Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

Fresh sermon, a “rerun” on the podcast — but we always do the best we can! Thanks for following us here on!

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Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In the 1980s, I was a pastor in Rowan County, NC.  The local afternoon daily paper, the Salisbury Post, ran a weekly church page.  They listed things like address, worship times, pastor’s name, etc. – all in really tiny print.  The Post was different from most newspapers that I had dealt with – it asked you to supply a sermon title or they wouldn’t publish your church’s information.

My titles were never very good, I just don’t have a talent for titles, but one of the other Lutheran pastors in town was really good with titles.  One of my favorites was “You Can Rust-Proof Your Car; but Can You Rust-Proof Your Soul.”  I still remember his title for a sermon on this gospel lesson – “Things I Wish Jesus Had Never Said.” Can I get an amen?

There are several things in this text that many of us might well wish Jesus had never said. Even though we take the part about “whacking off limbs” and “poking out eyes” as metaphor and hyperbole and “exaggeration for the sake of emphasis,” Jesus still sets out a personal moral standard higher than anyone I know could actually achieve. No anger, no lust, no swearing, no little grudges and resentments and petty drama with siblings, or co-workers, or fellow church-members, or all of the above?  Is he serious?

And no divorce except for adultery?  What about people in abusive relationships, or people married to alcoholics or drug-addicts, or people who find themselves trapped in a relationship with someone who refuses to even pretend to pull their weight in the marriage?  Was he serious about that? Well yes; yes he was.  Jesus was digging beneath the surface of the letter of the law into get at the spirit, the intention, the principle undergirds it. Jesus was inviting his hearers to think with him about the “why” of the rules they have been given.

Most people, then and now, don’t want to do that. We want to know the rules, the facts, the guidelines, what do we have to do. The Bible is full of people asking these types of questions:

What must I do to be saved?  What does the Lord require?  What is the greatest commandment?

And the always difficult to comprehend part is that when we find out what the rule or law or guideline is, many of us seem to then want to find a way around it. “What’s the speed limit here?”  “It’s 55.” “Hmm,” we think, “I can probably get away with 60 at least, probably a little more.”

Here, Jesus declared that “Thou shalt not murder,” was not only intended to keep people from bashing each other’s heads in – but was rather to call for people to restrain their anger and seek peace in all their relationships.

But most people, then and now, decide that the minimum is enough.  We think something like – “The fact that I hate my sister-in-law and treat her like dirt on a regular basis, that I passive-aggressively make her life miserable every chance I get, is not a moral issue because I have not murdered her.” Jesus said to this, “You have not killed her but you have killed the relationship, you have slowly poisoned a sacred connection with the toxicity of your hateful feelings.”

And so it goes with each of the things Jesus talks about in this part of the Sermon on the Mount.

Adultery, divorce, lying – in each of these things Jesus asks us to look behind what is required to find what is both possible and preferred.

The language about gouging out eyes and sawing off limbs is not an invitation to self-mutilation; rather it is a reminder that being the person God made us to be may require us to painfully and carefully control, or even remove, some part of our life that we are not sure we can do without.

Here are a few very difficult questions Jesus’ words raise for us on this day.  What is killing your spirits and keeping you from giving yourself completely to Christ and the Kingdom of God?  Is it something so valuable that you cannot bear to part from it?  Even if keeping it means losing your very soul?

Lent is only a month away; Ash Wednesday is March 1.  Perhaps now is a time for all of us to take an inventory of our lives, to see where it is that we are living by the letter and not the spirit of God’s way; to discover what things are weighing us down and keeping us back from living fully into the joy and hope of our new life in Christ.

Rather than giving up chocolate, or red meat, or drinking, or smoking –  perhaps we could consider giving up some lingering hurt, or an unresolved anger, or a judgmental and critical attitude, or a closely nurtured resentment, or a festering hurt, or an inappropriate desire, or anything else that we hold so close and dear so that our hands and hearts are not free to reach out to God and to one another in love.

Amen and amen.

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

For February 5, 2017

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Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”  1 Corinthians 2:1-2

I have struggled with my weight most of my adult life. I frequently launch a new plan to create a thinner, healthier me – especially around New Year’s, or after Thanksgiving, or after Christmas, or after the Super Bowl – well, actually, pretty much all the time. I have read a lot of diet books and have gone on a lot of web sites. As my young nephew used to say – “Here’s the deal!” – ninety percent of what they say about fitness and diet can be summed up in four words: “Eat less. Move more.”

There is a scene in the movie Bull Durham where the manager goes on a locker room rant, screaming at his losing minor league baseball team.  After he calls them a series of unprintable names, he says “This is a simple game.  Hit the ball. Catch the ball. Throw the ball.”

In our second lesson, Paul has come to an “eat less, move more” moment. He tells the church in Corinth that his message is simple – “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”  To me this sounds a lot like, “Eat less. Move more.” Or “Hit the ball.  Catch the ball.  Throw the ball.”

