Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Trinity: God as Father

Sermon for June 16, 2019 

Read Romans 5:1-5  and John 16:12-15

It seems appropriate on this Father's day that we conclude talking about the trinity with God the Father. God the Creator.  Usually listed first when we name the trinity, God the father is an image that springs easily to mind.  In fact, in a poll of Presbyterians taken a few years ago revealed that 94 percent of those serve A "Our Father.”

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Trinity: God as Christ

Sermon for June 2, 2019 

Read Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:44-53

We're going to be talking about the Trinity over the next few weeks. We confess that we worship the Triune God, and yet we rarely talk about what that means. But it’s a concept that allows us to understand the inherent relational nature of our God and why that’s important. So each week for the next three week's we're going to talk about a different person of the Trinity.

And I want to begin by talking a bit about the Trinity as a whole. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that Jesus Christ our Savior and the Holy Spirit our Sanctifier are truly one with God who made the heavens and the earth and who called Israel to be a light to all nations. God is not a solitary and self-enclosed being. Which is what we often imagine God to be. Indeed, being a solitary self-made being is what  we often aspire to be.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A Helper in Love

Sermon for May 26, 2019 

Read Psalm 67 and John 14:23-29

If I were to ask you why you were here this morning, what would you say?

Would you talk about the importance of community in a church? Or maybe you would mention something about loving the music. You could talk about how much you miss church when you aren’t here, or perhaps you would talk about refilling your soul. Or you might even mention not wanting to miss the riveting sermons.

Whichever those answers speaks to you, they all have one thing in common: we are the center of those answers. We usually come because of how it makes us feel, or what we get out of it. But as Reformed Christians we believe that the heart of worship is all about God.

Our own book of Order says "We are gathered in worship to glorify the God who is present and active among us – particularly through the gifts of Word and Sacrament." Because the focus of worship isn’t us, it’s God.

Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher in the 19th century, spoke about worship using the analogy of a drama. "When we come to worship God, we generally feel as though the preacher and other ministers are the performers and God is the subject of the performance and we as the congregation are merely the audience…but this is a terrible misunderstanding of worship." He is describing a consumer-oriented approach, focused more on what we receive than what we give.

It’s like the old joke. While driving back home from church one Sunday morning, the mother said, "The choir was awful this morning." The father commented, "The sermon was too long."

There was silence for a bit then their seven year old daughter piped up from the back seat, "You have to admit it was a pretty good show for a dollar."

When we focus on the idea that the congregation is the audience in worship, we have the same expectations that any audience might have for a show. Did I like the music? Did I feel like the scriptures were understandable? Did I find the sermon engaging and thought provoking? How well was this experience tailored to me?

But worship isn’t something we go to experience. It’s something we go to do together. Every single person in the congregation is part of worship. It’s not something that you come to watch, but something you come to participate in. And this dates back to our biblical roots. In Hebrew, the word used for worship means "a bowing down." For the Hebrews, worship was a verb, something you did. The same idea is behind the New Testament Greek word for worship which means "to serve." Worship is an action, not a show.

We come here to offer praise and glory to the one who has given us everything! We come to offer our prayers to God, to try to understand better how God is working in our lives. We don’t come here to be served, but to serve God. So on days when we don’t really feel like church, it helps to remind ourselves that it really isn’t about us, but about offering our very best to God.

It’s a mistake however to think of God as having a passive role in worship this morning.
Kierkegaard goes on to say, "Authentic Christian worship is just the opposite. We, the congregation, are the performers. The preachers and other ministers are the directors of the performance and God is the audience." While he is right in refocusing worship away from the congregation and back to God, God is far from a passive audience. In our own definition of worship we talked about God as a present and an active participant. Worship is for God, but God also participates!

Because the Reformed tradition has long talked of worship as a meeting between God and the people of God. We come here to offer praise and glory, and also to learn of our own roles in our relationship together.

