Pastor's Message

He Ascended Into Heaven 5/19/2022

The written sermon will be posted here after worship on Sunday. Thank you!

The Most Important Parts of Being a Christian 5/15/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 14, 2022 & Sunday, May 15, 2022 

COMMUNION 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, as we turn to your Word for us, may the Spirit of God rest upon us.  Help us to be steadfast in our hearing, in our speaking, in our believing, and in our living.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Luke 6:27-36 (Page 1033) and 1 John 4:7-12 (Page 1230) 

Sermon/Communion Message: “The Most Important Parts of Being a Christian” 

Clearly the Bible decrees that ‘love’ is a very important requirement.  In our lives as Christians, ‘love’ is one of the most important parts. The kind of love the Bible speaks of and Jesus teaches is not the more general form of love folks might be familiar with. 

There are some very significant parts to being a Christian.  A ‘Christian’ is defined as a person who adheres to the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps a more concise definition is: a Christian is someone whose behavior and heart reflect Jesus Christ. 

Many churches affirm ‘Christians’ as persons who believe in Jesus Christ, follow His teachings, and proclaim Him as their Lord and Savior. Some would say ‘being a Christian’ means belonging to a certain church. 

Folks have struggled through the years with concisely defining what constitutes a ‘Christian.’  

However we may arrive at our definition of ‘being a Christian,’ common to all interpretations are certain ‘parts’ that characterize God in our hearts. 

Clearly Jesus affirms what the Bible confirms, ‘love’ is a vital part of being a Christian. 

Sometimes we sing the sacred selection, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.”  Being a Christian is not simply believing in Jesus Christ, belonging to a church, or claiming the title, ‘Christian.’ 

Being a Christian is a lifestyle and a choice we make, perhaps daily. Not all parts of Christianity ‘make sense’ to folks.  For instance, in today’s Gospel lesson Jesus begins with these words: “To you who are listening, I say…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” 

According to this world’s standards these teachings of Jesus Christ simply are not the ‘natural order’ of things!  Typically, the world teaches us to overcome our enemies, keep them in their place, and restrain and discipline them if necessary.  At least stay as far away from them as possible.  People who hate us we tend to ‘hate’ back.  More often we seek revenge on those who hate us.  Doing good to such people is unheard of.  Folks who curse us generally receive our reprimand or our cursing in return. Our world does not teach us to pray for people who mistreat us.  If that were the case, there would be far less road rage, shootings, killings, and court cases. 

Yet Jesus begins his words by saying, “But to you who are listening…”  One of the most important parts of being a Christian is ‘listening’ to Jesus.  We ‘listen’ in a variety of ways. ‘Listening’ does involve reading and studying the scriptures.  Specifically the words of Jesus recorded on the pages of Holy Scripture.  We also ‘listen’ to Jesus by meditating, thinking about what he is saying to us, and ‘why’ he is saying things to us.  Ultimately we ‘listen’ by incorporating Jesus’ life and teachings in our hearts and through the ways we live. 

I am hoping that you can think of some examples from your own life when you have followed the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps by choice or possibly out of necessity.  How does a Christian ‘go about’ ‘loving their enemies?’  

Tolerance?  Patience?  Reasoning together?  Boundaries, where necessary, and as some say, striving to ‘walk in their shoes’ for better understanding. Jesus teaches us to love the unlovable.  Do good to them.  Bless them. Pray for them. 

Some years back I received a postcard from Reverend Billy Graham.  I keep it on my desk upstairs.  It was a card mailed out to all Christian pastors.  It states, “The most important characteristic of any pastor is a heart for God---a deep desire to live for Christ and to see others come to know Him and serve Him.” 

That IS what’s in my heart and soul.  I hope to be reflecting that in my life as well. Billy Graham passed away February 21, 2018.  His son, Franklin Graham, has ‘stepped up’ to carry on his father’s work and ministry.  I was reading some very strong commentaries regarding Franklin Graham.  It seems he suggested we all should pray for Russian president Vladimir Putin.  While Franklin Graham was striving to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ to ‘pray for our enemies’, his critics were vehemently against his form of advice. 

Perhaps we are not identifying with what might be the world’s number one enemy, yet we all have ‘enemies’ to deal with on a daily basis. 

Across the years I’ve watched how Christians deal with enemies.  Admittedly it’s not easy to love our enemies.  But this I do know and well receive: with Jesus Christ inside of our hearts and guiding our lives, there is a spiritual difference in how we deal with our enemies. The spiritual teaching of Jesus that helps is this: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  

Let me share with you a small example of this.  A middle-aged woman, where she worked, enjoyed giving others a ‘rough time’ just because she could.   Turns out it was just kind of a lazy behavior she had incorporated into her personality some years back.  Some responded by getting even with her, some chose to ignore her, but this one person chose to love her, in spite of herself.  He would simply ‘meet her eyes’ when she unraveled some rude behavior towards him, even in front of others.  Sometimes she expected a verbal confrontation but instead received a pat on her should or a shaking of her hand.  He even went out of his way to help her.  No matter how often she repeated this awkward behavior he unswervingly met her eyes, chose to be kind, and most often afforded some personal touch or handshake.  Afterwards he just moved on. 

Jesus Christ knew then what Jesus Christ knows now; we shall win more battles, create more reform, and bring about more lasting change by loving our enemies than by cursing and becoming ‘as they are.’  One of the most important parts of being a Christian is being able to ‘put our feet on higher ground!’ 

“Turn the other cheek” is sometimes a hard teaching of Jesus to understand or implement.  Yet I believe you and I have done so repeatedly in our lifetimes. 

Jesus is our greatest example to follow.  He was often times persecuted for his words or his actions.  Yet he did not rain down fire nor brimstone on his persecutors.  There have been times when any of us might want to ‘take a swing’ at someone, yet the teachings and example of Jesus Christ comes to mind and stops us in our tracks. 

Easily enough our self-value and worth can be brought into question, unfairly so, hurtingly so, by another.  One of the most important parts of being a Christian is following the teachings and examples of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus reminds us that anyone can love those who love you, but what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them.  Jesus goes on to say easily enough you can do good to those who do good to you.  Even sinners do that.  The same goes for lending money and so on. 

When me, myself, and I are the most important parts of life, then hurt, fighting, and compromise are sure to follow.  

Another of the most important parts of being a Christian is realizing what the Apostle Paul spoke of and wrote, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  God doesn't expect any believer to be perfect. 

“To be crucified with Christ” means we have given up on our old selves and our old ways of doing things.  Now we choose of our own free will to follow these teachings of Jesus and live life in a far different and greater way.  

When I find myself praying for my enemies, blessing those who persecute me, not getting even and perhaps turning the other cheek, I come to realize I do so not so much for myself, but for Jesus.  He IS my Savior.  He IS God’s Son. 

Affirming in faith, our belief, trust, and wholesome heartfelt response to Jesus Christ are vital parts of being a Christian. 

The longer I live the Christian faith the less I want to be like the rest of the world.  The greater my knowledge and awareness of Jesus Christ, the better my response to those who are ‘enemies’ of any sort. 

The most important parts of being a Christian are seen in how we love. Jesus Christ loved those who sincerely did not love him.  Jesus chose to love those who did not deserve what he had to offer.  He practiced what he preached.  He did turn the other cheek.  He did do good to those who harmed him.  He gave his life for people who did not deserve. 

Saving souls is more important than ‘saving face.’  Being a Christian is the most important part of living.  Amen.

Mother's Sacred Advice 5/7/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 7, 2022 & Sunday, May 8, 2022 

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:  Loving God, help us to hear your Holy Word that we may truly understand; that understanding, we may believe; and, believing, we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  Psalm 23 (Page 548) and John 2:1-12 (Page 1063) 

SERMON MESSAGE: “Mother’s Sacred Advice” 

Mary and Joseph were Jesus’ ‘earthly’ parents.  Within today’s scriptures we learn of Mary ‘advising’ her son that the wine had ‘run out’ at the wedding they were attending.  We further learn of Jesus’ reply: “Woman, why do you involve me?”  Not a very nice response, so it seems. 

Our ‘mothers’ sometimes afford us sacred advice.  At first review it surely doesn’t ‘seem’ as though Mary’s ‘advice’ had much to do with sacredness. Yet it becomes the basis for the first recorded miracle of Jesus. 

So what might we think about this mother/son dialogue?  Was Mary’s advice sacred?  Personal or simply convenient?  Maybe something else altogether.  No doubt Jesus’ Mother had taught him many things and probably ‘advised’ him many times during his childhood and perhaps even into his adulthood.  Mary and Joseph were of the Jewish faith.  They would have taught their son to follow the Jewish religion.  Perhaps your mother taught you something about religion as well. 

I have a few ‘words of advice’ Mothers have spoken across the years.  I suggest you ‘think’ about these next words of advice and discern if they constitute ‘sacred advice’ or not. 

For instance, my mother taught me about religion:  When I spilled some grape juice on the carpet, she advised me of this: “You better pray that stain will come out of the carpet.”  Sacred advice or not? 

Perhaps your mother taught you similar ‘logic’ as did my own mother.  Recall these words of logic from our mothers: “Because I said so.  That’s why.”  I still hear my daughter say those decisive words to her children. 

Our mothers taught us to have foresight:  "Make sure you wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident." 

Would you say this entails ‘sacred advice’ thus far?

IRONY has been a part of our mothers’ advice.  Sometimes when they reach their saturation point and frustration sets in, Mom will say, “Keep laughing, and I’ll give you something to cry about." 

Remember, too, how our mothers taught us STAMINA:  "You’ll sit there ’til all that spinach is finished." 

My mother taught me about WEATHER:  "It looks as if a tornado swept through your room." 

My mother and my father were both sometimes kind of ‘rough’ with my three brothers and me when we pushed too far.  Their advice was more of a strong reminder and possible threat to our well-being and the Circle of Life, "I brought you into this world, and I can take...” 

The Bible records many words of advice; sacred advice for us to follow.  Have you ever given thought to what might be some of the best, the most sacred words of advice?  Some scholars point out that the most sacred advice found in the Bible are some further words Mary spoke regarding Jesus. 

Immediately after Jesus responds to his mother’s request for more wine, she looks beyond Jesus and says these words to the servants at that wedding, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Perhaps this IS the best advice any mother ever gave. Good advice.  Sacred advice still, for all of us today regarding Jesus. DO what Jesus tells us to do! 

Has your mother ever called upon you to help?  Most likely she has.  Has YOUR mother ever expected a miracle from you?  Possibly so. 

On this Mother’s Day it is good to be in God’s House.  Here we worship.  Here we pray.  Here we reflect and thank the good Lord for the benefits of life. 

I’ve learned across the years that many ‘mothers’ hold certain scriptures near and dear to their hearts.  An all-time ‘favorite’ portion of Holy Scripture is the 23rd Psalm.  Let’s consider some portions of this esteemed psalm. 

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  Mothers and Fathers, children of any age, when we affirm with our lives and our words our belief, our bottom-line, firm foundational belief, that the Lord IS our shepherd, we illustrate sacred advice for others, all others to follow.  Affirming faith is one thing.  Illustrating what that faith means to you is another thing. “I shall not want.”  Mothers PROVE to us by both their words and their actions that faith may be shaken but never destroyed when the Lord IS your shepherd.  Because of the Lord and through faith living with the Lord, we shall not want.  Teach your children your faith.  This remains a wondrous inheritance for a lifetime, touching the souls of our family into eternity.  Many mothers have drawn upon this portion of the 23rd Psalm for their personal affirmation of faith, especially so during times of trial.

As Pastor, I suggest this further sacred advice to Mothers.  Use your Bible.  Reference it for yourselves and for whatever else you are reviewing in life.  Please make notations in your Bible.  Underline some notable verses.  Write in the margins.  One day your Bible will be passed on to another.  They will sincerely benefit from your faith reviews and spiritual insights. Leave further evidence of sacred advice for those who follow. 

The second verse of the 23rd Psalm declares, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” Perhaps on any annual “Mother’s Day” we tend to reflect upon love we shared with our mothers and some further familiar memories we associate with them.  I strongly encourage us to dig a little deeper and think a bit further regarding mothers' sacred advice.  Remember the things she said and the way she led you back to God.  That may have entailed her advising you to ‘go to church.’  It may have also included advising you to read your Bible, understand the teachings of God, and obey Jesus.  These are certainly good areas of sacred advice.  Yet there is more.  Our mothers showed us by their lives and furthered our spiritual care in the ways they guided us to meditate, close your door, and spend some time alone with God.  Sensitive mothers teach us to “pray about it” when our problems are immense and our burdens are quite heavy.  Think back today to those times and occasions when your mother guided you towards green pastures and still waters that restored your soul.  These, too, are times and occasions of sacred advice. 

Is your soul refreshed?  I certainly hope so. 

It should be the sacred advice of every mother to guide us towards Jesus and to help guide us further along the right paths for God’s sake. 

A mother’s sacred advice is especially seen when we walk through some very dark valleys. 

Sometimes all a mother needs to say is, “Don’t worry, God has His hand upon you!”  We learn to trust mothers’ sacred advice. Although my mother was a ‘worrier’ by nature, she was also a sincere Christian through faith.  When my mother reached the furthest ends of her worry, she always ‘took it to the Lord in prayer.’  Sometimes, admittedly many times, she took me to the Lord in prayer. 

Mothers, I inquire of you today to live your faith in such a manner that we grow to trust, we need not fear evil, for God is with us, and you care for us still.  

The mother of Jesus, Mary, had this special privilege I and other men shall always envy (in a good and wholesome way). Mary and all mothers carry life from God inside of them.  They are designed by God to bring life into this world.  The very beginnings of a soul co-exist with their mother’s heart, body, and soul.  What a sacred reality this remains. 

The 23rd Psalm speaks of the ‘rod and staff’ of God bringing comfort.  When my mother, or yours for that matter, quoted those scriptures:  “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” we most likely were NOT feeling real comfortable around them when they raised their eyebrows and gave us ‘the look!’ 

Do remember ‘the rod and the staff’ of protection, prodding, care, love, forgiveness, and encouragement. 

Some of this world’s greatest teachers regarding ‘forgiveness’ are our mothers. They have commonly been the peacemakers in the family and the neighborhood.  Not only do they fix our hurts, they tend to patch us up and advise us toward what’s sacred in this life and the next. 

In this world we are living, in there seems to be an endless listing of enemies.  Sometimes that list of ‘enemies to our peace’ can become overwhelming.  Violence, shootings, legal battles, second guessing, sin, death, disease, wars, and rumors of wars.  

Remember when your mother prepared the table for you to eat, to sit down, to enjoy a meal, to ‘be with’ her and the rest of your family and friends. Mothers’ sacred advice reminds us we can still do that even in the presence of our enemies.  

There is integrity to the Christian faith within you.  YOU ARE a child of God, you are not ‘less than’ any other soul on this planet. 

In the waters of baptism you have been anointed.  You and I drink still from the ‘cup of life.’  Because of God’s provisions and manifold blessings, our cup overflows. 

Be assured, be strongly assured this Mother’s Day and beyond; surely goodness and love will follow you all the days of your life, and you SHALL dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

Our mother’s sacred advice remains. 

In bringing this message to a close. I have a gift to share with my own mother.  Yes, she is in heaven with the Lord.  I fully trust that.  All of her greatest questions and deepest concerns about myself and my three brothers the Lord has provided her with answers already. 

In the Book of Revelation 4:1 reference is made to a ‘door standing open in heaven…’ 

Should there be a door or a window opened in heaven today please join me in saying to our mothers, “It is well with my soul.” 

While we are not able to perform the miracle of changing water into wine, may it be so that the manner in which our lives have transformed from how we were into ‘who’ we have become be the miracle that please and fulfills.  Amen.

You'll Never Walk Alone 5/1/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, April 30, 2022 & Sunday, May 1. 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: O Lord, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, and strength to follow on the path you set before us; through Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 1:1-6 (Page 536) and Luke 24:13-35 (Page 1060) 

Sermon Message: “You'll Never Walk Alone” 

I trust we have all had times when we felt as though we were walking through life alone.  Such was the case for these two persons going into a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.  That was about a two-hour walk, at least.  The two of them were walking along and talking about current events relating to God, Jesus, and religion.  They were sad.  What happened next, they never saw coming -- this fellow comes along and starts walking with them.  At first they didn’t recognize him.  It was Jesus who came and walked with them.  But they didn’t recognize him initially.  Especially so, because what they were experiencing was so difficult. 

I can relate to a much smaller, yet, significant experience I had many years ago when I first started preaching.  I went to this quite small rural, white-framed church early Sunday morning.  I surely didn’t want to be late for my first preaching engagement at that church.  I must have gone over my sermon 30 times before arriving there that day.  I remember, the best thought I could muster up inside of me regarding that sermon all those years ago was, “It’s ok, I guess.”  When I got to that church, I met the pianist who seemed to be as old as the building itself. She asked me what songs we were going to sing.  I remember saying; “Oh Ma'am, I don’t know.  I’m the preacher.”  She looked at me and said, “Well Sonny, around here, the guy who does the preachin’ leads the singin.”  I think I wet my pants a little that day. I didn’t see that coming. 

Some things we don't see coming are really difficult:  divorce, death of a loved one, loss of a job, health struggles.  Sometimes unforeseen things are unexpected blessings:  a new baby we didn't think we'd have, a promotion we didn't think we'd get, cancer that is healed completely, husbands who do their own laundry. 

Well, Easter Day, over 2,000 years ago, was a surprise NO ONE saw coming.  And we're going to see how the real Jesus and His real resurrection changed everything for two guys who'd lost all hope and felt as though they had no further choice but to put one foot in front of the other and keep walking alone in their thoughts and prayers. 

On that first Easter afternoon these two guys are walking ‘away’ from Jerusalem, ‘away’ from the Cross, ‘away’ from the empty tomb, and ‘away’ from where the rest of the followers of Jesus are.  They aren’t just walking ‘away’ from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  They are walking ‘away’ from the Cross.

They are frightened, they are helpless, and they are bewildered.  Some would call them cowards!  These folks, and others just like them, Jesus calls and commissions to do His work, to further His kingdom, to build His church, and to live and share the Christian faith. 

