Dec 212010


Once upon a time, sermons were a vibrant literary form, not to be forgotten.  This is a Christmas sermon delivered by my friend Rev. John Ekman (we once or twice went downhill skiing together, now we meet at the gym from time to time) five years ago at his church in Saratoga Springs, New York. John often  preaches from “extended notes” or thought points, but this Christmas sermon is the full written out version (for an example of the thought points alone, see a second sermon which I have appended below).

I use “extended notes,”…what you received is what I would call FULL text. Some preachers go from memory…I can do that for a short piece but not for 12-15 minutes. I usually go on the shorter side: “The mind can not absorb what the butt cannot tolerate.” Other preachers would read their sermon from a text like I have sent you. And others (that would be me) use notes where “the unnecessary words” have been taken out and the speaker is left to supply verbs/adjectives, etc. My method allows me to take a quick look at a “section” and then make eye contact with the congregation as I have then “re-memorized” a short script.  I’ll send you an e.g. and you can pretty much tell what I am saying just by looking at key words and supplying your own connectors.

John’s text reads as a kind of poetic argument. His mix of typographical emphasis and parentheticals is rhetorical, meant to be spoken; it reminds me of the essays of the Black Mountain poet Charles Olson (see “On Projective Verse”). John’s message is earthy, comic and highly political, but political in the way the Old Testament prophets were political, critics of their own culture and time, critics of the effete and useless rich and their shallow piety. His socially engaged Christianity seems a far cry from the family values Christianity we hear about on Fox-News.

For another example of a sermon at NC, see Hilary Mullins “Hear My Call“.



“We Feed Horses in the Hopes that the Lowly Sparrows Might (eventually) Benefit.”

(Luke 1: 47-55, Is. 61:1-4, 8-11.)

A sermon by the Rev. John Ekman, Presbyterian/New England Congregational Church, Saratoga Springs


I. Folks who run ad campaigns know that they’ve got to change the message and rework the images, or in the case of the lottery alter the game in order to keep interest up. Failure to update for public consumption means death to the product. Buick tried this with “It’s not your mother’s Buick.” [Of course it–still–was your mother’s Buick!] The NYS lottery has gone with King Kong. I guess there’s not much marketing value in the Lion King.

II. In matters of our faith story there is a danger (actually a severe danger) that by growing so familiar with the Biblical images the message loses its power to change and transform us. The meaning of the story becomes lost in the mundane commonality. “Frankly: we’ve  {just} heard THAT story too many times.”

III. The FACT is that our biblical faith is pretty radical stuff. In fact the Bible ought to come with a warning, “Dangerous to your sense of well being and comfort.” The Bible should say, “Use with caution. Drink plenty of water if you believe you’ve ingested too much of this product.” The Bible story should be toxic to our common assumptions and it should actually alter our understandings of life.

IV. Take Mary’s song in Luke. The Magnificat, when set to music is a wonderfully artistic creation. BUT look at the words! Radical. Totally disquieting and discomforting. If you live in poverty in the third world you can find solace and hope. We, you—I—the very comfortable—should be dismayed!

“Pull down princes from their thrones. Exalt the lowly. The hungry go away full…the full empty.” OUCH! There are lots of refugees along the Gulf Coast or in Darfur or in Gaza who will have trouble putting food on the table. What are we planning for Christmas dinner?  “Please pass the stuffing—again.”

When we actually read the text and really seek to comprehend the meaning, the lovely notes of the Magnificat should fade into unabridged message of terror.

V. Let’s move on to Isaiah. Surely, we say, it cannot be worse than Mary’s song? Jesus got into big trouble reading this passage in his home town. I reckon if you’re a prophet you ought to be from somewhere else! Isaiah’s story says:  “Gods spirit is upon me. Good news to the poor. I mend the brokenhearted. I free the captives. I hate robbery. I love justice. I despise all wrong. This is the year of the Lord’s favor.”

VI. Actually the year of Jubilee (or the year of the Lord’s favor) never did happen as Biblically stated. It was too radical! Supposedly the year of Jubilee was a time when all debts were to be cancelled…the land returned to the original owners…and the entire society would start over again. The slate would be cleaned. Life, hope, opportunity and promise would all be renewed. Jesus said, “This time is now!” That’s radical stuff!!

