Saturday, March 25, 2006

Growth - Super Size Me

Does the name Morgan Spurlock ring a bell? Morgan Spurlock wrote, directed and starred in the 2004 documentary, Super Size Me. The tagline for the movie is "a film of epic proportion." It's about a 33 year old New Yorker in excellent health who is inspired by a spate of lawsuits aimed at junk food purveyors to do a thirty-day experiment. Super Size Me chronicles Spurlock's 30-day human experiment.

For thirty days, Spurlock eats breakfast, lunch and dinner at McDonalds. His human experiment had three rules. First, he could only eat at McDonalds. Second, he had to eat every menu item at least once during the month. Third, if he was asked whether he wanted to super size his meal he had to answer yes.
During his human experiment, Morgan Spurlock was monitered by a cardiologist, a gastroenterologist, a family doctor, and a nutritionist.

After the first week, Spurlock gained over 10 pounds. After ten days, Spurlock was up 17 pounds. After the full thirty days, Spurlock had put on 25 pounds. He went from 185 pounds to 210. Eating 5,000 calories a day will do that to you. His McDiet also created some other problems. His cholestrol went sky high. He experienced sexual dysfunction, headaches, nausea and signs of addiction.

We can all see that Morgan Spurlock experienced growth, but we also recognize that his growth was bad growth. Today we are going to consider good growth - spiritual growth.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Narnia 1: No Christmas

Children’s Homily: “What If There Were No Christmas”

We begin our Narnia adventure in England some 60 years ago. It was a dangerous time in England and four children left their London home to stay in the country home of an old Professor. On the first page of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we are introduced to Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, the Pevensie children who came to stay with Professor Kirke. It was summer in England and on their first night in Professor Kirke’s country home the children spoke about exploring outside the next day. But when they woke up it was raining, and they agreed to explore inside the house instead.

They looked into several rooms, including a room that was completely empty, except for one piece of furniture. Does anyone know what the piece of furniture was? [a wardrobe] While the others went off to look at other rooms in the house, Lucy stayed behind to look inside the wardrobe. She saw some long fur coats inside, and she stepped between them and rubbed her face in them. There was a second row of coats behind the first row and she went deeper into the wardrobe to investigate them. She stepped even further into the wardrobe and reached for the back of it, but she couldn’t yet touch the back panel.

“This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!” thought Lucy, and then as she investigated even further, she felt something soft and powdery under her feet. It also felt very cold. The next thing she knew, she was touching tree branches. Lucy had entered Narnia through the wardrobe, and before she could figure much of this out, she was standing by a lamppost talking to a Faun (that’s spelled F-A-I-N). Does anyone know what a faun is? There is a picture here in my book. From the waist up, a Faun looks like a man, but from the waist down, a Faun looks like a goat.

The Faun was named Mr. Tumnus, and he told Lucy that it had been winter in Narnia for a very long time. He told Lucy about the White Witch who ruled Narnia and had placed an enchantment over Narnia so that it was “always winter and never Christmas.” Because of the White Witch, Narnia had become a bad place to live. She controlled Ghouls, Ogres, Cruels, Hags, Spectres, Wraiths and Horrors. The White Witch and all her minions had made Narnia a terrible place for the good creatures. This is the bad news about Narnia, but there is some good news to come. But not today. This is as far as we will go today.

“What If There Were No Christmas”
Isaiah 64:1-9a

“Before Aslan comes, Narnia is in perpetual winter without hope.”


The power nap of fifteen quick minutes in the late afternoon is reputed to be a powerful antidote to the post-lunch weariness that many of us feel. It’s no siesta, but it’s enough to restore vitality for the final push of the work day.

But if you really want to talk about effective snoozing, look no further than the black bear. They hibernate for up to seven months a year, without ever waking up to eat, drink or relieve themselves or exercise. Recent research shows that the inactivity of hibernating bears may drop their heart rate to as low as an amazing six beats a minute, but they still burn a surprising 4,000 calories per day!

