Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Unemployment?


A couple of weeks ago my employer asked for volunteers for a winter layoff. But they did not get many people raising their hand. So in the next couple of days, we will find out who gets shown the door and who doesn't. I am a bit worried for a couple of reasons, I am low on the seniority pole and I happen to make more than others do. That combination would lead me to think that I might be one of those on the chopping block. I am probably stressing over this more than I should but it is a hell of a way to say Merry Christmas to anyone.

I will continue to pray that whenever something blocks my path, God will show me a new path to follow.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Week Four College Football Top Ten


Here's hoping for a good solid win against Northern Iowa.

Here are my top ten after the third week of play. Iowa dropped out of the top ten because they were upset by Arizona. Oregon moves up to 9th and Wisconsin enters the picture at 10th.

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. Florida
4. Texas
5. Oklahoma
6. Boise State
7. Texas Christian
8. Nebraska
9. Oregon
10. Wisconsin

Iowa State plays Northern Iowa this weekend. Iowa State should handily win over the FCS school. But the Northern Iowa Panthers will definitely put up a good fight and the Cyclones can't overlook them otherwise they could lose to this very good team. And hopefully Iowa State will play better than they did in last week's loss to Kansas State. I'm predicting a 20+ point Cyclone victory.

As I mentioned earlier, the Iowa Hawkeyes were upset by Arizona and thus dropped out of my top ten. But this week they play Ball State and they aren't doing all that well. With the Hawkeyes looking for redemption; the Ball State Cardinals look to be the whipping post. I will predict a 30+ point blowout for the Hawkeyes.

The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are still at the bottom of my rankings after losing to Indiana last week. This week they play at South Florida. The South Florida Bulls are 1-1 so far this season after playing a good but losing game against a top ten Florida squad. I will predict that the Bulls will beat the Hilltoppers by a four touchdown margin.

Good luck to all the teams, except the Northern Iowa Panthers! Go Cyclones!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Week Three College Football Top Ten


Pullin' tractors, I thought a fitting photo for the "Farmageddon" game between Iowa State and Kansas State

Here are my top ten after the second week of play. No one dropped out of the top ten because they all won with the exception of Boise State who had a bye this week.

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. Florida
4. Texas
5. Oklahoma
6. Boise State
7. Texas Christian
8. Nebraska
9. Iowa
10. Oregon

As the photo says, this week is the "Farmageddon" game between Iowa State and Kansas State, both very good agricultural universities. The game is being played at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, and should be a pretty good game overall. My personal opinion is that if Iowa State plays like it did against Northern Illinois, then the Cyclones should win by a touchdown but if they play like they did last week against Iowa, then the tables are reversed and Kansas State wins by a touchdown.

The Iowa Hawkeyes handily beat the Iowa State Cyclones last week. As unhappy as it made me, I still recognize that Iowa has a tremendous football team. This week they travel to Arizona to take on the Arizona Wildcats. I think that Arizona may pull off an upset just because they are on their home turf. Either way it will be a good game to watch.

The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers lost again last week and remain at the bottom of my rankings. This week they are taking on the Indiana Hoosiers at home. This will be a real tough game for them, a struggling Sun Belt school taking on a team from the Big Ten. I think they will play valiantly but still lose by three or four touchdowns.

Good luck to all the teams, except the Kansas State Wildcats! Go Cyclones!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Week Two College Football Top Ten


Cy-Hawk Trophy

Here are my top ten after the first week of play. Virginia Tech dropped out of the top ten after their loss to Boise State. Oregon moved up into the tenth spot.

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. Florida
4. Texas
5. Oklahoma
6. Boise State
7. Texas Christian
8. Nebraska
9. Iowa
10. Oregon

This week is the Iowa vs Iowa State game otherwise known as the Cy-Hawk Rivalry. My favorites, the Iowa State Cyclones are way down my list at 53 after handling Northern Illinois last week and the Iowa Hawkeyes as you have already seen are at the 9 spot after beating Eastern Illinois. Even with the disparity in the rankings, I believe that the Cyclones will be way up for this game and give the Hawkeyes something to think about. But in the end the Hawkeyes will prevail. My prediction for a score is Iowa 28, Iowa State 17.

And finally, the team I have on the bottom, Western Kentucky lost to Nebraska and face Kentucky this week. The Hilltoppers should do better but I believe that Kentucky will prevail and Western Kentucky will still stay at the bottom of the list.

Good luck to all the teams, except the Hawkeyes of course. Go Cyclones!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Martha and Mary Sermon


This is the sermon that I gave at the Church of the Saviour Episcopal Church in Clermont, Iowa on July 18, 2010.

