from the book of Philippians. Let us pray . . . On this All Saints Sunday, may we be enriched by the stories of those who have gone before, inspired by Jesus' example, and challenged by the call to humility. Take and use my words to empower our imaginations, awaken us to new possibilities, and embolden us in our actions. Amen. I grew up in a saint-free world. While I went to church every Sunday, I don't recall any real mention of the saints. The little I knew of the

saints, I learned from my Catholic friends. I assumed that saints were their domain. My childhood memories are not incorrect, but they certainly don't tell the whole story. After all, we find ourselves gathered this day in a Protestant church celebrating All Saints' Day. Is this appropriate? And, if so, how did we get here? To answer these questions we need to consider the history of this day. All Saints' Day came about not long after Christianity was legalized early in the fourth century of the Common Era. According to the earliest writings, the day was a time to remember and honor the church's martyrs. This makes sense when you realize that in the generations just before this time people were often confronted with hardship and even death for living out their faith. In fact, so many were killed that the ideal of providing a day of remembrance for each was impossible. Rather than recognize each individually, the church embraced All Saints' Day as a way to remember them all. Like many holy days, All Saints' Day evolved over time. The date changed. Originally it was on the first Sunday after Pentecost. It shifted to May 13 before finally moving to November 1. The scope changed. Originally it was all about those who had paid the ultimate price by giving their lives for the cause of Christ. It expanded into something much bigger; it came to be a day to remember the contributions of all saints rather than just martyrs. While we cannot possibly name all of the saints, hearing many names is helpful. Listen now as our choir guides our journey of the saints through the centuries.44

44. John D. Becker, "Litany of the Saints," Oregon Catholic Press, 1987.


Mary and Joseph, pray for us. Michael and all angels, pray for us. Anna, Joachim, Elizabeth, pray for us. Elijah, Moses, John the Baptist, pray for us. Isaac, Sarah, Abraham, pray for us. Jacob, Joseph, Samuel, pray for us. Ruth, David and Solomon, pray for us. Isaiah, Jeremiah, pray for us. All you holy men and women, pray for us. Peter, Paul, Andrew, pray for us. James, John, and all apostles, pray for us. Mary Magdalene, Veronica, pray for us. Barnabas, Matthias, pray for us. Stephen, Philip, and Cornelius, pray for us. Prisca and Aquila, pray for us. Timothy and Titus, pray for us. Linus, Cletus, and Clement, pray for us. All you holy men and women, pray for us. Lawrence and Chrysogonus, pray for us. Innocent and Boniface, pray for us. Hippolytus and Origen, pray for us. Athanasius and Basil, pray for us. Felicity, Perpetua, pray for us. Cosmos and Damien, pray for us. John Chrysostom and Justin, pray for us. Lucy, Agatha, and Agnes, pray for us. All you holy men and women, pray for us. Jerome and Eusebius, pray for us. Scholastica and Benedict, pray for us. Ambrose, Monica, Augustine, pray for us. Martin and Gregory, pray for us. Clare, Francis, and Dominic, pray for us. Francis Xavier, Ignatius, pray for us. Elizabeth and Catherine, pray for us. Louis and Wenceslaus, pray for us. All you holy men and women, pray for us.


Lord, be merciful, save your people. From all evil, save your people. From every sin, save your people. From everlasting death, save your people. By your incarnation, save your people. By your death and resurrection, save your people. By your gift of the spirit, save your people. Have mercy on us sinners, save your people. Christ, hear us. Lord Jesus, hear our prayers. Surely our faith is enriched by the stories of these saints. As we return to the story of how All Saints' Day evolved, we learn that over the next several centuries those counted as saints expanded yet again. Those we recognize this day need not be martyrs or those who have received recognition by church bodies for their incredible work. Today we remember all of the saints we have known personally, but give special attention to those who have died this past year. With this as our focus, I invite you to join with me in the "Litany of Remembrance" printed in the bulletin. All: Gracious God, who holds the living and the dead in your heart, we come to you now to remember those whom we have loved who died this past year. One: We thank you for your presence in their lives and for your light that shone through them. All: We thank you for the cycles of human life, of birth and dying, of generations past and generations yet to come, for the joy and sorrow that accompanies these cycles. One: We thank you for your journey with us through life and death and beyond death. All: We thank you that when we gather at your table, we commune with all your saints.