I have now been a pastor for almost forty years. In that time I have been inundated, year after year, with new programs guaranteed to make the church grow, or expand the Christian Education program, or revitalize the worship service, or get people to give a lot more money, or grow a vital youth group, or, or, or . . . .  While I am sure that one or two of these ideas worked somewhere else, some other time, for someone else – none of them has ever worked anywhere for me. I don’t know; maybe my heart wasn’t in it.

What I have learned is this: if the gospel of Jesus Christ, and him crucified, is at the heart and core of a church’s life within the walls; and is the motivation and content of its proclamation and service outside the walls – the church will be a happening place full of joyful and motivated people.

And if some other agenda takes center place in a church’s life together, and forms its mission and message to the world; it won’t matter what programs they try; the church will be somewhat unhappy and struggling.  “Jesus Christ, and him crucified,” is the “Eat Less. Move more,” the “simple game,” of the church.

What gets us off base is the fact that we do not trust the simplicity of the gospel. We think we need to jazz it up and make it more appealing and, in the process, we risk hiding the truth in the barrage of hype. This is what Paul warns us about in First Corinthians. We have to be careful about adding things to the basics of the gospel in an attempt to dress it up and make it more exciting.  What is there is exciting enough.

English mystery writer and lay theologian Dorothy Sayers said it best in her book Creed or Chaos: “We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine – “dull dogma,” as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination…and the dogma IS the drama.”

(Sayers, Sophia Institute Press, 1949, p.3)

The very words “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” say to us that the God who made us has not abandoned us, the God who made us loves us and wants to be in relationship with us; indeed, wants it so badly that this Holy One, this divine Creator of all that is, came to be with us as one of us, a human being who ate and slept and learned and worked and talked and listened and healed and loved just as we do. We had to learn how much we are loved and how we are invited and inspired to go about loving each other.  Telling us was not enough; we had to be shown.

And so, this humble holy one, in a mystery that it is impossible to unravel, with a wisdom too deep for words, died upon the cross for us – in the place of us, because of us – to show us how to live and how to die, and how to live and die for each other – how to love one another.

“Jesus Christ, and him crucified” is the “eat less and move more” of the church. It is the story with which we will catch the attention, and the hearts, of the world. It is the simple game at the center of our faith, our life together, and our life together in the world.

Amen and amen.

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

For January 29, 2017

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Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

All parents have things they say so often that, eventually, their children can predict what Mom or Dad will say before they say it. My Daddy’s was; “Is that absolutely necessary?”

Child, “May I go with you?”

Daddy, “Is that absolutely necessary?”

Child, “Can I buy a new toy truck?”

Daddy, “Is that absolutely necessary?”

Whenever Daddy said that, I usually wanted to say, “No Daddy, I just thought it would be fun; after all, I am a kid,” but because my Daddy was severely sarcasm-challenged, I usually just responded with the time-honored and kid-tested, “Please, please, can I, can I, please, please!?”

The trouble with this parental line, and others like it, is that after one hears the line a few hundred times, one stops listening; one no longer really pays any attention to what is being said.

Many of have the same problem with the beatitudes. We have heard these words of often that we think we know what Jesus is saying before he says it.   And here is the really difficult and somewhat sad truth; most of us have come to an uneasy peace with the belief that we can’t really do what he is asking of us.  We have concluded, either out loud or in our heart of hearts, that he is calling us to a standard higher then we believe to be humanly possible.

Yes, we have forgiven ourselves for our inability to live up to the Sermon on the Mount and we occasionally wonder if, after all, such high standards are absolutely necessary. It’s all well and good to say that the hungry will be blessed but what the hungry really need is to be fed. The last century has seen more death by cruelty and violence than the previous 19 combined; there are many more who mourn than ever before and heavenly reward is cold comfort in the face of today’s hot pain.

The last time I looked, the meek were still being trampled underfoot, and the strong and the unscrupulous were still in possession of most of the earth. As for those hungering and thirsting after righteousness; well, it appears to most of us that most people spend most of their time hungering and thirsting after the rewards of the flesh, better known as creature comforts, or “a certain lifestyle.”

So, when we hear what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount it appears to be far removed from the world as we know it; so we nod our heads and listen politely and think nice thoughts about being meek and hope that reading a two-minute devotional every morning counts as hungering and thirsting after righteousness; then we go out the door and into the world and about our business.

Our mistake is to think that the Sermon on the Mount is about us, about our personal behavior, that it is kind of like a graduation speech in which a wise and witty famous person explains to us the nine secrets of lifestyle success; or “How to Be a Happy Christian.”

Well, the Sermon on the Mount is not Jesus’ Little Instruction Book. It is, rather, a proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God. It is a rallying cry aimed at those called by God to become a part of that Kingdom. Notice where it is in the Gospel of Matthew. In chapter one and two, Jesus is born and grows up. In chapter three he is baptized, in chapter four he goes into the wilderness and clarifies his mission through temptations dialogue with the devil. Now, in chapter 5, he comes out of the desert and begins to preach.

In these opening words, Matthew shows Jesus announcing his plan, his program, his priorities for everyone to hear, for everyone to either accept or reject. Here, Jesus divides the world into two categories – the haves and the have-nots.