I want you to note right at the beginning of this sermon the context in which Luke records this incident in the home of Martha and Mary. Luke places it immediately after Jesus has taught the parable of the Good Samaritan. I think that is significant because in that parable the ‘religious people’ are condemned for not doing the practical thing of helping the man lying injured by the roadside. This incident in the home of Martha and Mary seems to teach the very opposite. The context is important because it helps us to understand the meaning and purpose of this story in the Gospel of Luke and in our lives today.

Martha and Mary, along with their brother Lazarus, are close friends of Jesus. Their home at Bethany, some two miles from Jerusalem, was a familiar place for Jesus and his disciples to rest and relax. Their home would also be the scene of the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. So their home is a place often visited by Jesus. Luke tells us that while Jesus was ‘on the way’ – meaning he was heading for Jerusalem, he is invited by Martha to come into her home. Luke tells us in verse 38 that she ‘opened her home.’ This means much more than inviting him in for a cup of coffee and a chat. It speaks of hospitality, which in the time of Christ was heavily regulated by the custom and social expectations of the day. Luke goes on to point out that Martha has a sister called Mary – so we are introduced within three verses to the three main characters in this little story. From the context it would appear that Martha is the older sister and that she is in the role of host.

Luke immediately tells us that Mary sat down at the feet of Christ to listen to what he was saying or teaching. By sitting at his feet Mary is assuming the role of a disciple. We might think nothing of that but such an action was socially unacceptable in its day. No woman could become a disciple of a rabbi or religious leader in the day of Christ. It was just unheard of, in fact it was a scandalous thing for Mary to do and even more so for Christ to allow her to do so. Mary has crossed and broken clear social boundaries and by so doing is in danger of bringing shame upon her household and her family.

All the while Martha has been doing what is socially acceptable and expected of her – preparing the meal for her guests. Look at what is said of Martha. Martha was distracted by her many tasks.’ You know when I sat down and turned that sentence over in my head I was left thinking ‘How was she distracted by all the preparation?’ I mean if you are cooking dinner you usually focus on what has to be done. And then I began to wonder if the distraction was not actually in her heart. Her heart’s desire was to be like Mary, to be where Mary was – sitting at the feet of Jesus – but her sense of duty, her sense of what others expected and others would think made her stay in the kitchen. I just wondered if she was constantly nipping in and out of the kitchen trying to hear what Christ was saying and all the time her frustration levels just grew and grew until finally she let it all out. Note what she says to Jesus; ‘Lord, do you not care…’ That hit me like a thunderbolt. How could she ask such a question of Jesus? But then I thought how often I actually ask that question of Jesus. How often in my heart and my mind I ask that question when my frustration level grows. Sometimes I even find myself saying it out loud; ‘Lord, don’t you care…’ Martha then makes a telling statement – ‘…that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself.’ When I read that phrase I realized that there must have been some point at which Mary abandoned the kitchen, abandoned Martha, abandoned the preparation and went and sat down at the feet of Christ. There must have been some point at which Mary decided that being at the feet of Jesus was more important than the roast lamb or whatever was being cooked. Mary had made a conscious decision that at this, God-given, moment being at the feet of Christ and listening to him was more important than anything else and Martha resented her decision. Martha resented the fact that Mary had left the preparations and gone and sat down at the feet of Christ. Martha wants Christ to tell Mary she was wrong and to commend Martha for her hard work. Now let me ask you a personal question; ‘Are you a Mary or a Martha?’ The truth is that there are some of you here and you are definitely ‘Marthas.’ You are doers, and there is nothing wrong with being a doer, except when it keeps you from the feet of Jesus and when it leads you to criticizing a brother or sister in Christ. Some of you may have that ‘Martha syndrome’ you want everyone to know how much work you have been doing while others sit around listening. Your frustration grows until you lash out at others. Yet Martha goes further than just a complaint, she then commands Jesus to ‘tell Mary to help.’ Do you see progression here – Martha gets busy preparing the meal, living up to the expectations of the day as a host, she gets distracted by all the preparation when really she wants to do what Mary has done – sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him. Her frustration overflows into anger and bitterness and she questions Jesus’ concern for her and demands he tells Mary to help. If I have to work and not sit at your feet then I demand she has to work also. Ever found yourself in that situation? Have you ever felt yourself asking God that other people do what you are doing? Go through what you are going through? Martha had the gift of hospitality but she wanted Mary to exercise it as well. She didn’t want Mary to enjoy the teaching if she had to work in the kitchen at the same time. But you know the really telling thing about this story – nowhere do you read that Jesus asked Martha to prepare a meal. Nowhere do you read that it was anyone other than Martha who had placed such expectations on herself. If only Martha had realized – it was herself who had fed the distractions which led to the outburst.

