Register for the Virtual Advent Preaching Retreat October 1-2, 2020

Two Bubbas and a Bible will lead a consideration of the Advent texts for Year B in a virtual format via Zoom. No shortage of material, quips, sermon ideas, and colleague collaboration! We’ll talk about what Advent might look like if the cloud of COVID-19 is still hanging around — but will encourage one another to press ahead.

After registration and payment, you will receive a secure link to the workshop and all workshop materials via email. Come and join us!

9am — noon and 2:00-5:00 pm EASTERN Time each day

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (July 12, 2020)

The Lectionary Lab Live podcast is available here.

Use the “Search” function at the left to search for particular Sundays and/or scripture texts.

Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost                                                                      Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

For many years as a preacher, I focused on the easy, three-point sermon or Bible study about why people fall away from the faith.

1) Some people are just too involved in the world to pay attention to spiritual things; they hear the word, but not really, these are the path.

2) Other people get all excited about the Gospel for a while, but then their excitement dies down because they don’t grow in their faith; they are the rocky ground.

3)Then there are the ones who lose their faith when trouble comes, when sickness and persecution and trial attack their lives. These are the ones in the thorns.

Then this classic three-point sermon ends with an admonition not to be bad soil, not to be hard of heart, or not to be too busy with the world or let the normal difficulties of life kill your faith. And the remedy for being bad soil is to be good soil; which usually ends up sounding like, “Be good little Christians and listen to the pastor and come to church a lot and be on a committee and your faith will grow.” Which is all very nice; but really isn’t what Jesus is talking about in this text.

It was a conversation with my farmer Daddy that got me to take a different and better look at this parable. Daddy said that he always wondered why Jesus had the farmer in the story do such a silly thing as throw the seed in places everyone knew it wouldn’t grow.  That, to Daddy, was just plain wasteful, and for my daddy, if waste wasn’t sinful, he thought it ought to be.

When I took a deeper and more thoughtful look at this story, I realized Daddy was on to something.  Jesus wasn’t preaching to the “soil,” he was teaching the sowers, the disciples. Jesus’ point in this story was NOT to fuss at those who fail to receive the Gospel, or those whose faith begins to fade or those who abandon the faith in the face of trouble. His point here is to encourage those of us who go out to sow the seed of the Kingdom of God.

When I was in college, I worked on a tobacco farm in Eastern North Carolina. Our mechanical harvester was malfunctioning. The conveyer system that lifted leaves from the ground to the processing platform ten feet up wasn’t working properly, and leaves were dropping out behind us. We kept stopping and starting while trying to fix the machine.

There was a precocious 6-year-old boy who was a friend of the family and was watching us work. He observed our troubles for a while and then walked up to the Farmer and said, “Well, You can’t elevate’em all, can you Mr. Virgil.”

“You can’t elevate’em all” is at least a part of Jesus’ message in the parable of the sower. Even Jesus could not always “elevate’em all.” Over in the last chapter of Matthew is one of my favorite lines in the Bible. Matthew 28:16-17 – “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; BUT SOME DOUBTED.”

But some doubted! What do you have to do to convince some people? Jesus got himself killed and then God brought him back from the dead and these eleven, who had been with him from the first, saw him in his resurrected state and yet, some doubted!

“You can’t elevate’em all, can you Mr. Virgil?” That’s point one of this parable. Here’s point two. “You can’t elevate’em all,” but we must try. A good farmer prepares the soil, and then carefully avoids the path and the rocks and the briars. A good farmer doesn’t waste his seed and his efforts on spreading seed where it is unlikely to grow. But we’re not farmers, we’re preachers.

Each and every follower of Jesus is a preacher, a teller of Good News, and we are called upon to spread the good news that God loved the world so much that Christ came down from heaven to live among us and died to save us from our sins.  And also that God loved the Christ so much that God raised him from the dead, and also that God loves each one of us so much that God will raise us from the dead.

That’s the Good News. And it’s our job to tell everybody. And, all too often, we don’t. We don’t even try. We waste time to deciding who might be the right people to tell it to. We spin our wheels calculating what sort of folk will fit in with us at our church. We focus on figuring out who WE want to be a part of OUR church, and that’s just wrong.

