Greatness Reconsidered / October 1, 2017 / How about this as the foundation for ministry? “In humility regard others as better than yourselves.” The Rev. Dr. Jim Moos interpreted this text as well as Jesus’ words on humility, illustrating them with descriptions of our work with refugees and immigrants through our UCC Wider Church Ministries. Rather than assuming our own superiority, we build relationships through which we both receive and share the good news of Jesus Christ in the world. Dr. Moos, Executive Minister, UCC Wider Church Ministries, and co-executive of the Global Ministries in partnership with the Disciples of Christ, spoke at Zion’s on world communion Sunday.
The Future is at Stake in Our Past / September 17, 2017 / Celebrating “Colonial Sunday” with the Daughters of the American Revolution today, Pastor Bob asked why Americans have this notion that our founders have to be perfect, or that the history we teach should ignore their faults and failings? Can Americans learn to look at the stories of our founders, our his-story, the way people of God look at the “founders” of faith in the Bible? They were rogues, rascals and renegades; they clearly are flawed human beings, with plenty of faults and foibles. They not only are sinful but downright evil at times. And yet even when human beings intend evil, God intends good, as the patriarch Joseph observed (Genesis 50:20). A lesson about acknowledging evil in our history that needs to be contemplated by Americans today.
Serving Beyond the Sunday Service / September 10, 2017 / Quoting the unattributed proverb in the graphic, Pastor Bob highlights some of the reasons Christians serve in the community as well as in the church, introducing Joe Hoffman to share his personal experience as a transplant recipient and as a “second life” volunteer. Jesus’ teaching from Matthew, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, for the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve….” is the springboard for congregational discussion about ways of serving.
Peter, Satan, Jesus and Justice / Matthew 16:21-28 / Saint Peter is Satan? That’s what Jesus calls him in Matthew 16:23, a cautionary text for Christians today. Those who profess faith in Jesus may misunderstand and misrepresent God’s purpose and wind up on the side of evil. In fact there are prominent national Christian leaders today who are standing with Satan! They are standing on the side of evil in regard to equality for those in the LGBTQ community, and on racial justice issues as well. God continues to do a “new thing” in our generation because so many of the “old things” are unjust! Don’t assume God is on your side… make sure you’re standing on God’s side!
Conformed or Transformed? / August 27,2017 / Lessons learned from the protest action of Colin Kaepernick illustrate today’s text. When you challenge status-quo-conformity, you create an opportunity, an invitation to conversation and possibly transformation like Paul recommended in Romans 12. His advice to be transformed by the “renewal of your mind” points the way for Christians to engage in God’s transformative work in the community and in the world. Nowhere is that more important than in addressing issues of race and racism in America. Paraphrasing Paul: Don’t conform to the world’s way of thinking about this; open your mind to what is new and you will be transformed!
Meals with a Memory: The Powerless Will Prevail / August 6, 2017 / The Passover Seder and the Lord’s Supper are both meals that bear witness to God’s saving acts in history. Both also bear witness to empires that defied God’s purpose and defiled God’s people. In Pastor Bob’s exploration and explanation of these two sacred meals, he concludes that whenever any empire, Egyptian, Roman (or American) asserts its dominion over the weak to take advantage of them and dominates the powerless to maximize its own wealth, their doom is sealed. The witness of the scriptures is that the powerless will prevail.
Provocative Peek-a-Boo / July 30, 2017 / The kingdom of heaven is like peek-a-boo? Jesus’ parables include a mustard seed, leaven, a treasure in a field and a pearl of great price. Jesus uses these images to give hints about the kingdom of heaven. Pastor Bob uses peek-a-boo! He explores these images from Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13 and summarizes lessons gleaned from each. Then he connects this game we play with infants (which facilitates their cognitive development) to an adult’s spiritual development through parables. Peek-a-boo!
Christ-myths in July: What We Really Know About Jesus’ Birthday / July 23, 2017 / You wouldn’t want your pastor to deconstruct the Christmas story on Christmas eve, so Christmas in July is the perfect time to look at some common myth-understandings about the story of Jesus’ birth. Pastor Bob shares the latest research from New Testament scholars, with surprising conclusions about where Jesus was born, and why we really celebrate on December 25. As always, knowing what the bible actually says, as opposed to what people think it says, is the key to understanding.
Make Glad the City of God! / July 16, 2017 / Today’s service featured members who attended our UCC 31st General Synod in Baltimore last weekend. They share their impressions and report on “The Three Loves,” three mission emphases based on our national vision: “united in Christ’s love, a just world for all.” First, Sara Brace with her son, Isaac, spoke about being a visitor to the Synod this year; second, Doug Brace, addressed the topic of resolutions that related to “love of neighbor;” third, Geoff Brace explained resolutions relating to “love of creation.” And finally, Pastor Bob highlighted resolutions reflecting the “love of children” area of our mission. It was a moving tribute to the work of our national church embodying our vision: a just world for all!
Wow or Whoa? Be the Church! / June 24, 2017 / Jesus warned his disciples in Matthew 10:24-39 that they’d face opposition from political institutions, from religious institutions, and even from their own family when they began to carry out his mission in the world. If Christians then, facing deadly persecution, could defy the Roman Empire, American Christians today certainly can challenge the Corporate Empire which perpetuates the status quo for the wealthy and the well-connected at the expense of the poor and the powerless. The Church of the 21st century needs to be like the Church of the 1st century… which is to say, the Church needs to be the Church!
More Than Membership: Disciples / June 11, 2017 / When someone asks you to be a member of an organization, like a museum for example, you’re first question probably is, “what do I get as a member?” If that’s what membership is about, we shouldn’t be talking about our relationship to the church in those terms . Can you imagine someone asking Jesus that question? After looking at what Paul says in 1st Corinthians 12 in light of one of Aesop’s lesser-known fables, Pastor Bob invites two members of Zion to witness to the ways their faith shows Christians are “more than members”… we are disciples of Jesus.
Pentecost Revolution: Re-imagining Church / June 4, 2017 / On the birthday of the church, Pastor Bob invites you to read Acts 2 reimagining the Tower of Babel, and to listen to St. Peter re-imagining the prophecy of Joel. Can you imagine a church where all ages and all genders, all races and all economic classes join to embody the vision of a just world for all? The tower of Babel in Mesopotamia was nothing compared to the political babble we hear in the U.S. today. Like the ancients, condemned for their arrogance to a confusion of languages, we Americans are consigned to confusion because we won’t work together to build on our nation’s foundation of “liberty and justice for all.” Welcome to the 21st century church where a revolution is underway. Join us.
What to Remember What to Revere / May 28, 2017 . Patriot’s Sunday / In a nation that forgets, ignores or denies the dark side of its own history in favor of narratives that are grounded in white supremacy, Zion’s church celebrates its calling as a steward of history. First and foremost, as stewards of biblical history, we remember the purpose of telling and retelling his-stories is not to venerate heroic leaders nor idolize any nation. The reason for remembering is to connect us to God and to reconnect us to the vision and the values God holds before us. In today’s Memorial Day service celebrating events in our colonial heritage, Pastor Bob challenges us to go beyond a whitewashed version of our nation’s “discovery” and founding, and to embrace the perspectives of native Americans and the black community. Their stories also are the stories of America and need to be remembered, so that false narratives can be identified and corrected. If our identity is to be grounded in our stories, our stories must be complete and true.
Exiles for God: Regal Refugees / May 21, 2017 / Christians in the first century were mostly poor, powerless peasants, persecuted for their faith. Peter writes to those who had become exiles, like so many people of faith before them, the “wretched refuse” of first century politics. No doubt they were frightened and discouraged, but Peter tells them they were chosen by God, holy even though in hiding, regal even as refugees. Pastor Bob’s exposition of 1 Peter 2:4-10 connects us and our contemporary immigration issues to those ancient exiles, and then connects us to Jesus, the cornerstone of our faith. Building a true “spiritual temple” on that foundation requires that we use God’s plumb line of righteousness and justice.
Like a Mother to Me / May 14, 2017 / Paul’s greetings in the last chapter of his letter to the Romans include many women’s names, a reminder of the importance of women’s leadership in the early church. Paul also greets the mother of Rufus, “a mother also to me” he says, highlighting how New Testament Christians considered one another family. Some Christians were orphaned because of persecution. Some became spiritual orphans when their family disowned them because of their faith. So they treated one another as family… freinschaft as the PA Dutch would say. Christians supported one another, shared with one another, nurtured one another. Like mom.
So Sow Already! / April 30, 2017 / Last week we listened to the parable of the sower, then we planted marigold seeds in peat pots, taking them home to water and await the time for planting outdoors. Today we listened again to the parable, this time considering its meaning in light of 21st century distractions that divert us from being the “good soil,” where God’s Word can take root and grow. Where to begin learning? Three simple options at the end of this message get you on track.
Got Life? / April 16, 2017 / As we celebrate Easter, the apostle Paul reminds us that in personal struggles of all kinds, in career changes, battling an addiction, in relationships and in your personal spiritual life, you can experience the power of Christ’s resurrection here and now, not just in the hereafter. God can bring a resurrection into your life as long as you are willing to die to whatever it is that needs to come to an end. That’s when a resurrection can happen!
No Bones Too Dry for God / April 2, 2017 / Ezekiel’s vision of a valley of dry bones, where skeletons come to life again, foreshadows the resurrection of Christ that we will celebrate in a couple of weeks. But the vision in Ezekiel 37 had meaning for the people of God centuries before Jesus came. It applied to people of faith then and there and it applies to us here and now. In short, he reminds us no bones are too dry, no despair is too deep, no problem is too big. In the face of discouragement and even despair, God breathes new life into us again!
The Slow Wisdom of Fasting / March 5, 2017 / You might say Christians are called to fast in order to go slow: slow down enough to pray during this season of Lent and become aware of the needs of others. However temporarily and partially, fasting encourages solidarity with those who experience hunger every day. Pastor Bob explains Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 that remind us of the proper motive. Then through Isaiah 58 he connects this practice with larger issues of social justice and stewardship. Paired with prayer, aligned with almsgiving (contributing to those who are poor and hungry), fasting manifests spiritual blessings through a physical discipline. Suggestions for how to begin are included with today’s message.
Jesus is Transfigured So You Can Be Transformed / February 26, 2017 / The voice from the cloud saying, “Listen to him!” challenged first century disciples to accept Jesus as THE authority for their faith and life, rather than Moses or Elijah (the law and the prophets) in the story of the transfiguration (Mt 17:1-9). In our own time, too, different authorities compete for our allegiance, but Christians again are challenged to listen to Jesus. He is the priority among the authorities, the standard to determine when we must take a stand against the status quo. The sanctuary movement in the United Church of Christ and across faith traditions, providing safe-haven for immigrants, is a vivid example of how Christians claim the authority of Jesus against “the authorities.”
Tougher Love Hath No One Than This / February 19, 2017 / As some Americans are openly calling others “enemies” if they have differing political views (including our president), Jesus’ teaching to “love your enemies” seems especially timely. Examining this verse from the sermon on the mount in light of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous sermon on this text, Pastor Bob explains how Christians are called to examine themselves first, to value the good in everyone, and never to do harm to others. Applicable to anyone you consider an enemy: antagonists in school, at work or in your neighborhood; terrorists or white supremacists; Democrats or Republicans; Jesus’ words continue to challenge Christians to the radical ethic of love as Dr. King propounded, preached and practiced.
What Would Lincoln Do? / February 12, 2017 / In a thought-experiment similar to the WWJD meme, Pastor Bob asks What Would Lincoln Do if he were leading America today, considering how divided we are as a nation? Many issues we face today are continuing consequences of the legacy of slavery and racism that persist in employment, education, housing, healthcare and criminal justice systems. Quoting Lincoln’s faith-filled Second Inaugural Address and Deuteronomy 30, Pastor Bob identifies the leadership virtues of America’s greatest president and asks instead, what will YOU do to challenge our congress to hold our current president accountable to the Lincoln standard?