This morning maybe, just maybe you need to hear what Jesus said to Martha in response. Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. I can hear the sympathy in the voice of Jesus as he repeats her name; ‘Martha, Martha…’ You have heard it in the voice of others. I can imagine Christ standing arms open, ready to embrace Martha. Martha standing at the door, tears streaming down her flustered cheeks, whilst all around eyes are looking at the ground in silent embarrassment at her outburst. And then she hears that gentle voice call her name ‘Martha, Martha.’ Christ goes on to point out to her how she has allowed her heart to be distracted by many things – he tells her she is ‘worried and upset by many things.’ You know that phrase is similar to the one Christ used when speaking about the seed falling on thorny soil and when it grew the thorns and weeds (which are the worries and upsets of this world) choked it and it died. Christ says the same thing to Martha – Martha don’t allow the worries and upsets of this world to choke the seed of Life in your life. Mary has chosen the ‘better thing.’ But please note that Christ did not say Martha had chosen the wrong thing and Mary had chosen the right thing. The things which Martha had been doing, hospitality, were good things but it was a lesser thing than at that moment sitting at the feet of Jesus and hearing the Word of God. I found quite a challenge in those words of Christ. I was challenged by how often I find myself doing things, which are not wrong, but which can distract me from listening to the Word of God. How easily I find myself in Martha’s shoes when I really ought to be in Mary’s shoes. How often I find myself distracted, worried and upset, by many things and neglect the better thing. Is that true for you this morning? Do you find yourself distracted in your heart because you want to be at the feet of Christ listening to his Word but you are distracted living up to the expectations of others around you? Of course you do. Friends I think we all need to hear Jesus speaking to us this morning – it is time to come and sit at his feet and to listen to him speak. It is time to put aside the distractions of a divided heart and to make that time to hear him speak.

I want you to hear what I am saying here. Mary did not sit forever at the feet of Jesus. The next day he would leave and be on his way to Jerusalem. Yet Mary would be able to ponder in her heart what she had heard while sitting at his feet. Mary would be in the kitchen preparing food, doing housework, sharing the workload of preparation but she refused to miss this God-given opportunity to hear Jesus speak. Friends I want to say to some of you here this morning that is God’s word to you today – don’t miss the opportunity to hear God speak. It is time to set aside that God-given opportunity to hear him speak to your heart. It is time to be like Mary and to come out of the kitchen and just to sit for a while at his feet and listen to him – bible study and prayer, fellowship with other believers. The work will be there when you return. He is not saying neglect your duties – what he is saying is ‘get the priorities right.’ There are so many people whose priorities are not right. They are busy doing many things, even things for God and the Church, but they can't even remember the last time they opened their Bible to hear God speak. They can't remember the last time they took time out from their schedule to pray or to have fellowship with other people.

Let me finish with Christ’s final statement to Martha Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her. Do you hear what he is saying hear to Martha and to Mary and to all gathered in that home in Bethany? He is saying that what Mary has heard while sitting at his feet is of eternal value – it will not be taken from her. Sitting in his presence, listening to his voice, hearing the Word of God – it will not be taken from her. Martha you cannot take it from her. No one will be able to take it from her. Martha not even death will take it from her. Now ask yourself – what in my life is of eternal value? What in my life will not be taken from me? How often I hear people say ‘what I would give to be able to go back and …’ Now I don’t want to get to the end of my life as a Christian and wish, with all my soul, I had spent more time in his presence and less time being distracted by the worries and upsets of many things – the expectations of others and the things of the world. Do you? You know I believe it was because Mary spent time at the feet of Jesus. She did not worry what anyone else thought. It would not be taken from her. I believe also it was because of time spent at the feet of Christ, listening to his voice, that enabled Mary and Martha to be at the foot of the Cross as he died. So what if it was not the social norm or expectation. So what if people talked about them – it would not be taken from them.

Today let me leave you with that challenge – are you going to be distracted by the worries and upsets of many things and miss out on the better thing – sitting at the feet of Jesus and hearing his voice?

Amen.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Week One College Football Top Ten


I have to admit that I'm a bit of a wonk when it comes to American style football especially in the Division 1 College ranks. I've went as far as ranking all 120 teams as to where I think they should be rated.

So here are my top ten plus a some others that I find of interest right now.

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. Florida
4. Texas
5. Virginia Tech
6. Oklahoma
7. Boise State
8. Texas Christian
9. Nebraska
10. Iowa

My team, Iowa State, is down the list at 55. As the season progresses, I hope that they can climb the ladder to a higher ranking, but we shall see...

Northern Illinois is the Iowa State Cyclones first opponent. I have them ranked right now at 50, which would make them better than Iowa State. Well, I still predict a win for the Cyclones because they are playing in Ames which makes a big difference. But it should be a good game and I will be there on Thursday night to watch Iowa State get a season opener win.