In verses 3 through 6, Jesus talks about the have-nots are those whom the world has beaten up and beaten down, those who have lost both their dignity and their hope. There is no need to spiritualize these things; this is about cold hard facts. The world is full of poor people, the world is full of people who mourn; the world is teeming with the meek, those whom the powers that be have pushed under and held under so long that they can’t remember up, much less see it. The world is full of those who seek justice, of those who have been deeply, deeply wronged by pure injustice. These are the people Jesus is talking about.

In verses 7 through 10, Jesus talks the rest of us, the haves, and where we count in this new kingdom. In a world full of war, we are called to make peace. In a world full of injustice, we are called to do justice with a pure heart. In a world full of oppression, we are called to stand with the oppressed and to help them find mercy. In a world full of people being treated unjustly, we are being called to stand with them and to allow ourselves to be untreated unjustly with them in hopes of relieving their distress.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus unveils, reveals, the Kingdom of God. It is a kingdom that includes all of us. If we are down, it seeks to pull us up. If we are up, it seeks to pull us into the battle on behalf of the least of these, the brothers and sisters of Christ. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is not an unreasonable, unattainable, idealistic pipe-dream of a higher standard.  No, it is a clear and unmistakable call for us to join the battle for the Kingdom of God. This day Jesus invites us to a life of service and sacrifice, to a life of caring and compassion. In the words of Micah: we are called to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.

Amen and Amen.

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

For January 22, 2017

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Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Every time I read this section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians I think of a story my mother used to tell about the visiting preacher who couldn’t find the church where he was scheduled to preach.  He stopped at a gas station.  There were a few men sitting about on Coke crates, smoking and gossiping and drinking coffee.  The minister got out of his car and walked over to them and said, “Can anybody tell me how to get to the Church of God?”

A man stepped forward and said, “Well, Preacher, you go down here about two mile, then you go right at the post office and cross the tracks, then a left turn at the schoolhouse. . . naw, wait a minute, that’s the Presbyterian Church – that’s Mr. Watson’s church.”   He thought a few seconds and said, “I got it. I believe you go up this here hill here, then you go left at the light and out past the VFW and it’s on the left.  Nope, nope, hold on, that’s the Lutheran Church – that’s Mr. Larson’s church.”  He wrinkled up his brow and pondered a few more seconds, “Now I remember – go on down Main Street here until you get to the Feed Store – then you turn left and go a mile or so and you’ll see this big ol’ graveyard – it’ll be back in behind there, down a dirt road.  Aw shoot – that ain’t right neither, that there’s the Baptist Church – that’s Miss Peabody’s. Church.”  The man though a few more seconds, “You know what Preacher, I don’t think God’s got a church in this here town.”

“I am one of Paul’s people.”  “I am one of Cephas’ people.”  “I’m one of Apollos’ people.” And for the hyper self-righteous people, “I belong to Christ.”  Paul’s remedy for all this infighting and fussing and back-biting was what, in another place, he called the foolishness of the cross, the ridiculousness of the Gospel story. He calls upon the Corinthians to remember the highly unlikely way God has chosen to save the world –  the foolishness of the cross.

In this season of Epiphany, we find ourselves looking at the world’s continued darkness:  its wars, disease, ignorance, prejudice, and violence. Looking closely, we see at the root of most of this humanity’s disconnectedness – our alienation from our true selves, from each other, and most of all from God. It is this lack of genuine, open, trusting, loving community and connection that either causes most of the world’s problems, or makes them worse.

In the midst of all this darkness and disconnection, the church is called to shine the light of God in Christ into the world. We are invited to be a part of God’s intention to pull the world’s disparate peoples into one community, one interconnected and interdependent family, one kingdom of heaven, one beloved people – the people of God.

This calling has never made much sense to the world. It looks to most people like a quixotic quest, a nonsense proposition. The world operates by a different set of rules. Perhaps it’s not exactly cut-throat, dog-eat-dog out there; but it certainly is “Look out for number one, and know who your friends are, and you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

When Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee and called to his side “Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother;” then a bit later “James, the son of Zebedee and his brother John,” we can be pretty certain that those who watched them walk away felt that those who went were fools.

On the face of it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?  Matthew makes it clear that these men were gainfully employed commercial fishermen – casting their nets, out in their boats.  And, in the case of James and John, we know immediately that they were turning their backs on commitments to family members, “they left their boat and their father.” For what?  To fish for people? What does that even mean?  Where’s the profit in that?

I was ordained forty years ago this June.  When I first went before the Candidacy Committee for permission to start seminary, one of the members asked me, “What are you giving up to enter the ministry?” I think I said something about a potential career as a teacher or something like that, but the most honest answer would have been “Not much.  I have an undergraduate degree in sociology.  If y’all don’t endorse me, there’s a lot of ‘Would you like fries with that.’ in my future.”  In the years since I have had my turn to sit on the other side of that table in Candidacy Committee meetings and I have been humbled to hear the stories of people who have walked away from lucrative careers and a well-settled life to answer Christ’s call “to fish for people.”