Called to Be Different to Make A Difference / February 5, 2017 / The images of salt and light in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are reminders that Christians are called to BE different so as to MAKE a difference in this world. In small and personal ways, just as a little salt seasons an entrée, we perform works of love for others that make a difference in not-so-obvious ways. In larger, civic settings, we are called to bring the light of Christian values and ideals to the public square. Affirming the recent rise in public activism, Pastor Bob encouraged members bring biblical light to the discussion of national issues, not to force a sectarian viewpoint, but to enable biblical values to inform the discussion.
Justice, Compassion, Humility / January 29, 2017 / What would Micah say to people of faith in America? During a national crisis in Israel, Micah told them the requirements of God were obvious: “God has told you what is good.” Then in three simple statements he exhorts them to practice the virtues of justice, compassion and humility (Micah 6:8). In his sermon today, Pastor Bob amplified these attributes, showing how their absence resulted in President Trump’s immigration debacle this past weekend. Christians are called to commit ourselves to these same virtues: (1) do what is right and fair to all; (2) practice loving-kindness toward others; and (3) walk in humility in order to cultivate the first two.
Come and See / January 22, 2017 / In this close, verse by verse analysis of the call of Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael, Pastor Bob reveals the double meanings in John 1:35-51, which extend the invitation from Jesus to everyone to “come and see” that Jesus is the gateway to the spiritual life.
Do You Still Believe in Truth? / January 15, 2017 / We are told we’ve entered a “post-truth” era when it doesn’t matter whether what a politician says is true or not. How similar to ancient Israel, when the prophet Isaiah declared, “truth has fallen in the public squares” (Isaiah 59:14 RSV). And as Pastor Bob further explains this verse, when truth falls, justice (mishpat) also falls, because the foundation of justice is truth. But the message of the gospel is that even if truth has fallen in the public squares it will rise in human hearts as long as there are people who bear witness to the truth. Thank you Dr. King, and to the men, women and children who bore witness to truth a generation ago. Are you ready to take their places?
How the Magi Became Wise / January 8, 2017 / Pastor Bob explores one of the stranger parts of the Christmas story in this look back to Epiphany. The so-called “wise” men are duped into a mission on behalf of King Herod, who wants to kill Jesus. Not so very wise at that. But once they see Jesus, acknowledging him as king in worship, their guidance system changes. God speaks to them as God spoke to Joseph, in a dream. And thus Herod’s evil plan is thwarted. Many lessons here about guidance, but also a cautionary tale. Good people with good intentions can become pawns of those who would do evil. As you draw closer to Jesus, you will dream God’s dreams; but be aware and be wary of evil in the world.
The Light of Christ Colors the World through the Spectrum of God’s Love / December 24, 2016 / “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” was the theme of Zion’s Christmas eve service (and many others’) again this year. However, this year the theme was not light alone, but color. Just as creation’s light can be split into the full spectrum of the rainbow, so the Light of Christ colors the world through the spectrum of God’s love. And this is the way God intends we see the world, not in its darkest moments, but in the light of Christ. So this new year, do not simply let your light shine; let your colors show! (Rainbow tree image © Can Stock Photo / atthameeni)
A Dream Can Bring a Miracle: Joseph’s Change of Heart / December 18, 2016 / People usually focus on the miracle that happened to Mary. What about Joseph’s 180° turnabout after his middle-of-the-night angelic visitation? Pastor Bob explores the meaning of dreaming as he bids you to imagine what it was like for Joseph. Probably not as straightforward a process as you read in Matthew 1:18-25. The text invites you to be open to dreams, and any of the many spiritual experiences through which God may speak to you, in this or any season.
Submissive and Subversive: Mary for Modern Ears / December 11, 2016 / Was Mary, mother of Jesus, channeling her namesake, Miriam, when she sang the song we know as the Magnificat? Many Christians revere Mary as a model of submissive faith. Yet when the words of Mary’s song (Lk 1:46f) are placed next to the words of Miriam’s song (Ex 15:20-21) you realize Mary is subversive of the status quo as well submissive to the Spirit of God. Her song looks forward to the great reversal, when all who have been minimized, marginalized and victimized will be maximized in the kingdom of God.
Asleep, Awake or Woke? / December 4, 2016 / What would John the Baptist say to President-elect Donald Trump? Perhaps more to the point, what would John the Baptist say to us Christians today? Church hymn writers suggest things like, “Awake, let lazy sleep flee, behold the voice of prophecy!” Song and scripture alike tell us Christians to Wake Up precisely because it’s all too easy to fall asleep spiritually, adapting to the status quo, “normalizing” the unacceptable, drifting and dreaming when we should be checking and challenging. Pastor Bob uses a couple of very different lenses to help us look at these issues through John the Baptist’s eyes.
The Crowd in the Cloud Cheers Us On / November 20, 2016 / On this, the very last Sunday of the church year, Zion’s honors its German roots by celebrating Totenfest, a commemoration of the lives of those who died the previous year and a celebration of all the saints of the church. The “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12 gives so many examples showing that God works through young and old, women and men, well-known and obscure, good and bad, the famous and the infamous, to accomplish the divine will. If God can work through them, God can work through you when you “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
Stewards of Democracy / November 13, 2016 / This was supposed to be a simple, straightforward sermon about financial stewardship, till the election happened, with all the post-election reaction that followed. So Pastor Bob pivots to explain that good stewardship for American Christians includes stewardship of democracy: being good stewards of “liberty and justice for all.” In addition, our UCC’s mission statement: “we welcome all, love all, and seek justice for all,” means Democrat Christians welcoming Republican Christians, Republican Christians welcoming Democrat Christians, and both welcoming apolitical Christians. Welcomed and loved, together then we need to be working toward the UCC vision of “a just world for all.”
Who is Testing Whom? Walking the Talk / November 6, 2016 / The man asks a seemingly innocent question, but with a provocative purpose. Jesus’ answer turns the tables on the man by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, testing him and challenging him (and us) to live a life based on loving God and loving our neighbor. These “great commandments” of Jesus provided the biblical inspiration for the United Church of Christ’s newest expression of our mission as a denomination: “United in Spirit and inspired by God’s grace, we welcome all, love all, and seek justice for all.” In his exploration of this parable, Pastor Bob relates this teaching about our moral and spiritual life to the impending election as well as to the church’s mission with those who are homeless.
Spectators and Spirituality: A New Lesson from Zacchaeus / October 30, 2016 / If you remember singing about Zacchaeus, the “wee little man,” you may be surprised at Pastor Bob’s interpretation of the popular story. Was Zacchaeus already a believer who wanted to see Jesus, or was he just another spiritual spectator along the journey who then was transformed when Jesus called him by name? More importantly, are YOU ready to stop being a spiritual spectator, to come down out of whatever metaphorical tree you’re sitting in, and get into the action by committing your life to follow Jesus’ call?
The Pharisee, the Tax Collector and the Politics of Contempt / October 23, 2016 / Call them nasty or call them deplorable, the name-calling itself is a sign of what Pastor Bob calls the politics of contempt. Take a fresh look at Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in this sermon (Luke 18:9-14), and you’ll find at least two take-aways: (1) what the difference is between someone who is self-satisfied and someone who is God-justified; and (2) a path away from the politics of contempt and toward the way of Jesus.
Healed Whole Thankful / October 9, 2016 / When you read the story of “ten lepers healed, one leper thankful” (Luke 17:11-19), you may unconsciously identify with the thankful one. We all like to imagine ourselves as the “good guy” in these kinds of stories. Pastor Bob looks over, under, around and through this story of a Samaritan leper, a double-outcast, to apply this more intentionally, concluding that you may be healed but you won’t be whole without a thankful heart. (Note: “Healing of the ten lepers” by Jesus Mafa (Cameroon), licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License.
Content with the Contents? A Look into Paul’s Life and Soul / September 25, 2016 / Not feeling content? Take a look at the content of your soul. Paul the apostle had important things to say about contentment, a spiritual value greater than mere happiness, a neglected virtue in our consumerist society. If you could peer into the table of contents of his soul, you’d find four elements that lead to “contentment with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:6), grounded in one of his most-quoted sayings: “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content…. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If you want to be content, make these four elements the content of your spiritual life.
Principle Above Patriotism / September 18, 2016 / What does it mean to be a patriotic American Christian in light of Jesus’ cryptic saying, Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s? At Zion’s annual Colonial Sunday, Pastor Bob explores the idea of a “pious patriot,” someone whose patriotism is disciplined by faith. A group of 11 year-olds inspired by Colin Kaepernick provide a case study example.
Passive and Powerless, or Proactive and Powerful? / September 11, 2016 / Other than offer prayers for families and friends of those who died on 9-11, and prayers for peace, what can Christians do? If you’re ready for a challenge, read Romans 12:9-21. Today Pastor Bob focused on the final verse of that passage: “Do not be overcome by evil; overcome evil with good,” sharing some specific ideas to put this into practice.
Fifteen Anniversary 9-11 Memorial Service ~ September 11, 2016 / Congressman Charlie Dent spoke at Zion’s ‘Liberty Bell’ U.C.C. memorial service on this, the 15th anniversary of 9-11. After offering condolences to those who lost family and friends in the attacks, he shared the story of his cousin who was at work in one of the Towers when the planes hit. He also gave an update on legislation related to funding the continuing healthcare expenses for first responders 9-11 and offered his perspective on the current state of the radical terrorist ideology that motivated these attacks and continues in the world today.
Faith at Work / September 4, 2016 / Turning a Labor Day focus onto Exodus 3 reminds us that God may speak to us while we’re at work as surely as God may speak to us while we are praying or engaged in a more obviously “spiritual” activity. The lesson from the call of Moses is that we express our calling in every work we do, whether it is schoolwork, housework, volunteer work, or just plain work-work. When you are attentive to God’s presence with you, and you listen for God’s voice, God will transform you and your work, which then becomes a calling as you serve God’s purpose everyday.
Dimensions of Faith: An Exercise / August 7, 2016 / Faith in God over-against the world, faith in spiritual reality over-against material sensuality, and faith in the future over-against living only for the present. These dimensions of faith, taken from the classic definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1, provided the context for our conversation today. They correspond to acts of resistance and expression: resisting the ways of the world and expressing your faith through stewardship; resisting temptations in the world and expressing meaning through your faith; and resisting cynicism about the world and expressing action for God’s purpose in the world. This was a fun exercise as well as informative worship, though we had to delete from the audio the parts where people were in small groups discussing their faith. But you’ll catch the drift.
The Life-Changing Magic of a Parable: The Christian Art of Stewardship / July 31, 2016 / Clutter may be the ultimate symbol of our modern, materialistic culture, but the underlying cause and the spiritual consequence is as ancient as the words of Jesus in his parable of the bigger barns (Luke 12:13-34). Interpreting this text, Pastor Bob moves from Marie Kondo’s bestseller on decluttering, through the humor of George Carlin and Steven Colbert to a simple observation: if you want to follow Jesus in 21st century America, you have to swim against the strong cultural currents of commercialism. Jesus, paraphrased through Carlin, says: “Don’t be anxious about your stuff; be faithful with your stuff.”
Confessing Contradictions: Seeking and Speaking Truth / July 3, 2016 / “As people of faith our first impulse should be to question our first impulse… because it probably reflects the status quo. In fact our first impulse serves to protect our own privileged position; like Thomas Jefferson, our life of privilege blinds us to our own sin, however lofty our ideals.” At this re-enactment of the reading of the Declaration of Independence, Pastor Bob reflects about the contradictions of Jefferson’s life, as the author of the Declaration and yet also a slaveholder. Christians are called to keep seeking and to keep speaking the truth.
