Sunday, January 29, 2017

Jacob's Ladder Today

• Jacob’s Ladder Today
with Genesis 28:10-22  @FirstUMCBville   @kerrfunk

• My sermons for the next few months will come from my weekly scripture readings, divided daily by genre (Gospel, Torah, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy, Epistles)
Last week I spoke on Judges (History), and asked for your prayers on Genesis 24-32 (Torah) for this week. (Next week’s text comes from Matthew 23-28)
• Today’s section contains much of the story of Jacob (son of Isaac, son of Abraham). We’re maybe around 1600 BC. South of Jerusalem something like 75 miles.
 Grandfather Abraham had traveled to Hebron (20 mi south of Jerusalem) from Haran (500 miles north) a hundred years before, in response to God’s promise (Genesis 12) of land, people, blessing, which had been confirmed in a covenant ritual in Genesis 15.
God affirmed the covenant with Abraham’s son Isaac (Gen 26, land people blessing), and today we read of God affirming covenant with Isaac’s son Jacob.
• But first, birth of twins Esau and Jacob (chap 25). And there will be perpetual friction between the two. Then later, as young adults, Jacob buys Esau’s birthright (inheritance) and steals the paternal blessing as well. Esau is maaad, and Jacob runs away.
• He gets about as far as halfway to Buckhannon, to Bethel (where Abraham had received the covenant in Gen 12) and God speaks to him in a dream. Jacob doesn’t speak of it as a dream, but as a visit.
God initiates contact, renews covenant. As Jacob is leaving the land God told Abraham to go to, God tells Jacob I will go with you, I will protect you, I will bring you back, I will not leave you.
And once again, land, people, blessing.
Jacob’s response: worship. Sanctify and memorialize. Claim the promise. Offer tithe. (one of the biblical examples of tithing)
• IMAGINE THAT PROMISE as Jacob is 500 miles away (think NYC) having run away from his brother.
Imagine that promise when he returns 20 years later (and again encounters God, this time wrestling a stranger right before crossing the Jordan).
Imagine that promise as Jacob now Israel becomes the father of a nation and then God protects the people by sending them to Egypt.
Imagine in Egyptian exile.
As people return to Canaan 400 years later.
Imagine in Babylonian exile 400 years after that.
The promise given to Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob was a lifeline, a beacon of hope, a definition of “who we are.”
• What about today? Can we claim that promise? Yes we can! Remember Gen 28:15 I am with you… Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23 and then later Matthew 28:20 I will be with you always).
And consider John 1:49-51 Philip and Nathanael and Jesus.
You will see heaven open, and angels ascending and descending (sounds like Jacob’s Ladder!) and John 14:6 I am the way the truth and the life. Jesus is the ladder.
• Hope. Akin to Emma Lazarus’s poem about the lady in the harbor.
(by the way, Emma means whole or universal, and Lazarus means God is my help) The New Colossus. This is who we are, we are hope embodied.
We will be with you, will protect you, will not leave you.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A might woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
• Keep on living as though promise is real and true, God with us. Respond with worship, claim of promise, tithe.
• Christians called to pray and work
• Hymn 418 Jacob’s Ladder

Genesis 28:10-22  (CEB)
10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and set out for Haran. 11 He reached a certain place and spent the night there. When the sun had set, he took one of the stones at that place and put it near his head. Then he lay down there. 12 He dreamed and saw a raised staircase, its foundation on earth and its top touching the sky, and God’s messengers were ascending and descending on it. 13 Suddenly the Lord was standing on it and saying, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.  I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will become like the dust of the earth; you will spread out to the west, east, north, and south. Every family of earth will be blessed because of you and your descendants. 15 I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done everything that I have promised you.
16 When Jacob woke from his sleep, he thought to himself, The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it. 17 He was terrified and thought, This sacred place is awesome. It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven. 18 After Jacob got up early in the morning, he took the stone that he had put near his head, set it up as a sacred pillar, and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He named that sacred place Bethel (which means “God’s house) though Luz was the city’s original name. 20 Jacob made a solemn promise: “If God is with me and protects me on this trip I’m taking, and gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear, 21 and I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone that I’ve set up as a sacred pillar will be God’s house, and of everything you give me I will give a tenth back to you.” X

“Hope” is the thing with feathers
By Emily Dickenson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,

It asked a crumb - of me.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What's A Prophet to Do?