Now, God does not only “call” pastors and deacons and other church professionals.  God calls each and every one of us to be a part of the “priesthood of believers.”  And this call will not make sense to some people in our lives.  Even Jesus’ family came looking for him after he went out on his preaching, teaching, healing tour.  They wanted to take him home because they thought he was acting crazy and embarrassing the family.  Each of us must look at our lives and decide “What, or sometimes who, must I give up in order to follow Jesus, to walk the way of the cross, to fish for people?”

To be God’s Church in the world – not our church but God’s church – is to fish for people, to cast out nets of forgiveness and vulnerability and risk-taking, nets that are held together with the little crosses of suffering we bear for one another each and every day. We are called to cast these nets across the great chasms of division and distrust, fear and hatred that afflict and terrorize our world. We are to cast out nets that seek to bring all those who have lived in great darkness into the great light of God’s love.

Jesus call out to us, the same as he called out to Peter and Andrew, James and John. We too are called to a ministry of connection, a ministry of casting nets of love and forgiveness toward God’s people, a mission of shining the light of God’s love on everyone. Will we embrace this ministry? Are we prepared to let the light of Christ shine through us? Are we willing to reach out to the world with the foolishness of the cross? Are we ready to fish for people?

Amen and amen.

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

For January 15, 2017

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Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

His name was David.  His last name was something decidedly Scottish – McCarthy, McCormick, McGillicudy. He had just graduated from the Presbyterian seminary when he came to be the minister at the little Presbyterian Church just down the dirt road from my grandmother’s house. My family went to evening service there about once a month when we were visiting grandma.

He was nothing like the other ministers I knew.  They were all loud, brash, and long-winded; very long-winded.  He wore a black robe and a colored stole and in his sermons, he talked quietly for about fifteen minutes, mostly about things Jesus did that showed us that God loved us and everybody else in the world; and about ways we could show that love to others.   His house, the “manse,” was next door to the elementary school and we often saw him taking walks in the afternoon.  This was a novelty to us farm kids – every adult we knew worked so hard that the idea of taking a walk for exercise was somewhat funny to us. If we were at recess the teacher would often ask him to umpire our baseball games – which he did willingly, competently and without a lot of fuss.

He occasionally came to visit my family, sitting quietly at the kitchen table, drinking coffee, listening to my mother chatter on.  After about thirty minutes, he would take out a pocket New Testament, read a bit, say a prayer, and be gone.  When I applied to for admission to a Quaker College, it asked for a statement of faith and a minister’s recommendation. I went to him for advice.  Though I wasn’t a member of his church, he immediately set to work helping me. He asked me a few questions about my thoughts on Jesus.  His able questions pointed me in the right direction, helped me articulate what I actually believed.  He also wrote the minister’s reference for me.

It was only later, when I felt the call to go to seminary, that I realized that without him, I would not believe in Jesus, would not be a Christian, would not be in the church, would not be a minister. He was John the Baptist for me. He was the one who pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the Sin of the world!”  He was my Saint Andrew, bringing me to Jesus and saying, “He’s the One!”  He was the one who brought me to Christ!

Well, actually he was “a” one, not “the” one – because I have come to realize that there have been many “lights” in my life, many people who have pointed the way to Christ.  Mrs. Gammons, my Baptist Sunday School teacher.  My neighbor Mr. Reynolds, gentleman farmer, grandfather of my best friend, and occasional preacher, who influenced me more by how he lived his life than by anything he said in the pulpit.  My mother, sitting at the dining room table on Saturday night “getting up” her Sunday School lesson to teach the next morning.  Dr. Boyd, religion professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, who let me know that you do not have to check your brain at the door to be a Christian.  The list could go on and on, both for me and for you.  Let’s take a minute to remember and thank God for those who were John the Baptist for us, those who like Saint Andrew, pointed us to Jesus.

Let’s also remember that all of us are called to be witnesses. Very often we make this witnessing business more difficult than it really it is.  It’s mostly a matter of pointing at Jesus and saying, “He’s the One!” We do not need any special knowledge or special training to do that.

Above and beyond everything else, the church is called to know one thing, and to do one thing. We are called to know the love of God in Christ, and we are called to bring others into that circle of love. That is our purpose for being, that is the reason for our existence, that is the end to which we work, that is our mission, that is our ministry, that is our calling.

Like the Israelites in our lesson from Isaiah, we are beckoned by God to be a light to the nations. It is too light, (too small, too tiny) a thing that we should just talk about Christ and our faith among ourselves – we must share Christ with the world.

It is our calling to be like John, pointing to Christ as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. It is our calling to be like Saint Andrew, bringing our friends to meet Jesus. It is our calling to be like the people who introduced us to Jesus, it is our calling to tell others about the love of God in Christ. It is our calling to announce to the world, “We have found the Messiah.”