One: Come to us afresh with your Holy Spirit, as we remember: Jane Adams - Mim Ballou - Bob Bulliment - Blair Case


Donald Clark - Coral Clifford - Arthur Cooper - Mary Cooper David Dillon - Angelo Gallo - Gregg Glover - Don Hall Margaret Hileman - John Honeycomb - Jack Just Bill Kother - Lyle Oechsle - Lisan Schon - Gerry Simes Barbara Vichotka and June Zinn. All: Thank you for your presence, Holy God, in the lives of these persons and for your light that shone through them. One: Let your light so shine through us that we may join them in our glory when our time comes. All: We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Amen.45

Those who have shared the journey with us have shown us how to live according to the way of Jesus. Surely, they are saints. So far the story of All Saints' Day is a story of remembering those who have journeyed beyond this life to life after life. We must not stop with them. The story of this day is incomplete unless it also includes you and me. The New Testament writers were fond of using the word "saints" for all who follow the way of Jesus. In recent years, this reality has been recaptured as All Saints' Day has continued to broaden in scope. How are we all saints? The answer to that question begins with the wisdom found in our Scripture reading. It starts with humility. Surely you recall the words. Let me rephrase them in contemporary language, relying on Eugene Peterson's paraphrase:46

45. Source unknown (litany used in prior years by United Church of Marco Island). 46. Phil 2:1-8a, The Message.


If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care - then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death. Today is All Saints' Day. It is a day to remember the saints who have gone before us, recognize the saints who surround us, and welcome the surprise role God has for each of us as saints. Amen.


Love: The Jesus Creed

November 10, 2013 Mark 12:28-31 Audio: (21 minutes) Our Scripture reading is found in the twelfth chapter of Mark's Gospel. Beginning in the twenty-eighth verse, Jesus receives and responds to one of the most challenging questions imaginable with one of the most important answers he ever gave. One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." May God bless the reading and hearing of these familiar words. Let us pray . . . Help us to really hear rather than simply listen to the words of Jesus about what matters most. Take and use my words to empower our imaginations, awaken us to new possibilities, and embolden us in our actions. Amen. Every semester I teach a survey course in world religions at Hodges University. While most students are fascinated to learn about a new religion every week, they tend to find the pace challenging. When we reach the eleventh week of the term, many breathe a sigh of relief since it is the week we consider Christianity. Many of my students, perhaps like most of you, feel confident they know Christianity better than any other religion. We know who we are and what we do, but do we know how others perceive us? Rather than sharing the perspective of an outsider who practices another religion and has some knowledge of Christianity, I want to


share the perspective of someone completely unfamiliar with the way of Jesus. To do so, I turn to someone who has been teaching religion longer than I have been alive: Harvey Cox. You may be familiar with some of his more popular books or aware he has been a fixture at Harvard Divinity School since 1965. Listen as he imagines how aliens might conceive of Christianity if they were given a chance to observe what modern day Christians do. What does the word Christian really mean? The proverbial visitor from Mars walking the streets of America today could become mightily perplexed in trying to answer this question. In most American cities he (or she or it, depending on whether such distinctions exist on Mars) would find dozens or even hundreds of buildings called “churches” in which people who call themselves “Christians” gather periodically to pray, sing, eat potluck dinners, get married, prepare the dead for burial, drink gallons of coffee, instruct each other about a book called the Bible and the beliefs they derive from it, shake each others’ hands, and listen to sermons and homilies derived by men and women dressed in clothing never seen on other occasions. In most of these buildings – often, though not always – marked by a cross and surmounted by a tower, the people would sometimes swallow small quantities of bread or a wafer and sip tiny amounts of wine, and at other times they would sprinkle small children and babies with water or immerse adults or teenagers completely in a special pool. Some of these buildings would be enormous, and even an extraterrestrial visitor might be awed by their stained glass spaciousness. Others would be smaller and much more severe in décor. Still others would be tiny rooms that were once butcher shops or fish markets.