I’ve seen it happen, time and again, in my walk with Jesus. He calls upon people who just don’t seem to have a clue, some who are even scared out of their wits and helpless.  He comes and walks with them and just continues walking with them as they bear their burdens, carry their cross, and fulfill what they come to know and further understand that which God has been calling them to do.  Jesus Christ doesn’t just ‘call’ and ‘walk’ beside us.  He sends further help.  Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to inspire, strengthen, lead, and guide us. 

I’ve been an ordained minister most of my adult life.  Prior to entering ministry, I attended various churches.  I do still recall some of those ‘sermons’ I heard when I was sitting in the pew.  One of my favorites still remains that associated with the Emmaus Road journey.  As I have received teachings on the Emmaus Road experience, studied these scriptures, associated with the same, and shared sermon messages down through the years, some spiritual insights have become consistently clearer. 

One of those insights is this: The Christian faith, analogous to the Emmaus Road experience for those two early believers, is not just about arriving somewhere; it's not about destinations but journeying.  

Another of the ‘insights’ we gain from this Emmaus Road narrative is that those two fellows continued to talk about God and about Jesus.  They were discussing things that they realized God had done and continually strove to figure out!  It remains ‘good’ for us, as we walk along, to talk of Christ and not only of God and His providences, but of Jesus and His love.  

I am hoping you continue to find that good conversation and communications concerning Christ remain an excellent antidote against sadness, sorrow, bewilderment, and aloneness.  

Choose to follow this example of Jesus Christ.  Choose to walk beside someone, especially so, some souls that are melancholy, burdened, or alone. 

A further ‘insight’ regarding these two who were walking along on the Road to Emmaus is this: they learned to trust Jesus.  While Jesus strove to reveal many things to them regarding the scriptures and his resurrection, THEY had to CHOOSE to trust and thus believe. 

When we come to church on Easter Sunday and there remains a glorious crowd of believers accompanied by sacred music, honorable preaching, and the strength of Christian fellowship, the ‘cross’ we are called to bear seems a little lighter.  Our walk with Jesus and His walk with us teach us that it’s not so much the weight of the crosses we are called to bear, but the manner in which we bear them.  Quite often we resist carrying any crosses in our lives.  Oh, but I have seen in you that the manner in which you carry your crosses and the manner in which I carry mine reflects our further love and trust of God more.

As pastor, I remain keenly aware of some of the crosses in your life because you have asked me to pray for you.  A few examples of ‘crosses’ we bear are these: the cross you bear for a child caught in the chains of a destructive addiction.  Disabled parents for whom you have to care.  An unsatisfying job that is apparently the best means of providing for your family that you have.  Dealing with potentially terminal illnesses.  Your ‘calling’ to serve the poor.  These and other sorts of ‘crosses’ can leave a soul feeling as though they are walking alone in this world. 

Jesus Christ is the best and the greatest example we have to follow.  Time and time again, when Jesus met with his disciples and with those feeling such ‘aloneness’ in life, he did something so very basic and fundamental; He illuminated scripture.  Jesus did so with the disciples following his resurrection as they locked themselves, in fear, behind closed doors.  He did this same thing again when he walked with the two persons journeying along the road to Emmaus. Remember – on that walk to Emmaus, He talked to them about how the prophets had spoken and how they had revealed that Christ would have to suffer before he entered His glory. 

Has it ever happened to you whereby some portion of Holy Scripture was ‘illuminated’ for your understanding and edification?  We sometimes say, “Well this or that scripture ‘came to mind!’ ” OR some portion of the Bible seemed to ‘speak to us.’  Sometimes Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to inspire us still, especially so, when we feel as though we are walking alone. 

This Emmaus Road narrative shall always serve to remind us that Jesus comes and is near to us sometimes when we least expect it.  There shall be times when your prayers are answered in ways you might not have expected.  God stills sends His Son, and His Son still sends the Holy Spirit to inspire, comfort, strengthen, and guide. 

Psalm 1 affirms we are blessed if we choose NOT to walk in step with the wicked, stand in the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers.  We shall be blessed if we meditate on and respond to God day and night. (I like this next portion of scripture): “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season—whatever they do prospers.  For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” 

IF you choose to walk with the Lord, you’ll never walk alone.  You might be surprised by just how close God IS.  Amen.

Get Busy Believing 4/24/2022

Sermon Message For Saturday, April 23, 2022 & Sunday, April 24, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Send, O God, the light of your presence on our hearts so that as your truth is proclaimed we may trust in you with all our hearts.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 112:6-8 (Page 607), John 20:19-31 (Page 1088), Romans 10:8-11 (Page 1135) 

Sermon Message:  “Get Busy Believing” 

Have you ever wondered if the stories about Jesus and God were really true? I think we all do wonder sometimes.  Well, what would you say if I told you that I have something inside this box (show the box) that proves all of those things were true and that Jesus was the Son of God and came back to life on Easter Sunday?  If I said I had something inside this box that proves those stories were true, would you want to see what is inside the box?  (Let them respond.)  Our story today is about someone who did want to see that kind of proof. 

The story begins last Sunday evening, the night after Easter morning.  The women and the disciples who had found the empty tomb were together in a room trying to figure out what had really happened.  They wanted to believe that Jesus wasn’t dead, but they were afraid it might have been a trick.  Maybe the people who had killed Jesus had just hidden his body to make them all believe Jesus was alive, so they could somehow catch the rest of them, too.  They were all together in a secret place and locked the doors so they could be safe and decide what they were going to do.  While they were talking, something really amazing happened.  Do you remember what happened?  While they were talking, Jesus suddenly appeared right there with them.  He talked to them for a while and showed them his hands and feet where he had been hurt.  Now they knew for sure that Jesus was alive, so I’ll bet they were all really excited, don’t you?  Well, not all of them. 

Thomas was one of Jesus’ disciples, but he wasn’t there with them that night, and when they told him what had happened and what they had seen, he didn’t believe them.  He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  Thomas didn’t believe them.  He wanted proof, and no matter how much they tried to convince him, he just wouldn’t believe the story they told him about Jesus coming to them. 

Well, the next Sunday night they all got together in their secret place again.  When Jesus had talked to them, he told them he was going to send them out to do things to take care of people for God, and they were all wondering just what they were going to do.  All except Thomas.  He still didn’t believe them.  Do you remember what happened next? While they were talking, Jesus appeared to them again, and this time Thomas was there to see him, too.  Since he was able to see and touch Jesus, Thomas finally believed that Jesus was alive again.  Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

Sometimes it is pretty hard to believe in God, isn’t it? Consider briefly today the people of Ukraine.  Perhaps they are praying from their heart and soul minute by minute, day after precious day, wondering what might become of them, their country, their homes, and their people.  As we know, some of the citizens of Ukraine are leaving the country and fleeing to other nations.  Some Ukrainian people are staying, fighting the Russian invasion.  As Russia invades and scores of Ukrainians respond, what might become their outlook?  What might be their doubts?  For those who stay, should they be learning the Russian language?  For those who are leaving, should they be learning another world language such as Polish, English, etc.?  It must be truly difficult to NOT doubt in those circumstances. Some are optimistic; others are pessimistic, I’m sure.  

This disciple of Jesus, Thomas, was pretty pessimistic.  His was a history of being pessimistic.  For Thomas, the cross was only what he had expected.  When Jesus had suggested going to Bethany when the news of the illness of Lazarus had come, Thomas' reaction had been:  ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’  (John 11:16) 

Thomas never lacked courage, but Thomas was a natural pessimist.  What Thomas had expected to happen had happened.  When it came about that Jesus was crucified and died, Thomas was broken-hearted.  So brokenhearted was he that he wanted to be alone with his grief.  

Thomas not appearing with the disciples on that first Sunday after Easter may have illustrated a measure of the depth of his sorrow and disappointment. 

Perhaps you are acquainted with someone who has experienced a depth of sorrow and great disappointment.  I ministered to a man and his young son who experienced something similar to that.  The wife/mother had died a horrid death at such a young age.  The young widower was determined to safely and securely raise his child while protecting his own heart from ever becoming so hurt again.  His was severe doubt that he or his son could ever find love, let alone trust love, again.  Eventually they did.  I was honored to ‘officiate’ the new marriage and later baptize a new baby.  

The disciple, Thomas, made a serious mistake.  He withdrew from Christian fellowship.  He sought loneliness rather than togetherness. 

When our doubts, sorrow, and grief come to us, we sometimes shut ourselves up and refuse to meet people.  I’ve recognized as a pastor that these are precisely the times when we need to be in church with other people.  We are more likely to meet Jesus in the fellowship of other people. 

There is a phrase my father would sometimes use when he fell away from the goals associated with Alcoholics Anonymous.  That phrase was, he ‘fell off the wagon.’  It meant he reverted to drinking again, or feeling sorry for himself again, or separating himself from his family and support system.  

Perhaps we have somehow “fallen off the wagon” in our spiritual beliefs. As pastor, I need to say, regardless of how ashamed any of us might be of our behavior, including our doubts, recall this: the assembled believers were ‘there’ for Thomas, and they are ‘there’ for us.  We are called out of the world by God to become his living presence in this town, this neighborhood, this church where all sorts of folks, even those like Thomas, can have forgiving love, warmth, and assurance. 

God loves and saves us.  We need what Christ’s church has to offer over and over again.  THIS remains a vital element to our spiritual lives. 

Sometimes when folks doubt the most, they seek some sort of ‘sign’ from God.  Perhaps that was, in part, what Thomas was seeking. People who doubt are seldom ‘cured’ of their doubting once and for all.  Rather, doubts tend to resurface from time to time.  

One of the legends about Thomas relates that some years after the event, Thomas was again plagued with doubts about the resurrection.  He sought some of the Apostles and began to pour out his soul's troubles to them.  But after a while, one by one, the apostles left him because of pressing duties.  He made his way to some loyal women in the company of believers.  They were surprised at his questions, but like Dorcas, they were busy in labors for the Master and let him know they didn't have time for such thoughts as these.  At last, it dawned on Thomas that it was because they were so occupied in the work of the Lord that they were free from the doubt that seemed to be torturing him.  He took the hint.  He went to Parthia and flung himself into preaching the Word and ministering to the needs of the saints and was never again troubled with so much doubt. 

When Jesus Christ appeared to Thomas, he addressed those doubts.  Notice Jesus did not reprimand Thomas for doubting.  He did not accuse him either.  Jesus simply and sincerely met Thomas where he was and in essence directed him to “Get busy believing.” 

Faith is to have integrity.  Doubts are not necessarily sins but need to also be answered with integrity.  Psalm 112: 6-8 affirms that the “righteous will never be shaken.  They will have no fear of bad news, their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.  Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph over their foes.” 

When Thomas doubted so extensively that first Easter, integrity was restored to his faith not only by the sign of Jesus’ presence but also by his faith decision to “Get Busy Believing!” 

Jesus is the Rock of our salvation.  Stand firm upon the Rock.  Do not be shaken but choose to remain steadfast in believing in the Lord.  God is real.  Jesus is alive.  He has risen from the dead.  Allow him to rise forth in your heart and soul. 

Get Busy Believing.  We are not to remain under the power of fear nor doubt. 

Romans 10:8-11 declares “The word of God is near you.  It is in your mouth and in your heart.  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.  Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 

In order to get busy believing we need to also get busy proclaiming.  Doubts need to be addressed from our hearts and souls and from our minds.  Not everyone ‘gets a sign’ from God as Thomas did.  Yet we are all called upon to choose to believe.  Choosing to believe includes declaring “Jesus is Lord.”  This is not always the easiest thing to do, yet it remains the Scriptural thing to do. Believing begins in the heart, the mind, and the soul.  It’s a choice, a faith-choice we have to make.  

Thomas teaches us still we need to move beyond the shadow of doubts, the feelings of fear, and the burdens associated with our heaviest grief.  

Easter serves to further remind us He has risen from the grave.  Jesus Christ reigns from heaven.  He is at the right hand of God the Father.  He lives. 

Jesus further affirms, we are blessed if we have received a sign from God to answer our doubts and affirm our faith.  But more blessed are we to believe without seeing a sign.  Trusting from faith.  

At various times God answers our doubts and assists us to overcome our fears.  

At the grave of Jesus God sent angels to assure the women and the disciples that Jesus was not there.  He had risen from the dead.  Jesus came and appeared to the women at the tomb, later to the disciples huddled fearfully so, in a room behind locked doors and later to Thomas.  Jesus met with two of his disciples on the Road to Emmaus and visited at length with them. 

More importantly remember this, Jesus did not induce guilt as a means of addressing doubt.  He just affirms, welcomes, and encourages.  

As members of the faith community and present-day disciples of Jesus Christ, let’s get busy believing.  Amen.

Easter, Our Greatest Hope 4/17/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, April 16, 2022 & Sunday, April 17, 2022 

Easter Sermon 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul.  Pour out upon us the spirit of wisdom and understanding that, being taught by you in Holy Scripture, our hearts and minds may be opened to know the things that pertain to life and holiness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Luke 24:1-12 (Page 1060) and Psalm 33:12-22 (Page 554) 

Easter Message: “Easter, Our Greatest Hope” 

That very first Easter started out as a frightening experience.  Each of the Gospel Lessons, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, share a similar account.  Each tells us of specific women coming to Jesus’ tomb, to further anoint his body for customary burial preparations.  One account states there was an earthquake involved.  Other accounts inform us that those who came to Jesus’ tomb were frightened, bewildered, and confused.  

They came with their quite vivid memories of so much evil that had happened to their beloved Jesus just a few days before.  The Apostle’s Creed affirms, “He descended into Hell and on the third day he arose again from the dead.”  Jesus’ descent into hell was for the further salvation of lost souls.  Sometimes when we experience our “Hell” here on earth, we come to know ours has been a journey immersed in the darkest of places. 

You and I have grown to know in our faith walk that you can’t really appreciate the goodness and the hope of Easter unless you’ve ‘come through’ some version of darkness, fear, and even hopelessness. 

When Jesus Christ died upon the Cross and hung there for all to see, it surely felt as though evil had finally and ultimately won.  The finalness associated with bad events presents a form of ‘reckoning’ within us all.  Shortly after Jesus’ death upon the cross, a wealthy man by the name of Joseph, a respected member of the council, asked for the body of Jesus.  Joseph was a secret disciple.  “Secret” because he had been afraid of reprisal.  However, after witnessing Jesus’ suffering and death, his fear of ‘what others might think’ was overcome.  Living through darkness and dealing with evil will sometimes do that to a soul. Perhaps you’ve lived through something a bit similar?  

Another “secret disciple” of Jesus was Nicodemus.  He brought with him, to Jesus’ tomb, a large amount of myrrh and aloes for the body of Jesus. 

Jesus’ main disciples had locked themselves behind closed doors in fear of the soldiers who might determine they too deserved similar punishment.

Most everyone who knew Jesus felt defeated by evil.  In Jesus they had seen goodness personified.  He had shown them love, mercy, and grace.  Rome’s soldiers had defeated God’s Messiah.  Their King was gone.  Their hopes and dreams, even their faith, had been crucified with him.  So it was, they sunk into utter despair. 

As pastor, I’ve sat with families following the death of a young person.  I sat with groupings of teenagers after their friend’s life support systems were disconnected.  I remember being called to meet with the family of a boy who shot himself.  The list goes on.  In those ties silence is interrupted by sobs.  The urge for some sense of normalcy is there yet nothing can lift the feeling in the heart when the weight of grief presses down. 

Perhaps you know of someone who experienced terminal news.  Many of us still recall hearing and receiving the news of 9/11 and the sinking feeling that our lives would be changed forever.  

But what was it that Jesus sometimes said?  Didn’t he say something about “being in the belly of the whale for three days?”  Or “rebuilding the temple in three days?”  What did he mean by that?  What do these words still mean to us today in the midst of life’s realities of evil and darkness? 

On that very first Easter the idea that Jesus had been raised from the dead was considered unbelievable.  The women and those disciples who first went to his empty tomb and saw the stone rolled away, plus Jesus’ body gone, were filled with terror!  The remaining disciples struggled with all of this and had tremendous doubts over and against the ‘obvious’ they had experienced.  You remember the disciple who doubted all of this the most don’t you?  Thomas. He said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hand and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  

As an abiding Christian, I remain grateful knowing that even the disciples who were ‘right there’ struggled with doubt when it came to the Resurrection.  IF the men and women who were with Jesus found it difficult to believe, how much more so for people who live twenty centuries later and have not seen that empty tomb nor the living Christ with their own eyes.  

Jesus seemed to know his disciples would be struggling with his resurrection and telling others about what hope their faith revealed.  So it was, he promised to “be with them always.  Even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) 

You and I live in a world where seeing is believing.  Credible facts give credible belief.  Yet we remain aware of mysteries we still cannot explain.  

I visited with a 40-something year old woman in a care facility in Pittsburgh quite some time ago.  I gave her a small stone on which I had written the words, “Jesus loves you.”  She was pleased, motioned for me to come close after we prayed, and said these words: “I want you to make sure this stone is with me at my funeral this time next week.”

Her illness wasn’t life threatening, yet she somehow knew her ‘time had come.’  One week later, I officiated her funeral.  That little stone was there. 

People have sat up in bed and started talking to people or angels none of the rest of us could see.  Oh, but they did.  Folks have shared with me that they actually ‘heard’ what their family members were saying as they lie in a coma. 

Folks experiencing these ‘mysteries’ often share with me they will never forget the peace and assurance that was ‘on the other side.’  Some say it was so good they did not want to come back to us. 

“Resurrection” means different things for different people.  For the ancients it meant ‘seeing’ the physical Jesus alive after witnessing his death upon the Cross. 

For me and possibly for you, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ remains a mystery we cannot easily nor efficiently ‘explain away’ in any of our usual scientific approaches.  

A long time ago an older fellow who lived in my neighborhood shared this with me. He said, “Tommy, there’s always going to be a certain amount of mysteries in life.  Especially in how you understand God and how he works.  Be okay with that.  You don’t have to know it all nor understand it all.  Just let some things be a mystery.  That’s OK.” 

I trust the Biblical fact that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead.  Trusting transforms us. This too is the hope of Easter. 

I trust that Jesus Christ died upon the Cross after suffering immensely as an atonement for sins; your sin and my sin plus the sins of countless others.  

Mostly I trust that Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection became God’s victory over the powers of evil and over sin that alienates us from God.  These ‘mysteries’ are God’s triumph over death, which we, by faith, share. 