What is truly amazing is the ability that these power-nappers have to emerge from hibernation at almost the same level of physical strength and stamina as when they started it. Through daily actions of muscle stimulation and contraction, bears are able to both maintain their constant body temperature and keep their massive muscles in working shape. Come spring, they bound out of their den at full speed, ready to eat about anything in sight. [Nature, 11/01]

Stewardship - Rick Warren

What would you do if you won the lottery and the notoriety from your good fortune propelled you into the media spotlight? That’s not exactly what happened to Rick Warren, but it is close enough to get us started. What happened to Warren is that he wrote the bestselling hardcover book of all time, The Purpose Driving Life. This resulted in tremendous fame and wealth. Warren acknowledges, "It brought in a ton of money. The first thing we decided was that we wouldn't let it change our lifestyle one bit."

Warren was featured in a recent issue of U.S. News & World Report focused on our nation’s best leaders. The magazine reports that despite all their new wealth, the Warrens live in their same house and continue to drive their same four-year-old Ford SUV. They bought no vacation homes or fancy clothes. You can personally verify the clothes part by looking at any picture of Warren. As the article says about his appearance before a gathering of pastors, “Pastor Rick Warren, look[ed] his usual relaxed self in an untucked sport shirt, spiked hair, and signature goatee.” That’s the same way he appears on Sunday mornings, by the way. There is nothing fancy about Rick Warren.

Since he began receiving significant royalties from his book sales, he has drawn no salary from his church and has paid back the salary he received for the previous 25 years. The Warrens currently give away 90 percent of their income and they have formed three charitable foundations with part of that 90 percent. This is all in the U.S. News & World Report article, and I tell you all this to give you one good example of religious leadership. Counter to Warren’s example is that of the scribes and Pharisees mentioned by Jesus in today’s gospel lesson.

10 Commandments

According to Tony Mauro, legal correspondent of the First Amendment Center, “There are only 10 commandments, but it took the Supreme Court 138 pages of opinion to decide whether displays of those commandments belong on public property.”

In two cases last June, the Supreme Court decided that a Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas was legal, but two displays of the Ten Commandments at courthouses in Kentucky are illegal and must be removed. Both were 5-4 decisions. The irony in the Kentucky decision for Mauro is that in the Supreme Court chamber there is a frieze of Moses holding the tablets containing those same Ten Commandments, and it has been there for 70 years.

In his opinion on the Kentucky case, Justice David Souter wrote,
We do not forget, and in this litigation have frequently been reminded,
that our own courtroom frieze was deliberately designed in the exercise
of governmental authority so as to include the figure of Moses holding
tablets exhibiting a portion of the Hebrew text of the later, secularly
phrased Commandments. In the company of 17 other lawgivers, most of
them secular figures, there is no risk that Moses would strike an observer
as evidence that the National Government was violating neutrality in religion.”

The Supreme Court’s split decision on these two cases has had people scratching their heads. Court watchers say that it all comes down to context – that is, how the Commandments are displayed. We certainly see that kind of argument in Souter’s opinion. But, it is curious, in this land that has been so highly influenced by Judeo-Christian values that the Ten Commandments would prove so controversial.

The Ten Commandments have been the basis for public morality in western civilization for thousands of years. They are part of our moral compass, so it is surprising that our courts would say that they cannot be publicly displayed. I’m sure that the courts would have an even bigger problem with our Lord’s distillation of all the commandments that God gave to Israel. In our gospel lesson, Jesus is asked another pointed question by His adversaries.

Matthew 22:34-46

Whose Image?

One of the good aspects of the terrible disaster in the Gulf is how the church has been at the forefront of offering effective help to those worst affected. Secular journalists recognized on television and in print the tremendous contributions of churches and church organizations like the Salvation Army. At the same time, the efforts of the federal, state and local governments came under heavy criticism. The work of the Federal Emergency Management Administration was particularly bad. But there they were, church members, getting the relief work done. Millions of dollars of donations were turned into food, water and clothing for those who had lost everything.

Consider all the churches and Christian agencies that have and are still offering help: The Seventh Day Adventist Church, the Quakers, America’s Second Harvest, Baptist World Aid, Catholic Charities, Christian Children’s Fund, Christian Reformed World Relief, Church World Service, Episcopal Relief and Development, Feed the Children, Food for the Hungry, Habitat for Humanity, Interchurch Medical Assistance, Lutheran Disaster Response, Mennonite Disaster Service, Operation Blessing, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Southern Baptist Convention, United Methodist Committee on Relief, World Relief and World Vision. This is only a partial list.