In some of these church edifices people would kneel, in some they would prostrate themselves in front of pictures, in others they would sit in neat rows, while in still others they might dance in the aisles and leap for joy with their hands extended over their heads. In some, huge pipe organs would fill the space with Bach and Schubert and Mozart. In others people would shout and clap their hands to guitars, trap drums, and cymbals. In a few, they would sit in utter silence, with no musical instruments at all, and speak only occasionally.47 Cox's story considers what outsiders might see and hear if they -alien or not -- were to observe Christians as they gathered for worship. While coming together for this purpose is the most visibly apparent sign of our Christian identity to outsiders, it alone doesn't explain what Christianity is or how Christians mature in their faith. Cox continues his story by soliciting insider appraisals. His mythical visitor travels from church to church interviewing worshippers. Rather than pass on those observations, I will share my own experiences. I have one Christian education activity I use more than any other to help Christians work through what Christianity is all about. I have facilitated it in many churches with youth and also with adults. Here is how it works. Those gathered are divided into small groups of five to seven people. Each small group is asked to create a list of what it is one must believe to be labeled a Christian. The only rule is that for any item to make the list, every member of the group must agree it belongs on the list. The conversation tends to be non-stop. The scribe rarely is overly taxed by the task of writing. When the allotted time is up, the small groups report their findings to everyone present. Almost all lists contain less than ten items. Some lists are non-existent because the group was unable to agree on anything. This learning activity doesn't end there. For part two we compare all of the small group lists to each other, then place any item that
47. Harvey Cox, “Hinduism,” In Our Religions, ed. A Sharva (New York, NY: HarperOne), 359-423.


appears on every list on a new master list. This new list represents what everyone present has agreed Christians must believe. The shared list is always quite short. Anyone present is then free to suggest a new item for our shared list. For it to be added, however, everyone present must agree. After the group feels good about their work, the lesson ends. Cox's imaginative story helps us look at how Christians behave. It also suggests a bit about how Christians belong. My classroom activity focuses on what Christians believe. Whether in behaving, belonging, or believing it becomes apparent that Christians finding commonality is challenging given our great diversity. Let me return to this morning's Scripture reading. Jesus is being asked an impossible question: which of the commandments is most important? Which commandment? Isn't the obvious answer that they are all equally important? Most of us learned the 10 Commandments in childhood. Could we recall them now? Most Americans cannot. In fact, a few years ago a survey found about twice as many people could list all the ingredients in a Big Mac as could name all ten of the commandments.48 But when Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment of all, did his mind search a list of 10 or was his list far longer? The Hebrew Bible or those books we have often referred to as the Old Testament contain a total of 613 different laws. To better understand the exchange between Jesus and the scribe, I want to introduce you to Scot McKnight. For those who don't know of him, Scot McKnight is a seminary professor, and one of the leading authorities on the New Testament and the historical Jesus. His book about this morning's passage, written back in 2004 and reprinted many times since, is titled "The Jesus Creed."

48.Melanie Smith. "Can You Name All 10?" Decatur Daily (Decatur, AL), Oct. 27, 2007,


McKnight reminds us that Jesus was an observant Jew. Jesus did what all Jews did, which means that he recited the Shema several times a day every day since childhood. Shema is simply the Hebrew word for hear, which is the first word of what served as his Jewish Creed. All pious Jews repeated the Shema "when they got up, they repeated it whenever they left the house, they repeated it when they were on the pathways, and they repeated it when they went to bed." 49 Imagine all of the Jews throughout human history who have said these words. Imagine Jesus saying and being formed by these words: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. So when Jesus prepares to answer his questioner, he starts with the very familiar words of Deuteronomy 6: the Shema. Put differently, he offers a predictable answer: we should love God by living the Torah by living God's law. But, Jesus doesn't stop there. He adds something to his response that addresses the heart of the question being asked. Jesus is asked what is the most important of all. It is a question about spiritual formation. In effect, the questioner is asking "what should I be doing?" Jesus amends the Shema, adding Leviticus 19:18 to create what McKnight calls the Jesus Creed. The addition is as powerful as it is succinct: "Love your neighbor as yourself." With those five words, Jesus changed everything. McKnight writes, "As a normal Jew, spiritual formation for Jesus begins with the Shema of Judaism. But Jesus revises the Shema in two ways: loving others is added to loving God and loving God is understood as following Jesus."50

49. Scot McKnight, “The Jesus Creed,” YouTube video, 3:42. Posted by "EcuFilm," April 13, 2009, 50. Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others, (Orleans, MA: Paraclete Press, 2004), p.1.


Let's be honest. Followers of Jesus may never agree on a list of beliefs or behaviors or how exactly we ought to belong. We must, however, share a common creed. As soon as I say the word creed, I know some of you will suggest that this is an impossible way forward because you do not believe any creed can unite. In fact part of my religious story is similar. I have said on many an occasion there is no creed but Christ. Others of you are familiar with creeds. Some may think that the Apostles' Creed or Nicene Creed or some other well-known creed is capable of bringing Christians together. Part of my story suggests this as well. Previously I served in a denomination that has a book of confessions containing many creeds. Whether you value creeds or hold to the ideal that there is no creed but Christ, the Greatest Commandment is for you. The Jesus Creed is Christ's creed. It is time it becomes our creed as well. This morning I want you to listen to it again. Actually, I want you to do more than simply listen - I want you to really hear it. Maybe you will even go one step further, and begin reciting it. Several years ago, I accepted Scot McKnight's challenge to recite it every day for 30 days. Ideally, you will do so when you get up in the morning, when you are on the path or road, when you enter your house, and when you go to bed at night.51 I can tell you in my experience, it was faith enhancing, and life changing. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.