For us this should be another Biblical OUCH! In the year of Jubilee your credit card debt would be cancelled—I guess that is good news for lots of Americans. But it is only momentary good news! The Biblical finger is always pointing (back) at us. Let’s face it, our comfort pretty much comes at the expense and discomfort of others!

We like cheap lettuce. Our salads come on the backs of underpaid, illegal, stoop labor. [If we do not understand that practical lettuce growing business truth…we aren’t paying attention.]

VII. I’ve got to be honest. This is not the Christmas message that I (or you) came to hear. We like bright lights, expectant children, familiar hymns and family gatherings. That is what Christmas is all about! We prefer the comfortable and dulled familiarity to the conscience prodding awareness of God’s searing truths.

VIII. The birth of Jesus is about a Jew so radical that he had to be murdered. The wonderful children’s pageant of today ends with the agony of Good Friday. Conspiracy and state killing was the only rational protection of the status quo. And Jesus said, “It is finished.”

IX. My reading of the Bible leads me to believe that God actually cares about ALL people. God wants ALL creatures made in the divine image to have a chance to achieve the fullness of their humanity. In the end this desire of God is good for us! Society and the world benefits when ALL are able and encouraged to contribute.

Who knows what discoveries and inventions lie unearthed because millions of human minds are wasted, ignored, starved or murdered?  BUT advantage and opportunity tend to flow up—not down the social ladder.

X. Today there are vast chasms between the rich and the poor, between those lacking opportunity and those having it all. This bodes ill for society’s and the world’s long term health and viability. In the end we need each other healthy and contributing…not angry and destroying.

XI. Most often politicians come from the privileged classes. Our laws and tax breaks benefit thems that has. This is not in the long term good of our nation…but it is the “way of the world.” What’s common in politics is not the way of Jesus. It is not the radical Christmas message!

XII. Let me speak personally. Kristen has worked very hard to get where she is. We are proud of her. She has spent lots of time studying for written exams and oral medical boards, when her friends were out doing pleasant whatever. Kristen also has parents who know the value of education and are willing to sacrifice to do what is good for their children. [Lots of you feel the same about your kids. Your experience and pride echoes Judy’s and mine.]

XIII. Let’s be honest. Few of us, including Kristen (or our John or Wendy) got where they are by their own efforts. We all had parents or teachers or employers or friends who were looking out for us, giving us recommendations or opening doors. Most people do not have that advantage. In today’s North America the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and lots of folks who think they are in the middle class—aren’t!

Trickle down economics really says, “Lets feed the horses and hope that the lowly sparrows eventually find nourishment in what the horses leave behind on the road.” It doesn’t happen. There are too few horses and far too many sparrows, and what flows from the rich doesn’t bring employment to those below.

XIV. Think about the scriptures today. Why should the rich get a tax break they don’t need so that other folks can do without? Among well moneyed special interest groups in the DC beltway you get the perception that the “Greedy are needy and the needy are greedy.” We feed the horses and hope that the lowly sparrows benefit from the droppings.

XV. This is not the story you came here today to hear! We like our spirits lifted at Christmas time. Bright lights, expectant children, familiar hymns, the gathering of family. But the Christmas story is so much more than that. The story is about God’s justice and inclusion. Think of Mary’s song and Isaiah. Theirs is a story about God’s passion for the poor. It is a radical story that ends with (a) murder.


[This sermon was preached in Christmas of 2005.]


{just} Sit and Wait

A sermon based on James 5:4 to 10

I. Don’t talk drive. Judy retaliates doing crafts/word puzzles. Lately “talking books.”  Bought two ½ price Rocky River. One good—one really bad. One good : “Jesus Dynasty,” B. scholar Jim Tabor.

When knee jerk think early Christianity=PAUL. After-all 7/14 letters to churches NT written by him. Moved serious antagonist to chief protagonist for faith.  Much pop thought dominated character Paul. BUT theme “Jesus dynasty” basically members Jesus immediate family REALLY took over nascent movement/ from Jerusalem guided through early years following Jesus’ death.

Story/scholarship worth $3 change cost me—better $9 spent Victor Frankle.