Pushback and Perseverance / June 19, 2016 / “It’s no mere coincidence that in the same decade which witnessed the first black president we also saw an upsurge in violence toward people of color; in the same decade which witnessed significant progress in human rights for the LGBT community we also see violence such as occurred at the Pulse in Orlando; at the very moment in our nation’s life when both of our major political parties are struggling with how we best can live up to the America values of equality, liberty and justice for all, there are reactive forces at work trying to take us backwards.” (from this sermon on 1 Peter 3:13-18)
The Lesson of Nard: Devotion to Jesus and Dedication to Service / June 12, 2016 / Although Chanel certainly never would name a perfume, Nard #9, in the ancient world nard was a rare and highly prized fragrance, despite its odd name (taken from the spikenard plant). Which explains the reaction of the disciples to the extravagant anointing of Jesus’ feet with this expensive ointment. There’s a double lesson to be learned from John 12, a reminder of God’s extravagant grace toward us. God’s lavish love calls for equally extravagant devotion and service from Jesus’ followers.
Turnarounds: The Gospel According to You / June 5, 2016 / John Clifford, formerly addicted, formerly incarcerated, now a staff member at CityTeam ministry to those who are homeless, is an excellent example of the power of faith and the faith community. His story is a gospel in itself, as told to Pastor Bob and four others who visited the ministry program in Chester, Pa. this past week. Sharing his story side by side with the story of the apostle Paul’s conversion, Pastor Bob invites you to consider your own personal story as part of the gospel story that you need to share with others.
Prone to Forget, Prodded to Remember / May 29, 2016 / Without memory, we lose our identity and we lose our connection to other people. No wonder there are more than 200 commands to “remember” in our bible! Remembering connects us to the great deeds of God; remembering connects us to one another as people of faith; remembering gives us our spiritual identity. This is true of our national identity, too. During an election cycle when it seems like some people are ignoring or forgetting the lessons of history, Pastor Bob counsels remembering our nation’s history so as to preserve freedom. We remember, so that no one can take away freedom from any one.
TMI vs the Truth of Jesus / May 22, 2016 / On this Trinity Sunday Pastor Bob wonders why Jesus never explained the Trinity? Jesus refers to all three “persons” in today’s Gospel reading (Jn 16:12-15). But apparently the Truth he promises the Spirit will lead us into has nothing to do with propositions about doctrine and everything to do with promises about God’s presence. Although the story at the end may bring tears, it’s the perfect illustration of the power that the Trinity can bring into your life, even if you can’t explain it.
The Power of Pentecost / May 15, 2016 / Could that awkwardness you feel be the Holy Spirit nudging you into a conversation about the meaning of “Black Lives Matter” with someone on the opposite side of the color line from you? The Power of Pentecost is in the connection the Holy Spirit can make, connecting people with God and with one another across all barriers. Which is what happened with language barriers in the story in Acts 2, people connecting with other people to accomplish God’s purpose. Maybe we can do this too.
What Would Jesus Jazz? A Pastor’s Take / May 7, 2016 / What does jazz have to do with Jesus? Pastor Bob gives his take on the relationship between jazz and spirituality, sharing what he’s learned as a non-musician from the world of jazz, complete with audio clips! In honor of his mother, who introduced him to jazz, he begins with the big band jazz he listened to as a child, and then concludes with a life lesson from Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. Reframing Christian freedom in the Spirit as similar to jazz improvisation, Pastor Bob re-imagines God as the greatest jazz artist of all.
The Strongest Power Behind the Truest Authority / May 1, 2016 / Do you know the difference between power and authority? Pastor Bob explores this so as to better understand the way Paul sings about Jesus in Philippians 2, who “took the form of a servant, humbling himself unto death,” but now is ascended, our highly exalted Savior. Interesting stuff about being pulled over by the police, his mother, Mother Teresa, and your own call.
It’s Monday Morning – Do You Know Where Your Church Is? / April 10, 2016 / Do you ever feel like the scribe in the story in Mark 12:28? You live your life loving God and loving your neighbor; then Jesus tells you you’re “not far” from the kingdom? That’s great, but then again, if you’re “not far” that also implies you’re “not there” yet. In an original and unusual interpretation of this passage, Pastor Bob suggests how delegates at the annual meeting of the Penn Northeast Conference could share their faith so we truly can “Be the Church,” the theme of the session. Audio includes brief comments by the Rev. Alan Miller, PNEC Conference Minister at the end of the sermon.
Holy Hilarity! Levity is Life’s Lubricant / April 3, 2016 / Some Christians have just enough faith to make themselves miserable, but that’s not what faith is for, and that’s not what spirituality is about. Pastor Bob explores the relationship between faith and humor, quoting theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “Humor is a prelude to faith, and laughter is the beginning of prayer.” Keep the faith, and keep your sense of humor.
Rumor of a Resurrection and Holy Heartburn / March 27, 2016 / Women report finding an empty tomb and seeing a vision of angels who say Christ is risen … so Cleopas and his friend decide to leave town? Why would they go back home to Emmaus just as things were starting to get interesting? Learning from their experience translates to lessons for our own lives as the deeper meanings of the resurrection sink-in to our minds and hearts. (“Supper at Emmaus” by He Qi http://www.heqiart.com/)
Holy Week: The Palms and the Passion / March 20, 2016 / Relive the story of Jesus’ last days. This service without a sermon includes all the scripture and music that tell the story of Holy Week. You’ll hear the most profound passages of the gospels and you can sing along with the most beautiful hymns of the Christian faith. A link for a program for the service, Holy Week – The Palms and the Passion has words to all the songs so you can follow the readings and sing along with the music in this 29 minute excerpt from today’s service.
Models of Leadership: Moses & Jesus / March 13, 2016 / Leadership among God’s people is based on shared responsibility and authority like you see in Moses (Ex 18), and on values revealed by Jesus, like serving others instead of being served (Lk 22). Pastor Bob explains how these principles come together in the role of deacons (Acts 6) being ordained and installed in worship today. We are blessed at Zion’s to have a dozen men and women currently serving as elders and deacons, and even more blessed to be adding Doug Brace, Rochell Figueroa and Jacob Sanchez to their number.
Everybody’s Welcome at the Party / March 6, 2016 / What if the people you thought were party-crashers turn out to be the guests of honor? That’s just the kind of thing Jesus might ask the institutional Church. Today’s sermon on the familiar parable of the prodigal in Luke 15 winds up with a not-so-familiar challenge. After exploring a couple traditional interpretations, Pastor Bob reminds the congregation we ourselves are more likely to be in the position of the “elder brother.” We need to heed the advice of the father to extend the same kind of extravagant welcome to others that God gives to us all!
That Was the Year That Was: Anointed / February 28, 2016 / Curiously, perhaps providentially, the words Jesus used to frame his ministry in Luke 4:18-19 also can frame an overview of Zion’s mission development in 2015. Jesus’ announcement that he brings good news to the poor is rooted Isaiah 61 and in Leviticus 25, which offer a vision for economic justice that is still relevant today. Pastor Bob summarizes key events of Zion’s ministry this past year in light of Jesus’ teaching on this congregational meeting Sunday.
A Challenge to Change: Listen to Jesus / February 21, 2016 / You’d think the message of the transfiguration story was so obvious it didn’t need to be stated. There’s this dramatic vision of Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop with Jesus. There’s a thundering voice from the heavens, “This is my Son, my Chosen.” Did the heavenly voice really need to add, “Listen to him” ? Isn’t it obvious we should listen to him? Well, actually no. Listening to Jesus often challenges us to change. We can become so defensive we miss the message. So this Lent we’ll be listening for the voice of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke and in other contemporary voices that speak in his name.
First Defenders: First Things First / February 14, 2016 / Voices from the past teach us lessons for the present. Abraham Lincoln, the First Defenders, the prophet Micah and (of course) Jesus come together to challenge us to get our priorities straight. Pastor Bob’s sermon at the annual service commemorating men who were the first to respond to Abraham Lincoln’s call at the onset of the Civil War links “Black Lives Matter” and issues of racial and economic justice to the prophet’s call for justice, kindness and humility.
Memorial Service Eulogies in Celebration of the Life of Michael Donovan / February 6, 2016 / This week instead of posting my Sunday sermon, I’m uploading the eulogies given at the memorial service for Michael Donovan as well as my closing remarks on Saturday, February 6. ~ Pastor Bob
Remarks by Bill Hoffman
Remarks by Carol Pulham
Remarks by Ned Donovan
Remarks by Will Donovan
Remarks by Pastor Bob Stevens
Christian Community and the Common Good / January 17, 2016 / What does the standoff at Oregon’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge and the 1.5 billion dollar lottery jackpot have to do with Paul’s advice to Christians in I Corinthians 12? Plenty, when you consider the common denominator is a question about the common good. For Paul, that’s what Christianity is all about, and everyone’s gifts and talents should be directed to creating a community based on the common good. First in a two-part series.
The Prophecy Hidden in the Baptism of Jesus / January 10, 2016 / Focusing on a few verses usually omitted when Luke’s version of Jesus’ baptism is read, Pastor Bob highlights John the Baptist’s message embedded in the text. It continued the long tradition of prophetic voices condemning kings and priests, politicians and religious leaders, when they acted unjustly for their own gain and ignored the needs of the poor. He challenges us to live up to the biblical vision of God’s shalom city, the beloved community, where righteousness and justice, peace and prosperity, are shared by all.
