The Keys of the Kingdom


Lesson: Matthew 16:13-20

During a criminal trial, the district attorney called an eminent psychologist to testify. She sat down in the witness chair, unaware that the rear legs of the chair were set precariously on the back of the raised platform. “Will you state your name?” asked the district attorney. Tilting back in her chair, she opened her mouth to answer, but instead catapulted head-over-heels backward and landed in a stack of exhibits and recording equipment. Everyone watched in stunned silence as she untangled herself, rearranged her disheveled clothing and hair and sat back down on the witness stand. “Well, doctor,” continued the district attorney without changing expression, “we could start with an easier question.”

A question about identity can, at times, be a very hard question. When Jesus comes into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he starts with an easier question. “What do other people say about me?” It isn’t a personal question. It’s just, “What have you heard? What’s the gossip?” So the disciples all answer, sharing the handful of opinions they’ve heard, probably here in Caesarea Philippi and elsewhere. They answer, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”[1]

Then Jesus asks the hard question. “But who do you say that I am?” This time it is personal, and this time only one disciple answers. Simon Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Our NRSV pew bibles translate the Greek word christos as “messiah;” both messiah and christos mean “the anointed one.” Read more →

Hear Thyself


Lesson: Matthew 15: 21-28

Today’s sermon was preached by David Altshuler, SFTS seminarian and member of our church.

This text is probably familiar to many of you or maybe you’re hearing it for the first time. How does it sit with you?

During my study, one pastor wrote, “This is a story in many ways is so strange and difficult that I think I should have avoided it altogether.” [1] I concur.

So, let me share my first attempt at these stories.

I’m going to back up and read the part of the story that was omitted from the first lectionary reading that your heard because it’s connected to the story, and I think it points out a bit of the “strangeness” that the pastor might have been talking about.

Read more →

The Kingdom Come Person


Today’s sermon was preached by Rev. Linda Powers, Program Director of Shelter Services for Community of Action of Napa Valley.

Lesson: Luke 10:25-37

Our scripture this morning is a parable found only in the Gospel of Luke. It is a story I am sure is very familiar to many of you. It is sometimes labeled the “Good Samaritan” parable – even though Good and Samaritan do not appear together anywhere in the scripture. And in other places you will find it labeled with a heading, “Who is My Neighbor?” It is sometimes called narrative and sometimes an example story. By either title or category, it remains a provocative tale. As we have heard, the parable encompasses several characters: a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, robbers who rob and beat him and leave him for dead, a priest, a Levite, and of course the Samaritan.

At the time of the first church, the listeners of this parable would have most likely identified with the victim. That road from Jericho to Jerusalem and back was as well traveled as Hwy 101. It was the path that all of the Jews would use when traveling from regions around the Sea of Galilee as they journeyed to Jerusalem for all of the High Holy Days. Caravans would have traveled this same route as they brought exotic spices and goods from the East. It was the path Mary and Joseph would have traveled on their way to Bethlehem.

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Real Hope


Today’s sermon was preached by Sharon LeClaire, M.Div., M.A.T.S., a church member, seminary graduate, and candidate for ordination in the Presbytery of the Redwoods.

Lessons: Psalm 62: 1-2, 5-8; Romans 5:1-5


When Joanne asked if I would like to preach this summer I had just finished reading two books that were mainly about Hope.

The first was “Turn My Mourning into Dancing” by one of my favorite authors Henri Nouwen and the other was “Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope,” by Sr. Joan Chittister a new author to me suggested to me by a pastor friend.

They are vastly different in presentation and style but they were both very successful in prompting me to investigate Hope more deeply and biblically where I came across the Romans passage we are looking at today.

When I decided to use this new found interest as the topic for this sermon,

I went to one of my theology books and was surprised to find that the whole chapter entitled “Christian Hope” was all about the afterlife and not about Hope in the lives we are living now.

Personally, I spend very little time thinking about the afterlife so I went back to Nouwen and the good sister for my inspiration and information this morning.

Hope is a pretty large topic so to get us all on the same page this morning, let’s ask the question, what exactly is Real Hope? Let’s begin by saying what Hope is NOT. Read more →

The Pearl of Great Price


Lessons: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

I collect baseball cards. It’s a fairly new hobby for me; I started collecting a few years ago, along with my son. Unlike my son, I don’t collect every card that comes my way. I collect Nolan Ryan because I became a fan when he pitched for the Astros while I lived in Houston.[1] While I collect just for fun, there are other folks who collect baseball cards as a serious investment. That’s when you get into the question of what something is worth. I have a 1969 Nolan Ryan Mets card. It’s in good condition but the photo is slightly off center and so that means it’s worth about $35. If it were mint condition and centered, it’d be worth $239.[2] A Nolan Ryan rookie card is worth over a thousand dollars. Now, you may be thinking, “You’re kidding – for a bit of cardboard that came from a chewing gum pack?” But that’s nothing. A few years ago, a 1909 Honus Wagner card sold for $2.8 million.[3] But – is it worth it? Would you pay that for it? Even if you had the money? I know I wouldn’t. A baseball card just isn’t worth it to me.

What is worth it? What is worth more than anything to you, to me, to us? Jesus looks at that question in today’s passage in Matthew’s gospel. He’s describing the kingdom of God, or the reign of God. It’s Matthew, so he uses the phrase, “kingdom of heaven.” That takes care of any concern Matthew’s audience, the Jewish Christians, would have with using the name of God. In all of theses kingdom parables, Jesus assumes the kingdom of God is something that can be perceived and experienced as a present reality, not just something to look forward to in the future. Read more →

With Unveiled Faces


Today’s sermon was preached by Kathy Kwon.

