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Pastor’s Blog – “Seeking the Center'” by Rev. Hal Murry

For months now, even before Halloween in some cases, we’ve been receiving reminders about the importance of having a “perfect” Christmas.  According to our culture, this mostly involves buying the right gifts from the right stores; enjoying them in the perfectly decorated home; amidst a perfectly happy family!  We are encouraged to spend a lot of time and money trying to achieve this kind of Christmas.  But the truth is that many of us begin to feel a certain fatigue and emptiness and sadness this time of year, as we realize once again that our lives and our families and our budgets will never measure up to the kind of picture-perfect Christmas that we see on TV commercials.

For Christians, particularly in this era and in this culture, it has become important every year for us to find our spiritual center in the ancient stories describing the first Christmas.  In the first Christmas, God’s work upset comfortable religious expectations.  In the first Christmas, God overturned the most widely held social and political conventions.  For Joseph and Mary there was no flawless lead-up to Christmas – no elaborate preparation dictated by convention.  Concurrent with the first Christmas, there was wonder and scandal, confusion and courage, beauty and poverty, darkness and light.  There were unexpected guests, and a Savior, born to a teenage mother, outside an overbooked inn.  Most of all there was the hope for a better world that the presence of God always brings.

Amid our less than picture perfect Christmas, in our less than perfect homes and families and lives, in our less than perfect culture, God seeks our help in doing something new.  God never stops trying new things to make the world better.  And with whom does God seek to collaborate today?  With you and me.  Have you thought much about the ancient stories lately?  It’s time.  It’s Advent (time to get ready!).  “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now.” (Matthew 6:33, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson).

Sunday worship during Advent is 9:30.

Just one Christmas Eve service this year — at 7:30 p.m.


“Waking Up to God” – Rev. Hal Murry – 11/26/17

Sermon Outline: 

  1. Jacob's story
  2. The "gate of heaven"
  3. Today's Scripture: Genesis 28:10-19 (NIV)
  4. Bethel, "House of God"
  5. The whole world is the House of God

Scripture: Genesis 28:10-19 (NIV)

                10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

                16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

                18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel (which means house of God).

“Paying Attention” – Pastor Hal Murry – 11/19/17

Sermon Outline: 

  1. GRATITUDE -- at the heart of Presbyterian theology
  2. Today's Scripture: Exodus 3:1-6 (NRSV)
  3. Here's what made Moses, Moses
  4. An invitation for you to "turn aside"...

Scripture: Exodus 3:1-6 (NRSV) 

3Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 5Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ 6He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

“Good Grief” – 11/12/17 – Guest Preacher, Katrina Richardson


Katrina is a candidate for ordination within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and is a senior at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. She and her family moved from their home town of Guthrie, Oklahoma to Dubuque in pursuit of God’s call in July of 2015.  She holds a B.A. in political science and has professional experience in church administration and social work.  Currently, Mrs. Richardson is a Wendt Character Scholar and recipient of the UDTS Presidential Scholarship. 

Scripture:  Matthew 25:1-13 (NRSV)

25‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.8The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NRSV)           

    13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.

“All Hat and No Cattle” – Rev. Hal Murry – 11/5/17

Sermon Outline: 

  1. Enough is enough!
  2. The problem for God's people: the character of leadership
  • Scripture Lesson: Matthew 23:1-12 - see insert
  • Impeccable academic credentials, BUT...
  • "All hat and no cattle..."
  • Status, authority, arrogance
  1. The solution: follow YOUR leader -- Christ
  • Stay open and humble (space for God)
  • Be a "servant" (to do God's bidding)

Matthew 23:1-12 (NRSV)

23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.[b] And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.[c] 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Matthew 23:1-12 (MSG)

23 1-3 Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.

4-7 “Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’

8-10 “Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.

11-12 “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.

“Reformation Conversations” – 10/29/17

Join a Lutheran (Troy Troftgruben), a Presbyterian (Marsha Wilfong) and a Roman Catholic (Jacob Kohlhaas) around the tables in Fellowship Hall for an informal conversation about the meaning and impact of the Reformation on our various traditions.  Kohlhaas is Assistant Professor of Theology at Loras College.  For the past year he has been extensively involved in conversations held in area churches and classrooms on both Roman Catholic and Protestant perspectives on the Reformation.