In this parable Jesus shows us that to be good sowers of Gospel seed, good preachers of the Kingdom, good spreaders of God’s love and mercy – we have to spread it to everybody; whether they deserve it or not; whether they are likely to receive it or not; whether we like them or not.  It doesn’t matter if they are Paths, Rocks or Briars; it’s our job to throw the Gospel at them. We are called to sow the seed of the kingdom, indiscriminately, wildly, exuberantly tossing out bouquets of God’s love to everyone around us. Who knows; they might need it and they might grow.

Amen and amen.

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (July 5, 2020)

The Lectionary Lab Live podcast is available here.

Use the “Search” function at the left to search for particular Sundays and/or scripture texts.

Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Methodist Scholar of World religion Huston Smith ften told this Hindu story: The disciple said to the master, “How can I find God?” 

Instead of answering the question, the master led the student down to the river.  After staring out over the water a while, the master grabbed the student pushed his head under the water,holding him there for several minutes while the student struggled. Finally, the master let him go. The student emerged from the water sputtering and gasping for air.

After a few minutes, the master said, “So how did it feel down there?” The student glared at the master and said. “It was awful. I thought I was going to die.”  The master said, “When you want God as much as you wanted air, when you feel like you cannot live without God in your life; then – you will find God. 

Matthew 11 reads:

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

Jesus’ point in this text is simple – people aren’t really serious about finding God, so they avoid God by complaining about God’s messengers.  The ones complaining about both John and Jesus purport to be serious seekers after God – but what they are really looking for is a God made in their own image, not the God in whose image they were made.  They are seeking a religious experience that will fit appropriately into their lifestyle, spiritual moment that they can control and regularize. 

Yes, Jesus would agree with the Hindu master, when people want a relationship with God as much as a drowning man wants air; when we believe we will die without God, then our inherent will pettiness will cease and we will look up and discover God and holiness all around us.

In Matthew, the character of Jesus is drawn in sharp contrast to the scribes and Pharisees and their way of approaching God.  They have taken the Torah, the teaching from God, the revealed will of God, and transformed it from a living and exciting invitation to holy living into a heavy, joyless, burden on the people.  They have expanded it into law after law, long lists of that which is clean and unclean, exact formulas for ritual observance that one must follow to a T. They have turned God’s word of steadfast love into a word of perpetual judgment and duty. The yoke of the Law, the call to work in the Kingdom of God, has become an albatross around their necks, weighing them down and holding them back.

 The scribes and Pharisees were not unique in these attempts to corral and control God; these efforts to bring some sort of order into the wildness and chaos of God’s ways with the world.  Down through the years, we human beings have habitually sought to create systems

by which we can assure ourselves we are all right, all right with each other and all right with God.

The Lutherans have the Book of Theological Concord, the Episcopalians have the Book of Common Prayer. (Remarkable how similar they are in size and “weightiness.”) Presbyterians have a Book of Order, and the Methodists have The Discipline, And in terms of making us “right with God,” none of it ever works, not really. At some point all our systems fail, because we fail.  No matter how cleverly we put the system together, there is always a flaw in it.  And the flaw is us.

Paul gives clear voice to this flaw in Romans 7:23: “but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin” The problem with all the human ideas about how to be religious is not that they are failures of logic or that they are inconsistent systems of ethics or even that they ask too much of us. The problem is, as the old comic strip character Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and they is us.”

WE ARE THE PROBLEM!

When Paul says in Romans; “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” and again, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it;” we are all forced to nod with sad and rueful recognition.  Our behaviors big and small are very seldom completely consistent with our better selves and we, like Paul, long to know not only why we are bad, but also how we will ever get off this endless cycle of good intentions and bad results, of consistent failure and guilt?

The promise of the gospel is that Jesus has come to rescue us from ourselves. In verses 25-30 of our Matthew 11, Jesus proclaims: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

In the midst of all our current confusion and despair, God still comes to us in the person of Jesus the Christ.  God comes to us and reminds us that the divine/human encounter is controlled not by us, but by God. We do not find God through wisdom and intelligence; God finds us and reveals God’s self to us when helpless as a baby, we need and want God the way we need and want air to breathe.

Jesus invites us to lay our burden down and take up the yoke of the Gospel with him. I wonder what burden each of us might need to put down this day in order to take up the yoke of Jesus, the cross of Christ?  What sin of our past haunts our present?  What doubt in our mind troubles our spirit?  What feeling of inadequacy or unworthiness keeps us from offering ourselves as a fellow laborer with Jesus in the Kingdom of God? 