51. Scot McKnight, “The Jesus Creed,” YouTube video, 3:42. Posted by "EcuFilm," April 13, 2009,


Call it the Greatest Commandment. Call it the center of Christian formation. Call it the Jesus Creed. Whatever you call it: be sure you learn it and be certain you live it. Amen.


Pray: A Concert of Prayer

November 17, 2013 Matthew 6:5-13 Audio: (19 minutes) Our Scripture reading is found in the Sermon on the Mount, in the sixth chapter of Matthew. It contains instructions on praying, and the prayer we often call the Lord’s Prayer. And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. May God bless the reading and hearing of these familiar words, attributed to Jesus. Let us pray . . . Lord, teach us to pray. Help us to be open to experiencing the power of prayer. Take and use my words to empower our imaginations, awaken us to new possibilities, and embolden us in our actions. Amen. Prayer becomes a part of people’s lives in many ways. What is your story? How did you come to learn of prayer? When did you begin to pray? Maybe you remember childhood prayers – your own or those of your children or grandchildren. Simple prayers like . . .


Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, If I shall die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen. OR . . . Perhaps as a youngster you were taught to fold your hands whenever you prayed. Rather than closing your eyes, one popular children’s prayer invites you to keep them wide open as you use your fingers as a guide. Your thumb is closest to you. It reminds you to pray for those who are closest to you, including your family. Next comes the index or pointer finger. It invites you to pray for those that help point you in the right direction. Next comes the middle finger. Since it is the tallest of all, it directs you to pray for your leaders. Next comes the ring finger. Since it is the weakest of all, it calls you to pray for those who are sick or in need of healing and wholeness. Last comes the pinky finger. Since it is the smallest of all, it is a reminder to pray for yourself – to lift up your own needs. Or maybe you have only been exposed to more grown up patterns of prayer. Perhaps you were introduced to the ACTS model: adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication. Since these words have fallen out of common usage, an explanation is in order. Adoration – adore, worship and praise God for who God is. Confession – admit your shortcomings and sins. Thanksgiving - give thanks for all God has and is doing. Supplication – intercession, ask God for your need and those people and things that matter most to you. Whether “now I lay me down to sleep,” the Five Finger Prayer, or ACTS are a part of your story or not, I know that the Lord’s Prayer is. I invite you to think of this prayer as one way you can pray throughout the day any and every day. Not only can you pray it through quickly


as we did earlier in worship, but you can slow your pace and let your focus linger on each line. If you look at the chart I placed in your bulletin you will see that the prayer begins with an introduction and ends with a conclusion. In between, in the body of the prayer, there are seven petitions. The first three focus on God. The final four focus on us. Introduction: Our Father who is in heaven (1) hallowed be Your name (4) give us this day our daily bread (2) Your kingdom come, (5) forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us (3) Your will be done (6) lead us not into temptation (7) deliver us from evil Conclusion: for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever Now we have an opportunity to learn about prayer by praying. Rather than recite the Lord’s Prayer together, I will guide us through a prayer exercise or, if you prefer, a concert of prayer. After a short explanation of each petition, I will invite you to pray. We will join together for close to one minute each time. Everyone is welcome to participate. Petition#1: Hallowed be God’s name. “To hallow God’s name is to set it apart in our hearts and in our minds and on our lips, to set it apart and make it holy. It is to regard the name of God as the truest, dearest, highest and holiest of all names.”52 Let us reflect on how we can hallow God’s name by engaging in silent prayer. (Silence) Amen.

52. H. Stephen Shoemaker, Finding Jesus in His Prayers (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2004), p.40.