What’s A Prophet to Do?
from Judges 6:1-32   @FirstUMCBville   @kerrfunk

• For the next few months I’ll be preaching from my daily Bible readings (I am following a plan to read the Bible in 6 months), and rotating messages among these genres: Gospel, Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy, Epistles.
• Today’s passage is from the books of History, from Judges 1-6. I chose 6:1-32, in three parts. (Aside: There is only one passage from Judges in the 3-yr lectionary cycle, and this isn’t it.)
The book of Judges describes the period of time around 1200 BC. After Moses, before the monarchy.
Historicity is not what it’s about as much as people of God reflecting on story of God and people. This is my story this is my song
For example we have the story of John Henry, a possibly historical figure in WV 145 years ago, Big Bend Tunnel on Greenbrier River. The story of John Henry tells an ideal, a truth. It’s a story of encouragement and strength. This is who we are.
George Washington and the cherry tree: not necessarily an actual event in history, but it tells an ideal, encouraging, a truth. This is who we are. We are the kind of people who would bear the punishment for chopping down a tree rather than lying to save our skin. This is who we are.
The basic pattern of the book of Judges: The people worshiped other gods. Enemies take over. The people cry out. God raises up a leader (a judge). The people proclaim faithfulness to God. Repeat. Repeat again.  Gideon is the fifth judge raised up after the Israelites enter the Promised Land. The Bible tells us of twelve judges before Saul is crowned king of Israel.
• Our reading begins with the question Does God cause suffering? Or does God allow suffering for punishment?
Again, this is my story this is my song. Our people were oppressed, therefore it must have been divine punishment for turning against God. The story went like this: the people turn from God, worship other gods. Enemies take over. The people cry out…
One take-home point from v. 1-10, The people cry out, and God responds, even though God has been rejected. That’s who God is.
• Part 2 (Judges 6:11-24) expands on who God is. God is with us, God gives strength, God saves.
Note Gideon’s response: God says You’ll win, and Gideon worships God.
Based on promise, even, not action. Gideon worships extravagantly, prepares an offering of a young goat and 20# of flour.
God responds unquestionably, immediately consuming it entirely with holy fire.
And again Gideon responds extravagantly with worship, building an altar Jehovah-Shalom, the Lord makes peace.
• Part 3 (Judges 6:25-32) God calls Gideon to action. Tear down your father’s altars.
It’s a public statement, a risky act, and Gideon says damn the torpedoes.
Stand courageously.
 The people come to Joash, Gideon’s father, and they demand Gideon’s life for his crime, but father stands behind son.
What altars do we have to tear down?
Singer-songwriter Ross King writes in his song Clear the Stage, “anything I want with all my heart is an idol…”
Sports comes to mind, and money/image.
Also the tyranny of status quo: the way we do things.
• Tear down altars. Risky public statement of priority, value. Stand courageously.
That’s behind demonstrations yesterday: women’s rights are human rights. We value women. We stand for treatment of poor with dignity and foreigners with respect. We value universal health care and we stand against discrimination and we will be heard.
Replace the altars with love one another, give of self for one another,
(I’d rather love too much than too little) and keep worship of God Jehovah-Shalom central.