II. According Tabor: “Jesus dynasty” JAMES written by THE James: brother of Jesus/ first leader of church/among first thrown off tall building/beaten death club or stoned -courage lead  viewed “power” unpopular/threatening movement. JAMES (good Jews was) stresses two “faith issues.” ONE became unpopular w. later Jesus followers…OTHER been constant theme.

III. First-the somewhat unpopular/always contentious. (P) For Jews (acting on best beliefs) faith incorporated ACTION.   Judaism at best not so much “proper belief” as “ right action.” [Not lot heresy trials among Jews.]

IV. TORAH doc. be lived…not set ideals spoken of sanctimonious/warm tones. (P)  Letter JAMES not easily favored candidate admission to our Christian NT. (P)  Martin Luther “Justification by FAITH—not works” called JAMES “epistle of straw.”…JAMES talking justification/getting rt. w. God by works!

I-AS many you-like JAMES.  (P)  “ FAITH W/O WORKS IS DEAD.”   OR You say you have faith….show me your faith apart from your works….by my works…I show my faith.” (P) Makes sense. (P)  For me: concrete/real…actual parameters of action by which give life to my faith.

V. JAMES second strain DID into Christianity. (P) THEOL. HOPE end times. In hard times/Jews felt “couldn’t get worse” HOPE attached God’s arr. kingdom. [Much lesser feeling—like frustration w. inability Washington “do right thing” –esp. when that “right” complex not easily agreed on. Need God come down straighten mess out!]

VI. Read B. hist.—look US today…”more change-more stay same.” ARE people conscience who wealth—{also} lot people “live very very well” seem feel NO sense social obligation (except themselves-expanded extravagance own comfort.) JAMES no stranger prophetic diatribe: “ Laborers mowed your fields—you cheated them. It you condemned innocent-killing them.”  {More change-more remain same!}

VI. That desperate context 1st C. hoped “Kingdom of God.” (P)  James says, “Wait for Lord’s coming.” God’s REFORMATION ACTION  in REAL time/Kingdom happen on this earth…maybe {even} Jesus thought happen before all disciples died.

VII. Worked sermon struck me “juxtaposition.” One hand JAMES: Faith-works go together…so get out there and work. Other hand {almost} passive waiting for God make things right.

VIII. Read Middle East-much Jewish political analysis. Piece Falk-Jewish/UN official Gaza typical. Realize Israel estab. fact. Real people live there. Realize pressure among Jews for Israel’s creation came Western/Christian violent anti-Semitism. Way too many Christians sat hands/lent hands to Hitler’s diabolical efforts.

IX. Whether giving Jews homeland in “land cousins” wise—open question. [Many State Dept. time wondered wisdom!] What’s interesting—ORTHODOX JEWS felt “faith depended” God set time tables Jewish return/Jewish safety.” (P) Any human effort estab. state w. political-armed means betrayal faith in God.

X. JAMES (is Jewish) similar bent. Reminds “patience Job” {wasn’t very patient till first-last part booked added}…counsels same quiet/purposeful waiting for real/structural change-come on God’s time.

I. Today two extremes. Bumper Sticker: “Don’t worry God’s in Control,”—lead social irresponsibility: Global warming no big deal—God take care of it.  (P) Other extreme (I happier w.) “God no hands but ours.” (P) We created in God’s image. Have capacity love/care. Estimate future consequences; sense what works-doesn’t…AND {an} enlightened conscience should tell us “what’s obviously fair.”

II. Neglecting laborers (white collar workers) mow fields…firing them/denying fair wage/excluding medical care/taking away HOPE so “few” obscenely richer—neither fair nor safe for society.  Recipe misery-disaster.

III. Question is: Do wait patiently Lord—as James says JOB did?  OR is our responsibity: DO faith-take action-human good/social well being? (P) Obviously I have my opinion… AMEN.

[This sermon was delivered Dec 12, 2010]

—John Ekman


  4 Responses to “We Feed Horses in the Hopes that the Lowly Sparrows Might (eventually) Benefit: Christmas Sermon — Rev. John Ekman”

  1. Preach it, brother! That’s good stuff.

    I just preached my first full-length sermon this Sunday, also on Mary and the Magnificat. Unlike Rev. Ekman, though, I needed to write out every word ahead of time. (I’m marveling over his notes for the second sermon . . .)

  2. Nothing timid here! Thanks, John. And I like seeing them written, in note form. It’s like reading T. S. Eliot.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.