The Iowa Hawkeyes start out play with the Eastern Illinois Panthers. Eastern Illinois is in a lower division than Iowa and with Iowa in the 10 slot and playing at home; the Hawkeyes should cruise to an easy win. Anything less would question their high ranking in nearly every poll and private ranking system out there.

And finally the team that I have at 120 out of 120, the bottom of the barrel as it were, is Western Kentucky that didn't win a game last year and things aren't looking a heck of a lot better this year especially when they start out play against a top ten Nebraska team.

Well, good luck to all the teams and especially to Iowa State. Go Cyclones!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Amos, Colossae, and the Samaritan Sermon




I've been neglecting the blog for the past few months so I thought I should probably post the sermons that I've done this summer at the Church of the Saviour Episcopal Church in Clermont, Iowa. This is the July 11, 2010 sermon.

In every construction trade, in every business, there are standards of righteousness. By the term righteousness, in the context of construction, we mean being correct. Amos, one of the earliest prophets in Israel, used the plumb line as a metaphor for righteousness.

Israel was more than “a bit out of plumb” in the days of Amos and Isaiah.

The book of Amos records that two years after Amos received his visions, an earthquake struck the area. Josephus, the Jewish historian, believed that the earthquake happened at the same time as Uzziah’s seizure of the role of High Priest and his subsequent bout with leprosy. Amos lived at about the same time as the prophets Isaiah, Micah and Hosea.

Under Jeroboam II the kingdom of Israel reached the zenith of its prosperity. The gulf between rich and poor widened at this time. Amos was called from his rural home in Judea to remind the rich and powerful of God’s requirement for justice. He claimed that religion that is not accompanied by right action is not pleasing to God, and prophesied that the kingdom of Israel would be destroyed.

Because the rulers were not straight with God and the people, because even the walls of the temple (that is the religious establishment) was out of plumb, there would be a ruinous collapse. Of course the leaders in Israel did not want to hear this message and encouraged Amos to move back home.

Amos’ message was, perhaps understandably, unwelcome in Israel. Not only was he a foreigner from the southern kingdom, but his prophecies of doom were completely at odds with the prevailing political climate of hope and prosperity.

Much of the prophecy of Amos is directed at the heartlessness of wealthy merchants who ignore the plight of the poor, the lack of justice for the righteous, and the emptiness of religious ritual apart from true faith. Amos is a classical prophet, concerned with the well-being of the people and the purity of the faith

The central idea of the book of Amos, is that the Lord puts his people on the same level as the nations that surround it. God expects the same sinlessness of them all. As it is with all nations that rise up against the kingdom of The Lord, even Israel and Judea will not be exempt from judgment because of their unjust ways. The nation that represents God must be made pure of anything or anyone that profanes the name of The Lord. God must be exalted.

Now we turn to St. Paul's letter to the Colossians.

Colossae is a town in modern-day Turkey on the banks of the river Lycus, not all that far from Ephesus. In Paul’s day it was neither large nor important. However centuries earlier it had been very prosperous. It has been said that Colossae was the least important church to which any epistle of St. Paul is addressed.

The Church in Colossae was not founded by Paul, because Paul concentrated his work in major centres, such as Ephesus. Many think it was actually founded by a co-worker of his Epaphras, who was described in Colossians as a native of Colossae.

Even though Colossae was small it was probably quite diverse, made up of people from the surrounding area, Greek settlers and Jews. Just like other towns in Asia Minor it is likely that Colossae had its fair share of pagan temples and shrines as Paul alludes to their pagan past in several places.

The reason for Paul writing this letter is not apparent in the opening chapter. Why? Because before he corrects, he encourages. Paul starts with praise, and sincere praise at that.

We read how he gives thanks because of their faith in Christ Jesus and their love for the saints. And he gives thanks for their love was a love in the Spirit, in other words a love that springs up as a result of their faith. Paul encourages them by telling them what he has been praying for them.

I am encouraged that the book of Colossians is in the Bible. It reminds me that God is interested in the little churches as well as the large churches. God is interested in Churches like Church of the Saviour here in Clermont.

In Luke we heard the familiar story of the Good Samaritan.

A lawyer was asking Jesus about gaining eternal life. As we look at the passage we see that there is nothing wrong with the lawyer’s knowledge of scripture. But even in Jesus' reply we see the participation in the knowledge that Jesus insists on “ do this and you will live. ” Now the lawyer being a smart man knows that it is very difficult for anyone to judge his heart or his relationship with God goes directly to the part that he sees would be most difficult. How do I love my neighbor that way? And in his question he asks Jesus to define or limit who his neighbor is.

But Jesus doesn’t answer the question, have you ever noticed how Jesus does that in your life, he doesn’t answer the questions you ask? But responds with a story.