Worship is our work together, which the Reformation gave back to us by allowing people to worship in their own language and give voice to their own prayers and songs. Worship is our work as the people of God together listening and responding to what God has to say to us.

That’s why prayer is the heart of worship whether it is spoken, sung, held in silence or done through movements. There are so many ways to pray and all of us draw us closer in worship, and many people’s favorite is through music.

In worship, music is never presented as a performance for the congregation but as an offering of praise, thanksgiving, penitence, or petition to God. While worshipers are often caught up in the beauty of the music or the words, the purpose is not to bring attention to the musicians or singers but to point to the Creator who makes all things beautiful and enables us to be creative as well.

That’s why we tend not to clap in the church, because clapping is a response to a performance, and music offered in worship isn’t a performance. When a musical piece particularly moves you, calling out Amen is far more appropriate. It is after all, another form of prayer to God. By calling out amen, you are joining in on the prayer.

Don Hustad, a prolific writer and seasoned worship leader, has suggested, somewhat whimsically, that a banner should be displayed over the entrance to any place of Christian worship reading, "Warning: God Is Here!" Our worship as Reformed people is not only about God, it is a direct response to God. As worshipers we must always remember that God is truly present, active, and involved in our worship, and that our worship is a response to what God has done, is doing, and is about to do in our lives.

Worship is so rich and deep because it’s not about just us. It’s about our relationship with the God who loves us, now and always. Whatever your reasons for coming to worship today, know that God meets you here to worship with you and empowers you for the days ahead. Thanks be to God! Amen.

What is Worship?

Sermon for May 19, 2019 
Read Psalm 95:1-7 and John 4:19-27

While we may be on the far side of Easter, our passage from John this morning is set during the last supper. Jesus is still talking to his disciples about what is going to happen next. And life for them is about to change pretty drastically. Again. After all, it already changed pretty drastically when Jesus came into their lives: some left behind families and learning trades. One walked away from a good job as a tax collector. All to follow Jesus across the countryside learning from him. And now Jesus tells them that he is going away.

The disciples ask him what happens now. How will Jesus ministry continue? And Jesus answers them "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." The ministry of Jesus will continue through his followers when they love him and keep his word.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Receiving the Spirit

Sermon for April 28, 2019 

Read Psalm 118:14-29 and John 20:19-23 

So our scripture this morning picks up right after last Sunday. This is later that same day, after Peter and John had come back and reported the empty tomb, after Mary had come back and told them about her miraculous conversation with Jesus, who has been raised from the dead!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Early In the Morning

Sermon for April 21, 2019 

Read Acts 10:34-43 and John 20:1-18  

In the joy of Easter morning, we must start where the biblical story does, with a journey to the tomb. We all know what it is like to walk that road with Mary. It is as ancient as the first Easter and as contemporary as today. 

Mary’s Easter began as just an agonizing extension of Good Friday. Her weeping continues there by the tomb in the darkness. Then she notices, the stone is rolled away. The body of her beloved teacher must be gone, stolen, desecrated. Mary’s journey that morning is our journey on many a morning.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Practice of Pronouncing Blessing

Sermon for April 7, 2019 

Read Numbers 6:22–27 and Mark 2:23-28  

This week I want to talk about the practice of pronouncing blessings. To many people the idea of blessing something sounds vaguely mystical, and something that is better done by a member of the clergy. Now, when I was living in the south, I heard phrases like Bless your heart often, but usually they weren’t blessing anyone. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Practice of Saying No

Sermon for March 31, 2019 

Read Exodus 20:8–11 and Mark 2:23-28  

In some ways, last week’s spiritual practice fit in well with our current culture. Work, is after all, an American virtue and we take pride in a good job well done. Even if it is a messy or dirty or unpleasant job, we still take pride in the idea that we have accomplished something. We have earned our worth and that is an important thing for us. 

We are a culture that prides ourselves on what we produce, on what we make. On how much we accomplish. We believe being busy is an ideal to strive for. How many of you when asked how you are doing, reply busy? Sometimes with a laugh, sometimes with a roll of our eyes, that has become the acceptable answer.