The inscription on our coinage is “In God We Trust,” and given the outpouring of financial gifts from God’s people all over America and I would guess the world, I would say that for those adversely affected by Hurricane Katrina, their trust has been shown to be well placed. The inscription on the coinage in the Roman Empire of Christ’s day was significantly different, as we will see.

Matthew 22:15-22


Holly wanted a wedding at the seaside resort of Spruce Point Inn along the coast of Maine. The wedding, she thought, would feature rocky seaside with white chop waves, August nights cooled by a gentle ocean breeze, lobster boats steaming past, blue sky, bluer waters, navy blazers, linen pants, silk-draped bridemaids’ shoulders, beauty and elegance combining to create an understated and highly cultured splendor.

So, her father rented the entire resort for a three-day weekend of magical, memorable, matrimonial moments for a mere $45,000. This cost in only slightly more than twice the price of an average American wedding these days. According to Richard Markel, president of the Association for Wedding Professionals International, the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is now between $18,000 and $21,000 (

According to Bride’s Magazine, the going rate is about $95 per guest, so Holly’s nuptials, not counting clothes, limos, photographer, invitations, thank-you notes, the ceremony, the honeymoon and the band, cost her dad $225 a guest. But what if, after making all those arrangements, no one had shown up?

Matthew 22:1-14

Love, Mercy and Forgiveness

As you are aware, it was exactly four years ago today that the worst attack in American history occurred a few hours drive from us. The heart-breaking images of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers and all the terrible aftermath will stay with us forever. Here we are, four years out, living in the constant strain of a post-9/11 world, having to now face more pain, suffering and human need by what may be the largest natural disaster in American history.

We’ve seen the evil that people can do, and the evil that nature can unleash. But we have also seen the good that people can do and how much can be accomplished when people work together for good. Even so, in the throes of so much evil and confusion, it is natural to ask where God is in all this? Some will point to the natural and human evil of this world and dispute the possibility of a Supreme Being who is good.

Christian author Philip Yancey was asked after 9/11, where is God when it hurts? He thought for a moment and then said, “I guess the answer to that question is another question. Where is the church when it hurts? If the church is doing its job – binding wounds, comforting the grieving, offering food to the hungry – I don’t think people will wonder so much where God is when it hurts. They’ll know where God is: in the presence of his people on earth” (CT, 10/23/01).

One powerful way that we answer the atheists and agnostics is the way that we live our lives. When the scoffers see us responding to the evils and ills of the world with the love and compassion of Christ, then God is made real at least for some. The way that we treat each other in the church is another sign of God’s presence in the world and in us. How we treat each other in the church is the subject of today’s gospel reading.


Late one summer evening in Broken Bow, Nebraska, a weary truck driver pulled his rig into an all-night truck stop. The waitress had just served him when three tough looking, leather jacketed motorcyclists- of the Hell’s Angels type- decided to give him a hard time. Not only did they verbally abuse him, one grabbed the hamburger off his plate, another took a handful of his fries, and the third picked up his coffee and began to drink it.

How do you think he responded? He calmly rose, picked up the check, walked to the front of the room, put the check and his money on the cash register, and went out the door. The waitress followed him to put the money in the till and stood watching out the door as the big truck drove away into the night.

When she returned, one of the bikers said to her, “Well, he’s not much of a man, is he?” She replied, “I don’t know about that, but he sure ain’t much of a truck driver. He just ran over three motorcycles on his way out of the parking lot.”

Many of us can understand how this truck driver feels. Sometimes even the slightest relationships can push us to the brink. When I look at the news reports of the damage left by Hurricane Katrina, I am amazed at all the devastation, but something is there as well: the fraying of raw nerve endings. As the period of catastrophe lengthens, tempers are getting shorter.