Petition#2: God’s kingdom/realm/reign come. God’s kingdom, God’s realm is expanding and becoming more real each and every day. We pray that God’s realm might become real in our own lives. We welcome God’s reign now in a time of silent prayer. (Silence) Amen. Petition#3: God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. “The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.”53 Holy God, in our moment of silent prayer help us to envision ourselves as participants in the will of God. (Silence) Amen. Petition#4: Give us this day our daily bread. Our daily bread includes bread, but is far greater. Our daily bread is everything we need to live this day. As we pray this prayer, I need your help. Please speak aloud something you need this day to sustain your body. Let us pray. (Responses) (Silence) Amen. Petition#5: Forgive us our sins/debts/trespasses as we forgive those who have wronged us. While we strive to live according to the Way of Jesus, we often fall short. In our time of prayer, call to mind the ways you have failed to fully live the Jesus’ Creed – those moments you have not fully loved God or
53. “Luther’s Small Catechism,” Concordia Publishing House, accessed November 30, 2013,>


have failed to love your neighbor. Think also of extending forgiveness to those who have done you wrong. (Silence) Amen. Petition#6: Lead us not into temptation. God doesn’t lead us into temptation, but our world is filled with people, products, and possibilities that seek to tempt us to live in ways that are inconsistent with the Way of Jesus. In our time of prayer, I invite you to name those temptations that you find most difficult. Write them down on your bulletin as we pray. Ask God to guide and keep you from them or strong in their presence. (Writing) (Silence) Amen. Petition#7: Deliver us from evil. Some scholars combine the sixth and seventh petitions, which brings a nice symmetry to this prayer. I have opted to keep them separate so that we end with deliverance. Evil is real, and it is powerful. While we may never completely understand it, we know we must name it in all of its many forms. As we enter our final time of silent prayer together, may we seek deliverance from the evil we might do and from what evil can do to us. (Silence) Amen. Although not in the biblical text, the ending we typically pray is an appropriate conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer and to this sermon. Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory now and forever. Amen.


Heal: Your Healing Touch

November 24, 2013 Luke 8:40-56 Audio: (23 minutes) Our Scripture reading is the story of two of the many healings Jesus performed. It comes from the eighth chapter of Luke. Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus' feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying. As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, "Who touched me?" When all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you." But Jesus said, "Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me." When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace." While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer." When Jesus heard this, he replied, "Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved." When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child's father and mother.

They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, "Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and called out, "Child, get up!" Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened. May God bless the reading and hearing of these words. Let us pray . . . Loving One, remind us that as we go about our daily routines, we are called to be agents of healing. Take and use my words to empower our imaginations, awaken us to new possibilities, and embolden us in our actions. Amen. For the last eight weeks we have been exploring the priorities of Jesus. This morning, we conclude our journey with what appears to be Jesus’ top priority: healing. Did you realize that the Gospels contain three dozen different healing events? For those of you who appreciate statistics, healing lands in first place by quite a margin. Jesus is associated with 36 unique healing events, which is 50% greater than the priority that ranks second.54 I have not had anyone approach me over the past seven weeks to suggest that any of Jesus’ priorities were great for him, but inappropriate or impossible for us. I suspect, however, that at least a few of you may be wondering about healing. Isn’t it significantly different from love or prayer or even treating children as precious? After all, we are not Jesus. Just managing our own affairs is challenging enough most days without also acting as agents of healing or helping restore people to wholeness. Could it be that so-called Christian faith healers have given us the wrong impression? Have you ever turned on your television and seen someone claim to heal in Jesus’ name by doing very unusual things?

54. Maricle. , 18.


For me, the strangest example of all comes in the form of Benny Hinn. This so-called man of God is best known for holding what he calls “Miracle Crusades.” Held in large arenas, these events include a grand finale of sorts during which specially selected audience members in need of healing are brought on stage. After hearing each tearful testimonial, Hinn extends his hands and offers a healing touch. The recipients often respond by falling down on the floor. And, according to Hinn: if their faith is strong enough, then they will be healed. Dear friends, rest assured that I am neither asking you to be Jesus nor validating the efforts of Benny Hinn. I am, however, inviting you to recognize and utilize your healing touch in at least three ways. First, you heal by living with compassion. There are at least 15 different events that feature Jesus healing when he was in the middle of doing something else.55 That kind of healing can only happen as one lives with compassion. One name I tend to associate with the word “compassion” is Karen Armstrong. This former Roman Catholic nun has done more to unite people of many faiths around compassion than I ever imagined possible. Just five years ago she won the TED prize – an award that came with $100,000 to help turn a dream into reality.56 Armstrong leveraged those funds to create the Charter for Compassion. “The Charter for Compassion is a cooperative effort to restore not only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the othe rs.”57

55.Ibid., 23. 56. “Prize Winners - Karen Armstrong,” TED, accessed November 30, 2013, 57. Charter for Compassion. “Sign and Share the Charter for Compassion.”