A man is beaten and robbed as he traveled between Jerusalem and Jericho. The first guy to walk by this guy who had just been beaten , stripped and left for dead is a priest and he walks by intentionally not helping. It is possible that he didn't want to help because he would be considered ritually impure if got too close to a dead body and thus couldn't perform the required rituals in the Temple. Then a Levite walks by, someone that is actively involved in the order and leading of worship, and he doesn't stop either. And then this Samaritan walks by and stops. Samaritans were generally hated by the Jews at the time, why? Well, the Samaritans were descended from the people who did not get exiled to Babylonia several hundred years earlier. Probably because they were on the Babylonians side during that conquest. They had very similar religious views but did not recognize the religious authorities in Jerusalem. So that is the reason for the animosity between the two groups. Back to the story: This guy who is a Samaritan and who is not involved with all the religious stuff does stop to help the man. He Shows mercy in three ways:

He provides emergency care by bandaging the wounds and pouring oil and wine on them.

He makes a personal commitment by placing him on his animal thereby he’s walking he takes him to an inn and cares for him. He commits to covering the cost of caring for him. I like to think of this as the rehabilitative cost or the long term costs. The man’s life is no longer in immediate danger but he is far from healthy. Then Jesus asks the lawyer, which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor?

And the lawyer reply’s, “the one who showed mercy”

And Jesus leaves him saying “You go and do Likewise.”

What Jesus does is inclusive of all people where as the definition the lawyer was seeking was to be exclusive limiting who his neighbor is. And what Jesus does is make it clear that in terms of the kingdom of God you cannot define who your neighbor is, you can only be a neighbor by responding with mercy to those in need. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his great sermon on this passage was that the Priest and Levite where so concerned about what would happen to them if they got involved that they missed what the Samaritan saw, If I don’t stop and help this man, what will happen to him? And this is the question Jesus desires to burn into each of our hearts. If you don’t show mercy, What will happen?

My prayer for all of us is that we need to try to become straight as a plumb line, remember that God is interested in small Churches in small places, and that we need to show mercy and help all people in need, regardless of who they may be. Amen.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Uncle Bob: Rest In Peace, Rise In Glory


Bob Martin, July 15, 1939 - May 10, 2010

Uncle Bob died yesterday, he was a great guy who loved his family and the things he valued in life, namely fishing and nearly all organized sports. The first time I met him was when I was dating my lovely wife, we were at their house and he came in from a softball game, he looked at me and said, "Who are you?" I introduced myself and he then asked me if I wanted a Pepsi. I became friends with him and over the years went to various sports events with him as well as watching auto races, football and basketball games with him on the television. After he retired (he worked for Pepsi as a vending machine repairman) he started fishing. It was great to go out with him on his boat and catch a fish or two.

More importantly, Uncle Bob became like a second dad to my wife after her father died. She was able to get to the hospital just before Bob passed away. My lovely wife is mourning but does know that he is in a better place and not in pain anymore.

Rest eternal grant to Bob, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon him.
May his soul, and the souls of all the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

A full obituary can be found here

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Getting a break

How I love the rain. Especially when it means that I don't have to be working 12+ hour days, six days a week. But that is what I get for working at a farm cooperative during the spring field work season. This spring is a bit different in that I am mostly running a dry fertilizer floater. For all of you that are not familiar with midwestern US farming practices, a dry fertilizer floater is a large truck that has wide farm tractor style tires on it and a box on the back of it that looks like a dump truck box except it has a conveyor belt in the bottom which moves fertilizer out the back to a couple of spinners which throw the fertilizer in a specific pattern onto the field. It was rather unnerving to drive it at first because it is so tall. The floor of the cab is over five and a half feet off the ground and while driving down the road I can look down into the cabs of semis as I meet them. But I've become a bit more relaxed driving it in the last couple of weeks.

I was hoping to add a photo of the floater to the blog but I keep forgetting to take my camera to work so I can get a decent photo. My phone camera isn't very good and the photos I've taken with it are rather fuzzy.

Now, I believe that I will go to sleep, just because I can....

Grace and Peace to all.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Gabby update

My niece, Gabby did come home this week after her trip back to the hospital last Saturday. After running a bunch of tests on her, the results were still inconclusive as to what was causing her skin reaction. Thanks to all for the prayers that went out. She is doing well and felt good enough to go to her sister's concert on Thursday evening. Hopefully she will heal and there won't be anything else to report.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Prayers for Gabby

I asking everyone for prayers for my 14 year old niece Gabby, who is back in the hospital today. Gabby had a rash that turned into MRSA about 10 days ago. She ended up having the skin completely removed on a 10 cm x 10 cm area on her arm. After a couple of skin graft operations, she was doing really well and was sent home yesterday. However, after being home for about 6 hours her stomach and legs started to hurt. A rash very similar to her arm was showing up on her stomach and legs. So she went back to the hospital last night and is undergoing a battery of tests to figure out exactly what is going on and how to treat it.