Spirituality in America

From a sermon preached 8/28/05:

Did you catch the most recent Newsweek magazine? The cover is titled “Spirituality in America,” and an entire section of the magazine delivers a “Special Report” titled “Spirituality 2005.” According to Newsweek, “Americans are looking for personal, ecstatic experiences of God” (p. 46).

Newsweek also reports that there are 159 million people in the United States who “practice Christian religions” (p. 54). 63% of these practicing Christians belong to a house of worship” (ibid.). 29.5% of Americans “practice no religion,” but interestingly, 19% of them “belong to a house of worship.” What I find most striking about a bar graph and a few of the articles in the magazine is the variety of Christians.

The bar graph shows that Roman Catholics are the dominant Christian body, followed by Baptists. Then there is a group simply labeled “Christians,” and next is a group called “other Christians. Then there are Methodists, then Lutherans, and a seemingly equal number of Presbyterians and Pentecostals. Bringing up the rear are the Episcopalians.

I tell you all this to point out the great variety that we have in the church, and while unbelievers will sometimes point at this variety and say that Christians can’t agree on anything, one could look at that same variety and marvel at all those who come to Jesus Christ is so many different ways. I choose the latter approach.

Even so, there are some bedrock beliefs that all Christians must hold to be truly Christian. This is something of what we find in our gospel lesson this morning.

Little things matter

The person most responsible for New York’s recent run of good fortune may be a professor from Harvard. It was James Q. Wilson of the Harvard Government Department who coined the “Broken Window” theory of crime prevention. Little things matter, the Wilson theory goes, especially when it comes to infractions of public order. If a broken pane of glass goes unrepaired, other panes will be shattered, and then doors will be jimmied up and down the street. If graffiti on a train goes unremoved, more graffiti will follow, and so will robberies in the cars and stations. No tolerance for petty lawbreaking leads to fewer incidents of major lawbreaking.

Peter Pan Christians

I don't remember the preacher who originated or passed this on, but it's pretty good:
As cute as Peter Pan is as a children’s story, it is no laughing matter when believers in Christ Jesus live in a “Spiritual Neverland.”

I call them “Peter Pan Christians.”

You know the type ... those who don’t want to grow up. They’re the gossipers and backbiters, those who like to stir up trouble and cause discord. Yep. These “Peter Pan Christians” are the ones who don’t have a single thing to say about how to reach the lost for Christ, but they’ll argue ’til they’re blue in the face over what color the carpet should be in the new sanctuary. They don’t want to “grow up” in Christ.

Know what I mean?


There’s a story making the rounds on the Internet that tells about a company in Canada that began ordering parts from a new supplier in Japan. In its order, the company noted that an acceptable quality allowed for only 1.5 percent in defective parts.

The Japanese sent the order, with a few parts packaged separately in plastic. The accompanying letter said: “We don’t know why you want 1.5 percent defective parts, but for your convenience, we’ve packed them separately.”

Protection or Love?

A Southern California minister reports a neighboring church has just completed a large addition, including a new sanctuary, to house their growing congregation.

Last week they discovered that 250 housing units were going in right behind them — they will share a property line.

Their pastor said he had two conversations within a three-hour time period.The first individual said: “We need to build a fence so their kids don’t wander onto our property.”

The second person asked: “Do we have the money to build a sidewalk and steps up to our church so their kids can come to our ministries?”

Love and Service in Tennessee

Mark Potter reported on NBC Nightly News on Wednesday (8/10/05) about a special home in Crossville, Tennessee. Crossville is in a rural county of Tennessee that has seen hundreds of children taken from their homes when their parents were arrested for methamphetamine use or production. You may recall that also on Wednesday, New York Governor George Pataki traveled to Elmira to sign legislation tightening the laws against meth production in our state. Meth production and use in a growing problem in America.

Until recently, in Crossville, Tennessee there was no place other than the county jail to house the children of arrested meth users and producers until foster parents were found. Believing that the county jail was no place for innocent children, the town's people stepped in to remedy the situation. The whole town worked together to raise the necessary funds, buy a house, and refurbish it to be a short term care facility for "meth orphans," as they are called. What is most remarkable is that the House of Hope was entirely funded by private donations. No government or foundation money was used.

Mark Potter reports:

"Each child is given new clothes and a stuffed animal — for many, a first.

