Sermons by Bernard Bell

Sermons by Bernard Bell

Presence and Absence

1 Thess 2:17-3:13 During this time of Shelter-in-Place we feel the physical absence of family, friends and work colleagues. Modern technology allows us to stay connected, but we miss physical presence. Presence and absence were poignant realities for Paul. He longed to visit his beloved brothers and sisters in Thessalonica, to be present in person, but was hindered from doing so. So he did the next best thing: he sent Timothy to represent his presence and to see how they were doing. The report that Timothy brought back only intensified Paul’s longing to be with them in person so he could further instruct them. So he did the next best thing: he wrote them a letter to represent his presence. We look forward to again being present with one another. In the meantime we do the next best thing: we connect remotely. At the end of Sunday’s live-streamed service we will take communion together remotely. “Communion remotely” is an oxymoron; it is the next best thing to gathering together. Communion is about presence: though Jesus is absent from earth and present with the Father, he is present to us through his Spirit, especially as we take the bread and the cup together. I invite you to prepare elements which represent the body and blood of Jesus; please use what you have at home, don’t go to the store. It does not need to be special bread or even bread, nor grape juice or wine. Then be ready to eat and drink with your families as a church family. Who may partake? All who give their allegiance to our Lord Jesus Christ and follow him.

As a Mother Cares for Her Children

1 Thess 2:1-16 In this time of crisis whom do we trust? Some leaders exude empathy and act for the common good; others seek sympathy and act out of self-interest. Amid charges of fake media, left and right seem isolated in echo chambers, watching CNN and Fox News. Clickbait misleads to sites pursuing eyeballs and profits not truth. In Thessalonica the opponents of the fledgling church were attacking Paul’s integrity and motives. Paul writes a self-defense of his behavior. Like a babe, he was innocent of insincerity, delusion, impure motives, trickery, flattery, hidden greed, and pursuit of praise. Instead, he nurtured the Christians like a nursing mother caring for her little ones, like a father encouraging and comforting his children, urging them to a life worthy of their calling as God’s beloved children. Paul has a lot to tell us about what true Christian leadership does and does not look like.

Faith, love and hope in a world turned upside down

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

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.

We Beheld His Glory: The One and Only

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.

Does Church Matter?

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?

God’s Gift of Himself

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.

A Container for the Uncontainable

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?

Bringing our All and Even More

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.

Transforming Presence

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?

Passionate Presence

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.

How Can This Be?

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.