As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it: "If you have more to do than you can do, and the list never gets done but only longer, then you must be very fine, because . . . successful people are busy people. Effective people are busy people. Religious people are busy people. For millions and millions of people, busy-ness is "The Way of Life."

So this week, we’re going to run distinctly counter culture to this ideal. This week we’re going to work on saying no to offers and invitations and jobs. We are going to work instead on practicing the Sabbath. Yes, Sabbath, which actually has nothing to do with church services, per say, but instead with resting.

The word comes from the Hebrew sabat which means to stop, to cease. It’s a day when we don’t work. A day when we don’t run errands. A day when we don’t produce anything. It is a day for doing nothing.

In many ways, this will be the most difficult practice for many people. As Taylor puts it, "Limiting my activity does not help me feel holy. Doing more feels holy, which is why I stay so intrigued by the fourth commandment." We want to do something in order to feel holier: say a prayer, sing a hymn, participate in worship. Saying no, doing less, feels like laziness. Feels like giving up.

But, then there is fourth commandment. Remember the Sabbath and keeping it holy. It is a command that God gives to a people who are freshly out of slavery. Rest one day in seven. This comes before murder, lying and adultery in God’s instructions, so it has to be pretty important. It’s so important, even God rests after six days of work.

Taylor writes. "God worked hard for six days and then God rested, performing the consummate act of divine freedom by doing nothing at all. Furthermore, the rest was so delicious that God did not call it good or even very good. Instead, God blessed the seventh day and called it holy, making Sabbath the first sacred thing in all creation. Resting every seventh day, God’s people remember their divine creation." When we take time to rest, we remind ourselves that even God rested. If our creator needed to take time to rest, why on earth would we think we don’t?

Sabbath is saying no to business as usual and deliberately creating regular moments of rest, recreation, and reflection that celebrate God’s abundance and grace so that when the hard winds of adversity blow down your door and sweep through your hallways, you will be able to remember, picture, and believe that Sabbath peace is real, possible, and even bound to be our future, for we live into an eternal Sabbath.

Now, I realize that all of this sounds great in theory. But when it comes to actually bringing it into our own lives, its a different story. When was the last time you took an entire day to rest? I’m willing to bet for many of us it was not in the last week. I am also willing to bet it isn’t a practice many of us are in the habit of doing weekly.

There’s just so much to get done! Resting sounds like a luxury, an extravagance that only the very wealthy or the very idle can afford. How can we possibly make it a priority when there is just so much to do in our lives? In the world?

Because it’s a reminder that we are more than what we produce. That we have worth beyond our use.  Taylor recommends: "At least one day in every seven, pull off the road and park the car in the garage. Close the door to the toolshed and turn off the computer. Stay home not because you are sick, but because you are well. Talk someone you love into being well with you. Take a nap, a walk, an hour for lunch. Test the premise that you are worth more than what you can produce - that even if you spent one whole day being good for nothing you would still be precious in God’s sight - and when you get anxious because you are convinced that this is not so, remember that your own conviction is not required. This is a commandment. Your worth has already been established, even when you are not working. The purpose of the commandment is to woo you to the same truth."

You don’t have to being doing something all the time! You get to rest. Really. It’s a harder practice for some people than they might think. And the attempt itself might seem like torture to begin with.

"Anyone who practices Sabbath for even an afternoon, usually suffers a little spell of Sabbath sickness. Try it and you too may be amazed by how quickly your welcome rest begins to feel like something closer to a bad cold. Okay, that was nice. Okay, you are ready to get back to work now. Yes, you know you said you wanted this, but now you have had just the right amount of rest - maybe even a touch too much - so that you are beginning to feel sluggish.  What if your energy level drops and never comes back up again? What if you get used to this and want never to go back to work? Plus, how will you ever catch up after taking a whole day off? Just thinking about it makes you tired." I am sure some of you have been thinking that from the beginning. That this might sound like a great idea in theory, but the execution is just unfeasible.