• Hymn 347 Spirit Song

Judges 6:1-10          
6 The Israelites did things that the Lord saw as evil, and the Lord handed them over to the Midianites for seven years. 2 The power of the Midianites prevailed over Israel, and because of the Midianites, the Israelites used crevices and caves in the mountains as hidden strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted seeds, the Midianites, Amalekites, and other easterners would invade. 4 They would set up camp against the Israelites and destroy the land’s crops as far as Gaza, leaving nothing to keep Israel alive, not even sheep, oxen, or donkeys. They would invade with their herds and tents, coming like a swarm of locusts, so that no one could count them or their camels. They came into the land to destroy it. 6 So Israel became very weak on account of Midian, and the Israelites cried out to the Lord.
7 This time when the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, 8 the Lord sent them a prophet, who said to them, “The Lord, Israel’s God, proclaims: I myself brought you up from Egypt, and I led you out of the house of slavery. 9 I delivered you from the power of the Egyptians and from the power of all your oppressors. I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I told you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you must not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.’ But you have not obeyed me.”
Judges 6:11-24  11 Then the Lord’s messenger came and sat under the oak at Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. His son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites. 12 The Lord’s messenger appeared to him and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior!”
13 But Gideon replied to him, “With all due respect, my Lord, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his amazing works that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Didn’t the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and allowed Midian to overpower us.”
14 Then the Lord turned to him and said, “You have strength, so go and rescue Israel from the power of Midian. Am I not personally sending you?”
15 But again Gideon said to him, “With all due respect, my Lord, how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I’m the youngest in my household.”
16 The Lord replied, “Because I’m with you, you’ll defeat the Midianites, each and every one of them.”
17 Then Gideon said to him, “If I’ve gained your approval, please show me a sign that it’s really you speaking with me. 18 Don’t leave here until I return, bring out my offering, and set it in front of you.”
The Lord replied, “I’ll stay until you return.”
19 So Gideon went and prepared a young goat and used about twenty pounds of flour for unleavened bread. He put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot and brought them out to him under the oak and presented them. 20 Then God’s messenger said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread and set them on this rock, then pour out the broth.” And he did so. 21 The Lord’s messenger reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire came up from the rock and devoured the meat and the unleavened bread; and the Lord’s messenger vanished before his eyes. 22 Then Gideon realized that it had been the Lord’s messenger. Gideon exclaimed, “Oh no, Lord God! I have seen the Lord’s messenger face-to-face!”
23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Don’t be afraid! You won’t die.”
24 So Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it “Jehovah-Shalom, the Lord makes peace.” It still stands today in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Judges 6:25-32   25 That night the Lord said to him, “Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old. Break down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah that is beside it. 26 Build an altar to the Lord your God in the proper way on top of this high ground. Then take the second bull and offer it as an entirely burned offering with the wood of the Asherah that you cut down.” 27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did just as the Lord had told him. But because he was too afraid of his household and the townspeople to do it during the day, he did it at night.
28 When the townspeople got up early in the morning, there was the altar to Baal broken down, with the asherah image that had been beside it cut down, and the second bull offered on the newly built altar! 29 They asked each other, “Who did this?” They searched and investigated, and finally they concluded, “Gideon, Joash’s son, did this!” 30 The townspeople said to Joash, “Bring out your son for execution because he tore down the altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah that was beside it.”

31 But Joash replied to all who were lined up against him, “Will you make Baal’s complaint for him? Will you come to his rescue? Anyone who argues for him will be killed before morning. If he is a god, let him argue for himself, because it was his altar that was torn down.” 32 So on that day Gideon became known as Jerubbaal, meaning, “Let Baal argue with him,” because he tore down his altar. X

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Can I Get a Witness?

• 2nd Sunday After Epiphany
with John 1:29-42  and  1 Corinthians 1:1-9   @FirstUMCBville   @kerrfunk

• Yesterday my family and I tried our hands at Lost Escape Room Huntington… After the experience, the staff took our pictures why? So others know we had a good time.
• I meet with pastors at Panera. Got an email asking me how the experience was. Would you recommend? I think a better question would be Will you recommend?
• We tell about what we like, what we know.
And it works both ways: we tell about what we don’t like!
And unfortunately too often we spread news about what we don’t know!
We testify about what we know best
You know I run, I read, I motorcycle, I participate in AA. I am a good witness for these, an evangelist (a good news teller).
What makes you trust somebody’s testimony?
You trust testimony based on
[relationship + enthusiasm + interest]
• IMAGINE you had a sibling telling you
We have found the Messiah.
How “big” is that news?
Bigger than “I went to the Lost Escape Room…”
Imagine telling your sibling the same.
How comfortable are you telling that news?
• The Messiah, word sibling to Moses,
savior, liberator, anointed.
Anticipated ruler, with flavor divine.
Usherer of good era, freedom and peace.
What would such a person look like today?
• Jesus: What are you looking for?
brothers: Where are you staying (we want to know more about you)
Jesus: come and see (an invitation and a promise)
Personal interaction is greatest inroad to God, to church.
Psalm 40: I will tell.
1 Cor 1: we are called to be witnesses.
Why are you Christian? Why are you follower of Christ?
Why am I?
God knows best who I am,
closeness with God helps me know me better.
See brokenness in world, and God addresses it
like no other. Makes whole.
Why am I United Methodist? Combination of beliefs/teachings and practices. Free grace of God AND response/responsibility of individual. Gospel/good news is coming and is now, therefore socially active.
I believe that what I have is worth having.
• Hymn 2153 I’m Gonna Live So God Can Use Me

John 1:29-42 (CEB)
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is really greater than me because he existed before me.’ 31 Even I didn’t recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he might be made known to Israel.” 32 John testified, “I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove, and it rested on him. 33 Even I didn’t recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit coming down and resting is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and testified that this one is God’s Son.”
35 The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus.
38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “What are you looking for?”
They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?”
39 He replied, “Come and see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
40 One of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Christ). 42 He led him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). X

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (the VOICE)
1 Paul, called out by God’s will to be an witness for Jesus the Anointed, along with our brother Sosthenes, 2 to God’s church gathering in the city of Corinth. As people who are united with Jesus the Christ, you have been set apart for service. You are all called into community to live as saints with all who invoke the name of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One.
3 I pray that God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ will shower you with grace and peace.