Because you and I chose to trust in what God has done and continues to be doing, we have hope.  The world’s greatest hope. 

I’m not sure if you might agree with me or not, but much of what’s happening in the world is frightening. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is frightening.  Where will it all end?  How many must suffer?  What further effects is this war going to have directly on us? 

Will gas prices and inflation remain high and continue to climb? 

The news reports a new variant of the COVID virus.

Before that there was the fear associated with climate change/global warming.  

Perhaps global warming is also ‘real’ but I will not live my life in fear of it.  I will not, because I believe Christ will have the final word. 

The threat of terrorism remains real.  I believe we need to find ways to address the underlying issues, but I will not hide in fear because I believe Jesus Christ has the final word.  

Economic crisis re-occur in each generation.  Yet we should not abide in fear.  Theologian, Frederick Buechner, is noted for saying, “Resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing.”  

Easter, then and now, is such a wondrous blessing.  It remains a celebration of the victory of Jesus over sin and death.  He has risen from the grave. 

Easter is the greatest hope we have.  What happened on that very first Easter teaches us still that God Almighty has a way of making things work out.  You and I have to trust, put forth faith, and strive to live the Christian life following Jesus.  Because we do, we have this hope deep within our souls. Despite difficult circumstances and painful situations that might lead to despair, something good is around the bend.  It is something we cannot live without. 

Hope gives us courage to confront our circumstances and the capacity to surmount them. 

Jesus loves me this I know.  I also know God and Jesus don't give us evil and disease and wars.  Yet these things remain a part of our lives.  We are to pray for evil to be eradicated and work to overcome it.  Each of us are to do our part, and together we can make a difference.  We are to treat disease, not pretend it can’t get us.  We join countless generations of our fore parents and pray for war to cease.  

We are to further pray that somehow, someway, in the midst of all these battles with evil, the glory of God might be revealed in our lives and through the lives of so many others.  

I know that Christ has risen, and because he lives, I will live.  I know that he has prepared a place for me, and when my time comes, I shall go home to be with my Father and your Father, with my God and your God. 

“From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all humankind.  From His dwelling place he watches all who live on earth.  He who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.  The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.  We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.  In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.  May your unfailing love be with us Lord, even as we put our hope in you.  Amen.

MAUNDY THURSDAY - From This Time Forward 4/14/2022

Maundy Thursday

2022 

Prayer for illumination: O Lord, our God, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love that we may be obedient to your will and live always for your glory through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson: Luke 22:7- 23 (Page 1056) 

Communion Meditation: ‘From This Time Forward’ 

That very first Maundy Thursday was a confusing story.  Especially so to those who were there. 

On that very first Maundy Thursday, Jesus arranged for his disciples to meet with him for a traditional Jewish feast; The Passover Seder.  It was meant to be a time of joy and celebration, a retelling of the story of God delivering his people from slavery in Egypt.  Part of that traditional story included a sort of ‘hinting’ at the hope that God would one day send the Messiah. At that first Maundy Thursday meal, the disciples arrived realizing the special meaning associated with this Jewish festive meal.  They were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, and that they were in Jerusalem on this Passover so that he could claim his kingdom. 

Four days previously, on Palm Sunday, the crowds in that city had welcomed him with shouts of “Hosanna!”  Why then was Jesus now speaking of his blood being shed?  So much had changed in such a short period of time. 

Jesus knew what was coming.  He tried to tell his disciples repeatedly, but they never understood. 

The events which followed that very first Maundy Thursday would test those closest to him and they would fail. 

Jesus gave his disciples some instructions regarding this special and quite significant ‘meal.’  It was Noon on Thursday, and he instructs them to “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you, follow him.” (Mark 14:13)  Carrying water was a woman’s job, so such a man would stand out on Jerusalem’s busy streets.  Jesus went on to say, “Whenever this man enters, say to the owner of the house: The Teacher asks, where is my guest room, where I can eat the Passover with my disciples?” (Mark 14:14) 

Such a house would have been owned by someone who was wealthy.  The person was therefore risking wealth, status, perhaps life itself, in order to host Jesus and his disciples. 

This room just may have been the very same room where Jesus later visited his disciples following His resurrection, on the day of Pentecost. 

It was customary for folks to take a lamb to the temple for the priests to butcher in the afternoon.  This was done for folks to have ‘lamb’ as part of their Seder Meal Passover feast.  As they did so, people would be singing Psalms.  The butchered lamb was then basted in oil or wine and roasted for three or four hours.  By about seven o’clock in the evening Jesus and the other disciples would have gathered at that upper room for the meal. 

The traditional Jewish Passover/Seder meal was a time to eat specific foods and drink specific portions of wine to symbolically recall and tell the story of how God freed them from slavery in Egypt and delivered their ancestors into the Promised Land.  It was their defining story.  The Seder meal was filled with ritual.  This traditional meal would last for hours.  At the end the folks participating, including the disciples, were so full of food and wine at such a late hour they fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus prayed and urged them to watch with him. 

We now know Jesus would become the sacrificial lamb, and in so doing, would define or should I say, ‘redefine’ both the traditional Seder/Passover meal as well as one’s relationship to God. 

During the time Jesus shared this special meal with his disciples in the Upper Room, he did several things.  One of the things he first did was to wash his disciples’ feet.  While this was a ritual associated with purification, it was something Jesus did quite unexpectedly for his disciples at the time.  He further taught them this was an example he wanted them to follow; greatness in the kingdom of God is found in serving others. 

The traditional Jewish Passover meal was a festive time, filled with joy by the participants.  But this meal between Jesus and his disciples carried with it great apprehension.  They were well aware of the heightened tension between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders.  The disciples were wondering what was going to happen next?  Would Jesus be apprehended?  Would this be the time when Jesus proclaims himself to be the Messiah?  In the midst of all this ‘tension’ so thick you could cut it with a knife, Jesus does ‘cut through’ with the words, “One of you will betray me.” (Mark 14:18) 

Those disciples had been ‘with’ Jesus for some three years.  They had shared life and miracles, ministry, and teachings from God and with countless thousands of others.  How could Jesus even ‘say’ “One of you will betray me”? 

We know something of betrayal of Jesus, don’t we?  In our own age, when church leaders have abused children, embezzled funds, and more, we realize that such betrayals still occur.  I was reading an article about a Russian Orthodox priest who affirms and supports Russia’s war with Ukraine.  Still another Russian clergy speaks against the war. 

WHO is betraying Jesus? 

As pastor, I meet many ‘sorts’ of people.  Every now and then I meet a person whom I haven’t seen in a while.  One such person once shared with me they did something they knew disappointed God, so they just couldn’t bring themselves to come back ‘home’ to church for a while.

All of us disappoint God at some point in our lives.  All of us have some guilt associated with betrayal of Jesus.  

Each Communion meal we share I think we would do well to recall this portion of Jesus’ acknowledgment of the betrayal, the denial, the desertions that would follow.  Perhaps this is why in Christian churches, as we share in communion, we call for confession and repentance before receiving the bread and the wine.  May we always ask the Lord to forgive us from where we have sinned against Him in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and what we have left undone. 

There are some interesting ‘traditions’ associated with communion in the last century. Years ago in some churches the elders of the church would meet with folks to ‘interview them’ regarding their sins as well as their repentance.  Once completed affirmatively, a communion coin would be presented to the person granting them permission to receive communion during the worship service. 

Another communion scenario….Back in the early 1980’s, a senior Methodist pastor had significant ‘run-ins’ with one of his older white members at a well-established church in Pittsburgh.  The ‘run-ins’ had to do with the fellow’s brash prejudice against people of color.  That senior pastor went so far as to threaten to excommunicate the fellow if he continued on unchecked within that particular congregation.  Eventually the brash fellow ‘got the message.’  

Through the centuries and into current times, this season of Lent remains a time for folks who have denied Christ in thought, word, or deed, to be brought back into the fellowship of Communion with the Lord and the people of God. 

The traditional Jewish Seder/Passover meal was the story of God’s liberation of the Israelite slaves.  Jesus’ transitional meal became the transformation in meaning of God’s liberation of all humankind from slavery to sin and death into forgiveness and new life.  

From this time forward, what we share in each communion, yet specifically so during Maundy Thursday Communion, remains a welcoming into new life and a new beginning for people, just like you and I and people the world over who choose to follow Jesus. 

What happened on that very first Maundy Thursday becomes our story, our defining story of life with God, communion, and covenant with Jesus Christ. 

I hope you continue to find what countless others still find; Communion reshapes our lives from this time forward. 

Communion reminds us where we come from, it defines who we are and who we shall be.  The bread and the wine are inside of us.  This serves as both an awareness and an assurance that Jesus Christ resides within.  We choose to live in covenant with him.

The Sacrament of Communion is also called “Eucharist” from the Greek word for thanksgiving.  This IS a profound and holy meal, filled with good news.  Each communion meal should affect us. 

For you and me as Christians, our defining story is accompanied by a sacred meal and the sacred words:  “On the night he was betrayed (Jesus) took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.  In the same way he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11:23-26) 

Holy Communion takes us back to the cross to remind us what God has done to save us; but it also points us ahead to the day when we will eat this meal in the kingdom of heaven. 

On Maundy Thursday Communion, also remember that as Jesus Christ approached his death, he found it comforting to be with his friends.  Jesus said to his disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you…” (Luke 22:15) 

Jesus sought his companions to be with him at that Last Supper meal and in the Garden of Gethsemane as he prayed.  

Sharing faith and communing together with God are the more important realities of our lives lived as Christians.  Consider ‘who’ you would like to have near you, perhaps ‘at table’ with you, should you know your time was nearing its’ end. 

From this time forward may we ‘commune’ with Jesus Christ and with others who have shared life, faith, hope, and the promise of God’s heaven with us.  Amen.

Be Holy, For I Am Holy 4/10/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, April 9, 2022 & Sunday, April 10, 2022 

Palm Sunday 

Prayer for Illumination: Almighty God, we recognize this Palm Sunday the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus, for the sins of all humankind, and specifically for our sins.  Help us now to humbly receive God’s Word for our lives.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: 1 Peter 1:13-16 (Page 1221) and Luke 19:28-40 (Page 1053) 

Sermon Message: “Be Holy, For I Am Holy” 

Today we begin what is termed ‘Holy Week’ in all Christian churches.  This week begins with Palm Sunday, continues throughout the week, and concludes on Easter Sunday. 

Throughout our years of Christian faith, we identify with the events and teachings of Holy Week.  Let’s consider ‘holiness’ and what that means for ourselves and our world. 

The word ‘holiness’ in the Bible means to be set apart for God, devoted to God, and living life closely associated with God.  

While we know Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, that very first Palm Sunday began with a parade.  Actually, three parades!  Better known as ‘royal processions’.  Jesus and his disciples entered the Holy City of Jerusalem. He rode into town humbly so, on the back of a donkey.  Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the territory, rode into Jerusalem bringing with him at least 1,000 Roman soldiers on chariots, on horseback, and on foot, all with their weapons and regalia.  Theirs was a show of force!..The third procession was that of King Herod Antipas with his large numbers of soldiers and weaponry.  He, like Pontius Pilate, knew how to use violence to suppress the people.  It was he who had beheaded John the Baptist. 

Two of the three rulers entering Jerusalem were iron-fisted men known for their cruelty.  They were quite willing to kill in order to hold power.  They used impressive shows of force to demonstrate that fact. 

Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a King.  He never resided in a castle, nor did he have an army of soldiers and servants at his ‘beck and call.’  He was a ‘king’ of some fishermen and tax collectors, a ‘king’ of despised Samaritans and prostitutes, and also a ‘king’ of blind beggars and crippled persons.  It was these persons who laid their coats down on the road to welcome their king.  He loved them regardless of how they dressed or looked.  He loved them regardless of who they had been in their past.  He placed little or no value on their position in society.  ‘They’ had great expectations of Jesus that very first Palm Sunday.  Their ‘hope’ that day was for Him to ‘take on’ Pontius Pilate, King Herod, and all of their soldiers and military might with his strength and authority from heaven. 

Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, his ‘parade’ of sorts, was actually history’s first non-violent demonstration.  As uncomfortable as it still is to hear, Jesus’ ‘demonstration’ was for a king and a kingdom built upon a radical desire to love God and a commitment to love one’s enemies. 

Palm Sunday reminds us that those crowds back then, and many of us still today, strive to define Jesus the way WE want Him to be rather than worshipping Him as King of our lives.  On the other hand, perhaps at least part of our desire to ‘define’ stems from the ‘hope’ we place in Jesus to be and further become our Savior.  Biblical history reveals that God’s people repeatedly needed to place their hope in God as through the centuries they dealt with crisis and exile. In our present-day reality as Russia’s assault of Ukraine continues, Ukrainians are experiencing their own moment of exile.  As part of my personal daily devotions, I strive to identify with what might be the heart-wrenching prayers of hope crying outwards and upwards from the Ukrainian peoples.  Etched in many of our minds are pictures of people ‘parading’ away from their war-torn country seeking an exile that will give them ‘hope’ for some sort of tomorrow.  Palm Sunday is a day of reflection and a time of appreciation and a spiritual growth in ‘hope.’ 

On Monday of Holy Week, scriptures teach us that Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple.  He overturned the tables of the money changers and extortionists.  He declared, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.”  It is further recorded that the children were shouting in the courtyards, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”  Oh, how Jesus loved to hear their voices!  May we remember to come to church and participate in worship with child-like faith.  Jesus loves us, this we know, for the Bible tells us so. Tomorrow remember and pray for child-like faith to bless others and to guide you especially so during this Holy Week. 

On Tuesday of Holy Week Jesus visited the house of Simon.  While he was there, a woman came and poured some perfume on his head.  This was an act of respect and reverence.  It was such expensive perfume she used that some criticized her saying the perfume should have been sold instead, and the money given to the poor. Jesus admonished those critics.  He told them to leave her alone.  His critics were scheming of how to deal with Jesus.  They wanted him silenced.  Worse still, they wanted him killed.  On Tuesday we remember and reflect upon those who seek to criticize and kill faith and hope.  Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples, also began scheming as to how he could betray Jesus.  Trials and tests come to all.  They came even to Jesus.  This Tuesday reflect upon and remember the costs associated with faith, with being a Christian, with being a follower of Jesus Christ.  You and I will not always be ‘popular’ nor appreciated.  But may we choose to remain faithful. 

Wednesday of Holy Week was a day of silence.  In the silence there becomes a turning point in one’s hearts and minds for better or worse.  Jesus continues on Wednesday to love and to work out his mission on our behalf.  This Wednesday remember silence is much needed in our relationship with the Lord if we are to truly hear God. Practice sincere times of prayerful silence this Wednesday.  Be Still and Know He is God. 

Thursday of Holy Week was a day of preparation. (Matthew 26:17-29) It was the time of The Last Supper for Jesus and his disciples.  Jesus was preparing for His suffering and death.  Jesus was preparing his disciples for ‘living on’ and for ‘living through’ the certain trial and suffering ahead.  Thursday; Maundy Thursday is a good day to be in church, to come together, to commune with Jesus.  This Thursday remember to kneel in prayer as did Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  We can’t well receive the message of Easter unless we humble ourselves, kneel in prayer, and even weep with Jesus.  It was in this Garden that Jesus faced his greatest fear.  It was also in Gethsemane that Jesus submitted to his Father’s will. (Luke 22:47-53) Be in prayer this Thursday.  Come to church this Thursday.  Pray from your heart FOR others this Thursday.  Recommit your heart and soul, your life and actions to God this Thursday.  Jesus showed us that if we are constantly focused on ourselves, seeking to be served, we will find that we are never satisfied.  But if we bless and serve others, carry our success with humility, seek to understand and live the lessons associated with that Maundy Thursday Last Supper Communion, we will find satisfaction for our souls, success in our spirits, and blessings we never anticipated.  Personally, I daily remember that portion of Jesus' prayer in the garden when he said unto God the Father, “Not my will but Thy will be done.” 

Friday was the day of death.  We call it Good Friday. The day when Jesus carried his cross, was mocked and further tortured, was nailed to and hung from a cross.  He was spit upon and ended up dying upon that cross.  His closest family and friends were forced to stand back and watch it all.  Cruel soldiers and criticizing religious leaders mocked and made fun of Jesus this whole time.  On Good Friday we need to recall that darkness covered the earth for three hours as Jesus hung upon His cross.  Such a catastrophic and horrible day came to be known as Good Friday because it led to the Resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death and sin, and the celebration of Easter, the highest apex of Christian festivities.  This Friday remember to sing the hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”  Remember to spend some time in silence.  Remember to thank Jesus for living for you and dying for you.  Thank Him this Good Friday for being The Way for forgiveness.  Holiness does at times require sacrifice.  The sacrifice of Jesus and our sacrifices should forever be birthed from love. God so loved, You and I so love. 

Saturday of Holy Week was a day of mourning and a day of questioning. (Matthew 27:62-66) 

Easter, well that’s another story!  That’s a very good story for many and for all. 

Throughout Lent I’ve been encouraging us to perhaps focus on some particular item or symbol.  The hope associated with that was prayer, meditation, and appreciation.  In many places throughout this church there are crosses.  One cannot well look at a cross without being led to gratitude and awe. 

Holy Week still remains a reminder in our world and within ourselves that Jesus’ way calls for authentic followers.  The world back then and the world now has religious hypocrites.  Jesus is further known as “The Way.”  His “way” requires compassion for the hungry, the thirsty, and the naked.  Jesus’ ‘way’ is a path of servanthood and sacrificial love.  The ‘way’ of Jesus still provides much needed hope in all sorts of darkness.  Yet Holy Week reminds us further that following Jesus and walking in his footsteps will require us to “take up our cross” and follow him. 

Holy Week is not the end of Jesus’ story, nor is it the end of our faith journey.  The spirituality associated with Holy Week remains something we can all count on for the rest of our lives and into eternity.  Amen.

The Thirsting of My Soul 4/3/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, April 2, 2022 & Sunday, April 3, 2022 

5th Sunday in Lent 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, even as our bodies thirst for water, today we thirst for the Word of God that will quench our spirits.  Help us now to drink from streams of Living Water, in the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 42:1,2 (Page 560) & John 19:28,29 (Page 1087) 

Sermon Message: “The Thirsting of My Soul” 

God sent Jesus into the world to identify with us.  Ever since Jesus was among us, we continue to seek to identify with him.  