Whatever it is that is holding us back and getting in our way; Jesus invites us to put it down,lay it aside, kick it to the curb, leave it behind as we embrace the opportunity to share in the work of the Kingdom, the work of sharing with the world God’s grace, God’s goodness, God’s love.

Take a deep breath, feel the air enter your lungs.  Now, take another breath and breathe God in, feel God come into you with forgiveness and love and holiness.  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” 

Amen and amen.

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (June 28, 2020)

The Lectionary Lab Live podcast is available here.

Use the “Search” function at the left to search for particular Sundays and/or scripture texts.

Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Fourth Sunday of Pentecost                                                                       

  Text: Matthew 10:40-42

40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Don Shula was the longtime and very successful head coach of the Miami Dolphins football team.  One time he was on vacation in a very rural part of Maine.  The local library advertised the showing of a recently popular movie on a Saturday night. This was in the days before the internet and the TV reception was almost non-existent in those woods, so the Shula family was very excited to go to the movies that night.  They walked in just a few minutes before it was to start.  Everyone stood up and gave them a standing ovation. Shula thought, “isn’t that something.  Even way out here they know me!” His excitement only lasted a few minutes.  Someone told him, “We have to have 15 people or they won’t show the movie.  Your family pushed the crowd to 17.”  The welcome really wasn’t for Don Shula.

Our text comes at the end of a sequence in Matthew’s gospel in which Jesus has been preparing his disciples to go out into the world to preach the Kingdom.  He is telling them how to respond to the many ways their efforts will be received. When he says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me,” Jesus is drawing a straight line from the disciples through himself to the creator God.  To welcome a disciple is the same as welcoming Jesus, which is the same as welcoming God.  This is a twofold promise.

One the one hand – it reminds the disciples to be humble about the reception they receive, for that welcome is not for them, it is for God.

On the other hand – it reminds them that they do not go out representing themselves and their own wisdom and their own power; they go out representing God.

We all must remember this as we go about our business of being Christians, disciples of Jesus in the world.  It is not about us; it is about God. In verse 41, Jesus drives home his point by reminding the disciples of the many biblical stories of prophets and other righteous people being received NOT because they themselves are so special, but because in receiving them the people are receiving and honoring and serving God. And then, in verse 42, Jesus makes one of his classic reversals, turning things upside down and inside out, rearranging our preconceptions and expectations. 

Just as we have begun to understand the idea that honoring important people, like disciples and prophets and pastors, is a way of honoring God – Jesus switches things up on us. He begins to talk about honoring ‘little ones’ “And whoever gives even a cup of water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple.”

See what he did there? The disciples were feeling really proud, seeing themselves connected to the prophets, and to Jesus, and even to God; and then the tables are turned – and they are reminded that they are “little ones” in the kingdom of God.

The message of Jesus, the message of the Kingdom, the message of the Gospel – is a message of reversal, of things turned upside down and sideways, of those who are seen by the world to be on top are known to really be on the bottom, and on the bottom are esteemed by God as the most important of all.

In these three short verses, Jesus subtly moves his disciples through a sequence that leads them away from thinking about how important they are to pondering their call to TO BE the least important people in the kingdom in order to serve the least important people in the world in the name of Jesus.

When Jesus bestows upon little ones, disciples, the same worth as prophets and righteous persons, even the same value as God; when Jesus does this – he has done an incredibly radical and un-heard of thing.

And it is to just this sort of radical and unheard-of thing which we modern day disciples and sent ones, we 21st century prophets and persons who aspire to be righteous, have been called.

We have been called to go out in the name of Jesus Christ to share our stuff and God’s love with those whom the world rejects and turns its back on.

We have been called to give radical hospitality to illegal aliens and people who keep failing in life and to those who are unable to work and take care of themselves. We have been called to look at people not with our own eyes but with the loving and gracious eyes of Christ.

We have been called to love the loveless, not with our cold and shriveled hearts, but with the warm heart of Christ which overflows with love for all. We have been called to care for others whether they deserve it or not.

Because none of us is disciplined and righteous and prophetic enough to deserve the love of God; it has been given  to us as a gift, and we are called to give it to others free of charge and free of judgement. Yes, sisters and brothers, we have been called to the ministry of welcoming and receiving and giving and loving and giving standing ovations to people whether we know them or not,

Amen and amen