Thanks to everyone who have already added Gabby to their prayers!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The new brush.


I was excited the other day when a package arrived in the mail. It was in a plain brown wrapper, no it wasn't one of THOSE packages! What it did contain was my new shaving brush. Why would I be excited about something as mundane as this? The answer lies in that I have a pretty boring life and such things are about as exciting as it gets around these parts. And also that I'm somewhat a traditionalist when it comes to shaving so the soap and brush gets preference over the foam in a can. I purchased it from a place in Ohio called Lehman's, one can find most of their catalog at www.lehmans.com

As I look through their wares and purchase a thing or two I will post those mundane things on my little corner of the blogosphere.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Good News!

Today at the Bishop's Committee meeting at Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa, we received some very good financial news. It seems that the total amount of pledges has risen by over 26% as compared to last year. I have heard from a number of other local Churches of all denominations with a common theme, congregations are putting less and less in the collection plate.

So it is truly a Godsend to be part of a small but growing congregation that doesn't have to worry whether there will be enough money to keep the lights on and the toilet flushing.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Baptism of Jesus and the Holy Spirit sermon

This is a sermon that I gave on January 10, 2010 at Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa.

Don’t you hate it? You are watching a great movie on T.V. The excitement is mounting. You are getting to a really good part. You are sitting on the edge of your seat. Then right in the middle before the plot is revealed or the plot takes a new and exciting twist, a commercial comes on. For the next two to three minutes you see commercials about everything imaginable.

We are told that advertisers may buy at least forty time slots on a single station, for a single day, when introducing a new product. No doubt they are on to something. Classic sayings abound. “Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz. Oh, what a relief it is.” “Snap, Crackle , Pop.” “Don’t Leave Home With Out It.” "Finger lickin’ good." "Have a break. Have a Kit-Kat." "Just do it." “Built Ford Tough.”

The very successful media people have one question in mind: Have you heard? We have heard. We remember those jingles, even years after they have been taken off the air. They are memorable. Now, I wonder, have we heard the Gospel? It is full of the Good News of the gospel! Did we give it our full attention to hearing it? Do we hear the Gospel with all our channels on, our tuning controls adjusted and the sound turned up?

There is a lot of interference in our lives. Sometimes we even may experience a complete breakdown in the reception. Just as when it comes time to hear a sermon. The sleep mode kicks in or we put everything on mute. Hearing is not easy even at the best of times. I read a story about a church that installed devices for the hearing impaired. One man in his mid-eighties had been going to the church regularly for years. But in these later years he was unable hear very well. Still, he came to be present, to have a feel for what was happening, to imagine what was being said, to read the preacher’s lips and catch enough to enable him to later talk with his wife about the main points. The day came; he was given a receiver; he placed the earphones in his ear. As he left the church all he could say was, "I could hear. For the first time in years I could hear, but I guess I didn’t miss much.”

When Jesus was baptized a voice spoke to him, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. ” According to some of the gospel accounts it seems that Jesus was the only one who heard that voice even though he was baptized with others. Was it because the voice was only spoken to him or was no one else really listening? How easy it is to tune out the voice of God, to focus our lives on the routine, the practical, the house to be cleaned, the oil change for the car, the errands to be run, taking the kids to their various activities. How easy it is tune out the voice of the world. Even though we now live in a "global village" our own little worlds are becoming smaller.

As the earth becomes one family, the fences become higher around our lives. Often it is said people don’t visit like they use too. How ironic that we are becoming more insular in a world that has become much smaller. We would rather keep to ourselves than hear the voices of others. One thing is clear, God needs many channels, many witnesses, and many voices speaking the Good News. That is why the baptism of Spirit comes not only to Jesus, but also through Jesus to his followers, that’s us. We are the voices of the Spirit. We are communicators of the gospel in the midst of the world. We are called, every one of us to live each day with the central question in our minds, heart, and souls: Have you heard? We need to ask ourselves have we affirmed this part of our baptism - the promise that God will speak through us for the transformation of the world? Have we considered the promise of a Spirit who will work in us and through us in many surprising ways for the blessing of God’s people?

Earlier in this Chapter, John the Baptist had been preparing for an important visitor. He encouraged people to turn to God and baptized them in the Jordan River. Baptism was normally administered to Gentiles, non-Jews, who wanted to join the Jewish religion. For a Jew to submit to baptism required great humility. It was as if they were admitting to not being part of God’s people, and wanting to join them.

There was also the symbolism of washing. Baptism conveyed a spiritual cleansing, turning from what was wrong to make a fresh start with God. So this should affect the way they lived their lives. The chronological order of this was :

  1. someone decides to turn away from living life their own way and start living for God.