Today’s scripture lessons speak of ‘thirst.’  

From upon the Cross, Jesus spoke the words, “I thirst.”  At other times He spoke of ‘living water.’ 

‘Water’ is the most frequently mentioned natural resource in the Bible. 

We are familiar with the Biblical phrase, “He leads me beside still waters.” “Still waters” are waters that flow very slowly and calmly; they bring much peace and rest to one’s spirit.  One of the most relaxing things in life is the sound of a bubbling brook or flowing stream of water…it is something that brings you to a place of calm, where you can focus without any distractions. 

Early on in the Bible, the term ‘living water’ was a reference to water that could be seen bubbling out of the ground.  Gradually ‘living water’ became more of a reference to faith that was being nurtured and flowing.  Living water can also be understood as a symbol for salvation and a true knowledge of God. 

Jesus Christ cried out “I thirst.” At Jesus’ crucifixion there are three times when Jesus is offered a drink.  He was NOT offered water. 

The first offer was just before he was crucified.  Scriptures record, “Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means place of the skull), and they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.” (Mark 15:22-23)  This could also have been wine mixed with gall.  Wine mixed with myrrh or gall were possible poisons that were given to expedite death or possibly numb and deaden the pain.  Jesus chose NOT to accept this drink.  He intentionally chose to suffer.  He suffered to identify with the suffering human beings face at times in our own lives.  He chose to face the evil that humanity has to offer and the despair we sometimes feel.  He suffered to face sin, evil, despair, and death head on.  This was His mission, and he did not choose to take an easier way out.

Mostly, we do long for the easy way out in our daily lives.  If things aren’t going well, we want a quick fix in our physical bodies, our minds, our jobs, our families, our marriage, and so on.  We prefer comfort over pain and convenience over inconvenience. 

Jesus took the uncomfortable way, the inconvenient way most of us don’t want to go.  Sometimes we need to do the same.  Jesus invites us to, at times, take the more difficult path.  That’s what he meant when he said, “If any would be my disciples, they must deny themselves.” (Matthew 16:24)  

The second offer of wine occurred sometime after Jesus was nailed to the cross.  The Gospel of Luke records that the soldiers offered wine to Jesus in mockery, as though it was a toast.  This ‘offer’ of wine was probably just out of his reach.  They further ‘mocked’ Jesus by placing a crown of thorns on his head while taunting him with their words, “Hail, king of the Jews.” 

The third offer of wine is somewhat different from the first two. Just before His death Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Hearing that mournful ‘cry’ someone near the cross took a stick, affixed a sponge to it, dipped the sponge in sour wine, and offered Jesus a drink.  This was also known as wine vinegar.  It had a bitter taste.  Imagine drinking balsamic vinegar.  Not bad on a salad, but you probably would not want to drink a cup of it.  

Jesus was dying upon the cross.  I’ve been with people who were dying.  Feeling extremely weak that person will sometimes say, “I’m thirsty.”  Typically a nurse or loved one will bring a cup of ice chips and a spoon to place a chip or two on the person’s tongue.  Sometimes a cup of water and a straw are used.  In his humanity and nearing his death, Jesus became thirsty.  He thirsted as we thirst.  He died as do we also eventually die. 

Just prior to his crucifixion Jesus had prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me, yet not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) Jesus’ thirst upon the cross was an indicator that he had finished drinking the cup (of suffering) that his Father had given him.  He had completed his mission to suffer and die on behalf of the human race. 

There is a ‘thirst’ for water, and there is also a ‘thirst’ for ‘living water.’  

From upon the cross Jesus spoke the words of ‘thirsting’ in his body, but also ‘thirsting’ in his soul. Perhaps when Jesus said, “I thirst,” he was speaking of his physical thirst and of his longing for God, the Father.  Here we are reminded of the words of Psalm 42:1-2: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” 

What is it that you ‘thirst’ for in life?  What touches your soul?  What might it take to satisfy this thirst?  

Let’s further consider ‘water.’  How much do you think about water when you’re not thirsty?  If you’re like the average person, not very much.  If you’re health conscious, perhaps you think of water regularly as part of your overall wellness regimen — a disciplined hydration. 

But how much do you think of water when you ARE thirsty?  A lot.  You can’t help it.  It’s near the forefront of your mind.  The thirstier you feel, the more water dominates your thoughts.  You begin to notice everything that has water connotations:  cups, fountains, rain, pictures of water.  The greater the thirst, the more earnest the search. 

The thirstier you are, the less you desire other liquids.  Soda, for example, is most appealing as a form of liquid entertainment or distraction, and you might crave it if you feel a low-grade thirst.  But when you feel parched, you don’t want soda — in fact, you don’t want any other liquid.  You want the one thing that will most quench your thirst:  water. 

Water is really only experienced as satisfying when our real need for it makes us really want it.  Likewise, God is only experienced as satisfying when our real need for him makes us really want him. 

Within the Psalms we read of David fleeing various assassination attempts.  He is craving God in his midst, to rescue, protect, provide, and secure.  His words, His prayer is this, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1) 

The barren places teach us what we want most, what we need to seek most, and what we need most. 

Sometimes our soul’s thirst can only be quenched by turning to God and receiving hope from God.  The thirsting of our soul can occur at various times.  Quite often our souls thirst for God as we also suffer, question, fear, or doubt. Additionally, there can be a thirsting of our soul bubbling up like living water as we draw near to faith, taste and see the goodness of the Lord, and grow in and through worship.  Sometimes a soul thirsts for God when appreciation is overflowing, especially so, during those moments that take your breath away. 

When life makes us thirsty for that which this world cannot seem to quench, we need to seek God, cry out, perhaps from our earthly cross, “I thirst.” 

Sad to say when things are good and we are feeling quite ‘blessed,’ our souls can lose our ‘thirst’ for God.  When King David became somewhat ‘complacent’ in his blessings, he soon became intoxicated in his desire for another man’s wife.  David did something in his prosperity he never would have done when he was feeling weary and afraid from his assassins. Too often and too easily we stop thirsting for God and choose instead to indulge in whining and pining in over indulgence and all sorts of things we grow to feel ‘entitled’ to.  

Spiritual discipline is good for the soul.  Disciplines such as daily prayer and regular worship; things such as intentional acts of love, faith, and prayers of appreciation daily. 

We ‘thirst’ for God because we grow and see our need for God. 

From upon the cross Jesus cried out to God, “I thirst.”  In the next moment he commended his spirit back unto God and breathed his last. 

These seven last words of Christ from upon the Cross teach us that Jesus Christ, in hours of greatest need, trusted in the Father and therein gained some satisfaction for his soul. 

I believe we seek our satisfaction in God most when God is what we need, thirst for, and desire the most. 

This Lenten season here is some further spiritual ‘food for thought.’ Jesus Christ, throughout his earthly life and even during his trial of great suffering, and while upon the cross was able to drink of God and taste something that is better than staying alive on earth. 

Have you in your faith and in your closeness with God experienced anything close to that?  

Lots of folks can say they desire God in their lives.  That’s good.  

The Apostle Paul shares a spiritual truth when he writes in Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  I believe and trust that our souls ‘thirst’ for God and to live with Christ and for Christ. 

Throughout these days of Lent, especially so during your trials, disciplines, and devotions, have you tasted and seen that the Lord is good?  

May the Lord be for you and for me, the source of Living Water.  May my heart and yours thirst after nothing quite as much as it thirsts for the Lord Jesus Christ.  May you and I, as sincere and abiding followers of Jesus Christ, extend water, both physical and spiritual, to all who are thirsty.  Amen.

Forsaken But Not Forgotten 3/27/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 26, 2022 & Sunday, March 27, 2022 

4th Sunday in Lent 

Prayer For Illumination:  Send, O God, the light of your presence on our hearts so that as your truth is proclaimed we may trust in you with all our hearts.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 22:1-8 (Page 547), Mark 15:29-36 (Page 1022) 

Sermon Message: “Forsaken But Not Forgotten” 

From upon His cross Jesus is remembered for at least seven last words: 

“Father Forgive Them.”  “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  “Behold your son, behold your mother.” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  “I thirst.”  “It is finished, into your hands I commit my spirit.” 

Perhaps the most haunting of these words are those reflected in today’s scripture lesson, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

This moving, disturbing, and powerfully haunting statement of Jesus reflects not only the darkness of the horrific experience Jesus endured, but also the darkness within those who surrounded Jesus at the foot of the cross.  

We need to further study the psalm Jesus was praying, from which his words came.  Psalm 22 points to a deeper faith that sustained Jesus in his suffering on the cross.  Hopefully we will find that Jesus’ ‘cry of dereliction’ from the cross also carried with it a deeper trust and hope known through long-established and nurtured faith. 

Jesus was crying out to God.  No doubt about that whatsoever!  “My God, My God, WHY have you forsaken me?”  Jesus’ intellect may have realized God the Father was not far away.  His intellect may have known that THIS was part of God’s plan.  But it surely did not FEEL like it right now in Jesus’ heart.  He hurt, he suffered.  He was being tormented beyond measure in his physical body, in his human heart, and even mentally so, by those around him at the time. 

Jesus Christ, who was both fully human and fully divine, wanted something, anything from God the Father at that moment.  Any sort of ‘sign’ would do. 

Others were looking for some sort of ‘sign’ from heaven as well.  His dear mother, Mary.  Also, Mary, the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, and Jesus’ beloved disciple, John.  The ‘other’ disciples stayed at a distance, perhaps ‘hoping for the best’ while fearing for themselves because of their ‘association’ with Him.  There was a crowd of people there that day; even some ‘passers-by’ who ‘joined in’ with the mocking and the sarcasms of the soldiers and especially those derisions from the religious elite, the chief priests.  All, in their own way, longed for a ‘sign.’ 

From our study of the Bible, we realize folks for centuries had been praying for some ‘sign from God’ regarding the hoped for, long-awaited Messiah.

The world was given a sign during Jesus’ crucifixion that is still being given throughout the world.  A ‘sign’ we may not have asked for or desired, yet it has come and continues coming to us. 

Scriptures inform us (Mark 15:33) “At noon darkness came over the whole land.”  The ‘sign’ of darkness! 

Some ‘darkness’ we may say is not our fault.  We did not ‘ask’ for Russia to invade Ukraine.  We did not necessarily ‘ask’ for Covid-19 to affect us.  Yet, when we see the bombings, disasters, and killing in Ukraine, surely those so affected also cried out their prayer of dereliction, “My God, My God, Why?” 

To this day as people become even a bit ‘ill’ we tend to turn to the question prevalent inside most folks: Is it Covid? 

These are but two larger than life examples of darkness in our world.  Signs that make the entire world community question if we are somehow God-forsaken? 

Darkness is not limited only to world-wide events.  Darkness begins in the hearts, the souls, the lives of individuals, even inside of us. 

Let’s ‘take a look’ at some of the ‘darkness’ when Jesus hung upon the cross.  There was a physical darkness that came over the whole land.  It was a sign of the darkness that had come and was coming further upon the nation.  Soon, they grew to know that the things which belonged to their peace were now hidden from their eyes. 

That former Israelite nation was referenced as ‘the people of God.”  What went wrong?  Even ‘God’s people’ can do wrong. So we have seen.  So too, have we learned.  

At Jesus’ crucifixion it seems as though some of the most pious people of God got caught up in mistreating, taunting, and dehumanizing Jesus.  Deeply committed Jews and their leaders joined in.  The Romans in authority just wanted Jesus silenced.  They imposed the most inhumane form of capital punishment on Jesus.  The religious did not stop there.  They also sought to humiliate him and crush his spirit as he hung there. 

In another portion of Holy Scripture (Matthew 25:40) Jesus teaches, “Whatever you have done for the least of these my brothers and sisters you have done for me.”  I think we need to ask ourselves from time to time what are we doing to the least person we come across?  Are we hurting them?  Humiliating them?  Dehumanizing another? 

Further consider, in our own time there have been several publicized cases of cyber bullying that have resulted in suicides.  Every day in the news there are reports of harassment, assault, violence, murder, terrorism, and war.  We are aware of and do see the dark side.  We know it exists.  

We have seen in our own land times when we are so divided, we justify violence against those of differing views.  Among the examples are political rallies where people show up with guns.  Politicians have been harmed, gay and lesbian people have been beaten, students have plotted to blow up their schools, enraged people choose to gun down even the innocent. 

Sometimes it is politics.  Sometimes religion or fear.  Nowadays it’s sometimes just being told “NO.”  We are used to getting our own way, and we don’t like it when someone tells us “NO.” 

I’ve watched people go into a ‘rage’ at the store when they are told ‘”NO” when they cannot return some item.  I’ve seen some of the same at restaurants.  Drivers will at times respond with ‘road rage!’  

What’s behind all of this?  WHY?  Why are we sometimes forsaken and seemingly forgotten?  Human beings have always dealt with selfishness, pride, fear, and ignorance.  Any of these negatives in abundance can lead to rage and hate.  When things ‘don’t seem right,’ too easily we tend to demonize those who look at the world differently.  This includes our families, our friends, our religion, our politics, the Bible, and economics to name but a portion. 

Here is a question for Lent - what is it that leads any of us to dehumanize others?  What is it that in essence leads us to join the crowd such as the ‘religious’ who stood around Jesus to humiliate him?   We sometimes see ourselves in the crowd. 

Jesus Christ knew what it felt like to be abandoned by God.  As he hung on the cross, He felt forsaken, alone, and abandoned.  It felt as though the presence of His heavenly Father was gone! 

Some years back I had a funeral for a young man that died in a car accident.  I cannot say it was his ‘fault.’  Afterwards his parents grieved heavily so and questioned their faith for quite some time.  We were talking one day, and the question came up of ‘why?’  No one had adequate answers.  What we did do was share this story of Jesus on the cross when he felt so forsaken, abandoned, and ‘empty’ from the presence of God.  

Sometimes we lose someone dearly close to us.  Or we find ourselves facing a battle we never wanted to face.  There are times when we, too, are humiliated and feel quite small.  There are thousands of ways people can feel abandoned by God.  Times when God seems conspicuously absent and silent. Again I say, perhaps Jesus knew in His intellect that God the Father had not abandoned Him.  But in His heart, He felt forsaken and forgotten.  

Remember this: when we feel forsaken, hopeless, and in despair, pray to the one who walked the path before us.  There is a myriad of reasons for loving Jesus.  Love him for undergoing such a dreadful experience for it tells us that he identifies with, understands, and has compassion on each of us as we walk through dark and dreadful places. 

Life and love seldom occur without sacrifice and suffering. 

The world of religion grows artificially when those seeking God predominantly pursue entertainment in their worship. 

The world of religion grows exponentially when we give ourselves so that others might know the love of God.  Has the sharing of God’s love cost you anything or given you any discomfort?  Have you been willing to pay the price or sacrifice much for this call? 

Some of the fundamental things churches do are worship, prayer groups, food pantries, Meals on Wheels, and supporting missions.  We also tithe our income, call upon others, and deliver care.  Not always easy nor comfortable.  I see people, good Christian people, who are willing to routinely and voluntarily choose to take some risks, set aside some of their own comfort and convenience in order to follow our crucified Messiah. 

When the Messiah, Jesus, felt abandoned and forsaken by God, He chose to pray.  His words from upon the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” are actually the first verse of Psalm 22.  Perhaps our typical response when we experience tough times is our tendency to become disappointed that God did not help us in the way we wanted.  Jesus questioned God, “Why?”  Yet there was more to his words.  Psalm 22 was sometimes sung, at other times prayed.  The words of this precious Psalm are a form of worship.  

Have you ever felt compelled to worship God in the midst of something dire or difficult?  Folks tell me they sometimes feel compelled to sing or hum some portion of the song “Amazing Grace,” when they feel God’s love, experience His forgiveness, or simply feel forsaken but not forgotten in their soul. 

Psalm 22 seems to begin as a prayer of despair.  However, throughout this precious scripture the psalmist consistently affirms TRUST in God.  Just as Amazing Grace ends with the hopeful vision of singing God’s praises for all eternity, so too those Jews at the foot of the cross knew that Psalm 22 ends not just in a cry of dereliction but in a note of confidence that God had not abandoned. 

My friends, faith is at its best when it trusts beyond what is seen, felt, or experienced at the moment.  Within Jesus’ pain and despair, he would have also put his trust in God that His Father had in fact heard him and would deliver him.  We, too, grow to trust that even death is not the final end of things.  Although it may seem so. 

This is Lent.  Do remember how it ends—at an empty tomb.  Among Jesus’ final words, His feelings of abandonment plus God forsakenness and even death itself would not become the end of Jesus’ story.  Neither will suffering and death be God’s final word for us. 

Although we may sometimes feel forsaken, we are certainly NOT forgotten.  Amen.

The Family of God 3/20/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 19, 2022 & Sunday, March 20, 2022 

3RD WEEKEND IN LENT 

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION: Shine within our hearts, loving God, the pure light of your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds and hearts that we may understand and embrace the message of the Scripture.  Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  Romans 8:14-17 (Page 1133) & John 19:25-27 (Page 1086) 

SERMON MESSAGE:  “The Family of God” 

Jesus’ family was present at the Cross.  His Mother, Mary, was there.  It is believed that his earthly father, Joseph, had died some years previously.  Also present were his mother’s sister-in-law, Mary, wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, and his beloved disciple, John. 

The name “Jesus” was a pretty common name back then.  Jesus’ family all had common names back then as well.  In raising Jesus, his mother and father treated Jesus like any other son.  Although they sometimes struggled to understand his behavior. 

As time passed, Jesus’ family expanded greatly.  His ‘family’ included not only those biologically related to him but also ‘others’ whom he grew to know, appreciate, and help. Take for instance Mary Magdalene.  Previously Jesus had helped her by driving ‘demons’ out of her as a remarkable form of healing.  In turn Mary Magdalene became one of his faithful followers throughout his earthly ministry.  History records that Mary Magdalene and a few other women provided their own financial support for Jesus and his 12 disciples. 

