Could it be that God doesn’t take us away from life’s horrific experiences, but promises us that through them all we will never be alone? What we discover in the midst of our suffering is that God is there, not as the cause of the suffering, but suffering with us, standing alongside.
In looking at the Creation poem of Genesis 1, perhaps the poet is saying, "In the midst of creation there is so much to do, accomplish, build, create… so much to administrate, many emails to respond to, bills to pay, calls to return, so much to create, manage, do… BE CAREFUL that in the midst of all that you don’t become so consumed that you find yourself enslaved again, back in another sort of Egypt, making bricks, bricks, bricks…"
In the final sermon of the series of women in the Bible, Russ looks at Mary of Magdala. A lot of stories are told about Mary of Magdala, but ultimately she gets to tell her own story – the truth about who she really is and what she stands for. Ultimately that is our privilege and responsibility as well.
Even though at in one letter Paul says that women should remain silent in church, in other places he lifts up and recognizes several women who serve the church in wonderful ways. As far as we know, these church ladies did no heroic deeds or had miraculous experiences. They just served God the way they knew how. Like them, most of us live pretty ordinary lives, but yet, through us, God can do extraordinary things.
Talking about another fierce woman of the bible, Russ looks at the Canaanite woman who, out of desperation, begs Jesus to heal her daughter who is tormented by a demon. When rebuffed (and insulted) this woman from the wrong side of the tracks points out to Jesus that the wideness of God's mercy is bigger than even he can understand, and that God offers more than crumbs, but a place at the table.
Our guest preacher, Rev. Sara Steenhouse, looked at the story of Ruth who resolved to stay with her mother-in-law Naomi, and they found a way, when it seemed no way was to be found. Through Ruth's story we are invited to consider who we are responsible for, noticing that regular, everyday people can find courage to lift one another up, finding a way forward, even when it seems no way is to be found.
The story of Rahab is an important piece in the history of Israel taking over the city of Jericho as they moved into the Promised Land. The part of the story that we tend to focus on, however, is the idea that she was a prostitute and how beautiful she was. Most interesting thing about Rahab has nothing to do with looks or profession.
All too often our culture views women as objects of our affection rather than complex people with feelings, wants, and needs of their own.
What we see about Rahab is that her life is not easily defined. She was complex. She was not just a prostitute. She was not just a hero. She was not just a body. She was smart, cunning, and faithful. Her story is part of an epic narrative about how to be human to one another.
Note: at one point in the sermon, portions of a video clip is shown. The video, in its entirety, can be viewed here.
In this first sermon in the series, Russ looks at the story of Eve and how she grew through her curiosity and heartbreak. In so doing, she teaches us that it is ok to want to know more, be more, and to keep finding ways to push the envelope.
One of our favorite guest preachers, Rev. Sandhya Jha, preaches on the story of Hagar and weaves it in with the story of Khadijah, the prophet Muhammad's first wife. She invites us to stand with our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, living in true community.
Like the churches in Galatia, there seem to be a great deal of division among us in the world today. But, ultimately, we belong to one another; depend and count on one another. If we are going to see this through, we need to do so together. In many ways, that's what Paul was telling the Galatians: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
In this Pentecost sermon, Russ points out that on that day, each heard the Good News in their own language. There was not one way that the message was received. The message was clear: ALL people are loved by God. And if the church is to be vital and thrive: we need to reclaim that Spirit of reaching out to all!
All are invited to receive the grace of God.
All means all, or it means nothing. Blacks and whites; gays and lesbians; Native Americans and immigrants; liberals and fundamentalists and even aging bald white guys – ALL are invited to the table, or no one is.
As the church, our job is to open our doors as wide as God's heart and proclaim that there is room in the family of God for everyone. But it goes beyond making sure people are welcomed, they need to know they are wanted; and they are not just accepted, they are loved. For some people, when they find a place like that, it’s like finding water in the desert.
We often look at the early church in Acts as the blueprint for how church should be. But if we look closely, we see some conflict and tension. In fact, it looks more like a mirror of problems that we are all-too-familiar with in churches today.
Each day we are given the opportunity to bear witness to the power and love of God. We are given the opportunity to link arms and bear witness to the world that in this place we can pull together and invest in one another’s lives and lives yet unseen; that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves, but helping others win.
Here is the link to the video to the is shown during the sermon.
Powerful things happen when the church stops being afraid, hiding behind locked doors, and surrenders its desire to convert people or convince them to join. But it is when the church acts boldly, gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting noting in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display
We often look at Easter as big finish, the crescendo, the grand finale! “He’s done it! He’s risen from the dead!” But the truth is, Easter wasn’t the end of the story, it was just the beginning; just the opening chapter to an incredible narrative of hope and new life.
In this sermon, Russ looks at how Easter might connect with the woman sitting among us whose cancer has returned after years of remission, the 17 year old anxiously trying to decide what to do with his life, the man who at age 55 just lost his job, the woman who goes every Sunday afternoon to place flowers on her husband’s grave. In other words, all of us.
In this Easter sermon, Russ looks at how many of us come to hear not of how the resurrection happened, and more interested in what it means for us here, now. We come to church on Easter with hopes, longing of experiencing resurrection today! We all long for resurrection in our lives in some way, shape or form.
Much of modern Christianity has been built upon certainty and head knowledge, assume the more certain you are, the more strong your faith is. This completely misses the point.
Faith was never meant to be a set of beliefs. Faith, the way that Jesus speaks about it, is about what you are willing to commit to. It’s not about how certain you are, its whether you are willing to act in the face of your uncertainty.
“Doubt is the mechanism by which faith evolves.” “It keeps our faith alive, but certainty freezes it.” In other words, doubt stirs us. It shapes us. It forms us. It teaches us. Without doubt, our faith can become stagnant, dead, stalled. Doubt keeps our faith awake.
Author and activist Chris Heuertz says that doubt is not something to be feared or eliminated, but embraced. That both for individuals and communities of faith, “doubt is a gift.” In this sermon, Russ encourages us to continue to embrace the gift of doubt in this community of faith, humbly carry one another in doubt, and trust that God is in the middle of all the mystery, wonder and even doubt.
In this second sermon on his series on Doubt, Russ looks at our fear of doubt. Perhaps rather than fearing those seasons of struggle -- when it feels like the rug gets pulled out from under us and nothing seems to make sense -- we lean into them, trusting that on the other side will be growth and transformation.
In this first sermon in the Lenten series on doubt, Russ looks at the story of Nicodemus, who comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness, and invites us, as people of faith, find the courage to wrestle with our doubts and use them to grow closer to God.