Category Archives: Sermons

October 8 Sermon

A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
For October 8 2017, the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Based on Matthew 21:33-46

We’re in a section of Matthew of Jesus teaching with parables. These stories have a simple plot, but the characters and their actions are often confusing. The result are stories that give us riddles. What at first seemed to be a simple story has a twist that makes us think, a surprise that makes us wonder.

This morning’s parable comes from Matthew 21. It’s difficult to say what this parable is about: revenge, divine judgment, receiving Christ as God’s son. The concluding words of Jesus could be frightening. Listen trying to answer this question: what is this parable calling Lyonsville to do?

We have been told often it is impolite to discuss politics, money or religion in polite company. To anyone who says that, I say they have not read the bible very well. Today’s exhibit A: a parable of Jesus. We treat it as another harmless episode of Story Time with Jesus. For generations we have overlooked the political, the economic, and the religious issues that Jesus was talking about.

About 60 years before Jesus was born, Rome colonized the region of Judea. Yes, Romans had been present in the area before that, but it is at that time that Judea becomes a province of the Roman Empire. Sixty years is not a long time in a culture.

Sixty years ago in US history,

  • Dwight Eisenhower began his second term as President,
  • Elvis Presley purchases Graceland,
  • the Edsel was released,
  • the novel Atlas Shrugged is published,
  • Shippingport Station, the world’s first atomic electric-power plant, opened
  • in Arkansas the Little Rock Nine are prevented by the national guard from enrolling in high school,
  • and the United Church of Christ is formed from the merger of the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

A lot of cultural shift can happen in sixty years. Continue reading

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October 1 Sermon

An Accidental Midrash
A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
For 1 October 2017, World-wide Communion Sunday
Based on Matt 21:23-32

Shortly after Jesus, Jewish rabbis promoted a way of interpreting scripture called midrash agadah, which essentially encourages the best way to make sense of a story is to tell another story. I accidentally encountered a midrash on this morning’s scripture passage. During my vacation I read most of a trilogy of novels called The Last Policeman by Ben Winters. I heard about this from a review on public radio. It sounded like the kind of light fiction reading I would enjoy escaping into while on vacation.

The main premise is that an asteroid is about to impact the earth. There’s no way to escape. The immanent destruction of the planet leads to all sorts of social disintegration. People wander away from their jobs to fulfill their bucket lists. That means no one is caring for the electric plants, which leads to the loss of television, radio, internet, newspapers. Clean water no longer runs through pipes into homes and businesses. People hoard what resources they can, and there are mass riots hunting for food, bottled water, gasoline, bullets. People are dying from diseases, accidents, murders, and suicides.

But the main thrust of the series is not social decay: these are mystery novels. The main character, Henry Palace, is (unsurprisingly) a police detective who continues to work on missing persons cases during the last six months before the asteroid hits. There’s two recurring events in the trilogy, events that increase in frequency as the asteroid gets nearer and nearer.

The first is happens so frequently it is almost a joke: people keep asking Henry “Why are you doing this?” Society is at it’s end, people are running away for all sorts of reasons, the federal government is barely functional, local police departments no longer have authority. Why then, Detective Palace, are you concerned about finding these missing persons? Continue reading

September 17 Sermon

A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
For September 17 2017, the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Based on Matt 18:21-35

When I was 7 I read in a magic book about an illusion of a severed finger in a box – and it gave directions! You start with a small box – like a little jewelry box. You cut a hole in the bottom of the box, line it with cotton, and stick your finger through the hole.

I don’t where I got the idea to add some food color. You end up with something that looks like this…

I took my new trick to my mom and told her I found something in the yard. When I removed the lid, she gave a little gasp. “Look at the end, it’s got a little something stuck to it.” So my mom looked closer. That’s when I wiggled my finger.

Later I had to ask mom’s forgiveness. That was not the first or last time I had to ask her forgiveness. I’m glad now she didn’t keep count.

How many times do you think your parents have had to forgive you? How many times have your teachers forgiven you? pass out papers so everyone in the congregation has one – numbered 1-490. Imagine this is how many times you have been forgiven. What on the list?

Imagine you have forgiven others that many times. What’s on the list?

In 174 years, how many times do you think the people of Lyonsville have asked forgiveness from one another? What’s on that list?