Jesus’ mother, Mary, was a strong and determined woman.  She loved her son as much as any woman ever loved a son.  Her ‘boy’ was the joy of her life and the purpose for her existence.  For some time, Jesus had sought to prepare her for what lie ahead in Jerusalem.  It seems as though Mary had always known he would not live to a ripe old age.  She saw him giving his life in oh so many ways, to save the world and everyone in it. 

Mary was determined to stand near Jesus as he suffered.  She promised herself to hold back the tears as she sought to show her son strength and love.  She was a good ‘Mom’ still seeking to ease his pain and to give him hope.  Perhaps she pushed her way through the loud, nasty crowd that was hurling insults at Jesus and those two criminals crucified on either side of his cross.  Almost able to touch him, Mary remembers her faith. She recalled His many references to God, the Father.  In her utmost attempt to talk, to love, and to assure, she says to Jesus, “I love you, my son.  Your Father will soon come to help you.  You are in his hands.  I love you.” 

Perhaps anyone would think that’s the end of the story.  That’s all there was.  After all, Jesus could barely talk.  He was suffocating from being crucified, hung by his hands on a cross just a few feet off of the ground.  But not so. It was precisely then that Jesus looked at his mother and spoke slowly and tenderly to her.  “Dear woman, this now is your son.”  He nodded his head toward John.  And then to John he said, “Here is your mother.” 

No mother should have to watch her son die the agonizing death of crucifixion. Six hours. 

From upon the Cross, Jesus’ message to his mother Mary seemed to be this: “I am going back to heaven.  Because of this, you and I must have a whole new relationship.” So it was, he gave her a new family to care for and to love.  They would help her, and she was to help them.  This became true of the disciples as well.  They were called to preach, to teach, to heal, and to save.  They were called upon to create and continue Christ’s mission, His church. 

When we are bound together in divine bonds of love, we become the essence, the true nature of His church.  In the family of God, Christ expresses His love to us by giving us each to the other. 

Mary, the mother of Jesus, many say was the single most important human being of God’s saving plans aside from Jesus himself.  When as a youth Mary was approached by God to carry, deliver, and raise the Messiah, she replied, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Mary taught us by her life and by her actions we must all share in ‘whatever it takes’ to be part of the family of God. 

Sometimes we don’t want to be a part of doing ‘whatever it takes’ with our family.  People ‘get busy’ with their own lives, and family diminishes somewhat.  This can further apply to how we ‘feel’ and respond to the family of God. 

There are reasons, sincere fundamental reasons, why the Lord requests for us to be, not just a part, but involved in the family of God.  We need family, and family needs us.  Especially the family of God.  Scriptures teach us that we ARE to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). “Do not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:9,10). 

We are living in a world where increasingly so we need to bear one another’s burdens.  Sometimes this is due to world-wide events affecting us all as we have seen throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.  We are further aware of this unprecedented war between Russia and Ukraine that is having a profound effect upon the international community.  Prayer and care remain in order.  

Some ‘burdens’ we see coming.  Others, we have no clue.  Burdens can sometimes seemingly ‘shake our faith.’ 

I have a few examples to share with you that further lead us to our need for being and receiving the family of God: 

Sometimes we don’t want to be a part of bearing one another’s burdens, doing ‘whatever it takes’ with our family, or even ‘doing good.’  People ‘get busy’ with their own lives, and family diminishes somewhat.  

I recall a young man who drove with another fellow in one of those maximum-security trucks that delivers money to various businesses.  He and his wife had 2 children.  Their first daughter was healthy, tall for her age, and just full of play.  Her dad couldn’t much be bothered with the cares nor the concerns of other parents or grandparents.  Actually, he was ‘indifferent’ to people’s problems.  He had ‘what it takes’ with his own family, and that was plenty enough. Their second child, also a girl, was a normal delivery.  Mom and Dad brought her home from the hospital, and her ‘big sister’ was thrilled.  Sadly enough this second child suffered from Sudden Infant Death syndrome.  Everything changed after that. He once said every day was like getting further and further down ‘the hole.’  The sadness was immense. Some of ‘family’ on both sides were nearby.  Most lived further away.  One of the ‘further away’ relatives kept insisting that they get involved with a church family.  They did, and you know what?  It helped.  It really did help. 

Throughout my lifetime I’ve met some highly successful people.  This one fellow says if you were to chart his adult years on a graph, it would disclose a 45-degree line pointing upwards.  Life was good.  Success was abundant.  His parents though, were never good about planning for the future.  His father died early leaving his mother behind.  He shared with me his story of how he came to know that the Holy Spirit of God was convicting him to do more for his own mother.  He came to realize that his mother needed companionship and financial help.  She wasn’t ‘making it.’  

That same fellow tells me that from his study of the Bible and from the history of the Christian church through the ages, he needed to move into that practice that’s been common throughout most of human history; caring for one’s parents similar to what Jesus was asking John to do for his mother. 

Folks, it’s easy to become too busy or perhaps ‘numb’ to all of the problems we see and hear about day after day.  Don’t wait for life to shake your faith.  Learn from Jesus.  We all have a cross to bear.  From His cross Jesus saw a sorrowing woman in need of comfort, care, and security.  What is it that you ‘see’ as you carry your cross?  Others in need that you might help?  Jesus gave us a legacy for when we might need it most, a new family. 

I’ve heard some very impressive things in my lifetime.  One of the more impressive things was spoken to me by a woman who truly enjoyed and had greatly benefitted from her church family.  She said these words: “Once you become part of this church you never have to bear a burden alone again.”  I liked that and have always remembered that.  I have found that to be quite true in my life and in the lives of many of you. 

In the moments just before Jesus died, he gave those who cared about him that which would see them through, enable them to carry on, and sustain them.  He gave them each other.  They became above all else a family in Christ.  They were to be bound together in the divine bonds of love which would be the essence of the church.  They were to care for each other as Christ had cared for each of them.  They were to bear one another’s burdens.  At the cross, Jesus was assuring His mother of His love as He took His choice disciple and gave Him as a son to her.  The true nature of the church, the body of Christ, was expressed at that moment.  It was expressed when the Savior gave two people whom He loved to each other.  That is part of what is involved when we become believers.  When we come to the Savior, we become a part of the family of God.  Christ expresses His love to us by giving us each to the other. 

The season of Lent teaches us many things.  We learn of many sufferings Jesus incurred throughout his ministry and near the end of his earthly life.  We are increasingly aware of many sufferings in this world, in the lives of others, and sometimes within our own. Yet we still know and affirm within the family of God that we continue to be led by the Spirit.  That same Holy Spirit receives us so that we do not need to live by fear, but strongly and affirmingly remember we are children of God, some even adopted. With Jesus we sometimes cry out “Abba Father.”  We are part of the family of God.  We do share in Christ's sufferings as we remember, reflect, and journey through Lent.  Lent reminds us all that sufferings are real, and Jesus gives us to each other to help bear our burdens.  We bear one another’s burdens, and in so doing, we share the heavy load associating with suffering. 

While Lent reminds us, even informs us, that sufferings are a part of this world, soon Easter shall transform both our thinking and our awareness that we will also share in his glory. 

I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.  Aren’t you? Amen.

Second Chances 3/13/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 12, 2022 & Sunday, March 13, 2022 

2nd Sunday in Lent

Prayer For Illumination: O God, send your Spirit to us to open our hearts that we might discern your Word amid the words of Scripture we read today, so that in hearing your Word we may be formed in the way of Christ for one another and our world.  Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  Psalm 25:1-7 (Page 549), Isaiah 49:14-16 (Page 731), Luke 23:26-43 (Page 1059) 

SERMON MESSAGE:  “Second Chances” 

I’m so glad to be a Christian.  Just the other day I was thinking about how very much my life has changed and has become so much ‘better’ because of the Christian faith. 

‘Religion’ has always been a part of my life.  Sometimes, more than others.  Earlier on in my youth, the ‘religion’ of our family felt almost like another ‘parent’ present in my life reminding me of not only ‘right and wrong’ but also inducing guilt inside of me whenever I did not ‘measure up.’ 

Lent is a good time to reflect and remember.  In my youth I saw religion as more of an obligation than a way of life.  My view of God was ‘colored’ in part by a religion that tended to make me feel guilty and ‘not good enough.’ 

On the other hand ‘religion’ does not bear sole responsibility for some of the ‘slip-ups’ in my youth.  I was no angel, nor did I raise too much ‘Hell!’ 

My family was quite poor, but we ‘made a go of it.’  We did not always blend well or ‘do well’ but through it all, things got better. 

Looking back, I for one take comfort in the scriptures found in Psalm 25 which seem to be a prayer lifted up to God.  “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths, you are God my Savior…Do not remember the sins of my youth…” 

As you and I reflect and remember various parts of our lives and God’s presence throughout, we realize there have been times when we were among the ‘least’ of God’s children.  Perhaps there have been times when we felt as though we were last on anybody’s ‘list’ of ‘good persons.’  Lent further reminds us to reflect upon when we felt lost in this world.  Sometimes we are the ones ‘lost.’  At other times it feels as though God has forgotten us. 

From my youth onwards I learned, as perhaps you have also, that a person is known by the company he or she keeps.  Sometimes this is a bad thing.  At other times, a good and affirming thing.  A fellow who was a kind of ‘father figure’ to me was known for his ‘sayings.’  One such saying was this: “If you lay down with dogs, you will get up with fleas!” 

Religion helps us all to see life differently.  Reading and studying the Bible we further become acquainted with numerous characters and their lives with God.  Have you discovered what you and I have in common with such Biblical characters as Noah, Moses, Rahab, David, Solomon, Jonah, Peter, and Paul?  The common factor is that they all made some bad choices during their life.  We all have disappointed God, others, or ourselves in some ways during our lifetimes.  We all can reflect and remember some time, some occasion, whereby we failed and were a disappointment. 

As we reflect and remember during this season of Lent, please reaffirm that which we also hold in common with various characters in the Bible and with everyone else in this room, is the precious reality that whatever we may have done, however we MAY have been a disappointment to another, God Almighty has given us a second chance.  The good Lord still gives us plenty of Second Chances to get life right.  We get lots of “Do Overs” and lots of grace. 

Scriptures point out that the gifts of the Holy Spirit include faith, hope, love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.  I believe another great gift God bestows upon us willingly, freely, and repeatedly is second chances. 

Last week I shared with you a message on ‘forgiveness.’  Anytime we forgive we are giving a second chance.  Yet there is more.  

Our scriptures inform us that Jesus associated with sinners.  In Jesus days when he walked upon the face of this earth, non-religious people did not like associating with religious people.  They tended to feel as though they had to watch their language and pretend to be something they weren’t.  Failure to do so might lead to experiencing the judgment and scorn of the religious folks back then.  Some of that still happens. 

But when Jesus was around non-religious people, they didn’t feel small.  They did not feel like nobodies.  They were not made to feel like sinners.  They just felt like people who had come to learn about God in a way that made sense to them.  In turn, they wanted to know even more about this God Jesus talked about. 

Jesus knew himself quite well.  He knew what ‘made him tick!’  He was well aware of God’s hand, the Father’s presence, and long-term purpose for his life.  He could even ‘say it’ in words. Referring to himself as the Son of Man, Jesus declared, “The Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.” ~ Luke 19:10.  This was Jesus’ mission statement. 

Is your ‘purpose in life’ quite as clear?  What we tend to ‘think’ is our purpose in life may change lots of times.  As we grow older and more faith-responsive, that ‘purpose’ becomes still clearer.  Along the way God has needed to give us plenty of second chances to live into God’s purpose for our ‘being here.’ 

The better you ‘know yourself’ and continue to be well acquainted with God, the more people will feel comfortable to be around you.  If people feel small and of little value around you, something’s amiss.  Jesus kept company with sinners, not just the elite. 

Can people easily converse with you?  Can they share what’s affecting their lives and find ‘hope’ from relating to you?  They did with Jesus.  He remains our example. 

Sometimes too, it feels like God has forgotten us.  Could be our fault.  Could be circumstances we are living in. I suggest we read again today’s scriptural lesson from Isaiah 49:14-16.  Hear and receive this spiritual medicine for the soul.  “But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.”  “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” 

God has your name, and mine, engraved on the palms of His mighty hands. 

What would happen this Lenten season if every one of us who professes to be a Christian would reach out to those who are lost and show them love and compassion in Jesus’ name?  How would the world change, starting with us? 

Jesus had compassion and showed love, right up to the end. He gave people hope.  He gave two criminals crucified on crosses on either side of him a second chance. 

One of those criminals heard Jesus say from upon the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  That one criminal was angry when he heard Jesus pray for those who crucified them to be forgiven.  His heart was hard.  Even as he hung upon a cross, naked and dying, he still attempted to validate himself by joining the crowd in making Jesus feel small.  All he saw was a naïve man, even ludicrous, who called upon people to love their enemies, turn the other cheek, and refused to do what he felt was the defining work of a Messiah.  

But something was happening to the heart of the other criminal as he watched and listened to Jesus on the cross.  That man realized his life was over.  He began to think that maybe, just maybe, Jesus might be his hope.  Maybe there really is a God who loves us.  Maybe there are second chances with God.  So, it was he spoke to Jesus and said these words: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 

When God is called upon to remember a soul and responds, we learn from the Bible that God delivers them.  May each of us ask God to remember us as we receive His Holy Meal called ‘Communion’ today.  

God gives second chances to get life right with him, with others, and with ourselves. 

As you and I journey through Lent and during our entire lives, there may be times when it truly feels as though the cross we are called to carry is just too heavy and we sincerely cannot go on. I advise us all to reflect and remember what happened to Jesus when He was carrying His cross, and it became too heavy.  Help was received.  Simon from Cyrene was there to help Jesus carry his cross.  Conscripted by soldiers and trembling at all that was happening, Simon probably did not view his helping to carry the cross a humble gift, honor, or blessing.  Seldom do we when we are called upon, perhaps even conscripted, to help carry another’s cross.  Yet we come to affirm such times of helping another soul becomes a second chance for us to do what’s right, good, holy, and loving. 

Folks, I’ve ‘been with’ people who made death bed confessions asking for forgiveness, admitting guilt, offering love, and accepting Jesus Christ into their hearts and souls as Lord and Savior.  Sometimes it’s as though I can feel God saying to them, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  

Who might have guessed this time just three years ago that 3,233 people in Allegheny County would die from Covid-19?  (43,600 in PA; 959,113 in the United States; and at least 5,999,113 globally.) 

Just six months ago did anyone consider that Ukraine would be invaded by Russia and gas prices in our area would resultantly exceed $4.00 per gallon? 

Have you ever wondered what happened to all those people who have died from Covid and from war?  Especially the ‘ones’ who had strong and sincere Christian faith?  How did God ‘remember’ them? 

I draw comfort in hearing Jesus’ words from upon the cross: “TODAY you will be with me in paradise.” 

I don’t know if the man dying on the cross beside Jesus that day knew much about faith and religion.  But he was saved by grace through faith. 

Both in Jesus’ life and in His dying He wanted to save - right up to the end He kept offering second chances. 

Lent is a time to reflect upon both the ‘here’ and the ‘hereafter.’  While there are second chances that can be given to us and perhaps flow through us for others, there is also the hope and the sure promise of paradise.  Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The thought of spending eternity with God, with people I love, without hate, violence, war or disease, stress or anxiety sounds like paradise to me. 

Please help others to feel and experience a second chance.  Jesus did.  That was a mainstay of His time and purpose here on earth.  Help Jesus to seek and to save those who are lost.  Perhaps even some soul you may think is hopelessly lost. 

May your heart be moved by the God of second chances.  Amen.

The Prayer of Forgiveness 3/6/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 5, 2022, & Sunday, March 6, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: (From Psalm 25:4-5) Show us now your ways, O Lord.  Teach us your paths.  Guide us in your truth and teach us, for you are our God, our Savior, and our hope is in you all day long.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Isaiah 1:18 (Page 680), Luke 23:34 (Page 1059), Romans 5:6-8 (Page 1130) 

Sermon Message: “The Prayer of Forgiveness” 

Jesus prayed a prayer of forgiveness.  Both the Old and New Testament portions of the Bible have lots to say about forgiveness.  Perhaps you have learned something lots of us have commonly learned; you can’t have love without forgiveness.  Nor can you have forgiveness without love. 

People hurt us sometimes.  Truth be told, sometimes we hurt others.  Any of us would like to think we’d never, ever do anything to hurt another soul.  Within this world no one is all good nor totally bad. 

Think of it, we all get ‘mad’ sometimes.  Any one of us can ‘lose our temper!’  Do you ever find yourself ‘cutting off’ another driver because they pulled in front of you or tried to get ahead of you?  Have you ever written a stinging letter telling someone what you thought of them?  Are any of us guilty, even just a little, of saying stupid things that hurt others?  I don’t think I’ve ever met the perfect parent, child, Christian, or friend.  We’ve all fallen short and stand in the need of both prayer and forgiveness at different times in our lives. 

I trust you have all said “I am sorry” or “Please forgive me,” and surely you have forgiven others.  Sometimes forgiveness is a little harder to accept or demonstrate than at other times. 

This season of Lent is a time to draw closer to Jesus, follow and study Him further all the while striving to be more like Him.  As I study His life, especially the near end of His human life, I see the extreme challenges associated with following Jesus. 

Some of Jesus’ teachings ‘make you think.’  Take for instance the “Beatitudes.’  These were in the form of a sermon Jesus preached known as “The Sermon on the Mount.”  They contain certain ‘blessings.’  Jesus said in his sermon, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)  “Mercy” implies forgiveness. In the 18th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus shares a memorable parable about a king who ‘settled accounts’ with his servants.  One of the king’s servants owed him ten thousand talents.  Similar today to owing someone ten million dollars.  The fellow wasn’t able to pay back the loan.  Back then the punishment for such a default could be having that fellow plus his family sold into slavery to pay the debt.  That fellow fell on his knees, begged for forgiveness, and surprisingly was granted it.  The debt, the loan, was wiped cleaned!  Yet that same servant went out into the street and met a fellow who owed him 20 dollars.  This fellow who had just been forgiven 10 million dollars grabbed the other guy by the neck, began choking him saying, “Pay what you owe!”  The guy also fell on his knees, begged for forgiveness but was instead thrown into jail.  Some folks saw what was going on and reported all of this to the king.  When the king heard about this, he sent for the servant he had blessed with extensive forgiveness.  He proceeded to hold the man accountable.  Jesus is saying, “How can you, who have been forgiven so very much, now refuse your brothers and sisters for their smaller sins against you?” 