  2. they are baptized to symbolize this.

  3. They have to live for God in a practical way.

John’s ministry caused people to question if he was the Messiah or anointed one from God whom they were expecting. John makes it clear that he is not, and that the Messiah will be superior to him in a number of ways.

The most menial job that a slave could do was to untie someone’s sandal before washing their feet. That is why none of the disciples volunteered to do this job before the Last Supper in the Gospel of John. It was a vile job because people’s shoes and feet would be caked with who knows what from the streets. John is saying that he is not even worthy to do this menial job for Jesus. He said that he baptized in water. This Baptism was inferior to that of Jesus. John’s baptism signified that people wanted to turn from their sin to live life God’s way. But it gave them no power to live like that. It was not a Christian baptism because it did not involve the death of Jesus, or the work of the Holy Spirit. The first Christian baptisms were administered to three thousand people on the first day of Pentecost.

John said, "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. " What did he mean by this? This is not saying that pouring water on someone’s head with water, or plunging someone under water will make them a Christian. It is saying that Jesus will give the baptism of, or immerse or flood his followers with, the Holy Spirit when they give control of their life to him.

In the Bible, fire can be used in a number of ways. Here it is referring to the refining or purifying work on God’s Holy Spirit. A precious metal such as gold or silver is heated up to burn away any impurities. The Holy Spirit also works like fire, burning away our nasty bits, making us more like Jesus. God the Holy Spirit gives us the power to be holy. The word holy means set apart for God. He lives inside all Christians and being God, and being Holy is opposed to that which is unholy, not of God.

John goes on to talk of how Jesus will divide and judge people. "His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

The winnowing fork was used to toss wheat and chaff into the air. The wheat grains, being heavier would fall straight to the ground. The lighter chaff would be blown to one side, and be swept away to be burned. This represents the way that God will one day judge people in the way that they have responded to him. Those who have accepted God into their lives will be gathered up, taken to be with God for ever. Those who do not accept God will be condemned to spend an eternity without God. This is another way that fire is used in the Bible. To refer to the punishment that awaits the unrepentant.

Did John the baptist have the Holy Spirit within him? Of course he did, just like all of the prophets in the old testament had the Holy Spirit within themselves. Do we have the Holy Spirit within us? I believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, does work within each one of our lives. In Acts today, Peter and John laid hands upon some Samaritans and then the Holy Spirit became very evident within those people. This is very much like when the Bishop lays his hands upon the heads of the confirmands at their confirmation.

So my prayer for all of us today is that we recognize that the Holy Spirit is within us. And that we use the Holy Spirit to do God's will within our lives as well as in the wider world.

I would like to close today with the following:

Spirit of the living God,

Fall afresh on us,

Spirit of the living God,

Fall afresh on us,

Melt us, mold us, fill us, use us,

Spirit of the living God,

Fall afresh on us.

Amen.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Don't let the bastards get you down.

A week ago I was called into the headquarters for the farm cooperative that I work for. I was told that they were "rearranging the seats on the bus" and that my position was going to change. Well my seat went from being towards the front of the bus to being somewhere by the frame and the rear tires. I was pissed to say the least, they were transferring me to a different branch and dropping my wages. All of this was due to a restructuring of the company and a run in that I had with a salesman that is the current golden boy of the company.

For a few days, I felt as if the dark specter of depression might be creeping back into my life. But I did recognize it and with the help of my lovely wife and God, I can keep that monkey off my back. And I decided that I can't let those bastards get me down.

But compared to what people in Haiti are dealing with, my problems are minuscule. So please pray for all of the people that are having to suffer through the aftermath of the earthquake.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The beginning of a journey.

After much prayerful thought, I've finally decided to get the ball rolling vocationally for me. I've sent a letter to my Bishop to let him know that I want to officially get going on the priesthood ordination process. This isn't something that I come by lightly or something that I decided on overnight. It is the culmination of a dozen years of discernment that started in the United Methodist Church and ended up in the Episcopal Church. Along the way I was even offered a local church pastorate but I had the feeling that God wanted me to wait for something else. That something else was the Episcopal Church and specifically the Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa. It is a place where my family and I feel like we really have found a Church home. As one of the parishioners puts it, "Church of the Saviour is the home to people that don't fit in other Churches. It like the island of misfit toys where everything seems to actually fit together."

As time goes by I will be having a post now and then about my journey through the candidacy process.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Wise Guy Sermon

Here is the sermon that I gave at Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa today, January 3, 2010.

Even though today is still in the Christmas season the Gospel lesson tells us the story of the Wise Men. Epiphany is the time when we celebrate the coming to the three Wise Men to meet Jesus and their encounter with King Herod

But have you ever stopped to think what would have happened if it had been the three Wise Women instead of three Wise Men?


