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When You Get What’s Coming

This is the second in a series for Advent from a work in progress called "Prairie Liturgy."
Original artwork by Meg Rift, (C) 2017



Haggai 1:3 - 9, 2:6 – 9; Psalm 63:1 – 8; Luke 12: 35 – 40
December 10, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

The three scripture readings for today may seem at first to be disconnected. The first reading comes from almost the end of the Hebrew Scriptures. Haggai is a prophet of the era of about 520 BC, after the exiled Israelites have returned from Babylon. Haggai is distressed that the Israelites are more interested in restoring their own fortunes than they are in restoring the temple as a center of community life. The Israelites are interested in getting stuff for themselves, but what they don’t get is how meaningless that pursuit has become. Let’s listen for God’s word in the words of Haggai 1:3 - 9, 2:6 – 9:

Then the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying:
Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled …

Waiting for God

This is the first in a series for Advent from our work in progress called "Prairie Liturgy."

Original artwork by Meg Rift (c) 2017

Isaiah 40:27 – 31; Psalm 42:1 – 6a
December 3, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Our first reading for this first Sunday of Advent comes from the prophet Isaiah, as he exhorts the weary nation of Israel to wait for God. As waiting is an essential element of Advent, it was an essential for the Israelites. They were not usually prone to waiting or trusting for very long. They preferred to get on with things and let the God of the Covenant catch up to them. This usually did not go well for them. In this familiar passage, Isaiah insists that they call to mind the faithfulness of God, and the provision that God will make for those who are weary, exhausted, struggling, if only they will wait for God: Let’s listen for God’s word to us in Isaiah 40:27 – 31

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from th…

Always Being Re-Formed

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Matthew 22:34-46
October 29, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Our first reading is from the book of Leviticus, the third book of the Bible and an entire book of rules and codes and commandments. We don’t often have sermons from the book of Leviticus in this church. That’s partly because today’s selection from the Revised Common Lectionary is the only one from the entire book; over an entire three-year cycle, this is all that is used. Interestingly, while these verses from Leviticus form what is the heart of Torah, the five books of law, they are often overlooked. In fact, it is possible that Leviticus is the most quoted and the least studied by some Christians. See, some Christians are very fond of quoting Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as clobber verses against LGBT folks, but they are not terribly interested in Leviticus 19. Perhaps that is because it is easier to grab two verses to set themselves up as judges of others. It is much mo…

Who’s Whose?

Matthew 22:15-22
October 22, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL

We’ve been following Jesus around the last few weeks in the gospel of Matthew, and it might be helpful to pause for a moment and remind ourselves of where we are now on this journey. We’re very close to the end, here in this reading. It is Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem, the Tuesday of what we’d call “Holy Week” to be exact. Things have been heating up for him in Jerusalem and his enemies are slowly closing the net around him. They’ll finally entrap him, of course, but not through his own words. A few short days after this reading, he’ll be tried for blasphemy and sedition.

In this reading, they’ve come up with a brilliant scheme. They are in the temple, surrounded by crowds. In the first half of the first century in Jerusalem, there is a marked political division among the Jewish people. On one side are the Herodians, those who supported the corrupt, adulterous, idolatrous, self-serving Herod, the so-called King…

Showing Up

Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14
October 15, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Our first reading is from the letter to the Philippians. The Apostle Paul loved the church at Philippi, and his letters to them are full of affection along with his encouragement. This familiar reading comes toward the end of the letter, and includes his personal greetings for particular people, and those familiar words, “Rejoice in the Lord, always.”

It’s worth remembering, particularly with the two scriptures you’ll hear today, that the epistles, the letters, were written much earlier than the gospels. The letters reflect the formation of the early house churches, and point to some of the struggles of the newly formed Christian communities. In this letter, Paul refers to the church at Philippi as his “joy and crown,” -- they are such a source of pride and joy to him that they are like a laurel wreath awarded to an Olympic athlete. He loves this congregation.

Let’s listen for God’s …

Tenant Church

Matthew 21: 33:46
October 8, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

This week’s gospel reading finds us again in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus has been verbally contending with the temple leadership, and he has, as is usual with him, been telling stories. The text today is an interesting bit of scripture in that it begins as a parable but becomes a kind of allegory. That is, rather than the usual parable form, that creates an entire world which won’t quite translate into a simple explanation, this story invites us to hear a one-to-one correspondence between the characters and setting of the story and the real world in which Jesus lived. The story begins with a common first century economic arrangement: the tenant farmer.

Unlike the sharecropper of American history following the civil war, the tenant farmer’s relationship with the landowner was somewhat more fair and not an occasion of exploitation. Still, the landowner held all the power, and coul…

Poured Out

Philippians 2:1-13
October 1, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Our scripture reading for today comes from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. Verses five through eleven are widely regarded as among the earliest and most beautiful Christ hymns. But Paul’s letters were not written with chapters and verses, and today we have the pleasure of hearing that hymn in its intended context.

In the first chapter, Paul has commended the Christ-followers at Philippi, with those words familiar to many of us: “I thank my God every time I remember you,” and then he goes on to remind them of the importance of the way they live together in community, saying: “live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

In this section, he continues his loving words to them, appealing to both their connection through Christ – the sense of community – and their life in Christ – the practice of humility.

It’s worthwhile to remember as you hear these words that Paul uses…

Job Insecurity

Matthew 20:1-16
September 24, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Clarence Jordan of Koinonia Farms wrote: “When Jesus delivered his parables, he lit a stick of dynamite, covered it with a story about everyday life, and then left it with his audience. By the time his hearers fully unwrapped the parable, Jesus and his disciples were long gone.”[1] And man, oh, man, was Clarence right! Last week we heard a story Jesus told about forgiveness. This week, we hear a story that he told about some workers in a vineyard. Or at least, the story seems to be about some workers in a vineyard. Let’s listen for God’s word to us in Matthew 20:1-16.

"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.
When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, 'You also go…

Mercy Multiplied

Matthew 18:21-35
September 17, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry


Jesus has been trying to get it through the disciples’ heads: he is not going to be what they expect. This chapter begins with an argument between Jesus’ closest friends about who is more important. Jesus answers their question by placing a child among them and saying, “Be like this, like this child.” Then he warns them that anyone who misleads a child would be better off dead. THEN he tells them how to settle conflict in the community, a tidy three-step process that, if it is unsuccessful, ends in exiling the offender. But the very next line is Peter asking Jesus how often he should forgive. Jesus seems to be giving a straight answer first, but follows with a parable that is rich in hyperbole, in exaggeration, and in imagery. Let’s listen for God’s word to us in Matthew 18:21-35:


Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgiv…