On Sunday, December 10th, we welcomed Maverick Aiden Reeb into his new family at Rehoboth Presbyterian Church. Our lesson came from the beginning of the Gospel of Mark: John the Baptist announcing the coming of the Christ. This was also a perfect text for a baptism.
From left: me, Elizabeth Shannon King, Hayley and Tyler King (parents), and Nikki Smoda (grandmother)
On Sunday, December 3rd, we celebrated the first Sunday of Advent and the sacrament of baptism, as we welcomed Elizabeth Shannon King into the beloved family of God. We also heard an apocalyptic story from the Gospel of Mark. On the surface, that seems like an odd combination, but it isn't.
Jesus MAFA, Parable of the Three Servants, or, The Talents
On Sunday, November 19th, we considered the parable of the talents. This is a challenging story. I don't particularly like this story, because it seems so very unfair. It also makes God's judgment seem unfair. What do we do with stories like this?
Last week was very busy, so I'm a little bit behind on posting my sermons. This is from Sunday, November 12th. On that morning, we examined the parable of the foolish bridesmaids. This is one of a series of uncomfortable parables in Matthew's Gospel.
On Sunday, November 5th, we celebrated All Saints' Day. This has always been one of my favorite events on the liturgical calendar, but in recent years, this time of the year has become less joyful for me.
These reconstructed doors commemorate Martin Luther's 95 Theses.
Castle Church, Wittenberg, Germany
On Sunday, I called for a new Reformation. There's a lot of hubris in that call. I admit it. Who an I to call for a new Reformation? Then again, who was Martin Luther? Read on to learn more about this new Reformation.
For the last two years I have moderated the Session of Greenfield Presbyterian Church. They worshiped at 4:30 on Sunday afternoons, so I was able to serve as pulpit supply for them, while also serving as the Interim Pastor of the First United Presbyterian Church of Houston, PA (from September 2015 through August 2016) and Rehoboth Presbyterian Church in Belle Vernon (beginning in October 2016). On Sunday, October 22nd, Greenfield Presbyterian held its final service of worship; the congregation has been dissolved. It was a bittersweet day.
On Sunday, October 22nd, we talked about stewardship, and some of the ways that we come up short. I had trouble picking out a title for this sermon. "Render unto Caesar" was my working title, but that didn't fit with where the message was going.
The Dance of the Golden Calf from the Hortus Deliciarum
Sunday, October 15th was my first Sunday back in the pulpit after my trip to Germany. In this sermon I related some of the things that I saw in Germany to the story of the golden calf. Many thanks to my dear friends, the Revs. Sylvia Carlson and Susan Rothenberg for covering the pulpit while I was gone.
Hank Greenberg played first base and outfield for the Detroit Tigers in the 1930s and 1940s, before finishing his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1937. He was one of the first Jewish superstars in professional sports.
I was away on vacation for a couple weeks; this was the last sermon I preached before I left for my vacation to Germany. The sermon includes a story about Hank Greenberg that I heard on the radio on my way home from a presbytery meeting. If you have some time, please listen to that story, too. The link is in the text of my sermon.
Peter von Cornelius, The Recognition of Joseph by His Brothers
On Sunday, September 17th, we considered the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In the Lord's Prayer, we ask God to forgive our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us. But is forgiveness an absolute commandment? Are there limits to forgiveness?
I did something a little bit different on September 10. There was a lot of scripture, so I thought it would be helpful to present all of these texts
because they all speak to the community that is Christ’s Church. These
scriptures remind us that God is in charge, God loves us, and we are to
approach one another with love, just as God loves us. This is the basis for
Christian community. So, I’m going to offer a little bit of commentary before
or after each of these texts, and then I’ll bring them all together in my
On Sunday we examined Paul's Letter to the Romans and the instructions that he gave them on loving one another, loving their neighbors, and even loving their enemies. Why is this so difficult for us today?