Some of Jesus’ actions and examples are outright surprising!  Serving as a Christian pastor I’ve sure heard lots of stories associated with people who have hurt another or who have been hurt themselves. What happened to Jesus was hurting but also downright cruel. He had been physically tortured with stinging, lacerating whips.  Someone had wrapped deep gouging thorns around his head.  Soldiers forced him to carry the cross they were using to hang him on; that which would eventually lead to his long, drawn-out cruel death.  They used nails to stretch his arms and hands out on their cross.  They used more nails to make sure his feet were attached to the cross as well.  No escaping this, no turning back, just more and more pain and further suffering beyond all of this.  Their outright torture was cruel.  Mockingly, those soldiers gambled for his clothes. 

A crowd had gathered to ‘watch it all!’  They verbally assaulted him, shook their heads, and even their raised fists at him and also mocked him.  

Being a religious leader myself, I am ashamed to say the religious leaders back then, who from their own jealousy and spiritual blindness, conspired with the Romans to kill him.  You talk about hypocrites! 

I find it surprising how Jesus reacted, how he responded to all of this.  For all of those who hurt him and did such horrific things to him while he was dying, Jesus Christ prayed for God the Father to forgive them.  In the latter part of his prayer he also said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”  

In our world when people hurt us badly, it surely seems as though they know EXACTLY what they are doing.  That’s a precise part of what makes it so very hard to forgive them. 

Lent has been around for a very long time.  If you’ve ‘grown-up’ in the church, you probably recall one of the older traditional songs/hymns associated with the Lenten season.  It’s an old Gospel song entitled “Where you There?”  We still sing it each year out on the front lawn of our church when we gather with lots and lots of people and neighboring clergy for the setting up of the 3 crosses at the end of the Annual Cross Walk. Here are some of the words from that hymn: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  Oh, oh, oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”  In a sense, we WERE there for Jesus’ death as an atonement for the sins of all, past, present, and future. 

Words did not come easily from anyone nailed to a cross.  Yet Jesus’ first words from his cross was a prayer for forgiveness.  Some say Christians and churches spend too much time dwelling on sin and making people feel guilty.  Some may, but the central focus of the gospel is grace and God’s mercy. 

The aim of Christianity is not to make us feel guilty but to help us discover the grace and healing mercy of God that we desperately need. 

I knew a fellow who ‘walked the walk’ of the Christian faith nearly all of his life.  But during one juncture of his life a series of cruel events had hurt him so deeply.  The people who caused him such hurt and pain couldn't care less.  Yet, he tells me each Lenten season Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness made him pause and reflect upon the great pain and hurt he still carried inside of himself.  He was angry for years with those who hurt him so much.  He grew to become resentful, even as he saw those who afflicted him ‘go on’ with their lives. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the old folk wisdom that says you can feed a puppy and starve a lion, and if you do it long enough, the puppy will finally whip the lion.  Some things we just need to starve to death.  We can starve our grudges and resentments until, by God’s grace, they disappear. The Christian faith helps us in this way; when we have been forgiven, we also accept Christ into our lives.  Christ inside of us does call us to be imitators of Him.  Jesus Christ has enough grace to not only cover our sins but also enables us to forgive the sins of people who wrong us. I hope we have all found that kind of grace, received and offered, can change your home, your life, and your world. 

Folks it’s a sin to hurt others and offend God.  It’s a sin to hurt others in thought, word, or deed.  It’s just wrong to go against God’s standards in this life.  It’s further wrong to hold a grudge, carry a resentment, and hate to an extreme. 

Forgiveness does not imply all is forgotten and there are no costs associated with the damage afflicted.  Even Jesus Christ exercised boundaries and shared teachings regarding dealing with offensive persons. Jesus prayed for forgiveness.  The Father speaks to us this first Sunday in Lent: “Come let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet they can become forgiven, as white as snow.” 

Throughout this Lenten season I inquire of you to visually focus each week on the cross here in the front of the church.  It’s a reminder to you and to me that someone so loved us that he prayed for us even while he was suffering and near death.  Jesus Christ died for us.  While WE were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 

Forgiveness is a major theme in the Bible.  I do believe you can’t have love without forgiveness, nor can you have forgiveness without some form of love.  If you find your love isn’t working to pray for forgiveness for yourself or for someone who has done you wrong, then appeal to God’s love.  He so loved US, not just you nor only I, but “US” that He sent His Son to be the Savior for the world.

This Lenten season do follow the example of Jesus Christ as part of your Lenten disciplines and devotions.  Pray the prayer of forgiveness.  “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” 

IF they really knew what they were doing, Jesus seems to be saying, they would not do it.  

People who regularly forgive others find it easier to believe and trust in the grace of God because their hearts have been enlarged by grace, and they freely offer it to others. 

From the Cross, Jesus prayed the prayer of forgiveness. Amen. 

Lent; Prayer and Fasting 3/2/2022

Sermon Message for Ash Wednesday, March 2, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination:  (A time of silence.) 

Pastor’s Prayer: God our helper, by Your Holy Spirit open our minds, that as the scriptures are read and Your Word is proclaimed, we may be led into Your truth and be taught Your will for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson:  Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (Page 970) 

Sermon Message:  “Lent; Prayer and Fasting” 

Lent has been around for a good long time.  Originally it was observed by Christians as a period of re-baptism participation.  Later it was seen as a time of public penitence regarding one’s sins.  Finally, it has become a forty-day devotional preparation for Easter traditionally based upon Jesus’ 40-day wilderness experience (Mark 1:13). 

Today (Ash Wednesday) marks the beginning of Lent for all Christians.  Lent remains 40 days in length, commemorating the time when Jesus was alone in the wilderness. 

Perhaps you have already noticed today, some other folks who have begun to observe the season of lent.  Our Catholic brothers and sisters attended “Mass” which is their worship service, earlier today, and their priest, (clergy) anointed their foreheads with ashes.  The mark the clergy placed upon their foreheads was in the shape of a cross.  As Presbyterian Christians, very few of our churches place ashes on their members’ foreheads.  What is familiar to many Presbyterian Christians is to receive ashes on the back of their hand while hearing these words from the Bible: “From dust you have come and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). 

Tonight, I invite anyone here who so desires, to step forward (after this message) and receive the ashes in this manner.  By the way, you may wipe them off if you like.  They are made from last year’s palm branches, associated with Palm Sunday and a slight mixture of charcoal.  Last year we needed to purchase some ashes from the Christian Book distributers. 

God deems it important that we recall our mortality, the brevity and fragileness of our lives here on earth.  Ashes remind us of the Biblical truth, “From dust we have come and unto dust we shall return.” 

As we journey through these 40 days of Lent, God would seek to remind us once again of our journey through this life.  As we live and breathe, as we go and do, let’s keep God right in the heart of our daily lives.  While much of our society’s beliefs teach us to be independent and self-seeking, God calls us to depend upon Him daily, pray often, love others, and share what we’ve got to improve another’s life.  Our greatest example of this is Jesus Christ.  I promise you we shall be studying and learning more about Jesus during this Lenten season. 

Tonight, we recall how the earlier life of Jesus changed as He answered God the Father’s ‘call’.  Jesus went down to the river Jordan and was baptized there by John, also known as ‘The Baptist.”  During that moment, God the Father spoke and said, “You are my Son, whom I love, with whom I am well pleased.”  Immediately the Holy Spirit of God came upon Jesus and sent him out into the desert for 40 days and nights.  While in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted by Satan, yet God’s angels attended to caring for Jesus. 

Angels, you see, don’t just ‘show up” only around Christmas.  They are with us always, especially so as we face our temptations.  

For the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, the Bible declares he prayed, and he fasted. 

“Fasting” is something that’s been around, even before Jesus was born.  It simply means abstention from food accompanied by a time of prayer.  Originally, people would wear burlap when they fasted.  I still think that would be pretty ‘itchy!’ 

Most common ‘fasts’ are those that last for just one day.  Fasting occurs as a means of lament, as an act of penitence, for feeling genuinely sorrowful for one’s sins, on behalf of others who are dealing with sickness, as a further means of petitioned prayer, and furthermore when one is accused or scorned. 

Fasting isn’t for everyone.  It can take place in many forms.  Perhaps some of us will ‘fast’ from food for a day.  Others might ‘give up’ some particular food throughout the Lenten season.  One can also ‘fast’ from being on our phones or computers for a specific time each day.  We can also ‘fast’ from other bodily functions we take for granted.  There are many forms of fasting.  

Some ‘basics’ associated with fasting - it is something Jesus did at different times in his life.  Fasting is repeatedly mentioned throughout the Bible.  When we abstain from food, or something else, we soon become keenly aware that something is ‘different’ and in this ‘difference,’ we open ourselves to be used by the Lord, to hear God speak, and to find forgiveness and peace. 

Some years back one of the items I ‘gave up’ or ‘fasted’ from was chocolate in any form.  Especially so, the form known as candy.  We visited our grandchildren, and as they sat on my lap, they wished to share with me some of their candy bar (chocolate of course) and some chocolate ice cream and EVEN a chocolate donut!  I remember at that moment appreciating the hundreds and thousands of times I took for granted both the ‘fun foods’ I have so enjoyed but also such pleasant times spent sharing food and love with people I am privileged to be included in as ‘family.’ 

Right now, this year, we should ‘fast’ for the people of Ukraine who are in the midst of an unwarranted war in their land.  News reports indicate food supplies are getting thin even as people huddle in subways and hallways hoping to avoid the bombs, the soldiers, and the weapons of war. 

Jesus taught us that some things can only be accomplished through prayer and fasting.  I think this crisis in Ukraine is one such reality that requires both sincere prayer and purposeful fasting.  Increased gas prices and the inflated costs of food in our communities is a steady reminder too of those who cannot well access either gasoline or food due to war and devastation.  Fasting is a reminder of how others feel who don’t have food. 

Prayer and fasting can also lead us to renewal and repentance. In the Bible there’s a narrative regarding King David.  He was called by God and blessed by God.  Yet at one point he chose to become defiant with God’s standards.  King David committed adultery with another man’s wife, denied it, tried to cover it up, and people died as a result.  David sinned. Sin is spiritual rebellion.  This leads to immoral acts.  David later became known as a ‘man after God’s own heart.’  What singled out David as a man of God was his willingness to confront his wrongdoing.  He humbled his soul with fasting. 

David prayed and fasted for the sickly child he helped to conceive in adultery.  But the child died.  While God honors prayer and fasting and is genuinely moved by the humbleness of our hearts, our times of prayer and fasting are certainly NOT our human manipulation of the Lord.  

Prayer and fasting remain our striving to place ourselves before God in such a manner that we can be responsive to Him and better used by Him to accomplish His greater will.  Sometimes we cannot see nor even begin to know the will of God.  But prayer and fasting equips us for it. 

Prayer and fasting are quite appropriate in times of personal crisis.  For example, one of our members, Bill, shall undergo some extensive knee replacement surgery on Monday.  Yes, you have heard me ask for prayer for Bill in times past pertaining to knee replacement surgery.  Something strange, rare, and unusual has occurred whereby Bill’s last knee replacement became infected and now must be surgically removed.  Bill will then need to wait several months for the infection to clear up, then once again undergo further knee replacement surgery.  The outcome can eventually be quite successful.  However, ‘getting there’ shall require lots of prayer and fasting on our part for Bill, his wife Laurie, family, doctors, surgeons and care-givers. 

It is good to pray and fast seeking God’s answers for our greatest problems.  When answers do come, we should further practice prayer and fasting in order to have the kind of strength and support needed to grow, heal, and recover as we move into the direction God supplies for our lives. 

I believe many have been praying and fasting.  We have a better unity in our nation and our world.  This worldwide health crisis is diminishing.  There shall come a better balance of power and sustainable life for all in many areas worldwide.  These are not small matters.  Nor are these concerns well addressed only by casual prayers in the church, at home, or from those most victimized or affected.  Prayer and fasting should become a community event, a family event, and a church event whenever possible.

Our prayers may be ‘set aside’ or perhaps ‘placed on the back burner’ in our lives most days.  Oh, but when you ‘fast’ there soon appears a reminder of how our minds can be cleared of the clutter that blocks our direct access to God. 

It’s a ‘different’ experience if you’ve never intentionally ‘fasted.  Perhaps even a bit of a challenge to understand.  At first when you fast, all you can think about is food.  But after a few hours there comes a heightened awareness of spiritual and intellectual sensitivity. 

Jesus Christ both feasted and fasted.  There are many Biblical references to happy moments when Jesus ‘broke bread’ with a group of his friends.  He enjoyed a good meal, a sincere feast, yet he also took time to fast. 

Fasting is enormously helpful when faced with the wilderness in life.  Jesus found this to be true, and so shall we.  Jesus IS our Lord and Savior.  He remains our teacher and our greatest example to follow. 

While prayer and fasting are ‘different’ during these next 40 days, it’s good to have something ‘different’ take place in our lives.  Lent is a reminder that our minds, our souls, and even our bodies are to become more disciplined and intentional about our commitment to and our relationship with God. 

I’ve found that fasting makes you focus on stuff you might normally just pass by.  Fasting, in its many forms, reminds us to pray more, focus more on faith, read and study God’s Word, take better ‘care’ of self and others, and think more, reflect more on Jesus, His sacrifices for you, for me, and for the world we live in. 

Practice sincere prayer and fasting.  While it is ‘work’ it remains ‘good work.’  The kind that is good for the soul! 

Draw close to God, and He will draw close to you.  Amen.

Grace Notes 2/26/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 26, 2022 & Sunday, February 27, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: O Lord, on this Sunday of Transfiguration, we pray that your light would pour over these pages and illumine these old, old words — that they would dance with newness in our hearts and minds, that we would be radiant in reflecting your Word in our living and serving one another.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 23 (p. 548), Mark 9:1-13 (p. 1011), and Philippians 3:20, 21 (p. 1180) 

Sermon Message:  ‘Grace Notes’ 

The Church season of Lent begins this Wednesday and extends all the way through Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and right up to Easter.  Our early church Fathers esteemed this season as a time of reflection, penitence, sacrifice, and growth in our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.  

It is common during Lent for Christians to reflect upon Jesus’ life, His ministry, His sacrifices, and the cross He had to bear.  This time that is before us helps us to not only draw near to Jesus, but further serves to help us handle the cross we are called to bear in this life. 

Today is termed “Transfiguration Sunday.”  As our Scriptural Lesson affirms, this is the day for Christians to reflect upon the meaning of Jesus’ Transfiguration.  It was a momentous and miraculous event.  So much so that many say it is hard to explain, perhaps harder still to believe in.  Rather than spend lots of time reflecting on ‘how’ Jesus’ Transfiguration occurred, or ‘why’ it occurred back then, let’s give some serious thought as to the benefits Jesus’ Transfiguration has for us present-day believers and followers. 

There are lots of special, sacred, and eternal aspects to the Transfiguration.  Think of it this way; Jesus Christ gives us a momentary glimpse of His eternal glory, and this does help us handle the cross we are called to bear in this life. 

The ‘timing’ of Jesus’ Transfiguration was perfect (as usual).  Also, please remember, from today’s scriptural lesson, The Transfiguration was not only ‘dazzling bright light’ and the audible voice of God the Father, but also firm spiritual insight from Jesus that He must ‘suffer much, be rejected,’ eventually killed, and ‘rise from the dead.’  The people’s concept of the Messiah was far different from all of that.  While His disciple, Peter, had proclaimed ‘out loud’ that he believed Jesus was the promised Messiah, the commonly held belief was that the Messiah was to be a powerful individual who would be sent from God to overthrow the current oppressive government.  You see, there was a ‘timeliness’ associated with Jesus’ Transfiguration.  It came at a time when the world needed most to see, to understand, and to learn that Jesus was not who they thought he would be.  Jesus came to bring change, for sure, but not through military or government overthrow.  In these present times people still strive to define Jesus according to their perceptions, needs, wants, and desires.  God’s timing is perfect but not necessarily according to our plans, prescriptions, or desires.

Some of Jesus’ strongest words, just prior to His Transfiguration are these: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” 

Again I say to you, the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, by giving us a momentary glimpse of His eternal glory, helps us to handle the cross we are called to bear in this life. 

Jesus’ clothing became dazzling white.  There appeared before them prophets long since deceased, Moses and Elijah.  They were talking with Jesus!  THEN, a cloud appeared, covering them, and the voice of God the Father was audibly heard to say, “This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!” I wonder what that was like?  They were given a vision.  Something that changed them.  Something that would indeed ‘carry them’ as each one of them eventually needed to carry their cross.  A vision of the eternal. Something they’d never forget.  This came to them at ‘just the right time.’  Something which transformed them. 

Have you ever met a person who had a ‘near-death’ experience?  In a somewhat similar fashion, it becomes something that ‘gets them in touch’ with the eternal.  Most often such events change the lives of the folks experiencing them.  

I believe Jesus Christ gives us ‘grace-notes’ from God to help us bear our cross now.  Grace notes come in many forms.  During Jesus’ earthly walk among us He gave those disciples a glimpse of His glory through an encounter with Moses and Elijah.  Two ancient men of God.  Peter wanted to build three shelters.  His way of being ‘hospitable’ perhaps.  Sometimes we, too, do dramatic things when we feel overwhelmed by what’s happening. 

One of the ‘grace notes’ we still receive and benefit from are the Scriptures.  Ours is a living faith based on acts of God in history which are recorded in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  That’s part of why it is important that we read the Bible and study it.  It continues to be the Word of God even when it sits closed and unread on an end table in your living room or bedroom.  Open it.  Read it.  Bathe your soul in it.  Familiarize yourself with the stories of men and women of God whose lives were marked by their own problems and struggles yet attested to the reality of the power of the Living God through good times, bad times, and in-between times.  

Another ‘grace note’ you have is your own personal experience with Jesus Christ.  Never minimize what you’ve experienced as perhaps a mountain-top experience, a sacred moment with Jesus, with the Father, or with the Holy Spirit.  Do you perhaps remember the time when you dedicated your life to Him?  I sincerely suggest you periodically return to that ‘grace note’ in your memory.  If God or His Son, Jesus, was especially real to you at some personal moment of crisis in the past, go back from time to time and reflect.  You will draw strength from doing so.  If possible, perhaps return to the precise geography of where you were.  Remind yourself what God has done for you.  That wasn’t some ‘chance’ event but was part of God’s divine providence.  Let that speak to you that God is still alive and cares for you in the present and has made provision for you in the future.

A further ‘grace note’ of God in your life can be seen in the movement and response to the Holy Spirit within you.  God has designed us to have divine energy.  This divine energy has enabled us to appropriate God’s forgiveness, healing, and wholeness when we stumble or fall.  This very same divine energy enables us to be stabilized and steady when all around us, and even those closest to us, have lost their stability and might even be questioning their faith.  The Holy Spirit within remains an on-going ‘grace-note’ from God reaffirming ours is a sovereign God who sees us from the beginning to the end.  Our entire lives, the ‘bigger picture,’ God sees and holds in His heart.  I’ve matured seeing and appreciating how God walks with US through our suffering and pain, compassionately redirecting our hurting souls to the ONE who has borne our sorrows and shares our grief. 

Jesus Christ had something on the Mount of Transfiguration that we also have to this very day; the ministry of Christian friends.  Aren’t we so blessed to have veterans in the faith to walk with us when we carry our cross? 

At each church I have served there have been such Christian friends who helped to carry me when my life was burdened with pain, suffering, heartache, and grief.  They were ‘there’ with me when my youngest brother passed, then one of my elder brothers, then my dear mother, and later my father.  They ‘drove the distance’ to visit me at the funeral homes up in Indiana, PA.  They held me, hugged me, fed me, prayed for me, and just simply extended the grace note of love just when I needed it the most.  

You see, I believe churches become ‘grace-notes’ in our lives as well.  

A further ‘grace-note’ happens in our lives when we come to realize some disaster was averted by God’s divine intervention.  Don’t minimize such times.  They certainly do happen. 

Last week I spoke to you regarding our enlightened conscience we have through God, with God, and along-side others.  I’ve lived long enough to well see the costs associated with maintaining our convictions to play by, work by, and live by Christian standards.  I think we’ve all grown to realize being a Christian is not always popular.  We are sometimes scorned, laughed at, and mocked because of our standards.  Jesus’ transfiguration gives us a glimpse of the eternal through His many means of grace. In our present, I think that helps us to carry on when our hearts are broken, our lives are confused, and things just aren’t going as we had hoped.  

You and I, plus scores of others, are given God’s ‘grace-notes’ that we should never forget in the dark days.  We have been privileged to see God’s actions in our lives. 

Jesus' ‘grace-note’ referenced as ‘the Transfiguration,’ occurred on the top of a mountain.  Most of our life is lived in the valley; thus our identification with Psalm 23. 

Sometimes our ‘grace-note’ becomes as a ‘footnote’ to our lives.  When we were kids out playing and got hurt, most often soon after the event we just wanted to ‘go home.’  In our adult years we still strive to ‘go home’ to where things are safe and secure; to be with people who understand us, care for us, and to that familiar environment where things ‘make sense’ for us. 

On the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus Christ received from the Father His ‘grace-note.’ Up there on that mountain was something from the past, something unforgettable in the present, and something that transformed Jesus Christ into the future.  The Father shined light, brilliant dazzling light, on His Son.  The Father spoke with an authority of love and protection.  God the Father sent help in the form of friends, past and present, to ‘see Him through,’ to honor Him, and to further believe in Him. 

Our ‘grace-notes’ are far less ‘bright’ but remain quite illuminating in our lives. 

May this day and all of the past days of your life transform you by the ‘grace-notes’ that have and still do enable you to carry your cross. 

When the ‘going gets tough,’ you will draw upon ‘grace-notes.’  Keep in mind, our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.  Amen.

An Enlightened Conscience 2/20/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 19, 2022 & Sunday, February 20, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious and Loving God, through your Holy Spirit open our hearts and minds to your transforming word in scripture that we may experience anew the height and depth and breadth of your love and be inspired to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Numbers 32:23 (p. 169), Matthew 7:1 (p. 971), Hebrews 10:19-25 (p. 1211) 

Sermon Message:  "An Enlightened Conscience" 

We all have a conscience.  Some have a better or more advanced conscience than do others.  Our conscience is our inner sense of right and wrong and how we apply that sense of ‘right and wrong’ towards our actions. 

Idealistically we might all like to believe that everyone, the world over, wants to have a clear conscience.  But we know that simply isn’t true. 

I believe God has divinely implanted a tool for living our lives; our conscience.  While God continues to ‘plant the seed’ inside of us for knowing the difference between right and wrong, we remain responsible for sharpening this ‘tool,’ our conscience. 

The first reading from the Old Testament Book of Numbers seems to be saying, “Your sins will catch up with you.”  Our parents would sometimes say to us, “I’ll find out what you are doing wrong.  Trust me, I will know!”  Allow me to ‘enlighten you’ a bit regarding these scriptures. Today’s reading is NOT saying ‘your sin will be found out.’  Rather, it is declaring our sin will find us out.  There’s a difference. 

For instance, if you live believing no behavior or action is wrong unless you get caught, then your sin is going to find you out. 

Sin affects our conscience.  Perhaps you’ve noticed in life that some people get results while others get consequences.  Those who get results seem to have a good conscience.  They connect well with God, life, and the people around them.  A Christian conscience brings harmony, happiness, and effective living.  Yet there are ‘others’ who seem to constantly be swimming upstream, working against the grain, out of synch with people, family values, church, faith and what we may call ‘the system.’ 

Our mothers and our fathers and many spiritual guides have taught us that those who break God’s law, who go against God’s intentions, will suffer the consequences of life. 

For instance, the Bible teaches us, “Thou shall not steal.”  Many folks can ‘get away’ with stealing something small.  A single piece of paper, a pen, perhaps even a coin or two.  The trouble with that is it leads us to a false confidence that we ‘got away with it’ and believe we can steal something more.  Perhaps something larger or even more expensive.  Everybody ‘slips’ up at some point in their wrongful actions and ‘gets caught.’  Part of the trouble with ‘getting caught’ is becoming known as a person not to be trusted.  The trouble with believing you can do whatever you want and there’s nothing wrong with that unless you get caught is that it does lead to us suffering the consequences of life.  Your sin will find you out.  Is it really worth ‘getting away’ with something while costing you your integrity of ‘one not to be trusted?’  We are further required to answer to ‘the Law.’ Fines and punishments increase and become significant deterrents. 

The people who get results in life are the ones who try to find out the ‘right’ that life demands and then work to fulfill those demands. 

Living the Christian life and affirming a Christian conscience are long and humbling experiences.  Our mothers would sometimes need to say to us, “Stop fighting me and take your medicine, or go to sleep, do your homework, get a shower.  Take care of your brother/sister, go to church,” and so on. In time we all grow to become ‘enlightened’ as to ‘why’ they really were right, and furthermore, how good it was, then and now, that we listened. 

God wants us all to have an enlightened conscience.  By that I mean we are to know not only the difference between right and wrong, but furthermore, the enlightened awareness of ‘why’ this benefits us.  When I consider the Ten Commandments, for instance, I have grown to be enlightened in my conscience that they were given not so much for God to test our obedience but rather for our own good. 

There are some very enlightening reasons as to why we are not to steal, kill, commit adultery, and so on. 

Stealing will lead to mistrust and possibly arrests, among other things. 

Killing compromises the preciousness of life God has created and causes us to even ‘play God.’ 

Adultery compromises the integrity of love and sacredness.  It may further lead to brokenness, family breakdowns, and some forms of disease. 

The one part none of us seem to like about ‘having a conscience’ is the guilt associated with it when our sin finds us out. 

There’s lots of corruption in this world.  Lots of folks seem addicted to sex in various forms and fashions.  Increasingly it seems as though we’re all growing numb to violence, and many are so self-consumed it seems as though they feel little or nothing towards others.  Along with this comes a decreasing sensitivity to conscience. 

People are trained to ignore their guilt—and yet they are drowning in it.  In some ways it seems as though society encourages sin, but it will not tolerate the guilt sin produces nor the negative results.

God gave us all a conscience and invites us, encourages us, to become increasingly enlightened. 

There are some ‘basics’ associated with an ‘enlightened conscience.’ 

Confession is good for the soul.  It further leads to an enlightened conscience.  Confess and forsake known sin.  If you’re wrong, then admit it.  Don’t deny the wrong.  Don’t rationalize it nor explain it away.  The first step towards a useful, purposeful life is to be humble and remain teachable.  When you stop learning, you stop living.  Listen to God. Confession leads towards an enlightened conscience. 

Forgiveness leads towards an enlightened conscience.  Those who refuse to forgive are doomed towards experiencing inner turmoil, on-going anger, and revenge to name but a few.  Jesus Christ taught us to forgive others; then your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  From upon the Cross Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Jesus Christ remains our greatest teacher, example, guide, and authority in heaven and on earth. 

Make restitution. If you’ve done something wrong, go and make it right.  Be the ‘bigger person!’  Be leery of the person that can never admit wrong nor say “I am sorry.”  No one is ‘always’ right.  Stop striving to be the center of the universe.  Don’t wait too long to ‘make restitution.’ 

Procrastination saddens the soul.  My mother used to say, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”  Don’t procrastinate.  Take care of things quickly.  Too often folks will delay addressing ‘what’s wrong’, what’s bothering their conscience; then after a while, things become confusing as to why a soul feels sad.  Please don’t become too busy to fail or forget to ‘do what’s right. ’  That’s neither fair nor good for you, for others, nor in one’s relationship to God. 

Educate yourself over and over again regarding how best to live, how to get along with others, how to respect and honor your mother and your father, how to be a better Christian, and what makes for a good conscience.  Remember this: you are a Christian wherever you are and whoever you are with, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Teach yourself and be an example unto others of the Christian faith. 

An important aspect of educating the conscience is teaching it to focus on the right object - divinely revealed truth.  If your conscience looks only to personal feelings, it can accuse you wrongfully. 

You are certainly not to order your life according to only your feelings.  A conscience fixed on feelings becomes unreliable.  If you are subject to depression and melancholy, you of all people should not allow your conscience to be informed mainly by your feelings.  Despondent feelings will provoke unnecessary doubts and fears in the soul when not kept in check by a well-advised conscience.  The conscience must be persuaded by God's Word, by tried and true teachings and life-styles, not simply by your feelings.

Furthermore, the conscience errs when the mind focuses wholly on your faltering in sin and ignores the triumphs of God's grace in you.  True Christians experience both realities.  Conscience must be allowed to weigh the fruit of the Spirit in your life as well as the remnants of your sinful flesh.  It must see your faith as well as your failings.  Otherwise, the conscience will become overly accusing, prone to unwholesome doubts about your standing before God. 

Learn to subject your conscience to the truth of God and the teaching of Scripture.  As you do that, your conscience will be more clearly focused and better able to give you reliable feedback.  With a trustworthy conscience, you have a powerful aid to spiritual growth and stability.  With a clear conscience, you live in an abundance of freedom and joy. 

Jesus speaks to our conscience today and declares straight-forward, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”  We must not sit in the judgment seat, nor is everyone supposed to ‘listen’ to us.  We are in this world together.  The fact is some are more broken than others.  Some are hurting more than others.  Some are still growing and learning.  Don’t judge rashly.  Have more mercy inside of you than revenge.  Don’t ‘get a kick’ out of mischief; that is, doing something wrong to make others suffer, even a bit. Don’t be quick to judge the hearts of others, nor their intentions.  We all stand in judgment before God.  The more we tend to judge others, the harsher will be our judgment by God.  Strive to develop a Christian conscience.  Choosing NOT to judge leads towards an enlightened conscience. 

Do pay attention to your guilt.  It’s certainly not your enemy but will serve to become your remedy.  Do not follow nor imitate those who seem to have no conscience.  Their leadership in your life is questionable and compromised. 

Further become an enlightened Christian.  Follow today’s scriptural lessons:  “Draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another all the more as the Day of the Lord is approaching.” Amen.

A Loving Heart! 2/13/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 12, 2022 & Sunday, February 13, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: God of our hearts, heart of creation, we are blessed when we feast on your Word; that Word which embraces us; that Word which teaches us; that Word which transfigures us; that Word which grounds us.  Give us your Word. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 54:10 (Page 737), John 3:16 (Page 1065), 1 Corinthians 13 (Page 1152) 

Sermon Message: “A Loving Heart!” 

I believe there is nothing better than love. We are acquainted with love, immersed in love, and responsive to love throughout our lifetimes. 

When we are born, the loving hearts that brought us into this world cradle us and warmly affirm their first message to us:  “I love you.”  

When we come to the end of our days, as we ‘take our last breath,’ hopefully a final message spoken to us from a loving heart will be:  “I love you.” 

An honor and blessing I received was being with my earthly father near the end of his life.  I told him that I loved him.  Ever so briefly he strained and said to me three times: “I love you, I love you, I love you Son.”   

“Love” is mentioned throughout the Bible. Within our pew Bibles, the word “Love” is recorded 686 times. 

Do tell someone you love them every day. 

Is there a favorite ‘love song’ you enjoy with another?  For Patty and I we like the song, “I can’t help falling in love with you.”  Remember how it begins, “Wise men say only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you.” I am a man of wisdom, but I have to admit when my dear ‘Wifey’ walks in the room, I can still get weak in my knees and succumb to some very foolish actions! 

There is another wisdom phrase that coaches us to be careful: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”  Essentially this means the impulsive or inexperienced attempt things that wiser people avoid. 

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so to speak.  This cultural holiday is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.  A somewhat similar ‘holiday season’ the Bible does reference is “The Year of Jubilee.”  This was a holy time once every fifty years for rest, forgiveness, and starting over.  Valentine’s Day this year will be marked not only by chocolate and candy hearts but more importantly by warmed expressions of love, and more broken hearts shall be mended by flowers and apologies than any other day of the year! Today, Communion welcomes us to bring our hearts to God, to trust in Jesus to feel forgiveness, to extend forgiveness, and to share in holy love with the Divine. 

Turn to God and reflect upon a loving heart. 

We know ‘about’ love.  We have seen and experienced all sorts of love across the years.  Little kids are sometimes in the midst of ‘puppy love.’  Adolescents may struggle with ‘raging hormones.’  Some old folks, set in their ways, seem to tolerate each other.  However, we ALL have that deep longing to share our heart.  At any age and station in life, giving our hearts to another or having our hearts broken by the person we thought cared for us, are all part of being human.  We all take the risk to love and immerse ourselves in the hope of being loved.  Through the years we strive to get good enough at being willing to place our deepest selves at the mercy of another, of daring to trust that we can reveal ourselves completely to another without being ridiculed or rejected.  Perhaps even God took a risk to have his divine heart broken when the Word took on flesh and became one of us (John 3:16). Clearly, the Bible affirms, there remains a deep longing within God for us to turn our hearts to Him.  God knows how difficult that is for us to do.  

Where the scriptures speak about the heart, the reference is NOT usually about sentiment or emotion or good feelings.  It’s more about understanding and wisdom, about seeking God and the Truth God has to offer us.  It’s about learning all that can be right and all that can go wrong in our lives.  It’s about being devoted, responsible, and responsive.  It’s about caring for others beyond just our ‘self.’  Scriptural references to love are talking about trust, covenant, patterns of growth, life, living in relationships, peace, seeking the betterment of another, providing for others, and closeness with God. 

Human life affects us all.  We all have a multitude of stories to share regarding what went wrong, who hurt us, where life was unfair, and of negative events that have shaped us. 

The God who created us continues to give us ways to have a loving heart. 

Learning again and again to trust God, call upon God, and follow God are sincere spiritual foundations for having a loving heart.  

We live in a world in which self-centeredness is almost worshiped, and following one's own path is almost mandatory.  But this neither creates nor sustains a loving heart. 

Within today’s scriptural lesson from 1 Corinthians 13, there’s a sort of rhythmic comparing of what leads to a loving heart. 

“Though I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”  I’ve met lots of folks that can speak quite well.  I think we all know some folks who speak/talk too much.  We can ‘say all the right things’ and say them well, yet not have a loving heart.  A ‘resounding gong’ or a ‘clanging cymbal’ is a metaphor for such folks.  Even the most elegant of words, without the authenticity of love, are meaningless.  

We may be very well educated, possess years of experience that have provided us an abundance of wisdom, but without a loving heart we don’t convey what matters most.

The Bible speaks of having faith that can ‘move mountains.’  But without a loving heart, faith and astounding accomplishments are of small benefit.  I may give lots of money and do many things to help the poor, but whatever we give needs to be gifts from the heart.  For without a loving heart, I am nothing. 

I always find it quite refreshing to hear about the loving heart of God.  God’s loving heart is patient and kind.  Not envious, boastful, or proud.  He doesn’t keep a record of our wrongs nor does he smile or laugh at us when we do something wrong, mess up, and become overtaken by evil.  God teaches us that a loving heart protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. 

Love, more than anything else, matures us, grows us, challenges us, and eventually ‘becomes’ us.  

Have you ever tried, just as hard as you can, to follow the teachings of the Bible 100%? 

Today’s scriptural lesson from 1 Corinthians 13 sounds beautiful.  Admittedly it is a definition of ‘how’ and ‘what’ love should be. But none of us can live 1 Corinthians 13 fully, perfectly, nor 100%. 

However, on this Communion Sunday, I must warn us all that the less we live according to God’s plan and definition of what love should be, the further removed and more distant we become from God and others. 

Look for and compliment the loving heart you see and benefit from in others. 

The Bible teaches that Love is patient.  Sometimes I am not.  When people are patient with our imperfections, it becomes us to acknowledge their loving heart.  Patience is a characteristic of a heart that trusts more than just what is seen at the time. 

Love is kind.  Kindness is a choice.  Everyday examples of kindness are evidential of a loving heart.  Choose to be kind not because you must or you should, nor because I or anyone else said so.  You and I remain Christians.  Be kind because God is kind.  He’s inside of you.  Let His light shine through your heart. 

Pride and bragging are NOT evidence of a loving heart.  God so loved us that He sent, and sends still His Son, Jesus.  We so love God and Jesus that we love and do for others humbly, quietly, and sincerely without lots of notoriety nor fanfare.  