For those of you who think that attempting to take Sabbath time is just an impossibility, I have an exercise for you. Make two lists, one with all of the things you know you love, things to do that renew you that you never seem to get around to doing. Then list all of the reasons why you think you can’t do those things. Be  sure to put the list somewhere you can’t help but see it, preferably daily. Being reminded of what our soul is really longing for is a good first step to taking our own Sabbaths.

If a day sounds too daunting to begin with, and it does for many people, try setting aside an afternoon, or even an hour to do nothing. Rest. Read. Nap if you’d like. Go for a walk or color a picture. Get someone else to take a Sabbath with you; it always helps to have someone else to say no with.

But taking this time does matter, and it affects more than we realize. According to the rabbis, those who observe Sabbath observe all the other commandments. Taking time to say no, to rest, helps us to follow God better. It really is holy.

So this week, take Sabbath time. Block out a couple of hours when you aren’t doing anything. When you are just being yourself. It may be hard to set aside the electronics and the to-do list and the chores. But give yourself a chance to truly rest in holy time and see what comes of saying no.

The Practice of Work

Sermon for March 24, 2019 

This week I want to turn our attention to possibly the least glamorous of the spiritual practices this Lent, the practice of work. Now, I’m not talking about employment here, that’s a different practice. Today I’m talking about work in the sense of manual labor. Yes, even the drudgery of physical labor can be a spiritual practice if looked at right. 

As the calendar says we are now into spring, several of you may be turning your attention outdoors. For those of you who garden, or farm, or otherwise work the earth, you know that there is a particular sort of satisfaction from this kind of work. It is far from easy, but at the end of the day there is a satisfaction in seeing what you have done. In many ways this is going all the way back to our roots in Genesis. When we look at the Hebrew, the word we translate as man, adam, actually means "earthling," because God made him from adamah, the earth.

One of the reasons working the earth is so satisfying, is that it connects us to who we really were in the beginning. Taylor writes, "The earthling’s first divine job is to till the earth and keep it. If you have ever tilled a rose garden, much less a garden of Eden, then you know this is difficult to do without getting sore shoulders. Keeping the earth is hard work. You wear yourself out. You also remember where you came from and why.  You touch the stuff your bones are made out of. You handle the decomposed bodies of trees, leaves, birds and fallen stars. Your body recognizes its kin."

Or to put it less poetically and more scientifically, we have discovered that working in the earth actually activates a set of serotonin-releasing neurons in the brain — the same neurons targeted by many antidepressants. Or maybe it’s both. After all, we are a combination of dust and divine breath. Humility, is our very being. Before the fall, before anything else, God told  us to till the earth and keep it. Good, meaningful work can be a gift. Even the preacher in Ecclesiastes, after despairing about the futility of work, commends the satisfaction of work as one of life’s pleasures.

In our passage today, the man in Jesus’ parable knows the value of this work. "Give me a year to tend this tree. Let me put the work into it, and then see how it is doing."  After all, Jesus was a carpenter and his disciples were fishermen. They had no cars, harvesters, dishwashers, or escalators. Their life was lived close to the earth, and we can assume that the ministry of teaching, healing, and feeding could be exhausting.

But the work had value because they didn’t just do it for itself. The did it for God and for other people. Feeding, healing, cleaning up is all communal labor. People need it to survive. Taylor writes: "If all life is holy, then anything that sustains life has holy dimensions too. The difference between washing windows and resting in God can be a simple decision: choose the work, and it becomes your spiritual practice."  

The idea of chores as a spiritual practice has long been practiced in monasteries. Indeed, St. Benedict’s monastic practice can be summarized as ora et labora, prayer and work, contemplation and action. By engaging and tending the physical world we get in touch with our humus, our humanity, as well as the creation, which is the real, God-beloved reality around us. We should not look down on manual labor as beneath human dignity, for in fact it can be a spiritual practice. 