Astrology Eclipses Theology as Epiphany brings Theophany / January 3, 2016 / God’s GPS, the star in the east, could have been any of several astronomical phenomena. But it’s the astrological guidance system that yielded surprising lessons for the not-really-so-wise men: God brings all people into the kingdom in Christ, so that we all might dream God’s dreams, avoid evil and do the good that needs to be done in this world. Pastor Bob’s interpretation of Matthew 2 for this new year’s sermon. Note Creative Commons artwork: Adoration of the Magi, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN – 2001 by Dr. He Qi, professor at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
The Wisdom of Elizabeth, the Song of Mary / December 20, 2015 / Mary and Elizabeth have much to teach us about listening for God’s voice, supporting one another in obeying God’s call, and about acting in faith to build toward God’s coming kingdom. Pastor Bob notes a subtle lesson in his commentary on Luke 1: just as Elizabeth confirmed for Mary that her pregnancy was in fulfillment of God’s Word, we need to confirm God’s call and purpose for one another when we’re trying to understand what God is saying to us. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Excavating for Joy / December 5, 2015 / Spiritual excavation? John the Baptist compares the excavating and grading you’d do in building a highway, to repentance, a spiritual clearing the way. He calls us to set straight what is crooked in our lives, to smooth the rough edges of our personality and to fill the holes in our character. All this clears the way for the coming of God’s messiah into our lives. Repentance then becomes the path to the hope, peace, joy and love we celebrate in advent. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Not Another Nice Sermon about Peace / December 6, 2015 / “We who worship and serve the prince of peace have to do something to end the gun violence in America,” Pastor Bob challenged the congregation today. Speaking as though he were John the Baptist this second Sunday in advent, traditionally designated Peace Sunday, he said, “America must repent of its addiction to violence and guns, and Christian Americans should lead the way.” Critiquing Jerry Falwell Jr.’s remarks at Liberty University as irresponsible and unchristian, he reminded us that Jesus specifically told Peter to put down his sword. “The kingdom of God does not advance through violence,” he said as he pictured Jesus weeping over America as he once wept over Jerusalem. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Advent Hope: Dancing in the Darkness / November 29, 2015 / An example from the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss underscores how you can have hope when there is so much evil and darkness in the world. Pastor Bob takes a close look at Jeremiah 29:11 and the “future with hope” God promises there. So similar to the hope we know in the advent of Jesus Christ: as light shines in the darkness, so hope sustains us in the difficulties of life. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
From Remembrance to Perseverance / November 22, 2015 / The German tradition of Totenfest is nearly lost in our modern age. Celebrated on this, the last Sunday of the church year, it is a remembrance of thankfulness for the lives of those who have died in the past year. It also calls to mind that “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1), the saints in every time and beyond time who inspire us to persevere. Pastor Bob delves into the significance of this ancient tradition as well as the meaning of the biblical text with an inspiring example for today. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
A Cosmic Wonder for World Communion / October 4, 2015 / The first few verses of Hebrews give us insight as to how first century Christians endured hardship and persecution. This is an inspiring lesson at any time but especially on this world communion Sunday. If you are tempted, like the Hebrews, to lose faith, to give up hope or to ask why bother to do what is good, right and loving when there is so much hate and evil in the world, the wonder-full picture presented in Pastor Bob’s exposition of today’s texts gives you something to think about. (Icon image by Robert Lentz, from the cover of “The Coming of the Cosmic Christ” by Matthew Fox [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Think, Drink and Be Revolutionary / September 20, 2015 / There were two places where colonists learned about the meaning of freedom and the need for a revolution in the colonial era: in the churches and in the taverns! Tracing some of the history of Pennsylvania Germans who were as likely to hear about the ideas and ideals of the revolution in the church as in the tavern, Pastor Bob links Jeremiah 29:4-7 to being “revolutionary” in the broadest sense. He challenges us to act against the status quo, to stand up for oneself against what is unfair and unjust, and to defy the “powers that be” when necessary in everyday acts of rebellion, as acts of faith. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Jesus the Bigot? The Bias and the Breakthrough / September 6, 2015 / Even a quick reading of Mark 7:24-30 presents a problem for Christians. How could Jesus use an ethnic slur to refer to this woman and her daughter? Pastor Bob presents a challenging interpretation in today’s service based on the African Methodist Episcopal Church Council of Bishops’ call to focus on confession, repentance, prayer and a commitment to end racism. Then he presents suggestions for people who hold positions of privilege and power as well as for people of color who have suffered the effects of racism. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
The Words, the Word and the World / August 30, 2015 / The bible is sacred to Christians because it is God who encounters us when we are listening for the Word in the words of the scriptures. Explaining how James compares the Word to a mirror (1:22-27), Pastor Bob says if you really hear the Word you will truly see the world differently. And when you hear the Word and see the world as Christ sees it, you will want to do something about what you see! PS – Harry Potter makes a guest appearance in the message today! [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Forgiveness Explored, Grace Discovered / August 9, 2015 / You can almost hear the angels singing when people in conflict come to understand their differences, forgive one another and are reconciled. But forgiveness is challenging when people who behave in hostile, hurtful ways show no remorse and no intention to repent. In today’s sermon, Pastor Bob explores the meaning of Ephesians 4:32 citing the example of relatives of the Charleston Nine victims. They gave public witness to the way forgiveness is ultimately grounded in the identity and calling of the Christian who chooses love instead of hate. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
The Unimaginable and the Inexpressible: Bread and Other Everyday Signs of God / August 2, 2015 / Jesus’ miracle, the feeding of the 5000 with five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6), entices the crowds to follow him. But Jesus discounts their quest for food and instead challenges them to recognize their spiritual hunger when he offers himself as the ‘bread of life.’ Their inability to see this sign from God even when it is right in front of them becomes a cautionary tale for us, so that we might watch for signs of God all around us. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Christmas in July: Coca-Cola, Christ and our Calling / July 26, 2015 / 151 shopping days till Christmas may give you the necessary emotional distance to consider several little-known facts about the origins of the holiday, facts that may surprise you! With that information, Pastor Bob challenges you to a transformation: consider how you might celebrate Christmas 2015 taking these words of Jesus most seriously, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-16). [Note: in the informal setting of summer services in the chapel, Pastor Bob invited members to talk with one another during today’s sermon. So you may notice a little “blip” about 3 minutes 25 seconds into the message when the audio recording was stopped for discussion and then restarted when the sermon resumed; then again about 30 seconds before the conclusion. Click audio bar below to listen.]
The Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bible: It’s All about Context / July 5, 2015 / Were Christians in colonial times disobedient to God when they started the American revolution? Yes, if Romans 13 is taken literally. (“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities…. pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants.”) Such an obvious example shows the need to understand the context in which the scriptures were written, as well as the context of the contemporary situation, before applying the Bible literally and uncritically to what faithful Christians are called to do. Pastor Bob’s teaching uses Romans 13 to frame a new way to look at issues like racism and marriage equality. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
The Problems and the Possibilitues of Church / June 14, 2015 / Repeated scandals in the Church, fundamentalist anti-science attitudes, and accusations of hypocrisy have led many to question the Church as a trustworthy authority for Christian faith and practice. Pastor Bob surprised some people in the congregation with his response to these three major criticisms. His message challenges us to make the church a safe place, to celebrate God’s gift of scientific knowledge as well as biblical wisdom, and to acknowledge our shortcomings even as we grow to maturity in Christ. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Revolutionary Ideal, Evolutionary Change / May 31, 2015 / The patriots who fought for the ideal of freedom and justice continued to draw distinctions of gender, race and class that protected their own power and privilege, ironically denying full freedom to some. So the struggle to extend freedom and justice to all requires continuing, evolutionary change based on that revolutionary ideal. In his sermon on Patriots Sunday, Pastor Bob interpreted the text, “for freedom Christ has set you free. Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1) to illuminate this American ideal from a biblical perspective, with surprising relevance to a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court: marriage equality. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
The Circle of Life and the Circle of Faith / May 24, 2015 / Celebrating the birth of a baby at a baptism ceremony on Pentecost gives us the opportunity to think about the other kind of birth to which Jesus referred. In this new look at the old story of Nicodemus (John 3:1-10), Pastor Bob uncovers and explains a couple of puns in Jesus’ teaching, then gives us a new perspective on being born-again-born-from-above. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Overhearing Prayer: Lessons / May 16, 2015 / Listening in as your child prays, reading slips of paper discovered in a deceased relative’s prayer box, and reading John 17 all are examples of “overhearing” prayer. Not quite the same as eavesdropping, overhearing prayer can draw us into the presence of God, even into the mystery of God. As you overhear Jesus’ prayer, you will discover several enlightening lessons in Pastor Bob’s exposition of this text. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Mother’s Day, Wyatt Earp and Jesus / May 10, 2015 / Probably no other pastor talked about Wyatt Earp and Jesus on Mother’s Day! Before Mother’s Day, a lot of posts and articles on blogs noted that it’s not really a holiday on the church’s own calendar, and that it commercializes what originally was a mothers’ march for peace. Then on the day itself, you see a lot of idealistic “odes” to mothers. Pastor Bob takes a different approach (as usual), working his way through the text of the day, John 15:9-17, to give another perspective on motherhood, including a surprise revelation about his own mother at the end. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
The ABVs of Faith: Abide, Branch in the Vine / May 3, 2015 / Action needs to be balanced by reflection: go ahead, act on your faith and charge into the world. But you also will need to take time to re-charge in spirit. This week’s text, “Jesus, the true vine” from John 15:1-8, brings a needed balance after the pastors’ call-to-action sermons since Easter Sunday. Jesus’ image of the vine and the branches helps you diagnose and attend to your own spiritual needs, so that you are renewed for service again. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Do Diligence: Caught Faith / April 26, 2015 / Who knew? This is the key to faithful parenting! Pastor Bob shows how these verses (Deut. 6:4-9, 20-25) so vitally important both to Moses and Jesus, provide guidance to parents who want their children to have strong faith. After a line by line exposition of this ancient text, Pastor Bob challenges the usual view of Jesus and the little children (Luke 18:15-17) and then raises the all-important question for parents about the way their faith affects their children. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
All Heaven Breaking Loose / April 19, 2015 / Drawing on the example of Zion’s fledgling ministry to the homeless, a stopgap to provide shelter to those displaced by the sudden closing of the Alliance Hall Shelter, Pastor Chris Cocca describes a community that is inclusive of the homeless. A church may need to die to its image of itself to be reborn as an Easter community, an interpretation of Mark 8:35, a sign of the kingdom of God which shows itself in justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Holy Hilarity: Faith, Hope, Love and Laughter / April 12, 2015 / Sharing the gift of humor that a homeless woman brought to Zion’s church, Pastor Bob illustrates how refreshing it is to celebrate God’s gift of laughter, especially after these 40 days of Lent when we were focused on “deadly sins.” He then provides the background to understand Psalm 126, where we learn that laughter and even joy are possible in virtually any situation because God is with us in every situation. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Easter’s Virtue: from Aimless to Zeal / April 5, 2015 / With such an unlikely topic for an Easter message, Pastor Bob first gives a quick review of the insights gained about vice and virtue from previous weeks in this concluding sermon in the series. Then he focuses on Romans 12:11 to hig
hlight the seventh vice, sloth, and its antidote virtue, zeal, anchoring this spiritual truth in the Easter gospel. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Above Lust and Beyond Gluttony / March 22, 2015 / Today Pastor Bob takes on two of the toughest deadly sins: lust and gluttony. Noting that Jesus himself was accused of being a glutton, and looking back to the creation story in Genesis 1 for the origin of lust as well as gluttony, he discovers inspiration in the Last Supper that is the clue to the virtue in these vices. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
From the Sin of Anger to the Virtue of Indignation / March 15, 2015 / It may seem like a short walk from Anger to Indignation, but the spiritual path takes you from haughty self-righteousness to a selfless pursuit of justice, which may be a very long journey indeed. Pastor Chris Cocca’s touchstone is Ephesians 4:25-27 as he explores the meaning of the death of a homeless man in Allentown, urging us to move from anger to Indignation to activism. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
