Senior Sermon

Hello, for those of you who may not know me, my name is Kate Alvstad and I am a senior guitar major at Penn-Griffin School for the Arts for the next 30 some hours, but who’s counting? And this fall I will be moving to Boone to attend Appalachian State University where I will be majoring in Social Work.

I Didn't Do This Alone

Seldom do we do things alone or by ourselves. Now, there are a few private things that we do by ourselves, but those excluded a great deal of what we do as human beings is done in conjunction with and surrounded by other people.

Even more so in the life of the church or the faith community. What we do as Christians is surrounded by the fact we have people who are like us, support us, and promise to be with us through thick and thin.

Take Away the Stone

Did you see this story last week? A guy from North Dakota accidentally ran a marathon. How do you accidentally run a marathon? I mean, I’ve had those runs where you’re just feeling it. Where you feel like you can go on forever. But, at most that means I’ll run like a couple miles more than I had planned. Never once have I thought, “Maybe I’ll just go ahead and, instead of running five miles today, I’m going to run 26.2 miles.” That just has never happened!

Who Told You?

“Who Told You?” 
1 John 5:9-13  

Sunday, May 13, 2018
Rev. Mark M. Vickers-St. Timothy’s UMC 


1 John 5:9-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

9 If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. 10 Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God[a] have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.


13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.


This Sunday we are rapidly approaching the end of the Easter Season.  Next Sunday is Pentecost and the birthday of the church.  We have struggled as Easter people through seven weeks of trying to figure out who we are as people who believe in a resurrected Jesus!  According to the liturgical calendar, we will have succeeded under the will of God as the church is formed next week. 

However, the text this morning is a text that is perplexing at best and yet absolutely pivotal to the understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   For you see, the writer of 1 John is paralleling a great part of the Gospel of John, proclaiming the notion of the resurrected Jesus in order that people have eternal life.  The message is quite clear in this text that in order to understand the plan of salvation, one must have a clear and concise view of what God’s plan was for you and that you needed to relay that plan to others as you encountered them throughout your time as a Christian.  The writer here is clearly concerned that a public proclamation concerning the faithful narrative of what God has given you is laid out for the community and others to hear!  

When I was growing up in Northern Indiana I had a friend who was a very active participant in his church.  A strong Black Baptist church on the south side of Gary, Indiana.  I remember visiting with Artie several times for worship.  A powerful, upbeat and progressive church, the one thing I remember most was a statement by their preacher right in the middle of the sermon, especially if he thought people were drifting, and that was “Can I Get a Witness?”  His claim in his culture of preaching was to call the people to attention concerning the understanding that they had heard and understood what he had and was saying!  Would they “testify” to the message that was being proclaimed and the Gospel preached!  A ramification that God had promised you something and in turn you understood what was being said to you. 

In the text this morning, the word “testimony”(or proclamation of truth) appears 6 times in the first three verses.  The “human testimony" is compared to the “testimony of God.”  Thus, if the word of the individual human is true or if it is only gossip, why would we deny the word of God, the ultimate truth, the ultimate proclamation for hope and salvation.  

One of my favorite shows growing up, was Perry Mason.  A show about a lawyer, who through all the ups and downs, always won his cases.  Filmed in the late 1950’s and early 60’s, you had 30 minutes  to see the crime, solve the crime, and prosecute the crime!  One of the things that always struck me as interesting is that when it came time for the court scene, every witness was shown to be sworn in!  Placing their right hand on the Bible and asked, “Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? So help you God?”   

My friends, that is the type of witness that the writer of 1 John is requiring of his believers.  For according to the scripture there are  those who are masquerading as false witnesses, those that have “cut corners” in order to spell out the truth.  The writer here is concerned about who is actually doing the telling and laying out the plan for you and those who  believe.  

However, if we look at this text closely, we see that those who are being addressed by this claim and asked for “a testimony” are not conventional questioners either.  “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God,” says John, “so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  

This is not a proclamation to find and convince new believers, it is a writing to remind those who already believe that this promise of eternal life is a sure thing!  That this is the rationale, the promise, and the completion of a new Easter life. 

Do you remember the first time someone told you about eternal life and the promise of Jesus?  Think about that for a minute.  We have all lived lives that are perplexed and construed with truth and deception.  When was that moment of truthful proclamation for you?  When was that proclamation of love and passion shared with you to change your life? What if those charged here and now with proclaiming risen Love were to try their hand at shaping Easter season sermons with such a strategy as the writer of 1 John uses?  

There would not be any emotional manipulation or sentiment at all!  It would be grounded in evidence- what one commentator calls, action evidence.  Evidence that reminds us that this promise of eternal life through the belief in a risen savior is grounded in the witness that we share with the world.  The witness that we share with others, friends, enemies, and strangers!  

It becomes imperative that we, as believers, share our testimony with others in order that the world be transformed for the Kingdom of God.  

So, Can I Get a Witness?  Please don’t give it just to me!  Share it with the world as someone told you!


This Fruit Won't Spoil

I don’t know about all of you, but our kitchen contains a hospice ward! A place where good fruit goes to die. It’s in the right hand corner, the side of the kitchen the sink is on. A beautiful banana hanger, a nice bowl for oranges or the “literally forgotten fruit” the apple may rest until the day it makes its way to the cemetery at the end of our stove known as the trashcan. Why, are we as humans so concerned about the way we keep things alive ? Why do we set aside a place in our kitchen to have perfectly healthy fruit, age into the process of decomposition just so we can say we “have fresh fruit” when our friends ask? Or maybe, it’s because we aren’t real sure what to do with the fruit when we get it!