The Baptism of Our Lord (Year A)

For January 8, 2017

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Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Before there was Jeff Foxworthy there was Jerry Clower, Mississippi Baptist lay preacher and story-telling comedian.  He used to talk about the time one of his cousins was engaged to be married to a nice Methodist girl from the neighborhood.  There was only one thing wrong with this young woman – she had received infant baptism.  For the groom’s staunchly Baptist family this simply would not do, she must be properly baptized – as an adult believer – by immersion – in the river.  The young lady politely refused.  Brother Jerry was called in to mediate the situation.  Jerry sat down with the couple and the family patriarch.  He said to Uncle Jehu, “What if I took Mary Lou out into the river just waist deep?   That would be a compromise.”  Uncle Jehu said, “No, that won’t do.”  Jerry tried again, “What if I take her in up to her shoulders?”  Jehu shook his head no.  “What about up to her chin?”  Again, a vigorous no.  “What if I take her in so that just the top of her head is still sticking out of the water?  Uncle Jehu shook his head again and said, “Nope, it has to be all the way.”  Jerry leaned back in triumph and said, “That’s what Mary Lou’s been trying to tell you – it’s just that little bit on the top of the head that does the trick anyway!”

If it’s just that little bit on the top of the head that does the trick – what exactly is the “trick” that baptism does? In any discussion of baptism, the “trick” that most people think of is really the least important.  Many people believe that you must be baptized to get rid of original sin. Some people waste a lot of time arguing that there is no such thing as original sin, while others worry about babies who die going to hell if they haven’t been properly baptized, and all of it is really beside the point.

This misunderstanding of the sacrament turns it into a bit of holy hocus-pocus; a matter of human beings casting a magic spell that makes sin disappear and requires God to allow the newly baptized into heaven.  It is because of this idea that people sometimes ask, “Why was Jesus baptized, since he was a sinless, perfect being, he had no sins which needed forgiving?”

Well, first of all, baptism does not forgive our sins; God forgives our sins. Baptism is a message and a reminder to us that all our sins – past, present, and future – have been forgiven in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Martin Luther once said that whenever we feel oppressed by sin, death and the devil we should pat ourselves on the forehead and say “I have been baptized.”  His point being that because we have been baptized, these things no longer have power over us.  Baptism – the water, the words – is a constant reminder to us that we too are beloved children of God, in whom the Holy One is well-pleased.

I recently baptized a pre-school child.  That night his grandmother posted a picture of a very wet Spiderman action toy.  While taking his bath, her grandson had poured water over Spidie’s head, proclaiming as he did it so, “Now, Spiderman can be a friend of God too.” That’s a pretty good summing up – we are friends of God. Jesus’ baptism, and ours, is a public affirmation of God’s love.

For all of this the most important thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It brings us into a dynamic, organic, growing, pulsating relationship with God almighty.  As the Holy Spirit penetrates our lives we, like Jesus, become enmeshed with God. God is in us, we are in God, we are the Body of Christ, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  We are not far off and distant from God, simply seeking to keep God from sending us to Hell through magical religious rites and our accumulated list of good works. No! Baptism reminds us that we are part of the Divine Presence in the world. God has made God’s dwelling to be within us and God’s love goes out to the world through us.

In Acts 10:38, Peter says of Jesus’ baptism – “. . .God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him.” Yes, God was with Jesus, and God is with each and every one of us and is constantly working in, with and through us to “do good and heal” the world.

Writing in Christianity Today, Pastor Paul Bocca talked about how some people find a genuinely Christian life boring. Going to church, doing the liturgy, reading the lessons, hearing the sermons, doing the rituals, serving on committees, etc. etc. BORING! Pastor Bocca turns this boring accusation upside down – by admitting it, and then reminding us of another meaning for the word boring. The Christian faith is like the slow movement of a drill; slowly, laboriously digging beneath the surface of our lives. Within the continuing cycle of Sunday after Sunday, season after season, year after year, the Christian message and life in community bore ever deeper and deeper into our souls, until we begin to realize the truth of the words spoken over us in baptism.

Gradually and over time we come to believe and live out the fact that we are a beloved child of God.  We are marked with the cross of Christ forever.  We are filled with the Holy Spirit.  We are invited to follow Christ on the way of the cross. We are invited to love one another unconditionally.  We are forgiven.  We are called to forgive others.  We are ambassadors for Christ. If there is any trick to baptism, this is it.  These words, this water, trick us into acting like the beloved children of God we were created to be until one day we are no longer acting, we are just being who we really are. This boring life of faith is begun at baptism, and is not completed until the day we die. In the meantime, we are invited to begin each day with the sign of the cross as a reminder that we have been baptized, that we are, really, truly, forgiven and beloved friends of God.

Amen and amen.

Christmas Eve/Christmas Day and The First Sunday after Christmas (Double Episode)

For December 25, 2016 and January 1, 2017

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This week’s post includes a little “double duty.” You will find Dr. Chilton’s sermon for Christmas Eve/Christmas Day included below, whilst the Lectionary Lab Live podcast we have posted is a bonus broadcast of our comments from 3 years ago and covers the texts for the First Sunday after Christmas — in this case, January 1, 2017.