If Greed Met Grace and Envy Were Conquered by Kindness / March 8, 2015 / With food for thought from Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko as well as First Timothy 6:6-12, Pastor Chris Cocca explores greed and envy, deadly sins #2 & #3, in this morning’s message, part of Zion’s Lenten series, “Finding the Virtue in the Vice.” Christians are called not merely to avoid these “fraternal twin” vices, but to practice the “antidote” virtues so we may discover the joy God intends us to know. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Inverting Humility and Elevating Pride / March 1, 2015 / What happens when you go looking for some lively virtues in the Seven Deadly Sins? If you’re Pastor Bob, you travel by way of Gilligan’s Island, Pope Gregory the Great, and Lehigh County’s Black History Celebration and then you challenge centuries-old teaching about the 1st deadly sin and its opposite virtue. PB says “pride isn’t so bad for us; and humility may not be so good.” A word to the wise, grounded in the story of Jesus’ temptation (Mark 1:9-15). The first in the Lenten series: “Finding the Virtue in the Vice.” [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Humor and Humility in Lincoln: The Spirituality of His Leadership / February 15, 2015 / Like a modern comedian, Lincoln saw the incongruities and the paradoxes of life. He made fun of them, but he also made wise use of them in his humorous stories, in which he often poked fun of himself. His wide biblical knowledge, his deep faith and his mature and humble spirituality enabled him to take morally sophisticated positions on the complex issues of his day without becoming self-righteous and rigid. A model for leadership, and for people of faith, today. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
From Healed to Helper / February 8, 2015 / Chris Cocca shares insights from the story of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law in Mark 1:29-39, reminding us we also can be healed, from whatever we need healing for, when we come to Jesus. And healing comes not merely for ourselves … we are healed so that we may serve and proclaim Christ to others. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
The Surprise of Shalom: Continued / February 1, 2015 / How are people of faith supposed to work for the “shalom” of a city like Allentown that is enjoying such bountiful prosperity, knowing that the biblical vision of shalom requires justice, too? Jeremiah 29 constrains us to think about God’s goal for the city, and it compels us to take part in God’s purpose for the city. Continuing the conversation at Zion. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
More than a Feeling: the Surprise of Shalom / January 25, 2015 / What would it mean for us to “seek the shalom of the city,” like Jeremiah challenged people to do centuries ago? (Jer. 29:7) Pastor Bob’s answer is retrospective, reviewing Zion church’s role in the city dating back to the American Revolution. It also is introspective, calling you to consider the meanings of shalom, some of which may be new to you: peace, well-being, welfare, wholeness, health, reconciliation, prosperity, safety and security; all of which comprise the shalom of the city. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Memorial Service Celebrating the life of Chuck Weinmann / January 8, 2015 / This audio file of excerpts from the service includes: “My Way” by Frank Sinatra; scripture and prayer by Pastor Bob Stevens; remarks by Scott Fainor, Charlie Theil, and Ray Bridgeman. There also is a brief epilogue by Pastor Bob that was not in the original service. This recording does not include the Masonic service nor the fifteen minutes of “gathering music” selections from car music classics of the 1960s. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
“It’s About Time: a Cynical Cycle or a Spiritual Spiral?” / January 4, 2015 / Forget New Year’s resolutions for a moment. Consider your philosophy of Time as you listen to Pastor Bob’s new year’s message. Beginning with this famous scripture about time: “to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven,” made famous by Pete Seeger and the Byrds, PB shows how the original author, Ecclesiastes, actually was cynical about life because he had a cyclical view of time. The good news as we enter the season of Epiphany is that Jesus shows us a bigger picture and gives us a longer view: time as a spiral moving forward and upward. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
The Dark Side of Dickens and the Light of Christ / December 24, 2014 / A miserly old guy finally gets into the Christmas spirit – that’s the superficial meaning of “A Christmas Carol.” But Dickens intended that we consider more serious themes. In fact, there is a dark side to the story. It’s not discussed very often, much less on Christmas Eve. But as Pastor Bob shows in his meditation, via Dickens’ story as well as the Christmas story, it is only when we look into our own darkness that we can understand what it means to say: Jesus is the light of the world. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Dickens’ Ghost of the Future: An Advent Obituary Exercise / December 21, 2014 / Imagine you could read your own obituary, or like Ebenezer Scrooge, that you could see your own grave and tombstone. What will be written there? In the context of Isaiah 11-12, Pastor Bob explores how the Future visits us, and how the Present transforms those who dare to listen to the Future. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Seeing Scrooge as a Spiritual “Sign” / December 7, 2014 / Did you know that Scrooge went to church on Christmas Day after experiencing his stunning change of heart? In this original interpretation of Dicken’s classic, “A Christmas Carol,” Pastor Bob explores the question: what caused Scrooge’s transformation on Christmas Eve? Then, interpreting Acts 17:22-34, he shows how the Bible and Dickens offer a challenge to modern spirituality. Food for thought for the second Sunday in Advent and the first in his series, Worship like the Dickens. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
The Purpose and Power of Repentance / November 30, 2014 / In contrast to the frantic holiday preparations all around us, Christians are called to start the holy-day season with the simple message of John the Baptist: repent. If we are to “prepare the way…make straight the paths” of our lives for Jesus as we’re told in Mark 1:1-8, that means there will be need to be some changes made. Pastor Bob explores several steps we need to take so that Christ can be born in us again. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
God Incognito: Salvation by Surprise / November 23, 2014 / No one likes to contemplate the Judgement Day depicted in Matthew 25:31-40, but when you study the parable of the sheep and the goats you realize the surprise at the heart of the parable is also the central point of the parable. This message is a fitting conclusion to this series on the parables in Matthew 25. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
The Principle in the Parable / November 16, 2014 / You may be surprised to learn just what a “talent” is in this not-quite-typical sermon based on the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:13-40). Pastor Bob begins with the best-known interpretation (“do not bury your talents”) but then he digs deeper to reveal another principle that is even more important for Christians who want to be disciples. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Tending God’s Light / November 9, 2014 / The bachelorettes in this parable learn two important lessons (Matthew 25:1-13): some things in life cannot be put off till the last minute; and some things in life cannot be borrowed. Some of them learn the hard way, but that’s what makes it helpful to us. This is not just about procrastination … are you ready to take the reality of God this seriously in your life? [Click audio bar below to listen.]
From Biology to Theology: The Secret Power at Work / October 26, 2014 / Why bother to be good when there is so much evil in the world? Why bother to do good in a world where so many do whatever they feel like doing? Jesus’ brief parable of the growing seed in Mark 4:26-7 extends an analogy from the natural world to the spiritual world, showing how God is at work beneath the surface of events to accomplish the divine will. Pastor Bob offers counsel about what the church should do in the meantime for this Reformation Sunday service. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Jesus the Subversive: Politics, Proof Texts and Principles / October 20, 2014 / Jesus turned a trap into a trope that may seem trite today. But Pastor Bob deconstructs the famous “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:15-22) and reveals the subversive side of this saying. He gets a little subversive himself as he takes on the all-too-common practice of preachers’ proof-texting to push their personal political program. He also offers an alternative, alliteratively, of course. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Something New about the Old Testament / October 4, 2014 / You can be forgiven if you never knew this about the Ten Commandments. It’s a detail at the very beginning of Exodus 20 that makes all the difference in the meaning. You may never look at the Ten Commandments the same way again. (Pastor Bob hopes not!) [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Why Should I Tell You? The Authority of the Powerless / September 27, 2014 / When the religious (and political) leaders asked Jesus ‘by whose authority?’ he acted, they got a response they didn’t expect! Pastor Bob’s explanation of Matthew 21:23-32 explores the difference between power and authority. It will help you better understand Philippians 2:6-8, Mother Teresa, and your own calling as a disciple of Jesus. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Zion’s Church: from Hospital to Hospitality / September 20, 2014 / Zion’s Church is known as the place where the Liberty Bell was hidden during the war for independence. Less well-known: the church also was utilized as a hospital site for the wounded. This teaching explains the transition from “house of God” to “hospital” in light of Romans 12:3-13, which also inspires the mission of the church today. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
The Wheelbarrow of Faith / September 14, 2014 / How much do you trust God? Or perhaps the question should be, how do you trust God? A dramatic illustration at the start of this teaching frames the issue. Pastor Bob’s explanation of Romans 14:1-12 then opens a new way to understand the well-known text, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart…” (Proverbs 3:5-6). [Click audio bar below to listen.]
A Never-Ending Debt Paid with Ever-Flowing Grace / September 7, 2014 / Why would Paul speak about love in terms of a “debt” that you owe? Pastor Bob gives you a new way to think about a familiar text, Romans 13:8, which will help you celebrate your faith and begin thinking about what it might mean to “love your neighborHOOD.” [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Did Jesus Need LifeLock? A Case of Mistaken Identity / August 31, 2014 / Some people reject Jesus and dismiss Christianity based on a case of mistaken identity. In fact there are followers of Jesus who don’t really know him, beginning with St. Peter himself. This teaching from Matthew 16:21-28 picks up from last week’s message, where Pastor Bob explored Peter’s famous confession. Now the question becomes personal: do you really know Jesus? [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Simon Says: The Rock and the Revelation / August 24, 2014 / A simple question from Jesus opens a window into 1st century problems and 21st century possibilities. How did people think about Jesus back then; and how can we know Jesus today? Pastor Bob explores Matthew 16:16-17 to trace the meaning of the rock and the revelation in Jesus words to Peter. Where do you see yourself in this story? [Click audio bar below to listen.]
An Apostle’s Secret, Revealed / August 17, 2014 / You will find new meaning in this oft-quoted text when you understand the context in which Philippians 4:10-13 was written. Back after a three-week vacation, Pastor Bob reveals the apostle’s “secret,” then guides you through four helpful reference points so you can identify ways to be content in your life. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Baptism: Life, Abundantly / July 20, 2014 / Every culture has its own ways to celebrate life, and most cultures celebrate a significance beyond our biological existence. Jesus certainly has a few things to say about life, and John 10:10 is a great example of his teaching. But this passage is one of the most misquoted and misunderstood texts from the Bible. Pastor Bob, using his own translation of the text, explains the meaning in the context of a celebration of baptism today. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
I Got a Mind: More than a Mindset / July 13, 2014 / Have you ever thought about committing Christianity? Or how you might “aid and abet” the work of the Holy Spirit? Pastor Bob explores Romans 8:1-11 from a unique perspective, with forays into Zen Buddhism and Duke Ellington. He shows how people can be indoctrinated into a false “mindset” about themselves, as well as how you can take responsibility to “set your mind” in ways that bring life and peace. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
The Crack in the Bell: Letting the Light In / July 6, 2014 / Jesus’ words, “the truth shall make you free,” (John 8:32) become the guiding principle to examine the Declaration of Independence and the issues of racism we continue to struggle with in America, even as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Pastor Bob challenges you to examine your experience of “ white privilege” as a step toward greater freedom for all. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
SWOT’s New in the Church? / June 22, 2014 / Only Pastor Bob would use a SWOT matrix to explain a biblical passage! It’s actually a helpful way to understand the background of some very disturbing words of Jesus in Matthew 10:35-38. Then if you think it’s a good tool to examine the first century church, you’ll see how helpful it is when looking at the 21st century church, too! Consider this an invitation to extend the dialogue on re-imagining Zion’s church. [Click audio bar below to listen.]
Lessons from the Waiting Father / June 15, 2014 / You may never have heard these alternate interpretations of the parable of the Prodigal Son, but they are perfectly suited to a Sunday when we celebrate both Father’s Day and Trinity Sunday. Pastor Bob launches into a “double-header” message based on Luke 15:11-32. [Click audio bar to listen.]
Pentecost Power: Reimagining Church / June 8, 2014 / It’s no secret: God is shaking up the institutional church. Are you ready to drink the “new wine” mentioned in Acts 2:1-21 to see where God is leading us? Pastor Bob looks at this text from three different perspectives to teach about the meaning of Pentecost, then and now. [Click audio bar to listen.]
An Apostles’ Eye View: At the Feet of Jesus / June 1, 2014 / Using Salvador Dali’s interpretation of an artistic theme from the middle ages, Pastor Bob explores the Ascension of Christ from a new perspective: the bottom. You’ll come to understand the story of the Ascension in Luke 24:44-50 and Acts 1:1-11 in a new way, and you’ll receive a few questions to ponder in this final week before Pentecost. [Click audio bar to listen.]
Revolution: Reading Between the Lines / May 25, 2014 / You may never have heard this biblical text about women in the New Testament, much less have it explained as Pastor Bob does in this teaching. Drawing on a historical parallel about the role of women in the American Revolution for our Patriots Sunday service this Memorial Day weekend, Pastor Bob interprets Romans 16:1- 7 as a challenge for all Christians. [Click audio bar to listen.]
He is I Am: A New Look at a Classic Text / May 18, 2014 / You probably know this text, but the context is what makes it so meaningful for your life as a Christian. The writer of the gospel of John shows us the true identity and authority of Jesus in John 14:1-14. Then Pastor Bob shows why this was such a comfort to the Christians in Jesus’ day and to us as well. [Click audio bar to listen.]
Baptism, the Sequel: A Continuing Commitment / May 11, 2014 / An unusual gift makes for a surprising introduction to this message about baptism. Interpreting Romans 6:3-11, Pastor Bob presses us to expand our thinking beyond baptism as an event to baptism as a conscious and continuous process. By the end of the message, you will identify your next step to “grow into” your baptism. [Click audio bar to listen.]
