“Jesus Answers a Gotcha Question” (Matthew 22:15-22)

“Jesus Answers a Gotcha Question” (Matthew 22:15-22)

If you’ve been following the news lately, and you watched the presidential debate, the vice-presidential debate, the Judiciary Committee hearings, or the dueling town halls, you heard a lot of “gotcha” questions. I’m guessing most of you have heard that term before, a “gotcha” question. But in case you haven’t, let me explain. A “gotcha” question is one in which the questioner asks someone a question designed to trap or embarrass the person being questioned. It’s designed to cast that person in a negative light, no matter how he might answer the question. The classic example of a gotcha question is this: “Have you stopped beating your wife? A yes or no answer, please.” You see, no matter how the guy answers, it sounds bad. If he says yes, it sounds like he was beating her before. If he says no, it sounds like he still is.

So you heard a bunch of gotcha questions over the past few weeks. The questions were constructed in such a way as to make the person look bad, no matter how he or she answered. “When will you denounce white supremacy?” As though he hasn’t already. “Why haven’t you denounced Q-Anon?” As though he even knows what Q-Anon is. “Judge, have you ever sexually assaulted anyone?” As though she might be likely to have done that. These are examples of gotcha questions. They’re designed to get the person in trouble, any way they answer.

But then this is nothing new. People have been asking people they don’t like gotcha questions for many centuries. We see it in the Gospel reading for today from Matthew 22. There the enemies of Jesus, the Pharisees and the Herodians, try to come up with a question that will get Jesus in trouble, no matter how he answers. But today we’ll see how he turns the tables on them, when “Jesus Answers a Gotcha Question.”


Published in: on October 17, 2020 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Rejoice in the Lord Always–Even in 2020!” (Philippians 4:4-13)

“Rejoice in the Lord Always–Even in 2020!” (Philippians 4:4-13)

As you’ve probably noticed, many people have been saying that this year, 2020, is the worst year they can remember. Maybe you’ve said so yourself. I mean, think of it. The year 2020 has seen one disaster after another: The Coronavirus pandemic got everyone’s attention back in March. Then came the shutdown all across the country. The economy went south in a hurry. The whole thing stunk: People lost their lives. People lost their jobs. People lost their businesses. That was March and April. And then: “Who had murder hornets for May?” And starting at the end of May, riots broke out in many cities, burning and looting and mayhem. One thing on top of another. People were wondering what else would go wrong. What else? Hurricanes in the east. Wildfires in the west. We’re still dealing with Covid. Lots of places are still shut down. There are still more riots. And now we’re just a few weeks away from the election, and everybody’s uptight about that. It’s been reported that, whereas one year ago, 8% of Americans had symptoms of depression, now that number is up to 28%. All in all, then, 2020 has not been the most joyful year.

But now here today, St. Paul comes along and tells us: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Always? Are you kidding, Paul? Don’t you realize, Paul, this is 2020? How can anybody rejoice during this year, of all years? Easy for you to say. You lived all those years ago, all those centuries ago. You didn’t have to put up with all that we’ve had to put up with here in 2020.

Oh really? Well, actually, Paul and the folks back then did have to put up with quite a lot. They suffered a lot. Christians back in the first century encountered persecution from all sides. The Jews didn’t like them. And the Greeks and Romans didn’t, either. The persecution came in various forms: Physical violence; Christians were beaten or killed. They were economically marginalized. They were socially ostracized. So it wasn’t easy for them. Yet Paul tells the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And the message is still the same for us today: “Rejoice in the Lord Always–Even in 2020!”


Published in: on October 10, 2020 at 4:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“From Rubbish to Righteousness to Resurrection” (Philippians 3:4b-14)

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 4, 2020

“From Rubbish to Righteousness to Resurrection” (Philippians 3:4b-14)

I’m sure many of you have heard of a “rags-to-riches story.” A rags-to-riches story is one in which the hero starts out poor and penniless, but then, through hard work and perseverance, overcomes all odds and hardships to become a great success. That’s a rags-to-riches story, and we all love to hear one.

Well, today in our reading from Philippians 3, we hear a different kind of story. It’s the story Paul tells about his own life. Only in this case, Paul himself is not the hero. And it’s not a matter of rags to riches. Rather, it’s a story of going from rubbish to righteousness. And then Paul takes it even to a third step: “From Rubbish to Righteousness to Resurrection.” So listen now, brothers and sisters, as Paul tells us his story, because–guess what–it’s your story too!


Published in: on October 3, 2020 at 9:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Work Out Your Own Salvation?” (Philippians 2:1-18)

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 27, 2020

“Work Out Your Own Salvation?” (Philippians 2:1-18)

Last Sunday we began a series of four straight weeks with readings from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Last week our theme from chapter 1 was “For Your Progress and Joy in the Faith.” Paul said that he was writing to the Philippians to help them make progress and find joy in the Christian faith. This week, we move into chapter 2, where Paul continues along those same lines. And we’ll begin our message today by looking at the part of our text where Paul tells the Philippians: “Work out your own salvation.”

“Work Out Your Own Salvation?” Huh? Did I hear that right? What’s going on, Paul, have you lost your mind? How can you say, “Work out your own salvation”? I mean, after all, you’re the same Paul who told us in Romans, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” And in Galatians you told us, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse.” Likewise in Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works.” But now here in Philippians, Paul, you’re telling us, “Work out your own salvation”? This does not compute.


