Category Archives: Sermons

August 13 Sermon

 

What Are We
A mediation and prayer
by Rev Dr. Thom Bower
For 13 August, 2017, a Taizé Service
Based on Psalm 8

I am going to ask to you imagine several places around the world. Rely on your experience of being in places like this, the many photographs and movies you have seen, and even what your imagination thinks these places might be like.

A forest with tall trees. You can small their bark. There are ferns and bushes along the path. The air is think with moisture and the air fresh.

The Grand Canyon, with ribbons of orange and yellow and tan, miles of canyons carved from the rock by water and wind.

A sunset over the water, the sky turning red and orange and pink, the water looking like rippling fire and then turning dark.

An outer-space cloud billowing green and purple and white, the nursery where stars are born.

What is humanity when compared to these natural wonders?

What is humanity that God would trust us to care for what God has created?

How do we discern what God would have humanity be?

How do we figure out how we will treat one another in a way that honors God, the creator of all things in the universe? Continue reading

August 6 Sermon

“The Falling Roof”
A Reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
For August 6, 2017
Based on Luke 5:17-26

The Pharisees were an advocacy group for middle class Jews. The Sadducees had become a group of rich elite Jews, but the Pharisees related to the common people. And the Pharisees were popular. With popularity came some amount of power, and they really did not want to share power with anyone. That’s part of why they are concerned about Jesus: he has a lot of followers, and that comes with some amount of power. Listen as the Pharisees try to either recruit Jesus to join them or eliminate him from the competition.

Our scripture this morning has three main beats: Jesus in the house; a group of people breaking through the roof to lower their paralyzed friend to Jesus; a debate about healing between Jesus and the Pharisees. All this starts with the house.

The houses that Jesus knew[1] are very different than the houses most of us live in. Think of a horseshoe: all the rooms were arranged around the outside of the shoe. Across the opening of the shoe was a wall that held a door to the street, wide enough for a cart or a couple of animals enter. Animals were usually kept in a large room near the end of the shoe. At the other end of the shoe was a common kitchen. The other rooms were a combination of where different generations lived and workrooms for the shared labor of the entire family.

The walls were made of rock, sometimes covered in plaster or clay. The roof was built on long logs running parallel to the mouth of the horseshoe. On top of that was a thick layer of clay. The rooftop was used as extra rooms of the house. It was an extra place to work, a place for games and eating. On the hottest nights people would sleep up there.

Our scripture tells us Jesus is a guest in a house like this. A crowd has gathered. They stand outside one of the rooms of this house, filling the central patio, spilling out onto the street. No one can move easily.

I once read or heard a storyteller describing Jesus sitting in this room. Jesus understands the thick crowd is preventing access to him. He feels a bit trapped himself. But what are you going to do? The people have come, they have filled the place, people are pushing through the crowd; he’ll meet as many as he can. His hosts are being tolerant. Continue reading

July 30 Sermon

“Wandering Prophet”
A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower[1]
For July 30, 2017
Based on 1 Kings 19:8-15

Most of the story of Elijah is about his rivalry with the prophets of the rain god, Baal. Elijah has taken on Jezebel, the queen of Israel, a foreign-born wife of king Ahab who has used Ahab’s resources to build a temple to Baal and fill it with prophets and priests. Elijah warns that because the Lord God is upset, a drought will grip the nation of Israel: Baal the rain god will not be able to bring relief. Elijah and Baal’s prophets hold a public contest. Elijah shows God’s power over creation and over history as sacred fire consumes the sacrificial altar. This is a holy war, a jihad, so Elijah called for the execution of the prophets of Baal. King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, hold Elijah responsible, and Jezebel threatens to kill the prophet.

Elijah flees from his homeland of the kingdom of Israel, flees through the southern kingdom of Judah, flees beyond into the desert wilderness. Elijah has been winding his way on the twisting path of a labyrinth of faith. He has had enough of this circular pathway. He wants some resolution, some conclusion. In despair Elijah prays to God that he may die. Instead, God’s angel feeds Elijah – twice –encouraging him to sleep and eat to be strengthened for the journey.