4 I am continuously thanking my God for you when I think about the grace God has offered you in Jesus the Anointed. 5 In this grace, God is enriching every aspect of your lives by gifting you with the right words to say and everything you need to know. 6 In this way, your life story confirms the life story of the Christ, 7 so you are not ill-equipped or slighted on any necessary gifts as you patiently anticipate the day when our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, is revealed. 8 Until that final day, He will preserve you; and on that day, He will consider you faultless. 9 Count on this: God is faithful and in His faithfulness called you out into an intimate relationship with His Son, our Lord Jesus the Christ. X

Sunday, January 8, 2017


1st Sunday After Epiphany
Baptism of the Lord Sunday
with Matthew 3:13-17 and Acts 10:34-43   @FirstUMCBville   @kerrfunk

I’d like to tell you about a few cartoons.
B.C. by Johnny Hart. 

Caveman prays What’s Christmas all about? Surprised by a loud noise outside and we see a cross through the entryway. Last panel we see it’s the crossed ribbon on a gift, and there’s a voice from above: “It’s about giving, my son.” About giving My Son. My son, it’s about giving.
We used our little red bucket several times last year to fund
Shop With a Cop.
Over the years folks always approach me,
Can you give this to someone in need?
A Bad Day in Cat Church. Two cats trying in vain to immerse a third cat in the baptismal pool.

Though cats may think they’re God, perhaps one reason God did not become incarnate as a cat was for the baptism.
The part we remember about Jesus’ baptism? The dove, the voice.
The other part? John tried to prevent Jesus, but as in birth, at baptism Jesus chose to begin humbly. Whoever can humble can follow, start here, and in following Jesus there is forgiveness.
What do you expect in 2017? I expect flowers.
Why? I’m planting flowers.

Unusually high celebrity deaths in 2016.
Scratch the unusually high and celebrity:
deaths in 2017, or first year without loved one.
Plant flowers. Live alive now.
Global climate change (2016 marked third consecutive record-breaking year of avg global temp)
again, if you are planting a sapling and someone says Messiah is coming, finish planting…(Rabbi Jochanen ben Zakkai, generation before Jesus).
God is interested in how we respond.
As in reading from Acts 10:34-43:
do good for all, stand against oppression,
spread message of forgiveness
• Did you notice in that Acts reading we get a recap of the whole story?
We celebrated Jesus’ birth two weeks ago (or maybe two days ago)
and now he’s grown and he’s baptized and he teaches and he does and he dies and is resurrected and forgiveness of sins happens through him…
And we’re called upon to spread the message of Jesus, to live his message
so last week we rededicate ourselves
and this week we challenge ourselves:
How will we plant flowers for 2017? 
How will we live the kingdom for 2017?
Who will we invite into fellowship? 
To whom will we minister?
 And what will get in our way?

• Hymn 77 How Great Thou Art

Matthew 3:13-17 (NRSV) 
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 
16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Acts 10:34-43 (the VOICE)  
34 Peter said: it is clear to me now that God plays no favorites, 35 that God accepts every person whatever his or her culture or ethnic background, that God welcomes all who revere Him and do right. 36 You already know that God sent a message to the people of Israel; it was a message of peace, peace through Jesus the Anointed—who is King of all people. 37 You know this message spread through Judea, beginning in Galilee where John called people to be ritually cleansed through baptism. 38 You know God identified Jesus as the uniquely chosen One by pouring out the Holy Spirit on Him, by empowering Him.
You know Jesus went through the land doing good for all and healing all who were suffering under the oppression of the evil one, for God was with Him. 
39 My friends and I stand as witnesses to all Jesus did in the region of Judea and the city of Jerusalem. The people of our capital city killed Him by hanging Him on a tree, 40 but God raised Him up on the third day and made it possible for us to see Him. 41 Not everyone was granted this privilege, only those of us whom God chose as witnesses. We actually ate and drank with Him after His resurrection. 
42 He told us to spread His message to everyone and to tell them that He is the One whom God has chosen to be Judge, to make a just assessment of all people—both living and dead. 43 All the prophets tell us about Him and assert that every person who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through His name. X