We hope it’s not all terribly confusing, but we’ll be back for Epiphany and a brand new broadcast for January 8. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Christmas Eve/Christmas Day                                             December 24/25, 2016

Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-20

“Life is a series of adjustments to reality.”  Who said that?  I did.  Over, and over, and over again throughout my children’s growing up years.  It is a truth I learned the hard way.  One year I was absolutely certain what  I wanted for Christmas.  Like little Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” I wanted a BB gun.  I had seen it advertised on TV, I had seen one in the store, several of my friends wanted the same gun.  It was magnificent, it was wonderful, it was going to change the world and my place in it.  I absolutely, positively had to have the “Daisy Lever-Matic BB Gun” because it was “the ‘Spittin’ Image’ of the Great Model ’94 Winchester.”

Christmas morning came, and I got up, and snuck into the living room, and found my present under the tree, and I unwrapped it, and it was not a Daisy Lever-Matic BB Gun.  Instead, I got very fine baseball equipment – a bat, a glove, and a cap.  It was a wonderful gift, a wonderful gift indeed. There was just one thing wrong with it – it wasn’t what I had asked for, it wasn’t what I wanted, it wasn’t what I was expecting.  I was equal parts happy to have a bat and ball, and sorely disappointed I had not received what I wanted.  “Life is a series of adjustments to reality.”

Middle school to high school, high school to college, college to seminary, life as a student to life as a pastor, bachelorhood to married life, double income, no kids (dinks) to parenthood, rural life to city life and back – over, and over, and over again, life has been a series of adjustments to reality. Every time I thought I knew what I was getting into, knew what was coming, knew what to expect – but I didn’t.  Reality was always and forever throwing me a curve ball.  Life has always been different than what I expected.

Throughout Jesus’ life, from his birth to his death, people were constantly having to adjust their expectations to his reality. Nobody expected the Messiah to be a poor boy born in a barn, raised by working-class parents in a tiny village.  After all, didn’t they say things like, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ and “Are you the Messiah, or should we look for another?” and “He can’t be the Messiah, he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners,” and “Isn’t this the son of the carpenter?  Who does he think he is?”  Yes, they were all expecting something or someone else, and many were unwilling to accept what they got. They were unwilling to adjust to reality.

With 20/20 hindsight and 2000 years of perspective it’s easy for us modern folk to look back on those biblical people with a bemused combination of superiority and pity. We think that we would have known so much better what God was doing.  We think we would have recognized Jesus as the true Messiah right away, the first time we met him, no doubt about it.

Well, probably not.  We human beings are just as full of ourselves now as we ever were.  And we still look to God to provide us with a superman savior, someone or something from outside ourselves who will rush in and fix everything in one fell swoop – changing the world and our place in it.

Or we attach the will of God to our particular political and economic vision of the future, and look for signs that it is happening so that we can believe that God and God’s kingdom are coming in our midst.

And year after year God persists in giving us what we need, not what we want.  God persists in responding to our desire for strength with weakness, our yearning for power with poverty, our aching for achievement with loss and lowliness.  While we still anticipate some metaphorical bigger-than-life Messiah, leading a mighty army while riding on a charging white steed, God once again sends us a pregnant teen-ager on a donkey, leading a parade consisting of one very confused middle-aged man, some dirty shepherds and a handful of refugee wizards. “Life is a series of adjustments to reality?’

And the only question is – are we ready to adjust our expectations to the reality of the Christ child who has come to be with us in this world?  Are we prepared to make room in our hearts and in our lives for the surprising and unexpected Good News that God has sent to us?

Like the angel said, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Amen and Amen.

The Fourth Sunday in Advent, Year A

For December 18, 2016

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Remember, you can use the “Search” feature to the left to look for previous commentary and sermons on any of the lectionary scriptures on any day of the three-year cycle!

A brand new book by Delmer Chilton, with John Fairless, The Gospel According to Aunt Mildred: Stories of Family and Faith  has already hit the shelf ( to purchase the paperback, click here)  Kindle version is also available!

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

I don’t know when the idea of “regifting” became common, but I do know when I first heard it – an episode of Seinfeld.  Elaine called her dentist a “regifter” because he gave Jerry a label-maker that Elaine had given him the year before.  I think some discreet regifting can be a good thing.  Often someone, out of the goodness of their heart, gives you something you can’t possibly use or appreciate with the full devotion it so richly deserves so – out of the fullness of your heart, you carefully find an opportunity to re-wrap it, re-label it, and re-gift it to someone who will surely use and appreciate it more than you ever will.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I thought of regifting and repurposing when I read our scripture lessons for today.  We have similar, but not identical, versions of a promise, a sign, of a young child being born.  Matthew has taken an old, old story from Isaiah and has repurposed it for a new situation. And for us, the really important thing to think about is not the fact that the stories concerning the promise of the gift of Immanuel, “God with us,” are so similar.  The important thing to consider is that the responses of the people who received the gift were so different. One person was given the gift and rejected it; the other accepted the gift of Emmanuel and it changed his life.

