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Hungry for Hope

Isaiah 55:1-2, John 6: 32-35
December 9, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Again this Sunday, our first reading comes from the prophet Isaiah, in the section of the book that is often called “Second Isaiah,” since scholars have divided the 66 chapters into two or three volumes. Prior chapters, from First Isaiah, describe the suffering servant, and the troubles of Israel in exile in Babylon. Things seem hopeless. In this text, now, we hear a word of hope— God is accomplishing the unexpected. The briers and thorns have been turned to myrtle and cypress (55:13) and there is plenty to eat and drink – at no cost! Unlike the food and drink that leave people feeling hungry and thirsty, this food and drink truly satisfy the people. Let’s listen for God’s word of hope to us in Isaiah 55:1-2,

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money f…
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Lamppost in the Woods

Isaiah 9:2-5; John 1:1-9
December 2, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Our first reading today is from the prophet Isaiah, words of comfort and light that have illuminated the lives of people for more than two thousand years. The prophet sought to bring God’s message to a suffering people, people who were living amid the ravages of war, in a kind of dark ages in which there seemed to be little hope. In these words, the prophet recalls the day of Midian, an historic battle in which the Israelites triumphed, not because of their superior skill and strategy, but thanks only to the power and might of God. For the battle of Midian, Gideon gathered 32,000 men. But God said that was too many, and that if they had an army that strong, the victory would be attributed to Gideon and the army, not God. So God winnowed them down to 300 soldiers, 300 men who were not the best, strongest, and most alert. And then God delivered the Midianites to the Israelites. The God who …

In the Kingdom

Christ the King Sunday, November 25, 2018
Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-38
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Our first reading this morning is from the first chapter of Revelation, a kind of introductory text that lets us know something about Jesus. As we hear this text, let’s keep in mind that the book of Revelation is not a terrifying prediction of the return of an angry Jesus. “Revelation is not a script for the end of the world!” It is, instead, a prophecy of the fall of earthly empire and the coming reign of God in a new heaven and a new earth. Let’s listen for God’s coming kingdom in Revelation 1:4b-8:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Fathe…

Things to Consider

Matthew 6: 25-33
November 18, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Our scripture reading today comes from the sixth chapter of Matthew. The reading comes from the middle of what is often called “The Sermon on the Mount,” Matthew’s collection of Jesus sayings that explicates for us the heart of the good news. In that collection of sayings, we have the beatitudes.

Writer and theologian Matthew Boring says “The beatitudes are written in unconditional performative language. They do not merely describe something that already is, but bring into being the reality they declare.”[1]

In everyday terms, “performative language” is words that make something happen, like when you say “I do” at the wedding. So this entire section of Matthew is making something happen, and it is something new and different, something that has not happened before.

Jesus goes on to teach about the law of love, an ethical commandment that shifts the old ways of being. “You have heard it sai…

Witness to Generosity

Mark 12:38-44
November 11, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

We are continuing in the gospel of Mark for one more week in our stewardship season. You may remember that by this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has been in Jerusalem for a few days of this last week of his life. On the way in to town, he stopped and healed a blind beggar, and last week, he conversed with a scribe, and the two of them agreed that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. It’s helpful to remember, as we hear this text, that Jesus does not condemn EVERY scribe or Pharisee- the scribe in last week’s story was a kindred spirit to him. In this episode, we see Jesus at the temple.

The temple in Jerusalem is a major character in this section of the gospel, even when it is not mentioned. In this last week of Jesus’ life, he keeps circling back to the temple. It has been the center of Jewish life –…

Witness to Love

Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Mark 12:28-34
November 4, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Our first reading is from the Hebrew scriptures, the verses known as “the Shema.” These verses form the heart of Jewish theology. They call to mind that God delivered the people from slavery, and that God alone is the one they serve, the one who made them a people and gave them an identity.

The word “shema” is an imperative - It means both “hear!” and “obey!” And the reminder that God is one, to be loved with all one’s heart and soul and strength, is repeated every Saturday in worship in the synagogue and is learned by every child in an observant Jewish family.

Let’s hear and obey! – as we listen for God’s word to us in Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Now this is the commandment--the statutes and the ordinances-- that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your children's children…

To See or Not To See

Mark 10: 46-52
October 28, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

In a week when there was so much sorrow and violence in the news, I considered writing a new sermon, with a different text. But I remembered reading recently what a theologian had said about these times: now, more than ever, we need to hear words of hope. This text is a story of hope, and story of Jesus going up to Jerusalem for his last week, a week of sorrow and violence that ultimately ends in hope. So let’s listen for God’s hope in Mark 10:46-52.

They came to Jericho.
As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly,
"Son of David, have mercy on me!"
Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here…