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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 –…
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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…

On Being Great

Mark 10:35-45
October 21, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

The gospel reading for today comes from the tenth chapter of Mark. Mark’s gospel was written first, before the other three gospels, and provided source material for Matthew and Luke. His spare, urgent style moves us forward briskly through Jesus’ life. Mark’s stories engage us in such a way that we can see ourselves in the story, and if we are open to it, we can identify with the disciples. In this story, James and John, who have followed Jesus from the start, are looking ahead to the future, and wondering what their roles will be. They want to secure a promise from Jesus – not the promise of life abundant, or grace and mercy, but the promise that they will achieve greatness. They seek not a savior, or transformation, but to be made great. Jesus makes it clear that to be great in him is not what they hoped for. Let’s listen for the good news in Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came …

Prophet in a Minor Key

The Book of Habakkuk
September 30, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

The book of Habakkuk is the third in our series on the minor prophets. The book consists mainly of a dialogue between the prophet and God. Habakkuk begins with a lament, and then a complaint. God replies, but Habakkuk is not satisfied, and he continues to debate. The issue at hand is that of unexplained human suffering.

Habakkuk asks God “why?” and “how long?”
Why do the poor and lowly experience so much injustice and oppression?
How long will the righteous suffer?
Why isn’t God doing something to stop it, to change things, to bring justice?

In the midst of the debate, in chapter 2, there is a section that focuses on those who are causing such suffering. They plunder the poor and weak, and carry their wealth away. Their towns and homes are built on bloodshed; they encourage others to drunkenness and then take advantage of them.

The third chapter is a poetic hymn, a description of …

Hard Questions, Hopeful Answers

The Book of Micah
September 23, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Our scripture readings today are selections from the book of Micah.
We’ve been looking at the minor prophets,
those shorter books in the Old Testament that are so often overlooked.
Since the lectionary includes only a few verses from the book
every three years, most of us are unfamiliar with the themes of Micah.
Here’s how one commentary describes the themes:
“The situation of ordinary citizens was of great concern to Micah.
He felt compassion for the poor and dispossessed,
and held the leaders responsible for their suffering.
We can learn something about the people’s social and economic situation
from Micah’s condemnation of their rulers, merchants, and prophets.
Similar words from Micah’s contemporary, Isaiah,
add to our picture of a society where the rich and powerful
used their influence to exploit the vulnerable
and to create even greater inequalities of wealth and influ…

One Fish, Big Fish, Childish Finish

The Book of Jonah
September 16, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Our reading today is an abridged, condensed version of the book of Jonah. You can find the entire story, which is much better, in your Bible. Jonah appears amid the minor prophets, a book of only four chapters. We know little about Jonah, whose name means “dove,” apart from this story from about 500 years before Christ. Interestingly, the book is about him, not a prophecy from him. It’s generally agreed that this story is more parable than history, but it is rich with truths about God, people, and the nature of our relationship. Let’s listen for God’s word to us in this story of Jonah:

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.”
But Jonah went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish.
But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty sto…