"It means the world to them,” says House of Hope volunteer Karen Frantzen. “A lot of times they've never had one thing, ever."

The children are fed and bathed and doctors voluntarily provided medical care.

"We want to provide them with an environment that they can see that they are loved,” says volunteer Dr. Barry Wagner, “and make them feel safe."

The entire community pitches in. Bookshelves in the playroom were built by local Girl Scouts and volunteers from the town theater painted the walls."

What a powerful story about an entire town working together to solve a problem that could easily have been ignored! How many people really want to get involved with children from troubled backgrounds? It would have been so much easier to just look the other way, and let the Cumberland County government and the State of Tennessee deal with it. After all, those "meth orphans" aren't our kids, and besides, if we get involved, our kids may become exposed to those troubled children.

But, instead, Crossville, Tennessee recognized that those kids deserved better than the county jail, and they did something about the problem. It's so easy to adopt an us and them stance toward others. This didn’t happen in Crossville, Tennessee, but it is what appears to be going on in our gospel reading this morning. Jesus encounters a foreign woman with a request, and at first He declines to help her.

Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus - the real superhero

There has been resurgence in America that might just go unnoticed if it weren’t for Hollywood. This summer’s blockbuster movie Fantastic Four joins Spiderman and The X-Men as recent comics turned cinema. The popularity of these movies mirrors the revival of interest in comic books.

The recent “Comic-Con International trade show in San Diego that drew nearly 100,000 participants is another indication. “Comics are on a comeback,” declares World Magazine (6/6/05, 15). Matt Lechner, a Wisconsin comic-book store owner says that it wasn’t’ that long ago when “you couldn’t give them away” (p. 17). He believes that it all changed with Harry Potter. Not only are kids reading, but they are now more open to the fantasy genre of most comic books.

The best selling comic books are and have been superheroes. There is a love and fascination for heroes with super powers. But, why do we need superheroes when we have a real God? While Jesus doesn’t display x-ray vision or superhuman strength, there is another power that Jesus does display that is available to us lesser human beings.


As a minister was addressing a group of men, he took a large piece of paper and made a black spot in the center of it with a marking pen. Then he held the paper up before the group and asked them what they saw. One person quickly replied, "I see a black mark."

"Right," the preacher replied. "What else do you see?" Complete silence prevailed. "Don’t you see anything other than the black spot?" he asked. A chorus of "No" came from the audience. "I’m surprised," the speaker commented. "You have overlooked the most important thing of all - the sheet of paper."

Then he made the application.

a) In life we are often distracted by small disappointments, and we forget the innumerable blessings we receive from the Lord.

b) But, like the sheet of paper, the good things in life are overwhelmed by the adversities that monopolize our attention. [Mark Roper]

Stress in our lives operates like that black spot in the center of the paper. When we are under stress, we can’t see anything else except that which is stressing us. Dr. Richard Ecker, the founder and director of the Life Management Institute in
Wrote a book twenty years ago called The Stress Myth: Why the Pressures of Life Don’t Have to Get You Down. Ecker says, “Unquestionably, stress is the most significant negative health influence at work in American society today, and the problem grows more serious every day.” [The Stress Myth, p. 10]

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Unity - an orchestra

An orchestra consists of many different instruments of different sizes, shapes and materials. These different instruments make different sounds - some low pitched, some high pitched. Some are brass sounds, some woodwind sounds,some string sounds, some percussion sounds. When all play together in time and in tune, it is a beautiful sound. The harmony of the musical composition adds to the beauty of the sound. As each player follows the sheet music something wonderful is performed for the delight of the audience.

[Note: the musical composition, the sheet music can be related to the Bible]

Our unity is based in Jesus Christ. God has made us and has given each of us differnt backgrounds. Even children in the same family have different experiences. Married couples generally don't share every minute of every day. Each of us also have different temperaments. Even if we shared identical experiences doesn't mean that we would necessarily respond to them or interpret them the same way.