Spirit with Sevenfold Gifts, stained glass, St. Mary's Iffley, Oxford, UK
On Sunday, August 27th, we considered the spiritual gifts of prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leadership, and compassion, and some of the things that keep us from sharing these gifts with others. The title for my sermon is taken from a TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; a link to that talk is included in the post. I encourage you to watch it.
This stained glass window represents the Theological Declaration of Barmen. This
statement of faith is part of the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
I was nervous about preaching this past Sunday. That's not typical. I'm pretty comfortable in the pulpit. But I had to talk about the events in Charlottesville last weekend and I felt that I had to decry the false gospel of white supremacy, and do so from the pulpit. In the process, I had to acknowledge some uncomfortable family history.
Henry Ossawa Tanner, Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water
On Sunday, August 13th, we commissioned the Pastor Nominating Committee of Rehoboth Presbyterian Church. Over the next several months, they will serve as the Corps of Self-Discovery for this congregation; they are charged with finding the next installed pastor of this congregation. The lesson from the Gospel of Matthew speaks very effectively into this reality.
(mural from St. Anthony Catholic Church in Temperance, MI)
Last week, I mentioned a book that I’m reading, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory; it uses the Lewis & Clark expedition as a guiding metaphor for where the Church is in this post-Christendom world, and how we, as the Church, have to chart a new course because the world around us is different from the world we knew. On Sunday, August 8th, we considered the feeding of the 5,000 in the Gospel of Matthew and what it says about Christian leadership.
Charles Marion Russel, Corps of Discovery Meet Chinooks on the Lower Columbia, October 1805
The title of my sermon comes from a book that I’m reading, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. The guiding metaphor for this book is the Lewis and Clark expedition. Lewis and Clark were looking for a water route to the Pacific Ocean. They paddled canoes upstream along the Missouri River. When they got to the Rocky Mountains, they found that they were not equipped for the rest of their journey. Read on, to find out how this relates to Jesus' parables about the kingdom of heaven.
On Sunday, July 23rd, we examined the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds. In my previous sermon, I used a word from the pulpit that I really shouldn't have used. In this sermon, I owned up to my mistake.
On Sunday, July 16th, we examined the Parable of the Sower in the Gospel of Matthew. We examined this parable in light of Jesus' teachings in Matthew 25:31-46, and we considered our inability to tell which soil is fertile and which is not.
On Sunday, July 9th, our
Gospel reading included two sections from the Gospel of Matthew. The first part of this passage
is a little bit cryptic; when we read it out of context, its meaning isn’t
clear. And then the Lectionary skips over a few verses and the lesson concludes
with a very comforting thought: Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary
and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” We like this Jesus;
he’s not so confusing.
This is Aubrey Jean Couch, and her parents, Jessica and Zach.
On Sunday, June 25th, we celebrated the sacrament of baptism and we introduced Aubrey Jean Couch to her new family at Rehoboth Presbyterian Church. Follow the link to read the text of the sermon. As a bonus, you'll get to see more pictures of this sweet baby girl.
On Monday, June 12, we gathered to say goodbye to our dear friend, Ronnie Banks. Ron played in the Macdonald Pipe Band with my dad for many years. I've known him so long, I don't even remember meeting him. This was the first time I officiated a funeral for someone I've known well and for a very long time.
This past Sunday was Trinity Sunday. It's important for any pastor to avoid committing accidental heresies in explaining the Trinity. (See the video above; it's really funny!) This means that you have to be really careful when you write your sermon and stay on the script. But I forgot to upload my script and I had to wing it. As I told my congregation, ministry forces you to confront your fears. On Sunday, I confronted my fear of working without a script; my congregation confronted their fear of a 45-minute sermon. Read on if you're curious about the sermon as it was written.
On Sunday, June 4, we celebrated Pentecost, the birthday of the Church! We considered the ways in which our expectations shape our understandings of Scripture and the world around us—and how the Holy Spirit can disrupt those expectations!
