“Unfinished Business” A Devotion on 1 Corinthians 3: 6

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”—1 Corinthians 3: 6

At the beginning of my ministry I taught myself to cook. I was serving two small congregations in rural Maine. I was single then and rattling around the parsonage, so to keep myself occupied (and fed) I started reading various cookbooks and trying out different recipes.

I discovered I really liked to cook. I would buy the ingredients, follow the directions, and, at the end of the process, my dish either came out right or it didn’t. I liked that. There was no waiting around for the results.

One of the reasons I liked cooking so much was that it was different from my life in the church where you don’t see such quick results. In the church you seldom get the immediate sense of completion that you do in cooking.

I came to realize that the Christian life is more like gardening than it is like cooking. In the church, as in gardening, you plant seeds, you water and tend your garden, and you wait. You wait for God to give the growth.

Addressing a church fight in Corinth, Paul tells the congregation that the church is not about any one person. It is a team sport, and builds on what others have previously done. Paul founded the church in Corinth. He planted it, and Apollos, who came after him, watered it, but it was God who gave the growth.

The church’s business remains unfinished for now. Others will take it up. In the meantime we worship, we pray, we teach and learn, we care for each other and for our world. We move from season to season under God’s abiding care, waiting for that day when God’s great Garden will blossom and flourish over all the earth.

Prayer: Make us faithful gardeners, O God, until that time when you bring to completion all the faithful work done for your reign and realm, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotion for February 18, 2019. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the UCC Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here.)

“Passing the Baton” A Retirement Sermon on 2 Timothy 4: 4-7

Prologue

I am honored to be here with you on this high and holy day. I preached Steven’s installation sermon, and so I am privileged again to be in this pulpit at this service of celebration and thanksgiving for Steven’s ministry among you.

Steven joked that because of my bookending his ministry that I am the “Alpha and the Omega.” I replied that “we have an Alpha and Omega and I am not he!” Continue reading

“The False God SUCCESS” A Devotion on 1 Corinthians 4:10-13

“God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.”

—1 Corinthians 4:10-13 Continue reading

“We’re Still Learning.” A Devotion on Mark 10:42-45

“So Jesus called the disciples and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”—Mark 10:42-45 Continue reading

“Looking for Light in the Shadow of Death” A Sermon on Matthew 4:12-23

shadow

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

The “Shadow of Death.” That doesn’t sound very good, does it?

I asked Rabbi Josh Breindel of Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield about the phrase and he said it is quite literally “shadow of death” in Hebrew. He said it is a colloquial saying and means something like “mortal peril.” We are all acquainted with that image from the 23rd Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”

Two of the traditional themes for the Epiphany season are “light shining in the darkness” and the “calling to Christian discipleship,” and I hope to combine them today. Continue reading

My Top Ten Posts from 2016

cropped-winter-11Once again as the old year passes and the new year beckons, it is my custom to look back at my most popular posts of the year. Some years a theme emerges, and this year it is the passing of old friends and mentors. Three of my professors from seminary died within a few weeks of each other early in the year, and my tributes to and remembrances of them were among the most popular posts.

Here in order are the most visited new posts from 2016:

A Prayer for Christmas (and for our time) from Karl Barth

A Tribute to Meredith Brook “Jerry” Handspicker 1932-2016

“Of Fig Trees and Second Chances” A Sermon on Luke 13:6-9

Remembering William L. Holladay

Let us not treat this wound too lightly. Reconciliation requires repentance

Mike Maguire and Me: Recollections from Long Ago

“Rich in Things and Poor in Soul” A Sermon on Luke 12:13-21

A tribute to Max L. Stackhouse

“Holy Weeping’ A Sermon on Romans 12:19 and Revelation 21:1-4

“Known knowns, known unknowns,” and the New Testament

As in previous years certain posts have had real staying power. Many of these are sermons that desperate preachers found on search engines. For example, my sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent was the number one entry if you Googled “Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent.” Consequently, I saw extraordinary spikes in traffic the week before.

So here are my all-time top ten posts since I started “When I Survey . . .” in 2009:

Why did Jesus refer to Herod as “That fox” in Luke 13:32”?

“Rejoice! Rejoice!” A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

“Prayer for a Retired Pastor“

God Gives the Growth,” A Retirement Sermon

“The Lord Will Provide:” A Sermon on Genesis 22

“There is nothing to be afraid of!” A Sermon on Psalm 27:1-2

An Ordination Sermon: The Secret Sauce of Ministry. A Recipe in Two Parts

“God With Us” A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

“Behind Locked Doors” A Sermon on John 20:24

“The Message of the Cross” A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:23-25

Another milestone for this blog is that it reached 100 followers this year. So I thank you all for your interest and support. Come back and visit now and again in 2017.

Andover Newton Theological School and “The Great Transition”

lorain-etcandover-newton(For several days this past week I have been at my alma mater, Andover Newton Theological School, at a reunion for alums. I have seen some old friends and experienced some moving addresses and worship. The school is in the process of selling its historic Newton campus and de-camping  to New Haven. CT, to become an “embedded school” within Yale Divinity School. About 165 of us alums gathered to have one last time together on “the Hill” as it has been known. I was part of a closing service that moved from place to place where we reflected and prayed before retiring to the chapel for the Lord’s Supper. I prepared the following notes, but spoke ex tempore, but these words are close to what I said. We were in front of Sturtevent Hall, and I was charged with reflecting on all the dorms, the halls and houses where we lived while we were there.) Continue reading