Funny You Should Ask – Health, Humor and Spirituality / April 27, 2014 / You may know that laughter is good medicine and that a sense of humor promotes health. Did you also know that humor and spirituality go together, too? Beginning with the biblical story of Abraham and Sarah, and with a few jokes of his own along the way, Pastor Bob shows how “humor is a prelude to faith, and laughter is the beginning of prayer.” [Click audio bar to listen.]
No Sign Will Be Given: A Parable to Provoke / April 20, 2014 / The point of the parables is to provoke! Jesus himself was a pretty provocative guy, so Pastor Bob feels free to give his own provocative interpretation of this “parable” in Matthew 12:22-41, not to mention a provocative approach to the resurrection on Easter Sunday. Enjoy! [Click audio bar to listen.]
Ironies, Incongruities and the Reversal of God / April 13, 2014 / There are so many ironies and incongruities in life, we should not be surprised to find them in the bible, too. Like in the Palm Sunday story, and the story of holy week. Both are examples of the great reversals of God! Pastor Bob shows how this theme is found throughout the gospels, why this applies to the “reversals” we experience in our lives, and what this means to us as disciples of Jesus.
Heaven’s Lost and Found: The Anguish of God, The Joy of Jesus / April 6, 2014 / Have you heard St. Anthony’s prayer for finding lost articles? Not the childhood rhyme (“come ’round, come ’round”) but the actual prayer? The prayer identifies the spiritual issues you may face when you lose something; then those issues help you to understand Jesus’ parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep in Luke 15:1-10. Take a new look at an old parable. (Click audio bar below for message.)
Challenging Money-theism: Swimming Against the Current / March 30, 2014 / If you want to follow Jesus in 21st century America, you have to swim against strong cultural currents. The parable of the bigger barns seems to give an obvious lesson (Lk 12:13-34), but the application of its truth brings a certain tension into your life. Pastor Bob’s interpretation highlights the issues and offers a rule of thumb as well as a word of assurance. (Click audio bar below for message.) Photo credit: Carol M. Highsmith – WikiMedia Commons.
The Point of the Parable: Our Story and “The” Story / March 16, 2014 / Would you believe the history of the Bible is condensed into 250 words in this not-too-well-known parable of Jesus? (Well, a couple of the most important themes anyway.) The parable of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46) reveals the pattern of the prophets and yields insight about God, Jesus, and our own discipleship in Pastor Bob’s interpretation for the second Sunday in Lent. (Click audio bar below for message.)
The Soil of the Soul / March 9, 2014 / Are you afflicted with hardening of the “smarteries”? Do you ever find yourself pulled in all directions with devilish distractions? In his first message in this Lenten series on the parables of Jesus, Pastor Bob draws three important lessons from the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23) to help you grow in faith as a Christian. (Click audio bar below for message.)
The Test and the Task of the Christian / March 2, 2014 / Surprise. Fear. Awe and wonder. “You were there” for the transfiguration in this re-telling of the story from Matthew 17:1-9. Then consider, what did it mean for them? And what does it mean for you? Pastor Bob touches on ancient and contemporary issues in this message that will show you how to better understand and interpret the Bible. (Click audio bar below for message.)
Civil War Music: Lessons and Learning / February 9, 2014 / Do you know what kind of music Abraham Lincoln liked best? Or why the song, “be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home,” was banned by the Union Army? Find the answers, and learn about the power of music during the civil war, as well as the power of music today, in this message prepared by Pastor Bob Stevens for the Honoray First Defenders annual commemorative service at the church. (Click audio bar below for message; click link for pdf copy of the poem he reads during the message: MUSIC IN CAMP – John Reuben Thompson )
The Rejection of Ritual: Fasting for Justice / February 2, 2014 / Forget what you’ve read about fasting and listen to Pastor Bob’s interpretation of Isaiah 58. Consider this: the pangs of hunger you feel should become the first twinge of compassion for those who always are hungry; the rumbling in your stomach should become the grumbling of discontent with the status quo; and the weakness and loss of energy that fasting often brings should inspire you to use your strength when it returns to act on behalf of the weak. (Click audio bar below image.)
The State of the Church: Rejoicing in Him / January 26, 2014 / Key verses from Psalm 118 help us to “rejoice and be glad” about the way God is at work in us; and more specifically, the way God has been at work in the members of Zion’s church. On this annual meeting Sunday, Pastor Bob explains his own translation of Psalm 118:24 as he gives a kind of “state of the church” message. (Click audio bar below image.)
New Year’s Resolutions: A Spiritual Premise and a Biblical Promise / January 5, 2014 / Although there is nothing particularly Christian about the New Year’s holiday, the tradition of making resolutions to change something in your life is a deeply spiritual, faithful idea, based on a spiritual premise and a biblical promise. Pastor Bob explains Philippians 3:12-14 and brings spiritual insight to this annual tradition. (Click audio bar below image.)
The Best Christmas Gift – Baptism? / December 24, 2013 / What do you think happens when you combine “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” with a baptism and the traditional nativity story about the birth of Jesus? Pastor Bob brought these three together on Christmas Eve to provide insight into baptism as well as the Christmas story itself. A message for parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and anyone concerned about the world we are bringing children into today. (Click audio bar below image.)
Mary: Icon of Faith, Rebel with a Cause / December 22, 2013 / Do you know the other side of Mary? Everyone knows the Mary pictured in this painting of The Annunciation by Paolo de Matteis: a submissive, soft-spoken and obedient young woman who is a model of faith. Could it be that there is a feisty, rebellious side to Mary? Consider the biblical examples that Pastor Bob shares, including Luke 1:26-38, 46-55 and see whether she inspires you! (Click audio bar below image.)
Startled from Sleep: Beyond Belief / December 8, 2013 / You’ll enjoy entering the world of John the Baptist via Morpheus and the Matrix, and then you’ll discover that getting ready in advent is more challenging than getting ready for Christmas! There’s a lesson for us in what John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3. (Click audio bar below image.)
Surprised but Prepared / December 1, 2013 / Would you believe the Christmas story starts at the end of time? The gospel for the first Sunday in Advent, Matthew 24:36-44, looks ahead to the Final Advent of Christ (Judgment Day) in order to help us understand the First Advent (the birth of Jesus). The future helps us understand the past so we can be faithful in the present! (Click audio bar below.)
Hopeful Grief: Faith, Comfort and Praise / November 24, 2013 / We live in a death-denying culture. When a loved one dies, you get three days off and then you’re supposed to get over it. How does that honor our loved one? How does that help us deal with our grief? The teachings and traditions of the church provide the foundation for ‘hopeful grief’ that brings comfort and deepens faith. Pastor Bob interprets Paul’s words of advice in First Thessalonians 4:13-18 in this faith-affirming message. (Click audio bar below.) Note: Image of sculpture titled “Grief” by Bertram Mackennal (1863-1931) is courtesy of wikimedia commons. It is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.
Cheerful Giving: the Multiplication of Praise / November 16, 2013 / You’d think only Paul could get so excited when he shows why giving is such an amazing act of faith. But when Pastor Bob applies these teachings from 2 Corinthians 9:1-15 to what has happened at Zion’s church, you get excited too! (Click audio bar beneath picture.)
Table Talk for Thanksgiving? Faith and Politics / November 10, 2013 / Do you know the only political system endorsed by God in the Bible? Does your political affiliation matter to God? You might be surprised at the answers. Faith and politics are considered taboo topics by some people, but Pastor Bob helps us think about them in light of 1 Samuel 8:1-22 and Matthew 25:31-40. (Click audio bar beneath picture.)
The Perils of Paul and “Who-to” Power / November 3, 2013 / Three scenes from the life of the apostle Paul, including the shipwreck pictured here, provide background for you to understand one of Paul’s most powerful affirmations of faith. Pastor Bob paints word-pictures to prepare you to listen and learn from 2 Corinthians 4:1-10. (Click audio bar beneath picture.)
SBNR: What Would Jesus Say? / October 27, 2013 / This is a new twist on an old parable. On this Reformation Sunday, Pastor Bob explores what the “new” reformation of “Spiritual But Not Religious” has to sa y to Christians in the church in light of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 18:9-14. The text also has something to teach the SBNRs of the world who could learn a thing or two from the “old” reformation. (Click audio bar beneath picture.)
Another View of Providence: Plan B / October 20, 2013 / There is good news for those who feel like they’ve strayed far from God’s will and purpose for their life. Pastor Bob shows how Paul’s struggles in Romans 11:25-12:5, as well as the story of Adam and Eve, help us understand God’s perfect, circumstantial and ultimate will. (Click audio bar beneath picture.)
The Odds, the Outcast and the 90/10 Rule / Oct. 13, 2013 / A profound lesson from a simple healing. This could be one of the keys to contentment in life, especially the not-so-obvious rule of thumb Pastor Bob suggests for Christians at the end of his interpretation of Luke 17:11-19. (Click audio bar beneath picture.)
Praise and the Days of Old / October 6, 2013 / Why did they chose to chisel Psalm 65:1 above the entrance of Zion’s Church when it was built 125 years ago? In this anniversary re-dedication message, you’ll explore the meaning of Psalm 65 and discover the reason this magnificent structure was built. (Click audio bar beneath picture.)
Looking Back with Pride, Looking Forward with Hope / September 29, 2013 / When everything seemed hopeless to God’s people in exile, Jeremiah revealed that God had a plan for their future. Pastor Bob finds curious parallels to our situation at Zion’s church in this forward-looking celebration of ministry and mission based on Jeremiah 29:4-14. (Click audio bar beneath picture.)
Would-be Followers Should Be Futurists / September 22, 2013 / Sometimes I hate what Jesus says, like today’s lesson where he makes three harsh statements about discipleship. But harsh-sounding statements sometimes are hard lessons we really need to learn if we are serious about following Jesus. Which of these three, from Luke 9:57-10:2, fits your situation? (Click audio bar beneath picture.)
Treed or Freed? A New Look at Zacchaeus / September 15, 2013 / Although Zacchaeus was “vertically challenged,” he had more serious problems that better explain why he shinnied up that sycamore tree. You too may find yourself “treed” over spiritual issues. Learn what Zacchaeus really was freed from, as well as how, in this teaching on Luke 19:1-10. (Click audio bar beneath picture.)
Where’s the Faith? / September 8, 2013 / A surprising starting point in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah results in a back-to-basics message about baptism that challenges us to look at our own faith and calling from God. Who would have thought that Jeremiah has something to teach us about following Jesus! (Click audio bar beneath picture.)
Repaid at the Resurrection / September 1, 2013 / This simple lesson about humility based on etiquette at a dinner party morphs into a parable about our heavenly rewards and our earthly responsibilities. Pastor Bob gives an uplifting message based on Luke 14:7-14 that inspires us to persevere in our Christian calling. (Click audio bar beneath picture.)
Why Pray? P. R. A. Y. / August 4, 2013 / Drawing on examples as diverse as Bishop Desmond Tutu and a talking parrot, Pastor Bob gives a four-part answer to the question, Why pray? Based on the acronym P.R.A.Y, he helps us understand Matthew 6: 1-18 and some of the basic teachings of the Bible about prayer. (Click audio bar below.)
God’s Vision: It’s Not about Us / July 14, 2013 / Lay leader Geoff Brace offers perspective on the vision of God for the United Church of Christ as well as Zion’s U.C.C. based on Habakkuk 2:1-4 and Luke 4:14-30. Geoff is moderator of the Penn Northeast Conference; newly-elected member of the national United Church of Christ board of directors; and a member of Zion’s U.C.C. (Click on audio bar below picture.)