In your time at Lyonsville, how many times have you asked to be forgiven? What’s on that list? I don’t mean that passive-aggressive “easy to ask forgiveness later than permission ahead of time” stuff. I mean admitting you were wrong and asking forgiveness. No conditions or clauses. Not the script of “This person has hurt me before or I’ve been hurt this way before I’ve been hurt before, so if this time I hurt someone they need to understand why.” I mean saying, “I was wrong, I won’t do this again, I am changing the way I do things, please forgive me.” Continue reading

September 10 Sermon

 

“Thoughts and Prayers”
A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
For September 10, 2017, the 23rd Sunday or Ordinary Time and Gathering Sunday
Based on Matthew 18:15-20

This morning’s scripture is Matthew 18: 15-20. The gospel of Matthew was written about 35 years after Jesus died and was resurrected. The followers of Christ have moved out from Jerusalem, out from Judea. Matthew’s community appears to be around the city of Antioch in Syria, in what is today Turkey. Because the members of the church here were made up of both former Jews and former Gentiles, they encountered some degree of hostility from Jewish and Roman communities. A major theme of Matthew’s story is addressing behavior that tarnishes the Christian community’s ability to witness to people outside the community. The story we are about to hear is about public behavior, not individual relationships. It’s about being the church.

15 “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. 16  But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. 17  But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector. 18  I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. 19  Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. 20  For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.” (Common English Bible)

Imagine a tray full of glass beads. Most of them are yellow. There’s a few red, and blues, fewer green, black, grey, white. You push those to the side, keeping the yellow in the center of the tray. There’s different sizes, different shapes, different textures, even some different hues. Each catches the sunlight, leading you to pray. You begin sorting through to find about a dozen that will make a nice necklace. Right off you find four, then a couple more.

And just as you select the tenth someone comes by and dumps a new cup of beads on your tray. These are mostly blue some red, some green, a couple yellow; some of them are the same shape as the yellow ones you have already selected. Some of the blue hues are the same shades as the blue you previously set aside. So you sort through the blue beads, and begin to select a new dozen beads for your necklace.

And then a cup of red beads gets dumped on your tray.

If writing a sermon is like stringing beads onto a necklace, then this is sort of week I have had.

Through the week as I kept moving the sermon beads, as I prayed with each one, I thought “Perhaps this gathering Sunday is about praying together. Perhaps the needed action for this season of Lyonsville’s life together is prayerfulness.” So this morning I am combining the reflection and the morning prayer. It’s a little different, but let’s try. I’ll offer some reflection, we’ll have a short silent prayer, I’ll pray aloud, and then we’ll sing a bit of Nearer My God to Thee. Continue reading

August 27 Sermon

Mantles of Leadership”
A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
For August 27, 2017
Based on 2 Kings 2:1-14 and Psalm 77:1-2, 11-19

I awoke this morning thinking of one of my seminary classmates. While we were in seminary, he served a congregation as the Student Associate Pastor. A lot of small congregations near our seminary remained open by relying on student pastors rather than ordained pastors. Part of the covenant in using student pastors was to provide quarterly evaluations.

My friend’s first evaluation included the comment he did not preach “from the bible.” Two things are going to be important in this story. First, this congregation’s evaluations came as a written report from a committee; there was no process for formal dialogue. Second is that specific phrase “from the bible.”

This troubled him, because he spent a lot of time in bible study. He thought maybe he wasn’t referencing the morning scriptures enough in his sermon, so he increased the number of explicit statements related to the morning text. He was still told he was not preaching enough from the bible.

He asked one of the evaluating team what this meant. He was told “We want a pastor who preaches from the bible.” He then began to work in connections to other scriptures, pointing out who biblical writers included allusions to other bible stories, bringing in the psalms, quoting some of the more familiar passages of the bible in his sermons. His next evaluation said he was still not preaching enough from the bible.

He began to include every week the phrase “the bible says” to point out when he was quoting the bible.  His next evaluation again declared he was still not preaching enough from the bible. One Sunday, to illustrate a point, he stepped out of the pulpit. As he began to move, the sleeve of his suit jacket caught the pulpit bible, and he caught the bible before it fell. He continued walking and talking, holding the bible.

After worship, several people said “It was nice to see you preach from the bible for a change.” What they had meant the entire time was that they wanted a preacher who held the bible while delivering the morning sermon. So the next week he printed his sermon on smaller sheets of paper, stuck them into the bible, and held the bible when he preached. Again, several members told him “Now you’re really preaching from the bible.” Continue reading