I am just 1 of over 100,000 people who have signed the charter so far. Perhaps your name is on or will soon find its way on to the list. The Charter begins with these words: The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.58 Whenever you live in this way, you embody compassion. The acts that flow from such a framework bring healing each and every day. Erin Henry has taken Armstrong’s Charter and created a version for children. The children’s version makes it quite clear that “compassion is inside of all of us” regardless of our age. It concludes with a challenge that, if accepted, will ensure your compassionate living is a source of healing. Make this promise to yourself. Promise to try to show compassion to everyone you see every day . . .59 Looking across the congregation, I see many I know who strive to be compassionate. I know you want to feel what others feel, and to make a difference. It is certainly the case that being compassionate is a good start, but it isn’t the only way you are called to heal. A second way you heal is by saying yes to strangers. Jesus’ example is one that models for us the importance of saying yes to strangers.

58. Ibid. 59. “Children’s Charter for Compassion: Through the Eyes of a Child,” Children’s Charter for Compassion: Through the Eyes of a Child, accessed November 30, 2013,


Think back to this morning’s Scripture reading. Jesus is going about life when he gets interrupted by Jairus – a stranger – who wants Jesus to heal. Before he can answer, he encounters an unnamed woman – another stranger - who reaches out to him for healing. Rather than caring for and about those within his circle of friends, Jesus regularly says “yes” to strangers. What about you? Are you led by the entries on your daily calendar or by the gentle wind of God’s Spirit? When you walk down the street or enter a crowded place are you so focused on your destination that you are unaware of and non-responsive to the many new people who cross your path? Saying “yes” to strangers comes in many forms. It could be as simple as  welcoming someone who recently moved into your community,  or providing a few dollars to someone asking for help,  or engaging a person you have passed many times but never really seen much less taken the time to get to know. Saying “yes” could mean taking a detour from the day you had planned. It may even require stepping outside of your comfort zone. Christopher Maricle is the author of a book entitled “The Jesus Priorities,” which inspired my sermon series of the same title. Writing about this principle, he recalls Mother Teresa’s wise advice to her students: develop your love for Jesus then go out and find Jesus in your neighbor – even by serving Jesus as you serve the poor. What is this all about? It is about treating strangers as we would treat our closest family members. It is about our call to “extend our capacity for healing to everyone because there are no longer strangers” for those who take the Greatest Commandment seriously.60 Healing happens each and every time you say “yes” to those most would count as strangers. In caring about and journeying with them you are provide a healing touch.
60. Maricle, 27.


If this all makes sense yet seems a bit overwhelming, then perhaps the next way you can heal will put all of the ways into perspective. A third way you heal is by doing what you can. Healing is about doing your part. No one here is called to be Karen Armstrong or Mother Teresa. Everyone here is called to follow the Way of Jesus, and to use her or his gifts wherever life leads. We all have limitations. I hope that you know and accept yours. No matter how long your list is or what it contains, you can still do a great deal. For example, you can be an agent of healing through your prayers. You can speak to God about the needs of those you know who need healing and wholeness. You can also pray for those you know – even if you are unsure of their current circumstances. A few years ago, I visited a woman who was unable to leave her apartment. She showed me the three books she kept within arm’s reach: an address book containing handwritten names and information about many of her friends, the church pictorial directory, and a small photo album containing pictures of her family. For her, these were prayer books: one for the morning, one for the afternoon, and one for the evening. She prayed through each from cover to cover. Whenever she reached the end, she simply started again. Perhaps like this woman, you offer your healing touch as your fingers touch the names or images of those you cherish. Perhaps you have found other ways to do what you can, to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves or to advocate for social or economic justice. Perhaps you do more than you realize. I promised you three points, and have delivered that number. I could end here, but my sermon would be incomplete. We are United Church. This community of faith is intended to be one where we all come together for worship, and labor together in love. While we may agree to such an ideal, in practice many of us fall short.


As we focus on healing, we must not exclude healing that needs to take place within our church family. Listen to Jesus’ words from the fifth chapter of Matthew (5:23-24): So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. This is the last Sunday of the church year. It is time to heal broken relationships. It is an opportunity for restoration. It isn’t our custom to get up and bring our gifts to the altar or to set them on the table. It is, however, our custom to gather here in this sanctuary for worship. So, then, if you are worshipping in this sanctuary, and remember that all is not well in your relationship with someone, leave your pew and go; first seek reconciliation and healing, and then come back to continue your worship. Today is a day of new beginnings. Whatever you do this day, make sure you extend your healing touch. Amen.


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