American Christians – Faith Puts Our Feet in Two Worlds / July 7, 2013 / Are you a Christian American or an American Christian? A curious question for you to ponder on Independence Sunday! Pastor Bob explores the meaning of Hebrews 11:8-10, 13-16 to gain insight into faithful citizenship for Christians. (Click audio bar under picture.) Note: Near the end, before Pastor Bob concludes his message, the Joyful Noise quartet leads the congregation in singing “This Ole House,” but it is not included in this recording. If you’d like to hear it for yourself, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WhLhF12TBE.
Mom Liked You Best: Humility and Service / June 29, 2013 / “Sibling rivalry” among the apostles leads to a provocative lesson from Jesus. Who’d have thought that petty quarrels might produce profound questions? Or that a conversation on the way to the next town would give the disciples the opportunity to learn about leadership? Pastor Bob explains Mark 10:35-45 and concludes with a challenge for every Christian. (Click on audio link.) 130630 Mom Liked You Best – Humility and Service The Bent-over Woman / June 23, 2013 / Pastor Bob explores the complex Sabbath laws to help us understand that Jesus’ healing a woman on the Sabbath was a revelation. (Luke 13:10-17) Jesus not only freed her from the bondage of a crippling disease, he also invited all who witness this miracle (including us) to participate in another healing: our own. Jesus can free you from anything that binds you, from anything that prevents you from living the life God intends you to have. (Click on audio link.) https://discipleship620.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/the-bent-over-woman.mp3 Barbarians and Community: Singing our Way into the Kingdom of God / June 9, 2013 / With all the diversity in our congregation, the way we build community according to Colossians 3:9b-17 is by stripping off our old, bad attitudes like worn-out clothing. Then outfit yourself in the spiritual clothing of a Christian: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, love. If you are wearing that wardrobe, you’ll be ready to sing the new songs as well as sing the old, old story. (Click on audio bar below text.)
Exclamation Points: Help – Thanks – Wow / June 2, 2013 / Three simple exclamations that everyone prays reveal three basic prayers of the Christian. In stories about a storm at sea and a sack of rice shared by a poor woman, Pastor Bob delves into the meaning of these word-prayers to reveal “silken threads” that draw us closer to God. Click on audio bar below text. (Title based on a book by Anne Lamott)
Godly or Just God-awful: Paul and the Patriots / May 26, 2013 / At this commemorative service honoring our local Northampton Militia’s vote for independence on May 27, 1776, Pastor Bob relates their experience to Paul’s comments about suffering in Romans 5:1-5 to gain insights about our life as disciples today. [Click on audio bar below image.]
Getting Personal on Pentecost / May 19, 2013 / Three members give personal testimony about core beliefs of the United Church of Christ that they’ve experienced at Zion’s church: (1) God’s extravagant welcome of all people; (2) God’s continuing testament, namely, that God is still speaking today; and (3) the transforming power of God who changes lives so that we may be instruments of that same transforming power in the world. Geoff Brace, Nicolas Mink and Linda Salomon take up each of these in turn as witnesses to the way the Holy Spirit is working among us. [Click on audio link below.]
Life After Delivery / May 12, 2013 / Student pastor Kathryn Foster looks at Proverbs 31:1-9 (in CEV), Revelation 21:10; 22:1-5 and Matthew 23:37 – 24:2 and then explores the meaning of the Tree of Life. It is mentioned in Genesis, in the garden of Eden, and then again in the City of God in Revelation. That Tree of Life is a spiritual image, a reminder that through Christ we can be transformed today, and one day we shall be transformed into a totally new life. [Click on audio link below.]
From Vision to Venture to Victory / May 5, 2013 / Pastor Bob explains Acts 16:9-15 and reveals a pattern that still works today. God has a vision for you and for the church. Once you’ve caught the vision, venture forth in the direction it leads you, and you’ll enjoy victories along the away that sustain you so you can keep moving in the direction God wants you to go. [Click on audio link under the picture at left.]
[audhttps://discipleship620.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/130505-vision-to-venture-to-victory.mp3] What, Me Worry? Biblical Advice About Anxiety / April 21, 2013 / Yet another national crisis has raised everyone’s anxiety level. Pastor Bob gives practical suggestions and a biblical perspective for coping not only with this crisis, but with any problem or situation that we worry about. Based on Proverbs 3:1-6, Philippians 4:4-7 and Matthew 6:25-33. [NOTE – For unknown technical reasons, WordPress is not creating the audio link in the same way it used to. You need to click on the icon below the image of The Scream.]
The Future Church – God’s Opinion / April 14, 2013 / Parents look at their newborn baby and wonder, what will his future be? With all the changes the Church is facing, Christian parents might also wonder, what his future church will be like? Tracing through Isaiah 43:15-21, Romans 12:1-13, and Matthew 18:1-5, Pastor Bob names the enduring values that provide a foundation for Christians and the Church, whatever the future may bring. [NOTE – For unknown technical reasons, WordPress is not creating the audio link in the same way it used to. You need to click on the icon below this paragraph.]
Divine Design for Leadership / Apr 7, 2013 / The biblical plan for leadership is based on God’s call and our gifts. Pastor Bob uses the example of Moses (Exodus 18:13-23) and the apostles (Acts 6:1-7) to explain the “divine design” as Zion’s church welcomes five new leaders being ordained at this service . Gospel of the Devil’s Advocate / Mar 31, 2013 / The deepest truth of the Christian faith also can be the greatest stumbling block: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Modern scientific standards for “truth” create closet skeptics among Christians. Pastor Bob takes a “devil’s advocate’ posture, exploring some ‘what if?’ questions, winding up at an unexpected conclusion for this Easter Sunday message. Palm Sunday is celebrated at our church as Passion Sunday, retelling the story of Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem, beginning with his Triumphal Entry and ending with his arrest, trial and crucifixion. The story is told not in a sermon, but with several readers speaking the parts of the scripture readings; and traditional songs and choral music. You had to be there to experience the drama! Next week, on Easter Sunday, we will pick up the story where we left off, and celebrate the resurrection. Mary, Jesus and the Nard Factor / Mar 17, 2013 / Tackling the most misunderstood, misused verse in the Bible, Pastor Bob explains the reason that breaking an alabaster jar at Jesus’ feet can be a model for Christians. Mary’s act and Jesus’ response (John 12:1-8) show us the key to discipleship and devotion. The Perspective of Perspective / Mar 10, 2013 / Student Pastor Kathryn Foster notes that much of what we hear in scriptures is said using analogies. Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 and Matthew 7:1-5 all use metaphors to describe God’s divine plan and will for us. Using our perspective on human visual perspective also helps us to realize how our sin is finally taken away by the greatness of God’s love. Not-quite-right-thinking and Fig Tree Faith/ Mar 3, 2013 / In this provocative passage about a violent and evil event (Luke 13:1-9), Jesus challenges the status-quo assumptions of his age, and then he invites us to think, to ponder, and to wonder about the second chances God gives us in life. What’s in it for Me? Feb 24, 2013 / Student pastor Kathryn Foster explains that the Apostle Paul had already experienced the extraordinary power of Christ in his life. Through his letter to followers at Philippi, Paul encourages them, and he encourages us, to know Christ more and more intimately. Thereby we experience God’s transforming power in new life with Christ, and better understand his suffering and death as it cleanses us from sin. It’s Not About the Rules – it’s the Relationship/ Feb 17, 2013 / What do coach Vince Lombardi, short story author Ron Rash, and the apostle Paul, have in common? All appear in this week’s message as Pastor Bob explains Romans 10:8-13. He compares these teachings about righteousness, law and faith to the difference between a religion about God and a relationship with God. Then he encourages us not to worry about Lenten rules, but to cultivate our relationship with Jesus as our Lord. Glory that Transfigures – First Defenders Sunday/ Feb 10, 2013 / Transfiguration Sunday provides us with a spiritual image to understand how we need to get in step so “God’s truth keeps marching on.” Every “First Defenders” Sunday at Zion we commemorate the men who were among the first to defend Washington DC when President Lincoln issued the call to defend the union. But though we may commemorate and though we may celebrate, we cannot congratulate ourselves. We realize how far we have come, but we need to reflect on how far we have to go as a nation to address issues of racial justice. When God Speaks – From Resistance to Hope / Feb 3, 2013 / We respond like Jeremiah (1:4-10) when we hear God speaking. We’re not so sure we want to heed God’s call. And maybe, like the people in Nazareth (Luke 4:21-30), we’re not ready to receive the new thing God is doing. Yet these two texts provide the key to experiencing the hope that will only come to us when we respond to God’s challenge. Kathryn Foster Zion’s Student Pastor presented this sermon on January 20, 2013 based on John 15:12-17 and 2 Corinthians 12:19-21. Jan 13, 2013 – Today’s message was about the current vision and mission of Zion’s church, and focused on membership and leadership issues. A copy of the message is available on CD in the church foyer or by contacting Pastor Bob or the church secretary (610-435-2412). The Cosmic Christ – Lessons from the Wise Men / Jan 6, 2013 // This is not your standard, ‘wise men bring gifts to the baby Jesus’ message. Pastor Bob touches on the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy to help us understand that the journey of the wise men is a cautionary tale, as well as an example of the spiritual journey, that we all can learn from. Based on Matthew 2:1-12. Turn Around – Challenge for the Week/ Dec 30, 2012 / Student pastor Kathryn Foster looks at today’s text (Luke 2:41-52) and suggests some parallels that help us to look at ourselves and how we might address current events and concerns within the community. Advent IV – Song for an Upside-Down World / Dec 23, 2012 / How can a pregnant, unmarried teenager sing a song as magnificent as the Magnificat (Luke 1:39-55)? If we understand this, we may understand more about how to face our own upside-down inside-out situations. Advent III – Questions from the Sandy Hook Tragedy – Advent’s Answer / Dec 16, 2012 / As people try to make sense of the senseless tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, Pastor Bob counsels us to respond from within the perspective of Advent, drawing strength from a traditional Advent hymn to understand how the Biblical text for today, Philippians 4: 4-7, applies even now. Especially now. Advent II – Be Careful What You Pray For / Dec 9, 2012 / How is God at work in your life? With examples from the mining industry and the textile industry from Malachi 3:1-3, Pastor Bob shows how God works in ways you might not expect, yet still in fulfillment of the promise in Philippians 1:6 – God, who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ. Advent I – Prepared, Alert, Ready / Dec 2, 2012 / Looking for calm amidst the storm of Christmas preparations? This is the time for another kind of preparation, “Advent” according to the church calendar, and the words of Jesus in Luke 21:25-36 help point the way. From Remembrance to Perseverance – Running the Race/ Nov 25, 2012 / You will find encouragement and inspiration by remembering loved ones who have died, knowing they are in the “great cloud of witnesses” who precede us into the kingdom of God. In this message based on Hebrews 12:1-2, you’ll discover how to take the long view, learning from the past to persevere in the present. On Sunday November 18, George Esparza gave us a “sermon in song” — Ken Medema’s “Moses.” He gave a wonderful performance, but we’re not licensed to record it. Sorry. Next Sunday Pastor Bob will be back. Lessons of the Wadi and the Widow/ Nov 11, 2012 / Student pastor, Kathryn Foster, begins her interpretation of 1 Kings 17:1-16 by sharing a Chinese “finger-trap” with the congregation, an object lesson about ourselves, and how God works with us in the world. Listen for the connections she makes to Elijah’s experience at the wadi and with the widow. What’s In a Name – A Meditation on Baptism/ Oct 28, 2012 / To answer the title question, Pastor Bob explores and explains two famous “naming” passages (Exodus 3:1-15; Philippians 2:1-11) with some unexpected results. What the World Really Needs / Oct 7, 2012 / Did you know Jesus is praying for you? On this world communion Sunday, Pastor