  1. They would have asked directions in Bethlehem rather than feeling that they needed to stop off at the Palace in Jerusalem,

  2. They would have arrived on time,

  3. They would have helped deliver the baby; they would have cleaned the stable and given practical gifts – like bringing a casserole and

  4. There would be Peace on Earth.

But who were these wise men – the Magi?

Very little is known about the Magi.

Matthew doesn’t even record how many of them there were.

All the Bible tells us is that they came from the East to Jerusalem. And so it is more than likely they were not Jews but Gentiles.

Popular myth calls them astrologers but that wasn’t necessarily so.

It is generally accepted that the Magi were a priestly caste from Persia where modern Iran and Iraq are now located.

In the second century, a church father named Tertullian suggested that these men were kings because the Old Testament had predicted that kings would come to worship the Christ. Tertullian also concluded that there were three kings based on the number of gifts mentioned, gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In the sixth century, someone decided that their names were Melchior, Baltazar and Gaspar.

And the term Magi is the base from which our modern words magician and magistrate are derived.

I would like to focus on the gifts they brought. If the Scripture can be bothered to record them so carefully - there must be a reason for doing so.

The gifts were: gold, frankincense and myrrh

The first gift was Gold.

Gold signifies Jesus’ Kingly role. What is more fitting than gold for a King!

If Jesus is to be the King in my life, then I am challenged by the thought: What gold can I bring to Jesus today?

In other words: What do we hold onto as precious that we can give to God?

The second gift was frankincense. Why did they give frankincense to Jesus?

Frankincense was an ingredient used by the priests in temple worship to blend with the smell of the sacrifices.

To me it signifies Jesus’ priestly role.

Jesus was the King of Jews, but he was also the "great high priest."

The writer of the book of Hebrews expressed it like this:

"For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people."

As Paul puts it, One of Jesus’ greatest desires is that we offer up our lives as a sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.

In other words, that we live for God and cultivate a deep relationship with Him

So the gift of Frankincense speaks to me of a daily time of quiet that we should spend with Jesus - in prayer and Bible Study.

This is often the hardest time to find. As we live busy lives, this is the first thing that gets pushed to the bottom of the pile.

Is this the gift you can bring to Jesus today? Our gift of time?

The third gift was myrrh.

Myrrh is a very intense perfume. In Jesus’ time, people used Myrrh on their dead. A thoughtless gift, you might say for a baby shower?

Not for this baby. For myrrh signifies the death of Jesus. These wise men, in their wisdom knew that Jesus was born to die.

The writer of the book of Hebrews put it like this: ".. we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

So when I think of myrrh, I am challenged to think of why Jesus came to earth – to die for the sins of all the world. And that makes me consider mission work.

Jesus has called his Church to share the Good News to all nations.

Is a willingness to share the good news of Jesus with your friends and neighbors the gift that you might bring to Jesus today.

Or perhaps you might consider supporting a mission through Episcopal Relief and Development or helping out in our Swaziland fund instead?

In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with a thought from the presents that the Magi brought to Jesus.

What Gold, Frankincense or Myrrh do you believe God is calling you to bring to Christ at this time?

Gold – do we have something we hold precious that we can offer to Jesus?

Frankincense – are we prepared to give more time that we hold precious to God each day– for example a longer time of quiet with Him each day and

Myrrh –are we prepared to be more willing to share the Gospel, its good news and sacrifice, with those around us?

My prayer for all of us is that we are willing to give these three gifts to God today, tomorrow, and all throughout this year

Amen.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A bit chilly....


A view to the north.

Tonight the low temperatures are supposed to be a bit on the cold side, the forecast is calling for air temperatures to be -17 F (-27 C) and the wind chill forecast is a balmy -26 F (-32 C). Right now it is -2 F (-19 C) and actually it doesn't feel bad at all outside. I took the above photo while I was out doing chores this afternoon. Even though I had problems with watering the livestock due to the cold, the chores went well.

So to everyone, stay warm and safe tonight. God Bless.

Thanks for 2009


The restroom at Church of the Saviour in Clermont.

What are the things that I'm thankful for during the past year?
Well there are many things....
Such as being thankful for my family, the kids have grown in many ways, physically, emotionally, spiritually. It is hard to believe that all of them are now in school.
I'm thankful for getting a different job, one that pays much better and allows me to work in agriculture and actually get paid for it.
I'm thankful for being a part of a growing congregation at Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa, where after 142 years there is finally indoor plumbing!
I'm thankful for my lovely wife, Marcia, who has put up with me for over 21 years.
And the thing that sums it all up best is this:
I'm thankful to God for all that I have and all that I am.