Lessons: Exodus 34:27-35,  2 Corinthians 3:7-18

I’ll be reading out of 2 Corinthians in just a moment. But I first wanted to thank you all for allowing me this opportunity to share the Word with you this morning. I debated about whether I should thank you now or after my sermon and decided that once I got started, there was no guarantee you’d let me finish, so I should thank you now.

My experience of preaching is that it feels quite weighty—not pertaining to the preacher but rather to the weightiness of the content and the action. What does it mean—for a few moments at least—to be the mouthpiece of God the Spirit in full view of one’s own fallibility, brokenness, sinfulness, humanity? And then add to that the brokenness of the world around us, and it feels rather paralyzing.

Read more →

From Depth of Soil


Lessons:  Matthew 13:1-9, 16-23

I remember learning in Sunday School that the parables of Jesus are these nice little life lessons.  Jesus is rushing around 1st Century Palestine, preaching, and healing folks, and gathering crowds – and every once in a while Jesus stops to teach.  And sometimes Jesus tells the crowd a little parable.  A little story:

  • The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.  See how small the seed is.  See how big it grows.
  • Or, the kingdom of God is like yeast – it gets into a little flour and water, and see how it makes the bread rise.
  • Or, as in today’s text, a sower went out to sow.  She scattered a lot of seeds – some fell on hard ground, or in thorns, or in bad soil, and those seeds didn’t grow.  But some seeds fell on good soil, and produced abundant crops.

So, be the mustard seed, and grow.  Be the yeast in the dough, and rise.  Plant your crops in good soil, and reap your harvest.

The parables of Jesus are these nice little life lessons.

But, they’re really . . .  not.

Read more →



Lesson: Matthew 10:5-15, 40-42

When you think of missionaries, you might picture young Mormons in black slacks and white shirts, walking through neighborhoods and knocking on doors at inconvenient times. You might picture someone like the Reverend Nathan Price in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, who heads to Africa to save souls but cares nothing for people. Or you might picture someone like Jane Holslag, who met with the Church and Society Committee a few weeks ago. Jane is a Presbyterian missionary who just retired from teaching theology at a university in Lithuania. She described with joy and excitement how one of her former students was setting up a non-profit Christian program for “orphanage graduates” – for helping young adults who were raised in orphanages find homes, jobs and a sense of belonging.

What you probably don’t picture when you think of missionaries is yourself.

In this morning’s passage in Matthew, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples, instructing them not only to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, but to make it real by performing the same works of healing that he is doing.  He sends his disciples out to be missionaries. We are Christ’s disciples, too. And so this is a mission we now share. Matthew assumes there is simply no other way to be the church.[1] According to Matthew, all of us are sent. Read more →

Called Beyond Comfort


Lesson: Matthew 10:24-39

I’ve mentioned before that I taught a marriage preparation class a couple of times a year at the church I served in San Francisco. We focused on a couple of things. One of them was recognizing the expectations people bring to marriage. Usually these expectations come from our families of origin, and often they are unspoken. Let me give you an example, an actual quote from a class participant: “I know my fiancé plays at least 18 holes of golf every weekend now, but he won’t want to do that when we have a family.” This revelation was not a welcome surprise to her fiancé. Every once in a while, I wonder how that couple is doing.

Another focus of the class was figuring out an approach to conflict that worked for both people and that built up rather than tore down the relationship. These are tough topics, and I hoped that what came across was that a good marriage is hard work, but worth it. I tried to present the material with lightness and even a sense of humor, and most people enjoyed the class. Still, every now and then I’d get a note on one of the evaluation sheets people handed in at the end of the class that went something like, “You shouldn’t be so negative about marriage.” Or, “You make marriage sound too hard.”

If the disciples were able to turn in evaluation sheets to Jesus, this morning’s lesson in Matthew’s gospel might get the same response. “Jesus, why are you being so negative? You’re making discipleship sound too hard.” And I suspect many of us would respond the same way. In today’s passage, Jesus sends the twelve disciples out to teach the truth as he has taught, to heal the broken as he has healed. He warns them that this won’t make them popular with everyone. Although there have been crowds of grateful and amazed people, they already know that Jesus’ brand of truth-telling upsets the religious establishment. In the hindsight of the crucifixion, which is when the gospel was written, Jesus’ warnings must have had even greater impact. Jesus warns the disciples that they will be maligned as he has been.[1] He also gives them a stark picture of the kind of disruptive discipleship to which they have been called. They shouldn’t expect this to be a bed of roses, and they shouldn’t be surprised if close relationships are uprooted.[2]   Even their families could turn against them.[3] Read more →

Three Ways to Say I Love You


Lessons: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20

The Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte is known for witty and thought-provoking paintings, many of which include floating apples and men wearing derby hats. One of his more famous paintings shows a bent-stemmed, Sherlock Holmes-ish pipe. If I were to ask you what it is, you’d probably say, “That’s a pipe.” But the artist is ready for this question, and has already answered it in the painting itself. Below the pipe are painted the words, “Ceci n’est pas un pipe,” which is French for “This is not a pipe.” And the artist is right, of course. Try smoking it. You’ll figure out that it isn’t a pipe, after all. It’s only a picture of a pipe.

For much of church history, well-meaning believers have attempted to offer statements that tell us exactly who God is. Some of these attempts work their way into church doctrine. We put them in our creeds and recite them as though they are fact. But attached to every such attempt, even the ones that become doctrine, should be a label reading something like, “Ceci n’est pas Dieu” – “This is not God.” Every doctrine that describes God is not God, but rather, a picture, a concept that tries to explain or describe our experience of God, and no more than that.[1] Read more →