Sermon: Pagan Piety

In the parable of the two sons, Jesus tells the story of two brothers and their interactions with their father, who asked them both to work in the vineyard. One son said “no,” but later changed his mind and did the work. The other son said, “yes,” but never did the work.

Jesus said it is the son that did the work, despite showing disobedience to his father, that is in favor with God. This is significant because it shows us that despite how we have lived our lives, it is how we walk with God in the future that matters. When someone is baptized, they are filled with the spirit of God, and on that day are determined to live a life of faith and service. We need to not get complacent in our faith, and be transformed every day.

We may go to church every Sunday and think we are good Christians, but it is our daily actions that matter in the eyes of God.

“Pagan Piety”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Matthew 21: 23-32
Oct. 8, 2017

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Sermon: “Gimmie Oil in My Lamp”

In the Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids (Matthew 25: 1-13), Jesus tells the story of five bridesmaids who did not bring extra oil for their lamps, and five bridesmaids who came prepared with extra oil. With the groom running late, by the time he appeared for the celebration, the five bridesmaids without extra oil needed to get more, and they were not welcome back into the celebration.

Like the prepared bridesmaids, this parable instructs us to be prepared to enter into the kingdom of God. Faith gets us to the door, but it’s our preparation — through our good works and service to others — that gets us into the celebration. We should proceed with our lives, doing good works with great joy, because we know the time is coming when we will enter the kingdom of God.

“Gimme Oil in My Lamp”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Matthew 25: 1-13
Oct. 1, 2017

Sermon: When Weeds Get in the Wheat

There are a lot of weeds in our society. As we try to live as a people of God, serving others and seeking justice, there are those that are promoting a doctrine of hate, greed and discrimination. Our natural tendency is to want to eliminate those weeds in society so we can live in a more just world as children of God.

But in Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus tells us the parable of the weeds among the wheat. He tells us that if we destroy the weeds right now, we will also destroy some wheat. And we don’t want to destroy our bounty of wheat.

God cares more about the wheat than the weeds. We need to be patient with the weeds, and be concerned about loving others and seeking justice, rather than casting judgement on the weeds. God will take care of the weeds, in due time. Our job is to focus on the wheat.

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“When Weeds Get in the Wheat”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Matthew 13: 24-30
Aug. 27, 2017

Sermon: Tell All the Truth, But Tell it Slant

The events of Charlottesville and political aftermath have been difficult for us. Perhaps most difficult for us as a church is to determine how we talk about racism.

Jesus began his ministry by talking with moralism, but as his crowds grew and opposition increased, he changed the method of his preaching by talking in parables. The beauty of parables is that they allow people to come around to the teachings on their own terms. As Emily Dickinson said, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant … the truth must dazzle gradually for all the world be blind.”

In our faith, we believe in transformation. Jesus has faith that people can change. Those high school friends planting the seeds of racism on our Facebook feeds, the uncle who spouts racist rhetoric at the dinner table and even Nazis and white supremacists can change.

What are we to do? The world, more than ever, needs the nonviolent message of Jesus Christ. We ought to be kind to our enemies — those who need to hear the message. Hang in there with those people. Don’t blast with the truth. They can’t handle it. It has to “dazzle gradually.”

There is no depth to the love of God. There is no person who is beyond the light of truth. And if it is not us who shows them the way, then who will?

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“Tell All the Truth, but Tell it Slant”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Matthew 13: 1-17
Aug. 20, 2017

Sermon: A Presence Remembered

long-roadIn today’s Gospel reading (Luke 24:13-35), Cleopas shares the news of Jesus to a friend, who was skeptical. However, when they meet the 11 disciples, he believes. Cleopas was a witness to the resurrection.

When Oconee Street UMC burned down in 2013, smoke was still billowing from the church when members began work on rebuilding plans, and the Our Daily Bread soup kitchen was welcomed at its new location at First Baptist Church. That represented to the community that Christ was a alive among us. We were a witness to the resurrection.

As the fire awakened us in 2013, the events of Charlottesville, Virginia must awaken us now. We must stand as a witness to Jesus, and reject hatred and racism. “The church is called at this time to be a witness of what’s right and wrong.”

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Listen to The Word in Song: “Amani Utpue”

“A Presence Remembered”
Sermon by The Rev. Valerie Duncan
Luke 24: 13-35
Aug. 13, 2017

Sermon: Plundering the Pagans

When Paul went to Athens to spread the word of God to the Greeks, he did so in a different than previous disciples preached.

Paul met the ancient Greeks where they were in their beliefs — even debating in Areopagus, the same place where ancient Greek thinkers like Aristotle philosophized. He didn’t downright shun their vision of God, but rather works Jesus within their culture, respecting their previously held beliefs.

As the Greeks had their many gods, we are surrounded by “gods” of our own: technology, popular culture, consumerism. Rather than shun our pop culture, we should try to find God within our pop culture. But that will require us to take a break and step into silence, eliminating technology and our anxieties, eventually connecting us with God to understand how God is fitting within our society.

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“Plundering the Pagans”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Acts 17: 16-34
August 6, 2017

Sermon: Playing Catch-up

The transgender debate has many Christians claiming the moral high ground as they condemn a group of people they do not understand. However, throughout Acts we see Jesus calling people to spread the word of God to people across the world, regardless of their different appearances, languages or cultures.

It is critical for us to understand that we are not living out and teaching God’s word for us, but we are living for God. Making that distinction can help us break through our own personal biases to see that everyone is deserving of God’s love, regardless of how they may be different than us.

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“Playing Catch-up”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Acts 10: 1-48
July 30, 2017

Sermon: Step Into The Light

The phrase “Jesus Saves” is the heart of our faith. If there is no God that saves, then there is no Christianity.

However, as a catchphrase, “Jesus Saves” often comes off as too simplistic. The problem with our modern-day stories of conversion is that they don’t need God once they are saved. “Jesus Saves,” then what?

The way you know God is at the heart of conversion is if God continues to call you to live a life of love, fellowship and community. If God doesn’t keep calling you and pushing you to do better, then you have to question your conversion.

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“Step into the Light”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Acts of the Apostles 9: 1-20
July 23, 2017

Sermon: Under African Skies

Jesus is for everyone. As much as some people — and some political parties — link Jesus to themselves, Acts tells  us that Jesus is for everyone. When Phillip encounters an Ethiopian in Acts 8, he is fulfilling Jesus’ promises to spread the word of God to “the ends of earth.”

The beauty of our faith is that whether you’re Protestant, African, Orthodox, you’ll have a different understanding of Jesus within your culture. The Holy Spirit gives people of different cultures discernment as to what will and will not fit within their worship of God.

The promise in Acts is that there is nothing that can keep us from the love of God. Everyone is included in God’s people.

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“Under African Skies”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Acts of the Apostles 8: 26-40
July 16, 2017

Sermon: “Health and Wealth Gospel”

When Stravisnky’s Rite of Spring premiered in 1913, it nearly caused a riot. A hundred years on, it’s now recognized as one of the greatest pieces of the 20th century–even becoming the score to a Disney cartoon. What happened? If the music didn’t change, maybe the audience did.

Is it possible that to read difficult texts like Acts 5, we might need to become a different sort of “audience”? What kind of people would we need to be in order for a story to be good news even though it describes a God so powerful as to give both life and death? If we are open to imagine the way that God’s power could transform our communities enough to give us freedom from our “stuff,” then maybe this story could be music to our ears.

“Health and Wealth Gospel”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Acts 4:32 – 5:11
June 25, 2017