In Isaiah, we read the story of Ahaz, king of Judah.  This is a time when the people of Israel have split into two competing kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south.  The Northern Kingdom has made a political alliance with the king of Damascus and has become a political threat to Ahaz and the Southern Kingdom.  He is fretting about what he should do.  He has been in negotiations with the much larger kingdom of Assyria for protection.  Isaiah warns him that this is not a good idea.  He sternly advises Ahaz to keep the faith, to trust God’s promises. Ahaz remains noncommittal.  The Lord, speaking through the prophet, persists, “Ask for a sign.  I’ll give you a sign, something to assure you that I mean it.”  But Ahaz demurs.  His words, “I will not put the Lord to the test,” sound pious, but they are not. He has already decided to trust a powerful king with armies he can see rather than rely of the promise of a God he cannot see.

Isaiah looks around the throne room and points at a pregnant woman, “Look, that young woman, that “almah,” will soon have a child.  I tell you – before that child is weaned this crisis will have passed. It will all be over without any help from Assyria. Trust me and trust God.  We have not been abandoned by the Holy One. Be patient, God will provide.”  But Ahaz rejects the promise, the sign, the gift of Immanuel, God with us.

Fast forward 800 years or so.  We all know the story.  Mary is supposed to be come Joseph’s wife.  She too is a young woman, an “almah.”  They are betrothed, but not yet married.  Such a betrothal was more than our modern concept of being “engaged,” the only way to end a betrothal was by divorce. Mary turns up pregnant. I’m sure Mary tried to explain about her visit from the angel Gabriel, but Joseph wasn’t buying it – and who would.  He was, as the Bible says, a “righteous man,” so he was trying to find a way to extricate both him and Mary from the situation with as little shame and embarrassment as possible.  And then he had a dream.

In his dream, an angel of the Lord comes to him and tells him to not be afraid.  I prefer the more declarative and directive language of the King James Version, “Fear not to take Mary as your wife.”

Then the angel cites the story from Isaiah. The promise of a child named Emmanuel “God with us,” is regifted, repackaged, repurposed –  for a new time, a new place, a new people.

And Joseph believes the promise of the angel – not only in his head, but also in his heart – as is shown by his actions.  When he awoke, “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded; he took her as his wife.” And the rest, as they say, is history. Joseph raise Jesus as his own son.

Two men received the promise of Immanuel, God with us.  One rejected it, the other received it. Two men were invited to alter the direction of their lives.  One didn’t, the other did. Two men had an opportunity to trust God with the future.  One turned away to self and the worldly powers, the other turned to God with hope and faith. One man changed nothing, the other helped God change the world.

This Christmas, we too are presented with the promise, the sign, the gift, that is Immanuel, “God with us.” Are we like Ahaz, or are we like Joseph? How will we respond?

Amen and amen.

The Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

For December 11, 2016

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Remember, you can use the “Search” feature to the left to look for previous commentary and sermons on any of the lectionary scriptures on any day of the three-year cycle!

A brand new book by Delmer Chilton, with John Fairless, The Gospel According to Aunt Mildred: Stories of Family and Faith  has already hit the shelf ( to purchase the paperback, click here)  Kindle version is also available!

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

When I was a student in a United Methodist seminary a story went the rounds about a video tape that everyone had heard about but no one had actually seen – instead of an urban legend it was an ecclesiastical one I suppose. The story was about the summer Lay Pastor’s School. Many small United Methodist churches are served by second career ministers, many of whom are bi-vocational. Instead of going to seminary, they commit to several years of attending Pastor’s School, while also pastoring a church and many times holding down a secular job. I have known many lay pastors over the years and most of them are some of the best parish ministers I know. A few others – not so much.

The story is about a man who new to the Methodist Church, who had been raised in a Pentecostal tradition and brought much of that ethos and sensibility with him to Pastor’s School. The tape was of his first sermon in preaching class. He said, “I got here today to preach and this preaching teaching fellow asked me ‘Where is your manuscript?’ and I says, I says, ‘I ain’t got no manuscript.’ So he says, ‘Well, where is your outline?’ And I says, I says, ‘I ain’t got no outline.’ And he says, ‘Well have you got your sermon memorized?’ And I said, “How could I memorize it if God ain’t told me it yet?’

He looked at me kind of dumb-founded so I says, ‘Look here, I just flip open the Bible and put down my finger and then God gives me utterance on whatever verse my finger lands on.’ Now this here preaching teaching fellow stared at me a minute, then he says, ‘Well, what do you do if you run out of things to say?’ And I says ‘Well now, I just reach back and grab me a handful of Isaiah and go on!’”

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus reaches back and grabs a handful of Isaiah in order to answer John’s question about his identity. John was in jail and in doubt. Some time back John had pointed to Jesus as THE ONE, the Messiah, the Savior of the world – but now, well, maybe not so much.

Maybe John, like so many others, had been expecting something else. Maybe John, like so many others, thought the Messiah should be going up side some Roman heads; ought to be kicking some heathen backside; cleaning the infidels and backsliders out of Israel. Maybe that was what John was talking about when he was talking about the Kingdom of God! So, when he heard about Jesus’ teaching and preaching tour and when what he was hearing didn’t match up with what he expected – he asked the question, “Are you the Messiah?”