In his book, The Practice of the Presence of God, a monk named Brother Lawrence, meditated on his task of washing the dishes. "[Brother Lawrence] thought it was a shame that some people pursued certain activities (which, he noted, they did rather imperfectly due to human shortcomings), mistaking the means for the end. He said that our sanctification does not depend as much on changing our activities as it does on doing them for God rather than for ourselves.

The most effective way Brother Lawrence had for communicating with God was to simply do his ordinary work. He did this obediently, out of a pure love of God, purifying it as much as was humanly possible. He believed it was a serious mistake to think of our prayer time as being different from any other. Our actions should unite us with God when we are involved in our daily activities, just as our prayers unite us with him in our quiet devotions"

Now, I don’t know about you, but there are some chores I like better than others. I actually enjoy cooking, for instance, and I’ve learned to find some satisfaction in washing dishes, but I have never been a fan of folding laundry. It’s mindless and in some ways never ending because there is always more laundry to do, more sheets to fold. And it requires a level of precision that I have never been very good at. But I have been working at turning the act into an offering to God. If I pray while I fold the corners together, if I offer thanks for the clean sheet I am folding, and the fact that I have a bed to put it on and a roof to sleep under, the task itself becomes an offering. I still hate folding sheets, but by turning them into a spiritual practice I no longer dread them. And more importantly, I’m inviting God into even the most mundane moments of my life.

Martin Luther once wrote, "The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays -- not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship." Do what you are given to do well, and that is it’s own offering to God. 

And there is no limit to what counts as labor. If it is something you have to work to do, that counts, regardless of whether or not its work to someone else. When we are sick, the act of heating up soup becomes labor. Walking from one room to another can be work. All of it can be offered to God.

Work will happen one way or another. It is our decision to meet God there or not. "[Work] presents itself as drudgery, which you may turn into soul work by choosing the labor instead of resenting it." Sometimes work is just work, but by remembering the lives it helps sustain, even if it is only your own, you can turn that work into something holy.

So, whatever work you have to do this week, whatever you labors might be, offer them to God. Try to see them as a holy act. And if you get a chance, spend some time working in the dirt, remembering where you came from. Amen. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Practice of Being Grounded

Sermon for March 17, 2019 

This week, our spiritual practice is being grounded. Now there are a lot of ways to interpret this, and a lot of definitions for being grounded. But for today, for the purposes of this practice, being grounded means being in touch with and connected to your surroundings and standing on firm footing. It involves noticing the world around you in the moment you are in. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Practice of Getting Lost

Sermon for March 10, 2019 

This year as we journey through Lent, I want to look at different spiritual practices we can develop in our everyday lives. While most people would like to deepen their faith, growing closer to God, they don’t usually know where to start.  Beyond prayer, most people have no idea what spiritual practices might be.

I want to talk about practices that are part of our daily living. The whole reason for a spiritual practice is to remind ourselves of our connection to God and to deepen that relationship. Making these practices things that we can do every day and not just for special occasions, brings God into our everyday lives as well.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Leaving the Mountain

Sermon for March 3, 2019 

Our scene for Transfiguration Sunday is one of the more dramatic scenes in the gospels. IT is the scene that confirms for the disciples watching that Jesus is more than just the best rabbi they have ever met. More than a prophet. Jesus really is  the Son of God. The very Presence of God in Divine Form. Glorious. A dazzling shining light. 

Fredrick Buechner describes it like this: " It is as strange a scene as there is in the Gospels. Even without the voice from the cloud to explain it, they had no doubt what they were witnessing. It was Jesus of Nazareth all right, the man they'd tramped many a dusty mile with, whose mother and brothers they knew, the one they'd seen as hungry, tired, and footsore as the rest of them. But it was also the Messiah, the Christ, in his glory. It was the holiness of the man shining through his humanness, his face so afire with it they were almost blinded."