(mural of Christ ascending to Heaven, from a graffiti wall in Bristol, England)
On Sunday, May 28, we considered the distinction between being and doing. We considered this in light of Jesus' prayer in John 17:1-11, in which Jesus asks God to remain in relationship with the disciples, to abide with the disciples.
The Gospel lesson for Sunday, May 14th is John 14:1-14. This is a familiar text. I frequently use this when I officiate a funeral, though not the entire passage. One of the challenges is that this story is so familiar that we don't hear the whole thing; we don't hear all of what Jesus is saying.
On Sunday, May 7th, we celebrated the sacrament of baptism at Rehoboth Presbyterian Church. In that sacrament, we affirm that we are all baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we believe that the resurrection is a real and present event. That's difficult to understand. On Sunday we examined the story of the appearance of the risen Christ to two disciples who were walking along the road to Emmaus, and how we might understand the resurrection in the present, too.
Two weeks ago, I told you to get out! I told you to get outside of these walls and listen and share Christ’s love with everyone you meet. I also told you to get out there and witness to the resurrected Christ. It occurs to me that that particular instruction, to witness to the resurrected Christ, might be pretty difficult. What does that even mean?
This year I had the opportunity to participate in a "Seven Last Words" service on Good Friday. The service of worship was conducted by pastors of the Belle Vernon Area Ministerium. The service ran from noon to 3:00 PM. I Preached on John 19:25-27.
Palm Sunday presents an interesting
choice for all preachers. I can choose the liturgy of the Palms or the liturgy
of the Passion. This year, I chose both. Now I suppose I could have chosen the
Palm Sunday text—it’s shorter, so it would probably make for a shorter sermon,
too. It’s also a lot more fun. It’s got shouts of Hosanna! Who doesn’t like
that? The passion story has shouts of, “crucify!” That’s not fun at all. But
the truth is, you can’t have the palms without the passion.
On Sunday, April 2, I preached on the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. I suppose I could have posted this sermon earlier in the week, but I decided to let it sit for four days. Like Lazarus. Follow the link to read the full text of the sermon.
The Gospel text for Sunday, March 26th
was the story of the man who was born blind, from the Gospel of John. We did
something a little bit different with this text. It’s a really long story—it takes
up all of chapter 9—so I decided to make it even longer by adding in the Good
Shepherd discourse from chapter 10. But instead of reading the whole text, and
then preaching on it, I enlisted the help of the adult Sunday school class. We
presented the Gospel lesson as a dramatic reading and I offered some brief
comments in between episodes of the story. Follow the link below to see the
On Sunday we heard the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. It's a really long story. The key
to understanding the Gospel of John can be found in the Prologue to this
Gospel. John 1:1-18 explains who Jesus is and what that means for us. That
passage tells us that Jesus was always with God the Father; it tells us that
Jesus is God; and it tells us that God entered the created world in the person
of Jesus. This is also called the incarnation. The Prologue asserts that the
incarnation is as important as the creation of the world. Through the
incarnation, God enters into a direct relationship with all of humanity. Keep that thought in the back of your mind as you read the story of the Samaritan woman at the well and the sermon below.
Henry Ossawa Tanner, Nicodemus and Jesus on a Rooftop
The Gospel of John features many memorable stories and a lot of great quotes, but the Fourth Gospel is challenging to preach. A lot of the stories are very long and the theology is very dense. There's so much going on in each of these stories that it's difficult to offer adequate teaching in the time that's available for a sermon. The story of Jesus and Nicodemus is rich and complex. The danger is that this story is often reduced to one simple quote: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son." And that's not even the whole quote!
Alan W. Banaszak: July 8, 1986 - February 22, 2017
Susan and Alan Banaszak
Two weeks ago I officiated a funeral for Alan Banaszak. I didn't know Alan, but I do know his sister, Susan Banaszak; she asked me to officiate the service. Alan died from a heroin overdose. I was honored to be asked to offer a word of grace into such a terrible loss. Alan's mother, Alana Banaszak, gave me permission to speak honestly about Alan's addiction. I have posted this service to my blog with permission from Alana and Susan.