We’re supposed to be hearing echoes of Moses and the exodus from Egypt toward the promised land. Holy food in the wilderness followed by 40 days and nights of wandering – not the same of 40 years, but these are echoes, not mirror images. And the Elijah arrives at Mount Horeb, where Moses took off his shoes to speak with a burning bush, where God later gave the children of Israel the Ten Commandments. Elijah returns to the place where Moses encountered God, and God is with Elijah on the journey.

“What are you doing here?” God asks Elijah. The prophet pours out his frustrations. We assume prophets are filled with confidence, that prophets are secure in their sense of calling, unquestioning in their faith. But Elijah’s words show us that prophets, too, doubt. “I’ve tried my best. I am the only one of your prophets left. Now they want to kill me.” During deep down questioning, God is present with Elijah. Continue reading

July 23 Sermon

 

Map of Grace
A Reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
For July 23, 2017
Based on Psalm 147:1-11

When you look at this labyrinth, you can see it has four very distinct quadrants. I always assumed it was part of the geometry created to divide the pathway evenly within the circle. I learned it actually has a greater symbolism – symbols connected to historic practices.

Roman cities were built at the intersection of two roads, and the city wall was often a circle whose center was that intersection. This is why we still call a section of a city a “quarter” of a city. So the symbol for a city was a circle with an x inside.

When Emperor Constantine ordered the reconstruction of Jerusalem[1], it was done on a Roman plan. For Christians Jerusalem is the place where Christ died, so the city symbol for Jerusalem was rotated 90 degrees: the X became a cross. On the larger maps detailing the city of Jerusalem, you can see this cross shape following specific roads along well-known landmarks.

 

Two examples of Situs Hierusalem

When you look at medieval maps, Jerusalem is placed as the center of the world. The idea was that God’s presence was strongest at Jerusalem and radiated outward to the rest of the world. That was why a pilgrimage to Jerusalem was so essential for medieval Christians: it got you as close as possible to the place where God’s presence on earth was the greatest. It was as if the closer you could get to God then God’s grace might rub off on you – actually the idea is more that God’s grace permeated you, more like we think of radiation but without the negative effects. Continue reading

July 22 Sermon (GLADYS CELNDENIN MEMORIAL)

IN THANKSGIVING FOR THE LIFE OF
GLADYS CELNDENIN

22 July 2017

Based on Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 23, and Matthew 11:28-30

About six weeks ago Gladys’ family contacted Lyonsville asking me to lead this memorial service. They had never met me, I had never met Gladys, but this is Gladys’ church. This is not the first time I have officiated at a service for someone whom I never met – neither the first time in my career nor the first time since serving Lyonsville.

I am always grateful when family members supply their reflections, both in their own voices and in writing for me to read on their behalf. It is a greater task to both eulogize a life and place that life in the context of our shared faith. When family and friends can offer their remembrances, then I am left to the focused task of reflecting on the conclusion of a life of faith.

Someone once asked me if it is easier or harder to officiate a service for people I knew or never met. My reply then is as it is now: it’s different.

Over the past six weeks, as I have prepared for this service, I kept encountering memories of two very significant experiences that have influenced every funeral and memorial service I attend or lead.

One was a seminary mentor, a professor of pastoral care, who said that no matter what the loss, it was never just about that one loss but all the losses we encountered in life. It’s right there in the opening words of the liturgy: We gather here as God’s people, conscious of others who have died and of the frailty of our own existence on earth.

As we gather today to remember Gladys and celebrate her life, this day is not only about our losing her but all of our losses – all the people whom we have loved and who have died, the friends who we have lost touch with over the years, divorces and job losses and the losses that come with moving from house to house or city to city.

The second experience requires a longer story. My senior year of high school, I started to work at a Dairy Queen. I already knew the owner, Bob, because I was a frequent customer at the Dairy Queen; because my parents owned a business, they knew each other. And Bob was a good church man – not at the congregation I attended, but one to which my congregation was connected. At the time I started working for him, he had been the head usher at his church for 25 years. Continue reading