Bob discusses Jesus’ prayer in John 17: 6-9, 13-19, and finds a couple of surprises along the way. Prepare to Share / Sept 30, 2012 / Unlike the early Christians who had to give a defense if accosted or arrested for their faith, Christians today more often face apathy instead of antagonism. After discussing 1 Peter 3: 8-18, Pastor Bob offers suggestions how to share “the hope that is in you.” Sacred Memory and Holy Imagination/ Sept 23, 2012 / The Rev. Geoffrey Black, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, challenges us on the occasion of Zion’s 250th anniversary to draw on sacred memory and to use our imagination as we look to the future. “The God who has been with us all these years, the God who has been with he church of Jesus Christ through the millennia, is with us yet. Imagine what God can do with and through us now.” Like Water for Worship 3 – Thirsty for Justice Sept 16, 2012 / After several weeks learning how important worship is to God, today’s lesson from Isaiah 1:10-20 may come as a shock. God hates worship? Pastor Bob’s teaching relates the text to our American sense of justice and then raises disturbing questions for Christians about the current issue of payday lending. Like Water for Worship 2 – The Power of We / Sept 9, 2012 / Continuing his series about worship, Pastor Bob revisits John 4:1-26; then he explores another aspect of “living water” worship in Matthew 5:23-24. Like Water for Worship 1 – The Woman at the Well – Aug 26 2012 / Jesus’ conversation about literal water at the well provides the opportunity to speak about spiritual ‘living water.’Pastor Bob extends the theme of the text from John 4:1-26 to show how the literalism of liturgy can take us into a spirituality of worship so we may “with joy draw water from the wells of salvation.” God at Work – In and Among / August 5, 2012 / Paul’s promise in Philippians 1:6 is just as true for us today; and not only for us as individuals but for our church community too. The promise encourages us to persevere in faith. The Bigger Barn Syndrome – July 29, 2012 Sometimes you need to be reminded of what you already know. Jesus’ parable in Luke 12:13-21 admonishes us from a spiritual perspective about what we have, what is most important, and where we need to focus our energy, so we can realign our lives as his disciples. Past Paralysis, Future Anxiety or Faith in the Present Tense? July 15 2012 / Do you ever find yourself stuck, recycling regrets from the past or obsessing about anxieties for the future? All that time and angst only depletes your energy. The focus of faith is the present, as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:24-34, an oft-cited passage from the Sermon on the Mount. The gifts of God are meant to be enjoyed in the moment. Sleeping with Bread – A Nighttime Prayer / July 8, 2012 / Who would’ve thought you could combine sleep and spirituality? Ephesians 1:1-10 is packed with promises about God’s blessings. If only we remember to count them! Try this prayer, anchored in a child’s need as well as the monastic traditions of the church. The Bell & the Bible – A Jubilee Declaration – July 1 2012 / Learn the real reason behind the inscription on the Liberty Bell. Leviticus 25:10 is only a part of the amazing back-story of the bell that was hidden here in the Liberty Bell Church. This is a message that strengthens your faith and your patriotism! All Will Be Well / June 24 2012 / Do you want the kind of faith that can say, “all is well,” no matter what happens to you? Do you want to be stronger spiritually? Pastor Bob shares three principles that the Apostle John commended in his seldom-read third letter (3 John 1:1-15). The Peter Principle – Anyway Christians / June 17 2012 / 22:36 / Are you weary of trying to do what is right and good in a world where so many people do what is wrong and easy? In this Father’s Day message, Pastor Bob draws a lesson from the first letter of Peter (1 Peter 3:13-18) as well as recent experiences in downtown Allentown to strengthen our discipleship. Lullabies, Liturgies & The Soundtrack of Life – June 10 2012 / 21:17 / Music and singing were as important in the 1st century as today, although they didn’t have the technology we enjoy. Pastor Bob explains Colossians 3:16-17 and relates it to parenting, the emerging church, and Christian discipleship … singing along the way, of course! Revolution and Religion – Faith in Action / May 27 2012 / 13:48 / This celebration of local history gives you an opportunity to learn from the “faith of our fathers” and also from James 2:14-26. In three quick examples, James offers three components of an active faith. How many are present inyour Christian life? What Would Jesus Pray? – May 20 2012 / 22:02 / We don’t have to guess, because the prayer of Jesus in John 17:6-19 still ‘works’ as a prayer for Christians today. After explaining Jesus’ powerful statement, “I have made your name known,” Pastor Bob explores key themes in the prayer that culminate in a personal challenge. Guardians of the Spring – May 13 2012 / 19:15 / A surprising lesson on Mother’s Day comes from Paul’s “greetings” to a variety of people at the church in Rome (Romans 16:1-16). When you understand how Christians lived in New Testament times, the importance of the church as “mom” becomes clear and makes us thankful not only for our own mothers, but for “mother church” too. Grounding and Guidance – May 6 2012 / 9:12 / These Biblical texts are the basis for our church’s vision: Psalm 65:1-5, Jeremiah 29:4-14, and First Peter 2:4-10. Pastor Bob draws from all three to provide the basis for an important decision facing the congregation about the direction of our mission for the next few years. The congregational meeting presentation he refers to in his message is available on CD from Zion’s church secretary: 610-435-2412. The Lord is My What? / April 29, 2012 / 11:22 What is the modern equivalent for a shepherd? Not very easy to identify in contemporary society. So what does a shepherd have to do with 21st century people? Plenty, as you’ll hear when Pastor Bob explains John 10:11-18. Creation’s Ear / Apr 15 2012 / 17:17 / The awesome wonder you experience in nature is like entering the vestibule of God’s presence. Words of praise for the beauty of creation in Psalm 19 prompt the question, what is your purpose in this beautiful creation God has made? How does your life offer praise to God? The Resurrection of Jesus Church / April 4 2012 / 22:50 / Something new can come to life in your life because of Christ’s resurrection! Romans 6:3-11 reveals a pattern for Christians based on the Easter story. And the Easter story has something to teach us about the future of the Church, too. Palm Sunday Service / April 1, 2012 / Today’s service began with the traditional Palm Sunday story, followed by readings telling the full story of Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem: his last supper, his prayers at Gethsemane, his arrest, trial and crucifixion, interwoven with songs interpreting the story for us. We concluded with a prayer of confession and now we await next week’s service when we finish the Biblical story and celebrate Easter communion. Audio posts will resume next Sunday. If It’s Not About the Money . . . / March 25, 2012 / 17:30 / Before you contribute your hard-earned money to our church, consider this: it’s not about the money…. The apostle Paul was a good fund-raiser, but he gives us a more important spiritual truth about giving. Explore 2 Corinthians 9 with Pastor Bob in his message this week. God’s Best Gift = God’s Best Advice / March 11, 2012 / 21:18 / When should you not forgive, and how should you ask forgiveness from others, are just two of the questions covered in this message based on Matthew 18:21-35. Although forgiveness is sometimes difficult, it is a doorway to God’s grace in your life and also to deeper, stronger relationships. Strangers in Allentown – Loving Against Instinct / March 4, 2012 / 22:25 / Can a 2500 year old commandment from Deuteronomy 10:12-21 provide insight into life in downtown Allentown? Christians who know about ‘loving your enemy’ still may be surprised at this one. How will you answer the question at the end of this message? Jesus’ Journey, Our Journey / February 26, 2012 / 15:33 / Four lessons about biblical journeys help us in our personal journeys as Christians. In Mark 1:9-15 Jesus begins his journey toward Jerusalem, a journey that recalls the journey of God’s people from Egypt to the Promised Land, a journey that is a model for us. Pastor Bob gleans four lessons for us in the first half of this message, then discusses the journey of Zion’s church during his ministry. Jesus is Transfigured, You Can Be Transformed / February 19, 2012 / 21:50 / Pastor Bob’s surprising encounter with a presidential candidate is the springboard for understanding Mark 9:2-9, a classic text that teaches us how Christ can become a brighter presence in our lives. 120212 The Legacy of Lincoln’s Faith / February 12, 2012 / 17:50 / Abraham Lincoln’s deep biblical faith enabled him to persevere and lead our nation through its most perilous crisis. Pastor Bob explores several facets of Lincoln’s faith that can teach us a few things in the 21st century. 120205 The Grasshopper Complex / February 5, 2012 / 12:36 / Although it sounds like the plot from a modern movie, the events in Numbers 13:25-33 happened 3,000 years ago. But the lesson they learned so many years ago still can help us today. The Meaning of Miracles – Second Order Change/ January 29, 2012 / 18:17 / Changing water into wine is a “sign” that shows us 21st century scientific types how we can understand the miracles of Jesus. Social science theory also shows how this is an invitation to a deeper level of discipleship. The Unshakable Christian Life – Built on the Rock / January 22, 2012 / 20: 34 / The key to building a strong spiritual life comes at the very end of Jesus’ sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:24-29). Two simple, one-syllable words are all we need to know once the proper foundation is laid. Today’s worship service also featured the solo: “Built Upon the Rock” by Sally DeFord. Used by permission of the composer, all rights reserved. You can read and listen to this wonderful song at http://www.defordmusic.com/builtupontherock.htm Good Grief! Fun Funerals? / January 15, 2012 / 21:20 / Even the funeral industry has fads, and in our narcissistic age, it’s no surprise that some people want to plan “fun funerals” that may be psychologically and spiritually unhealthy. After reviewing a recent book on the subject, Pastor Bob gives several principles for Christian funerals based on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. God Challenges Our Assumptions then Exceeds Our Expectations / message from Jan 8, 2012 /14:39 / The people of Jesus’ day were filled with expectations just as we have our own hopes and expectations at the start of a new year. Pastor Bob examines the similarities from Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, and shares the challenge that John the Baptist gives us, to help us move from judgment to humility to transformation. The article from Christianity Today that he refers to can be found at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/January/election-madness.html Point and Counterpoint for the New Year / Jan 1, 2012 / 11:41 / The apparently average childhood of Jesus finds its counterpoint in the song of Simeon and the prophecy of Anna (Luke 2:22-40). In his New Year’s Day message, Pastor Bob applies this concept to our own lives, offering a word of encouragement for the new year. Milking Cows and Down-to-Earth Love / Dec 18, 2011 / 12:45 / Tevia and Golda from “Fiddler on the Roof” help us to understand 1 John 4:7-12 and the incarnation. Such down-to-earth love is the “reason for the season” and a fitting subject for this last Sunday in Advent. Pursuit of Happiness or Good Tidings of Joy? / Dec 11, 2011 / 13:42 / Not everyone feels like having a holly-jolly Christmas according to our culture’s standards. The Christmas story originally was told to those who were down and out, or just plain down, so if you’re feeling a little out of sync with all the holiday cheerfulness, this text is for you (John 15:9-11, 16:16-24). What to Repair to be Prepared / Dec. 7, 2011 / 7:54 / John the Baptist is identified with the text: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” in Mark 1:1-8. That sounds deceptively easy, until we pair that phrase with the words of John himself: “Repent.” There’s no way to make that an easy task, however, Pastor Bob finds good news in this text, too. Ready for Christmas or Prepared for Advent? / Nov. 27, 2011 / 13:42 / ‘Tis the season … for Christians to prepare. Mark’s Gospel doesn’t have any stories about Jesus’ birth, but it has plenty to say about preparing for Jesus’ second advent. Pastor Bob’s message is based on Mark 13:24-37. No Risk, No Reward / Oct 16, 2011 / 13:57 / Jesus throws Christians a curve in the parable of the sheep and the goats and the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-46). Don’t be surprised on judgment day. Be prepared. How? By following Jesus’ simple advice. A Sound in the Stillness – The Voice of God / Oct 9, 2011 / 19:11 / How do you cope with constant change in our culture and even in the church? In this teaching, Pastor Bob draws on wisdom from Psalm 46 that is 3000 years old but speaks to the spiritual needs of the 21st century.