What Must We Do?

In 1955, Andy Williams recorded one of the greatest love songs known to humankind, “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing.” From 1967-1973 this was the theme song for the great soap opera by the same name. Hear the beginning words;

“Love is a many splendored thing,
It’s April rose that only grows in the early Spring Love is nature’s way of giving a reason to be living, The golden crown that makes a man a king...”

My Life for Your Life

We make a gigantic move in our Biblical text this morning, from post-resurrection appearances to kingdom work imperatives. We have before us now very familiar passages both surrounding the nature and relationship of the shepherd. Too often we take these images for granted. In our culture of Biblical reading, we have often elevated the image of the shepherd and the sheep to the equivalent of angelic proportion.

What Makes You Believe?

We live in a society that demands the facts! We want to be “sure” of what we see, what we hear, what we witness, and what we believe. There are certain professions in our society that seek to find the facts for a living. One might say those professions are quickly being called into question with the rise of social media infringement; “fake news”, proclaimed un-truths that have been noted by specific recordings or proof that what was said was really NOT said. We seek to find those things that cannot be questioned, that solidify for us a path on which we cannot deviate.

Who's On Your Team?

We have just wrapped up one of the biggest sporting events known to humankind. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. A little over 16.5 million people watched basketball games over 4 weeks. To me, that is extraordinary! Now, some of those people were watching because their favorite team was playing, some because their favorite player was on the court, some so they could see the “under dog” topple the #1 Seed, and some were watching for the money! They had wagered big (or even little money) on a chance for more earnings. But no matter why they watched it, a bigger concern was people had a shared interest in a champion! Really, it didn’t matter who that champion would be, but rather a champion that would shine forth.

Getting Ready for the Parade

It was the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, 1982. We had traveled to New York City from our small rural mid-western college. Some of our choir was from the Northeast, but the majority of our singers were rural city or farm boys and girls from the mid-west. Excited to be in New York City to sing at the famed New York Unitarian Church, we spent a good part of the afternoon after rehearsal sight-seeing; the Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Build- ing, The Metropolitan Opera, and the list continued. We were in awe of what we were seeing. It was magnificent to behold.

The Hard Work of Lent

We have before us this morning, one of the most volatile and yet powerful passages of scripture found in the Lenten journey. We have before us a real argument between one of Jesus’ faithful, Peter, and the Messiah himself. Peter and the disciples for that matter were undoubtedly “shocked” at the realization that Jesus was not going to save them from the Roman Empire, it’s incursion and the rule of the world as they know it.

Preparation for What is Known

I just love it when biblical writers don’t use proper grammar! It gives me some hope that all of the written world is not perfect. Yet, this text this morning on the Second Sunday of Advent is not a narrative, it’s a proclamation. It’s a proclamation about not only Jesus, but the “one who is to come before him.” It is the preparation proclamation spoken about Jesus through the prophets. It’s a mix of prophetic words from both Isaiah and Micah.

"Can I get a Witness?"

Geddes MacGregor in The Rhythm of God, tells of a priest who, when asked, ‘How many people were at the early celebration of the Eucharist last Wednesday morning?’ replied, ‘There were three old ladies, the janitor, several thousand archangels, a large number of seraphim, and several million of the triumphant saints of God.’   

"When You Call The Question"

I love this text! To me, this is the text of all texts when it comes to Good News, when it comes to The Gospel. Why? Because it tells us exactly what we are supposed to do, to love! Oh, how easy is that?  

Here at the end of Matthew as Jesus begins his Holy Week in a rampant debate with the Sadduccees, lawyers, chief priests, elders, scribes, Pharisees and their disciples, Jesus is at the heart of his verbal confrontation.  Yet, out of these confrontations he becomes more clever and careful.  He is clever and careful in a way that sets the pattern for our instruction and the instruction of His disciples.  

"What Exactly Belongs to the Emporer?"

We have been inundated over the past several months, and really over the past several years, about what does belong to “Caesar” or our government. We have trifled with the notions and bills that indicate to us that tax issues, cuts, reforms will make our life in “Caesar’s World” more complete. Give or take which week it is we are squandered about which move is right. We live in a perplexed “Caesar’s World.” 

I am using the term “Caesar’s World” in order to demonstrate the fact that we live in a land governed by rulers we elect and put into power. We live in a democracy; a government that functions on economic terms with a system of checks and balances.  We do not live under a dictator or a monarch, or any other type of government. But, there is a common theme between these styles and that is money! Whether it is taxes or a stipend, or allotment, money has much of the pull in determining what takes place. 

Learning NOT to be #1

Nobody here has ever quarreled with someone, have you? Never spoken ill of anyone? Never thought ill or evil of any one? Never had an evil thought about an individual or a group? Then my work here today is done! You can exit the building! 

If this were only the case! I’d be unemployed, Jesus wouldn’t be necessary, and we could leave this place and let it grow up in weeds. 

However, I’m going to go out on a limb and say, “that is not the case,” at least in my life and I would venture to say, not in yours either.