Published in: on September 26, 2020 at 9:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“For Your Progress and Joy in the Faith” (Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30)

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 20, 2020

“For Your Progress and Joy in the Faith” (Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30)

Today we begin four weeks in a row of readings from Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians.  Four chapters over four weeks, starting with much of chapter 1 today.  The epistle as a whole is not very long–you can read it in less than 15 minutes–so you might want to consider reading Philippians a number of times over the coming weeks.  You won’t regret it.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians:  What do we know about Philippi and Paul’s relationship with the congregation there?  A little background is in order.  Philippi was a city in Macedonia, the northern part of Greece.  Paul had gone there on his second missionary journey, when he crossed over from Asia Minor into Europe.  And Philippi was one of the first places he went.  You can read about it in Acts 16, where there are accounts of the conversion of Lydia, Paul and Silas in jail, and the conversion of the Philippian jailer.  That was the start.  And from that beginning, the church at Philippi had grown and had a good relationship with the apostle Paul.


Published in: on September 19, 2020 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Living by Forgiveness” (Matthew 18:21-35)

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 13, 2020

“Living by Forgiveness” (Matthew 18:21-35)

Living by forgiveness: That’s the message God has for each one of us here today. Living by forgiveness is the way life goes in God’s kingdom. There’s no other way. You and I live on the basis of God forgiving us when we have sinned against him. And you and I are called to live the same way toward our brothers and sisters who sin against us. We receive forgiveness from God, and we extend forgiveness toward others. That’s “Living by Forgiveness.”


Published in: on September 12, 2020 at 2:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Governing Authorities: God’s Servants for Your Good” (Romans 13:1-10)

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 6, 2020

“Governing Authorities: God’s Servants for Your Good” (Romans 13:1-10)

Our text today is the Epistle reading from Romans 13. And as soon as I say “Romans 13,” most people who know the Bible will instantly say, “Oh, that’s the chapter about government.” And that’s right. Romans 13 is the classic passage in the Bible about the role of government, about how God instituted governmental authority, and about our relationship to the governing authorities, especially as Christians. So those are the things we’re going to explore now, under the theme: “Governing Authorities: God’s Servants for Your Good.”


Published in: on September 5, 2020 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Genuine Love in Our Church Family” (Romans 12:9-21)

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 30, 2020

“Genuine Love in Our Church Family” (Romans 12:9-21)

Our church is called to be a loving family. I know this is so, because that’s who God says we are. God has made us a loving family. He calls us to live and act as his loving family. And he enables us to do so. This is why I as your pastor can call on you to be who you are in Christ: brothers and sisters who love one another with a genuine love that shows itself in actions.

That is kind of a summary of today’s Epistle reading, from Romans 12. Listen to some of the things that St. Paul says to the church in Rome: “Let love be genuine.” “Love one another with brotherly affection.” “Contribute to the needs of the saints.” “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another.” And so on. This is how the apostle Paul wanted, and expected, the Christians in Rome to think and to act and to live with one another. And these same exhortations and instructions apply to us, too. And so our theme this morning: “Genuine Love in Our Church Family.”


Published in: on August 29, 2020 at 11:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“On This Rock I Will Build My Church” (Matthew 16:13-20)

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 23, 2020

“On This Rock I Will Build My Church” (Matthew 16:13-20)

Everyone is interested in building the church, growing the church. Uh, let me rephrase that. Everyone who is already in the church, who is active and involved in the church, is interested in building and growing the church. People on the outside, as well as those with only a loose connection to the church–they don’t give a rip. They couldn’t care less. But those of us at least who are here regularly in church, we care about the church being built up and growing. Nobody wants to see the church fail or decline or decrease in numbers.

However, that’s what’s been happening. The church, at least in America, is in decline. The numbers have been decreasing. And for a long time. Actually, going back to about 1965, that’s when the numbers started to decline. That’s the year after the Baby Boom ended, when Americans stopped having kids at the same rate as they did from 1946 through 1964. But especially in the last ten years or so, the drop has been dramatic. There has been a plunge, a plummeting downward, in church membership and church attendance. And I’m not talking about just this congregation or just in small towns. No, it’s been pretty much across the board, all across America. Church numbers are down. And now this Covid thing is not helping, either. It has only aggravated the situation, the decline in attendance.

And the culture has changed, too. America has become increasingly secularized. Religion is no longer respected. There is even widespread antipathy toward Christianity, outright hostility. The culture has changed, and we are definitely swimming against the tide.


Published in: on August 22, 2020 at 9:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Great Faith of the Canaanite Woman” (Matthew 15:21-28)

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 16, 2020

“The Great Faith of the Canaanite Woman” (Matthew 15:21-28)

How would you rate your faith? Is it a strong faith or a weak faith? If you think your faith is weak, that it’s in need of some strengthening, well, you’ve come to the right place. For today we’re going to hear about “The Great Faith of the Canaanite Woman.” But now here’s a little secret, right from the outset: If you want a great faith, don’t focus on your faith. Rather, focus on the object of your faith, namely, our Lord Jesus Christ and his great mercy.


Published in: on August 15, 2020 at 1:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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