And Jesus reaches back and grabs a handful of Isaiah. He uses the prophet to show his listener, that he is indeed THE ONE! “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11:4-6)

I do not know if that answer satisfied John the Baptist but I do know that it often fails to satisfy us, the church. For if we believe that these words summarize what it means for Jesus to be the Christ, would this not be what it means for us to be Christ-ians – little Christs to one another and the world? Much too often we center our thoughts on what Christ has done and con do for us, and think too little about what Christ has called us to do for others.

Advent invites us to prepare our hearts and our lives to receive the Christ. Advent invites us to also be messengers of the Good News that the Holy One is coming. Advent invites us to prepare the way so that the world will be ready to receive the Christ into their lives. Advent invites us to reach back and grab ourselves a handful of Isaiah – not so much with our lips but with our lives. Advent invites us to show the whole world who Christ is by loving them – really, really, loving them – not in words only but in deeds. Advent invites us to be about the holy work of helping the blind to receive their sight, the lame to walk, the lepers to be cleansed, the deaf to hear, yes, even the dead to rise and the poor to hear the Good News, the very, very Good news that God is love and God is near.

Amen and amen.

The Second Sunday in Advent, Year A

For December 4, 2016

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Remember, you can use the “Search” feature to the left to look for previous commentary and sermons on any of the lectionary scriptures on any day of the three-year cycle!

The Lectionary Lab Commentary for Year A is available on by clicking here.

And a brand new book by Delmer Chilton, with John Fairless, The Gospel According to Aunt Mildred: Stories of Family and Faith  has already hit the shelf ( to purchase the paperback, click here) and by December 8 (Kindle version.)

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

One day in Nashville I went to the YMCA to pick up my son. As I approached the entrance, a very angry mother barged out the door followed by a girl of about four and a boy about seven. The boy was saying, “I told you I was sorry.” Suddenly his mother stopped, and turned, and bent down, and looked him in the eye and said, hissing between her teeth, “Sorry doesn’t get it anymore. I want you to stop doing it!”

Our Gospel lesson for today centers on John the Baptist’s call to repentance. Repentance begins in the recognition of personal involvement in and responsibility for the evil which surrounds us. John’s call to repentance is a call for us to look at ourselves and to see in ourselves and our attitudes and our actions the things which lead to evil in the world. John’s call to repentance is a call to look at our way of being in the world and in relationship to one another and to repent of those things which cause harm to ourselves and others. John’s call is a call to confession and repentance. All too often, we make it as far as confession, and then stop. Confession is the admission that there are indeed things we do in life that are wrong. We confess that, and go no further.

True repentance combines confession,” I’m sorry,” with what the old prayer books referred to as amendment of life. The Greek word translated here repentance is not really a religious or theological word. It is metanoia, which is an ordinary, everyday word in Greek. It simply means to turn around and go the other way. To stop going one direction and to start going in the opposite direction. It means to realize you’re going the wrong way and to start going the right way. The Gospel, the Good News, is rooted in this simple act of repentance – a) being sorry you’re going the wrong way, and b) turning around and going in the right direction.

None of us goes the wrong way on purpose. Nobody in Chicago would go out and get on the interstate highway and intentionally head east with the goal of going to San Francisco; that would be silly. And if, when you realize you’re going toward New York when you want to go to the Bay area, you just shrug and say “Oh well, I’m only human,” and then you cry and gnash your teeth about the fact that you are getting farther and farther from your goal, while still purposely going the wrong way, well, that would simply be ludicrous.

Just so – few of us choose to do bad things just because they’re bad things. We follow the paths we take in life because they seem to us the right, the best, the moral way to go. And if we then realize that we’re in the wrong; to confess without amendment of life, without changing our ways, would be as inane as continuing on to New York, all the while knowing we’re going the wrong way.

The Gospel comes to turn us around, to show us the way, to warn us of the danger in the path we are taking, and to provide for us a route to safety. The Gospel is that Jesus came into the world to open for us the way to God. To unblock the path and to call us to follow Jesus on the way. For us to turn from the way we have been going, we must come to see that we are being called to turn from danger to security, from evil to good, from wrong to right, from our way to God’s way. 

One of my very earliest memories is of a bright summer day on the farm. I was playing in the backyard, under the apple trees. My Daddy was mowing hay in a field next to the house. Mama called to me from the back-porch. She sent me into the field with a quart jar full of ice water for Daddy. As I started out across the field, Daddy stopped the tractor and got off and started yelling at me. “STOP! STOP! GO BACK! GO AROUND! STOP!”

Now, even as a four-year-old, I knew that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so Daddy’s instructions made no sense to me. But I stood in the field thought about it a minute. Though I could see no reason to stop and go back and go around, it was my Daddy telling me this, so I backed up and followed his instructions. When I got to the tractor, I discovered that he had run over a yellow jacket’s nest in the ground and had stirred them up. The angry swarm was directly in the path I was following.

So it is with us. We may not be able to see the destruction which lies upon the path we have chosen, but we have a loving God and a caring Savior who are calling us to turn from the path of self-destruction. John’s call to repent is a call to look to our lives and change direction, so that when Christ comes, we will be ready.

Amen and Amen