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Feasting Even in Exile

Sermon for February 24, 2019 

We find the Israelites in the middle of their Babylonian exile in this passage today. They had been violently removed from their homeland by the Babylonians 40 years earlier and here comes Isaiah to invite them back to the homeland. Back to goodness and plenty.

But it has been forty years. Forty. Most of the Israelites alive now barely remember Israel. Babylon is what they've known. Exile has become their home. After seeing their beloved city destroyed; families torn apart; houses demolished; their country lost, it was not surprising that members of the prophet's audience were not so sure anymore whether they still believed in the God of their ancestors. And yet here comes the prophet telling them to uproot everything and return to the land that God has given them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Loving Our Enemies

Sermon for February 17, 2019 

Who are your enemies? That’s always the first question that springs to mind when I come across this passage. Who is my enemy?

Now, very few people have real enemies: dark hatted villains with curling mustaches that cackle and unleash dastardly schemes.  Instead you have the people who disagree with you. The people who cut you off in traffic. The people who are on the other side of the political spectrum and love to argue about it. The person who just rubs you the wrong way. Or maybe it's the person you thought you could trust and instead they betrayed you. We can all think of someone we have less than fond feelings for. The question is, how do we deal with them?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What is Love?

Sermon for February 10, 2019 

I want to talk a bit about love over the next two weeks, and we’re going to begin with one of the most commonly used texts in the Bible. After the 23rd psalm, I’m willing to bet that this text is the one most heard by people who have nothing to do with the church. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019


Sermon for February 3, 2019 

It can be easy to look at this story of Jeremiah’s call and think that it has nothing to do with our own lives. 

I mean, Jeremiah is one of the great prophets of the Bible, so of course God comes to him and tells him of his call directly. It makes a great story! It has drama and faith and all of the things we want in a Bible story. But it’s not something that we immediately relate to our own lives. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

One Body

Sermon for January 27, 2019 

Read Psalm 19 and 1 Corinthians12:12-31 

Have you ever stopped to consider how amazing the human body is?

The human body is a remarkable creation, with 60 million cells. Our heart beats 36 million times every year. We produce 300 billion red cells every day. A multitude of complex processes are carried out by our bodies every minute without our even having to think about it. We don't have to tell our heart to beat, or our eyes to blink, or our lungs to fill with air. It just does it on our own. Humans are really remarkable creations.

And we are a particularly apt metaphor for Christ at work in the world today.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Called By Name

Sermon for January 13, 2019 

Read Isaiah 43:1-7       and Luke 3:15-17, 21-22   

What is your name? When asked that question, how do you respond?

My full legal name with titles is Rev. Cara Sutton Milne. Sutton is my mother's maiden name. But I don't think I've ever responded with all of that when asked my name. For me, my name is Cara. That is who I am. The rest are titles attached to my name, important titles, but titles nonetheless.

Thursday, January 10, 2019


Sermon for January 6, 2019 

Read Isaiah 60:1-9    and Matthew 2:1-12           

While for most of us, the season of gift giving is past, wrapping paper and decorations have been stored away for another year, for the church, today is the day we talk about gifts. It is Epiphany, the twelfth of the twelve days of Christmas and the day we celebrate the coming of those wise men to Jesus and the gifts they bear. 

So, what makes something a good gift? What’s the sort of thing you were excited to get over the holidays?

Welcoming Love

Sermon for December 23, 2018 

Read Micah 5:1-5 and Luke 1:39-45

I want to take a closer look at Elizabeth this morning. She is Mary’s relative, soon to be mother of John the Baptist, and to understand all that is happening in this story we need a little background on Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah.

Zechariah is a clergyman, and Elizabeth is a descendant of the Hebrew people's first high priest, Aaron. Like other many couples whose stories appear in the Scriptures, these two good people had no children. They had prayed fervently for a child, but the months and years went by without a pregnancy and now they were getting old. In fact, they were well past the age when prayers for a child seemed sensible.