Sermons by Bernard Bell
1 Thess 1:1-10 “The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry.” Our carefully-made plans have been turned upside down by a tiny virus. Events have moved at a dizzying pace: now that we are confined to home, the cancelation of the King City and Liberia trips last week seems mild! We are adjusting to this new norm and finding silver linings. The apostle Paul knew what it was to have plans overturned. We start a new series in 1 Thessalonians, the first letter that Paul wrote to a specific church. He did so after his plans were thwarted at every turn, yet he starts the letter with effusive thanksgiving. What silver lining did he see?
Memory and Hope: We live in the present between memory and hope. The past lives on in memory, for good or for ill, enabling or debilitating us for the future which looms ahead. Do we see an open doorway to hope, or is the door closed? The last Sunday of the year is a good time to pause and pay attention to our memories of the past year and our hopes for the new year. We will have a time of body life to share memories and hopes for which we can give thanks and offer prayers.
John 1:14-18 Before time and space began, God was already as a community of perfect Love: Father, Son and Spirit, fully present to one another. Out of the generosity of this great love, God through the Word, created a cosmos to experience his presence. In the fullness of time he sent his beloved, his One and Only, into the world, into space and time. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He did not abhor the Virgin’s womb, but dwelt there for nine months. In the man Jesus Christ, God was present to his people in love. God drew near: his One and Only has made him known.
Church used to be part of the fabric of American life. But, especially in the Bay Area, it is now generally assumed that people do not attend church; we are in one of the least-churched areas of the country. Technology has made it easier for Christians to skip church: you can stream a church service online while drinking coffee at home, or catch a sermon podcast later after going to the beach. So does church still matter? Or is it in an anachronism in today’s society? What is church and why do we “do” church?
Exodus 40:34-38 God’s Gift of Himself. God saved Israel, but this was not his greatest gift. He gave Israel the Ten Commandments, but this was not his greatest gift. He gave Israel the gift of order in time with the sabbath, and the gift of order in space with the tabernacle, but these were not his greatest gifts. He put his Presence in the tabernacle; this was his greatest gift—the gift of himself.
Exodus 36:8-40:33 “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst,” the Lord commanded Moses. But how can you make a suitable container for one whom the highest heavens cannot contain? Will God really dwell in a house made by human hands? What sort of a container is the Tabernacle?
Exodus 35:1 – 36:7 Jesus was invited to dinner in the home of a Pharisee who neglected to show him true hospitality. But a woman poured out her alabaster flask of ointment and anointed Jesus. Jesus said of her, “Her many sins have been forgiven — as her great love has shown” (Luke 7:47). After God had forgiven Israel for worshiping the golden calf, it was those whose hearts moved them that were to contribute materials for the tabernacle. The key to giving oneself and one’s resources is gratitude and love.
Exodus 34:29-35 Moses spent forty days and nights in God’s presence on the top of Mt. Sinai. When he came down his face shone. God’s presence was a transforming presence. God knows us and loves us as we are, but he also wants to transform us so that we become who we are meant to be. But how are we transformed? How do people change?
Exodus 34:10-28 Passionate Presence. God loves his people with a passionate love. The Biblical word for this passion is “jealousy.” To us this seems a negative trait, describing inappropriate longings. But jealousy is appropriate within a covenant relationship. The two parties have pledged their troth to each other; they are bound to loyalty. One of the Lord’s names is Jealous (Exodus 34:14). He has won our affections and bound our soul fast. He wants us to be able to say of him: my love he owns, I have no longings for another, I’m satisfied in him alone.
Matt 1:18-25 How can Jesus be born of Mary if Joseph is not the birth father? When Joseph found that his betrothed Mary was pregnant he pondered these things. How can this be? An angel gave him the answer: “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” The same Spirit that hovered over the waters prior to the first creation, had now overshadowed Mary’s womb. God sends the same Spirit into us to birth a new creation. How can our broken pots be repaired so that they are even more beautiful than the original? It is the same answer: from the Holy Spirit.
Matt 1:1-17 Over the four Sundays of Advent we will follow Matthew’s account of the birth story of Jesus (Matthew 1–2). We’ll find answers to four questions about this newborn child. Who? Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham. How? From a virgin through the Holy Spirit. Where? In Bethlehem. Whence? From Egypt to Nazareth. In each case this is in fulfillment of the Scriptures.
Exod 33:18-34:9 At the Burning Bush, Moses asked God, “What is your name?” He gave the enigmatic reply, “I am who I am,” which he then clarified as “He is.” In Hebrew this name is Yahweh, usually rendered in English as “The Lord.” At Mt. Sinai, Moses asks God, “Please show me your glory.” Instead, God proclaims to him his name, Yahweh, the Lord, giving a description that became confessional for Israel.