Community - Biosphere 2

30 miles north of Tucson, near Oracle, Arizona, in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains sits Biosphere 2 - a steel and glass configuration that occupies 3.15 acres of desert. This enclosed environment includes seven ecological zones: a tropical rain forest, a savannah, a marsh, a desert, and agricultural area, a human habitat and a 900,000 gallon ocean. When the first mission crew went into Biosphere 2 in 1991, there were 3,800 living species sharing the space with them.

The mission one crew consisted of 4 men and 4 women, and they began their Biosphere 2 experience with utopian dreams. They hoped to learn enough during their 2 years in the 7.2 million cubic foot sealed glass complex that a future crew could begin the colonization or the Moon or Mars. The eight biospherians embarked on what one member of the team, Abigail Alling called in her book, Life Under Glass, a "journey in time" with elements of past and future intertwined.

The Biosphere 2 story was chronicled as it went on by tele-video conferences, telephone calls, emails and contact with the outside via face to face meetings at the windows of the glass structure. This outside contact was good commented one observer since "several members of the group were no longer on speaking terms."

Social problems developed in this small community that included:
-power struggles
-lots of bickering
-sexual tension
-behavior that has been described as "catty and perverse"

The goal of this expedition was for the chosen eight person to live peaceably together for two years as they gathered scientific and technological data. On the social level, if not the scientific and technological, the crew failed miserably.
Five of eight of the participants counted the days until they could leave the biosphere. This unhappiness was present despite the fact that the eight members of the Mission I team had worked harmoniously together for the five years prior.

Donella Meadows of Dartmouth University observed that the real challenges of Biosphere 2 were not scientific or technological. The real challenges were: human relations, human communications and human organization. Her conclusion after the two year experiment: "It's not the planet that's out of control, it's us. It's not the biosphere we have to understand and manage, it's ourselves."

Community is difficult. Our parish community has several advantages over the biospherians. Our first and greatest advantage is Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Our second great advantage is the Spirit of Jesus Christ that lives in all His faithful followers.

[Note: this was the introduction to a sermon on Phil. 2:1-11]

References: all the material in this illustration was gathered by googling Biosphere 2.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Miracles - The CSI Effect

Note: this was the introduction to a sermon on Elisha’s healing miracle in 2 Kings 4:18-4:37, and Jesus’ healing miracles in Mark 1:29-39.

Title: The CSI Effect

A crime scene investigator from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was dusting for fingerprints in a home that had been burglarized. The investigator was challenged by the homeowner with these words: "That’s not the way they do it on television."

Captain Chris Beattie, who heads the L.A. County Science Services Bureau, also called the crime lab, calls this "the CSI effect."

With 60 million viewers a week for the three CSI programs on CBS - CSI, CSI:Miami, and CSI: New York, there is a lot more interest these days on how crime scene investigations are done. Robert Hirshhorn, a jury consultant, cites a study that showed that 70% of a jury pool were viewers of CSI, or A&E’s Forensic Files, or NBC’s Law and Order.

These shows have helped make jurors more receptive to scientific evidence, and another positive outcome is the demand by jurors for better investigations.

There are also downsides. The public now has unreasonable expectations that every crime can be solved quickly and conclusively like it happens on tv. Jurors have unrealistic notions of what science can deliver. Criminal science is not infallible and it cannot absolutely insure that the right criminal will always be caught.

The CSI Effect is an offshoot of our faith in science. From earliest schooling we are conditioned to believe that what is real is that which can be experienced with our five physical senses. What is real is that which can be measured, tested and verified through scientific experiment. The material world - space, time, energy and matter, is what is really real. We firmly believe that we can develop laws, theories, and best practices that are consistent, stable and dependable.

Science teaches us to trust what we can observe, either with our naked eye, or through a microscope or telescope. Science in history has led to secularism, but in this new millenium we understand that secular thought has not produced the needed corrections to the ills of this world.

Science, technology, business, education, government, the media and the arts have all failed us. Huston Smith, an internationally respected authority on world religions states that "today none of these is serving us well" (The Soul of Christianity, p. xviii). We need more than a materialistic outlook can deliver.

This morning we turn to someone who stands outside our contemporary scene. We need to find someone who is not bound by a scientific mindset to believe that there are limits to what God can do. We turn to Elisha, a prophet from the 9th century b.c.