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November 23rd, 2015

Carlie and Phil, I officiate at many weddings.  I often feel that my relationship with the couple is deeper because of the privilege of being such an integral part of this special moment in their lives.  That’s never been truer than it is for you.  You could have had your pick of officiants.  Thank you for choosing me!

Everyone here probably knows that what we’re doing today is not the legal ceremony.  That happened a year ago, and was celebrated with a smaller group of your friends in Hawaii, most if not all of whom are back today.  You collected some sand from that beach in this jar.  The sand gave me an idea for a brief reflection today. Read more »

November 22nd, 2015

The A and the W

Kawaiaha’o Church – Honolulu, HI
Revelation 1:4-8a

Reluctant fundraiser

Thank you, Kahu Curt, for the privilege of being in this pulpit once again. The first time you invited me, the pressure was on you. If my preaching was a disaster you’d have to explain to your church leaders why you turned over this sacred desk to me. The second time, the pressure’s on me. I have to demonstrate I can preach more than one sermon.

You told me I could preach any text or message the Lord laid on my heart. But you also said, “We usually use the lectionary, and November 22 is the final Sunday of our annual Stewardship campaign. The sermon time will be about 15 minutes.”

I need to confess that stewardship is one of my least favorite preaching topics. A few months ago Cheryl Williams of the Office of Philanthropy and Stewardship in the United Church of Christ, invited me to lead a workshop at next spring’s Stewardship Conference in Orlando, Florida, about capital campaigns. My workshop title is: “Confessions of a Reluctant Fundraiser.” Read more »

November 15th, 2015

The theme of “Mysteries” for this meditation first came to my mind in the hospital about halfway through this agonizing period of ten days when doctors were telling Luke’s family the tests were not showing hopeful signs.  I said, “There are medical mysteries and spiritual mysteries.”  We kept praying for a miracle.

The theme of Mysteries continued to emerge the closer we came to this service.

There’s the mystery of schedule.  We decided on 2:00 Sunday in a family meeting Friday afternoon.  Our smart phones and laptops immediately made it official by sending it to those who had asked and to the newspaper before the deadline.  Before the meeting was over Thomas received this response from his pledge brother, Gary Johnson –

Can I be honest?  I know it’s stupid but one of the first things I thought about when I saw what time the funeral will be was Luke in that scratchy voice of his getting pissed at Gail for scheduling it during the Panthers game. Read more »

November 15th, 2015

“Be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26, ESV)

Proverbs 14:29; 15:1; 15:18; 19:3; 19:11; 20:22; 25:15

Anger issues big and small

Today let’s talk about your anger. I know you get mad. I know this because I’m your pastor. So don’t try to hide it.

Big things and small things make us angry. Big things include the senseless terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, killing well over 100 people. I’m very angry with ISIS. Big things include the death of Luke Garrison, 24, also Friday. I’m not necessarily angry at God, but I’m angry at death. I’m particularly angry at death for attacking children and youth. Over the past three years, I’ve preached ten funerals where at least one parent was sitting in front of me.

Anger at death is normal, even for “the most devout persons,” according to Granger E. Westberg in Good Grief. “When we have something precious taken from us, we inevitably go through a stage when we are very critical of everything and everyone who was related to the loss” (48).

But sometimes my anger is not about big things. It’s about things that at the end of the day are not that important. I don’t think of myself (nor do I think others think of me) as a hotheaded person, but I have had my moments. I confessed one of them in a 2002 sermon. Read more »

November 9th, 2015

The goal of a Christian family is to provide the same refuge we are given in Christ.

Proverbs 14:26; 17:6; 19:18; 20:11; 22:6; 28:7 29:15

November 8, 2015


It’s not possible to preach a sermon about family in a vacuum.  There’s always context.  When we turn to what Proverbs has to say about children, there is context.

Today my context, and perhaps yours, is a 24-year-old member of this congregation on life support.  I’ve known Luke Garrison since he was 2, and watched him grow up.  The context his situation gives me is that raising children is fraught with uncertainty. When you bring a child into the world or into your family, you don’t know how the future will unfold.

You also don’t know how a child will develop – whether they’ll do well in school or struggle, where on the spectrum between anorexia and obesity they will fall, how they’ll respond to discipline, whether they’ll be healthy, how they will respond to Christ, and a thousand other variables.  This is especially true for adoptive families.

You don’t know how parenthood will change you, for good or bad.  All of us discover parts of us we didn’t know were there.  I’ve often heard my wife Linda say she never knew she was so selfish until she had children.

I vividly remember a story about our oldest child, Philip, sitting in a high chair when he was a year or two in age.  Linda was there, I’m sure.  It seems like maybe others were present as well – maybe her parents?  I don’t remember.

What I remember is that I put milk and sugar in my hot tea, as I still do every morning, and stirred it with a metal spoon.  Then I took that hot spoon and touched it to my young son’s arm.  Naturally he pulled back and started crying.  You may think I was cruel, but at the time I thought everyone would enjoy the joke.  They didn’t. Read more »