Far too many put others down in order to build themselves up.  A loving heart honors others.  Do you remember that bit of wisdom we learned along the way that states, “If you can’t say something good about another, don’t say anything at all.” 

A loving heart isn’t filled with lots of anger.  Don’t let your heart become easily angered.  Instead trust in something more, something greater than yourself and your ways, wants, needs, and fears.  Learn to trust in Jesus.  Learn to trust in God. 

One of my least favorite things to do is be around people who live in the past and bring things up from the past which occurred years and years ago, as though it happened recently. Don’t keep a record of wrongs.  Think about it, if God were to keep a record of your wrongs, where would you be? 

A further ‘dislike’ is seeing people ‘gloat’ over others' shortcomings, failures, or weaknesses.  A loving heart sees others as equals.  A loving heart realizes, “If not for the grace of God there go I.”  Do not delight in evil, but do rejoice when truth wins out. 

A loving heart protects.  I was watching a show on TV one evening.  It involved these folks who lived in quite poor and rural America.  The ‘man of the family’ went to work each day in denims and a straw hat.  He said, “Anytime my wife and little ones come to the dinner table and there ain’t nothing in the house to put before them, I’m gonna find me a job!”  Try looking beyond the folksy grammar of that statement and see the heroic manliness that responsibility generates.  Can you see commitment in that simple statement? The kind of commitment that mothers and fathers, family members, and citizens of communities that hold things together makes them work at every level of human society.  For those who love, responsibility is not a burden.  It really is a joyful commitment.  And living up to that commitment makes people grow into bigger persons even while they are making fullness of life possible for others. 

Jesus loved. He stood beside the grave of his friend; Lazarus, and he wept, because he loved.  Jesus Christ, when questioned, said the greatest commandments are to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love others as ourselves. 

Faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest of these is love.  

Faith is important because it gives us a relationship with the One who created us, who redeemed us, and who gives us a whole new life with him. 

Hope is important because it gives a purpose to our lives.  Jesus has promised that he will be with us always, that we will be with him forever, and that he calls us to follow him. 

Love is important because it connects us, in a positive way, with those around us and with our Lord.  Love is the most important.  Because someday we will see our Lord, face to face, and we will no longer need to have faith that he exists and that he cares for us. 

And we will also no longer need to have hope, because we hope for that which we cannot see.  But someday we will see him. 

And so love is what goes on and on, throughout all eternity.  Love, Paul says, never ends. 

A loving heart is the greatest thing in the world.  Amen.

Great Faith 2/5/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 5, 2022 & Sunday, February 6, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: As we turn to your word, Spirit of God, do not let our desire for information dominate our need for transformation.  Let us hear the word and be moved to greater faith and obedience.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Matthew 15:21-28 (Page 982) and Galatians 5:22 (Page 1171) 

Sermon Message:  “Great Faith” 

Do you know anyone that has ‘great faith?’  Jesus said to this mother who was so very concerned about her daughter, “Woman, you have great faith!” 

Jesus Christ had ‘great faith’ in the Father.  Yet, even with ‘great faith’ we learn that Jesus and His disciples needed to ‘get away’ for a while.  Today’s scriptural account says they “withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.”  These were seaside towns.  They decided to ‘go to the shore.’ 

Today’s narrative is found in the Gospel of Matthew.  The same narrative is also found within the Gospel of Mark 7:24-30.  According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus goes into a home to hide from the public, but his presence is soon found out.  An unnamed Greek woman from Phoenicia in Syria sought out Jesus and begged for the healing of her terribly afflicted daughter.  Her child was possessed by demons.  Dealing with demons requires great faith.  

Demons were thought to be evil forces wreaking havoc.  The prevailing idea was that demons could invade human bodies and personalities and cause mental illnesses, physical diseases, and other specific problems such as deafness or blindness.  Some even believed that demons could take control of nature and cause natural calamities and disasters. 

Most anything that could not be handled or explained became ascribed to demon possession.  Whatever it was that seemed to constitute ‘demon possession’ in the woman’s daughter was certainly overwhelming and beyond the scope of care available in that day. 

I wonder what things we might designate as ‘demon possession’ today?  

The daughter of the woman in today’s scripture had severe problems that were beyond the scope of redemptive treatment and care back then.  Today we are increasingly aware of forms of treatments, and we have become quite advanced in diagnosis.  However, even with modern medicines - afflictions such as addictions, severe personality disorders, long-term diseases, and some intense forms of malignancy - many are led to seek God’s help.  Lots of folks still need a miracle in their lives. 

This mother in today’s scripture lesson demonstrated great faith that lead to a miracle in her child’s life.  The world shall never run out of the need for miracles.  

Consider some ‘marks of a miracle’ in today's Gospel lesson. 

Prior to the miracle of healing the daughter, we can see other miracles occurring. 

First, there is the miracle of grace. According to the ‘rules’, the prescribed standards back in the day, that mother was not supposed to be helped.  Even Jesus said so, because she was a pagan, a gentile.  Such persons were sometimes referred to back then as ‘dogs.’ 

Great faith extends the miracle of grace to those needing help. 

Grace comes to us in many forms from God.  We can’t always ‘earn it,’ be ‘good enough’ for it, nor are we entitled to it because of ‘who we are,’ where we are from, our ancestry, or how ‘wealthy’ we may be.  Grace is God’s gift, free and clear. 

As we saw in today’s scriptures, the miracle of grace can come to anyone in spite of those things we prescribe as being requirements.  God is God, and we are not. 

As we choose to extend grace to others, I believe great faith is alive and working through us. 

There is the miracle of humility.  This woman, this mother referenced in the Bible, she humbles herself and asks Jesus for help.  Jesus, at first, did not say a word.  Like you, I too have been quite humbled at times when I ask for help and there’s no response.  Even the silence of God to our prayers and petitions can be very humbling.  The woman has her daughter to think about.  Her child’s needs are severe!  

The disciples urged Jesus to respond. He replies that he was sent to help the ‘sheep’ of Israel. 

The woman gets on her knees.  A true act of humility.  She ‘takes on’ a dialogue with Jesus and even begs him for the crumbs that fall from the table.  

Great faith is developed by asking for help.  We all need to do that more.  Humility helps build faith.  Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up! (James 4:10)  Great faith is in asking for even the crumbs under the table.  Especially so if that may help someone we love and whose burdens we carry.  The miracle of humility. 

There is also the miracle of prayer.  While our prayers can be formal and routine, perhaps even memorized and possibly quoted, humbling ourselves and asking for help are further marks of a miracle.  After all, the miracle of prayer sure goes a long way to move both heaven and earth while transforming much that is inside of us.  

“Help me.”  Surely you have ‘said’ that prayer when you’ve come to the ‘end of your rope.’  Hopefully you still say that prayer when you reach the end results of whatever your sin might be.  “Help me” marks the miracle of submission and is a basis for faith. 

The miracle of faith made all the difference in that woman gaining help and healing for her daughter.  It wasn’t just ‘ask and receive.’  That woman ‘heard’ about Jesus.  She had heard about his compassion and his care.  She had heard about his teachings and his wisdom that directed others to see God in a new light.  She had heard of his love for people whom others had despised and rejected.  She had heard of these and many such ‘miracles’ shared with folks just like herself and her daughter.  She had also ‘heard’ where he was hiding out to get away from it all.  So it was, in trusting faith, in hopeful faith, but mostly in persistent faith, she sought out Jesus and would not let up nor give up on him.  

Miracles require faith.  Whom do you love so much that you are willing to place your faith on the line for?  How persistent is your faith?  

The miracle of faith begins with faithfulness.  By that I mean you have to choose of your own free will to have faith.  Even faith that God seems to ‘nudge’ inside of you.  While we are only human, still we must use our human free will to believe, to begin having faith. 

Faithfulness to God, to God’s ways, and to Jesus Christ’s teachings are expected from us.  I think the opposite of entitlement is humility.  Choose to be humble.  It’s a far wiser way in the long run. 

Don’t forget to pray. I read this very touching story: 

One day a farmer found a little lost girl in his meadow.  He said to her, "Do not cry; I'll take you home."  She snuggled up to him and with a smile said, "I knew you would; I was waiting for you."  "Waiting for me?  What made you think I was coming?"  She replied, "I was praying you would." 

Is part of your ‘faithfulness’ believing in the prayer you said?  Do you know in your heart that God can and will answer your prayer?  

Clearly, Jesus points out that because of this woman’s great faith, her daughter was healed from demon possession.  There were ‘marks’ of miracles; grace, humility, prayer, and faithfulness.  The Bible references the ‘Fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, and faithfulness. 

“Fruit of the Spirit” is indicative of that which ‘grows’ out of you as a result of God’s Holy Spirit within you.  When we trust in Jesus, call upon God; choose to ask and seek to receive more of the Divine in our lives. There will be good outcomes.  Great faith is an indicator that the Holy Spirit is growing inside of you. 

While faithfulness is inspired by the Holy Spirit in our lives, great faith is cultivated, it is built, nurtured, tried, tested, and redeemed over a lifetime.  As you and I continue to grow, our faith does get challenged from time to time.  This can make a soul quietly reflective. 

In today’s scripture lesson we see where Jesus strives to ‘get away’ but soon finds you can’t hide.  Nor can we hide from Jesus.  Sooner or later something’s going to take place where you or I will need Jesus in our lives.  He will ‘cross our paths.’  Our faith will become enhanced.  For some folks that means the booze will wear off.  The party will be over.  The happy-go-lucky conversations will die out.  Sometimes it takes us experiencing the loneliness of quiet moments to run into Jesus in our lives.  In the silence, whatever one’s ideas about the divine might be, God is there waiting, listening, loving, and understanding. 

Some folks have traveled a journey whereby they tried, ever so hard, to ‘make it alone.’  I am aware of folks who have literally spent ‘years’ of their lives striving to somehow ‘prove’ there was no ‘God.’  Nor will they submit to Jesus in their lives.   

God has His hand upon us.  He does not leave us alone.  Jesus Christ is going to keep ‘showing up’ in your life.  No use sitting on the fence.  Commit your life to Him or renew that commitment that you made in the past.  Your faith will become all the ‘greater’ for it. 

Have you noticed how Jesus has a universal impact upon faith?  His impact continues.  Within today’s Biblical dialogue, Jesus reminds this Non-Jewish woman that although her request is sincere and her daughter’s needs are great, the fact remains within the culture of the day that Jewish people don’t help out Non-Jews, like her and her child.  I’m certain that poor woman was well aware of that fact. Yet she persisted in her faith. She had heard about Jesus.  She was well aware of what the local preachers/rabbis had taught.  She knew full well that strict churches would have nothing to do with her, nor her possessed daughter, nor her non-Jewish background.  

Do we turn away those who are not ‘like us?’  Or do we follow in the footsteps of Jesus and agree to help those in need?  

Food Pantries and Meals on Wheels programs exist and flourish in our respective communities.  Food is provided to believers and non-believers.  To both Christians and non-Christians.  Should we ‘turn away’ those who are not ‘like us?’  Or perhaps ‘one of us?’  In accordance with today’s scriptures, I think not. 

Perhaps, quite unexpectedly, that woman’s faith in today’s Scripture lesson was tested.  However, as we see in this needy mother, when anyone ‘grows to know’ ‘about’ Jesus and ‘who’ He is, our faith will become persistent. 

Do you have ‘great faith?’  We need to come to Jesus.  God may be silent.  Our faith may be tested; our deserving of God’s help questioned.  Be persistent. 

Your faith can help others who are in need to be represented to God.  

Great faith is something you and I have to work at.  We have to choose to ‘get through’ the trials, the tests, the discouragements, even the grave concerns we have for others that can be overwhelming to any of us.  In the end, I think we shall one day stand before God with Jesus and look back acknowledging great faith was surely the marks of miracles in our lives. 

Thoughts and Prayers 1/30/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 29, 2022 & Sunday, January 30, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Dear Lord, help us as we read these scriptures together.  Come bring your understanding and reveal your truth.  Come open our minds, hearts, and souls to all that these words of life offer us. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 5:1-3 (Page 537), Luke 11:9-10 (Page 1041), Philippians 4:4-7 (Page 1181) 

Sermon Message: “Thoughts and Prayers” 

Prayer should be the key of the morning…the lock of the evening… 

How is it that you begin your day in prayer?  Some folks get down on their knees just as soon as they awake and ‘say their prayers.’  Others need some time to ‘wake up’ and compose themselves before they pray.  Still others acknowledge God’s presence in their lives each morning by ‘making the sign of the Cross’ on themselves.  One might simply say “Good morning God!” 

On the other hand, if you were ‘up too late’ the night prior or worked too hard the day before, upon arising you might find yourself saying, “Dear God it’s morning already!” 

Myself, I seem to function best when I am awake for a while, consume a cup of coffee, and settle into my comfortable reclining chair. 

My dear mother, God rest her soul, was what some refer to as ‘an early riser!’  If she was awake early (as she most often times was) and if she ‘checked on me’ and I was breathing sort of ‘shallow,’ she’d shake me and ask, increasingly loud, “You OK Son?” Every once in a while, I’d mumble my response: “I was until you awakened me!”  She’d give me one of those “I’m your Mother” smiles.  Worse though were the times when she found me sitting somewhere in meditative prayer, with my eyes wide open.  I would not always ‘hear her’ so after a while she’d get really close to me - so very close that here eyeball was nearly touching my eyeballs, and she’d giggle her inquiry, “You in there, Tom?” 

The initial point being this: we meet God, each in our individual way, and God meets us, sometimes directly, at other times through people He has sent to care for us.  

We are in the thoughts and prayers of many.  We further hold others, sometimes lots of others, in our thoughts and prayers.  

I trust we are well acquainted with daily prayers.  Also with daily formats, postures, or habits we have when we pray.  But when do we hold others and ourselves MOST in our thoughts and our prayers?  Possibly when we are in our greatest hour of need; when pain, hurt, suffering, even death is near.  When nothing makes sense and all else seems to fail many a soul, even those that seldom pray turn to God.

May we all take comfort in knowing within the Bible and throughout all of human kind’s history, people have cried out to God, poured out their hurts, their pains, their deepest questions…we refer to this as ‘lament’.  ‘Lament’ has been and shall always remain part and parcel of our thoughts and prayers with God. In today’s scripture lesson from Psalm 5:1-3 David prays ‘out loud’ to God, “Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament.  Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.  In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” 

There is an entire ‘Book” of the Bible devoted to those who need to ‘lament’ unto God.  Within the Old Testament Book of Lamentations 3:22,23 it is recorded, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning.” 

God holds us in His thoughts and prayers.  He hears, receives, and responds to our prayers of lament.  When WE lament, we are holding those we ‘lament for’ in our thoughts and prayers. 

There are lots of scenarios that lead us to ‘lament.’  The realities of violence witnessed on TV and sometimes quite near to us.  Increasingly so, we realize some of those victimized may one day be a person we know.  The afflictions, fears, and sufferings associated with the Covid pandemic continue to cause many to lament.  Especially so when death takes place. 

There are a multitude of reasons to hold folks in our thoughts and our prayers.  Not only do we feel compassion for others, God desires for us to ‘feel’ for others.  Lots of ‘others.’  

God calls upon us to pray.  We are instructed by Jesus to pray.  He teaches the disciples, and us, ‘how’ to pray. The Holy Spirit sometimes nudges us, inspires something within us to pray. Folks we are to pray daily, often, routinely, in season and out of season.  If you or someone you know says, “But I don’t know ‘how’ to pray, share with them how you pray; teach them The Lord’s Prayer, refer them to Jesus' teaching on prayer (Luke 11:1-10).  

When Jesus walked the face of this earth with his 12 disciples, they saw first-hand how Jesus prayed, as he helped others, dealt with criticisms and threats, shared, loved others, and taught the ways of God.  They were blessed to be ‘right there’ with Jesus and experience His miracles in people’s lives.  Yet those same disciples, who were so very close to Jesus, had to ask, “Lord teach us ‘how’ to pray.”  So it was, He taught and teaches us still, “When you pray say:  “Father hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, Your will be done…” 

I strongly suggest you learn ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’  “SAY IT” daily.  Share it, teach it to others, and talk about its effectiveness often with others. This too is a further means of keeping others in your thoughts and your prayers. 

It’s ‘strange’ sometimes how prayer works.  God, our heavenly Father, has a way of requiring us to use our thoughts and our prayers before His answers come.  We’ve grown to mature in our appreciation of God’s teachings in the Bible.  Jesus teaches us you have to ask, and it will be given to you.  You have to knock, and the door will be opened to you.

Across the years of assisting folks in their faith development and their ‘walk with God,’ the question sometimes comes:  “IF God loves us.  IF the Father knows us so well, WHY do we need to ask, pray, even lament or cry out to God?”  Hear God’s response to our inquiry in the verse that follows today’s Gospel lesson: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 

Hear Jesus’ pointed reference to the examples of earthly fathers and mothers. Our parents, for years and years, held us in their thoughts and prayers.  Maybe they were not ‘perfect’ in how they did that.  Yet they did.  Each in their own way.  Those of us who have served the Lord, as parents, well understand ‘why’ you often times need to wait for the kids to ‘ask,’ to ‘come around.’  I well remember while raising my daughter that she ate far better when she came to me and said, “Dad, I’m hungry, can I please have something to eat?”  The response was different from those times when I prepared her food, placed it on a dish, brought it to where she was and served her.  ‘Asking’ indicates need, trust, love, and reliance.  God desires that from us and with us.  Both in our thoughts and our prayers.  

Easily enough we communicate with someone in need, “You are in my thoughts and my prayers.”  A common spiritual experience we have with God and one another is compassion.  The Bible declares in numerous places that God has compassion on us.  His ‘mercies’ are new every morning.  What makes you feel ‘compassion’ with God, for one another, towards folks experiencing trials, tests, challenges of a wide variety and sort?  

‘Compassion’ is what’s deep inside of you.  It is a ‘care for’ another or their circumstances that you begin to identify with.  The Bible references compassion as something that stirs the very bowels of people.  It’s their ‘seat of emotions.’  Compassion soon touches our thoughts.  From there we must exercise the effort, put forth the energy, to turn our thoughts into both prayers and action.  This is where Jesus Christ leads us and calls upon us to ‘ask, seek, and knock.’ 

Prayer is expected.  It is God’s will that you and I pray.  Numerous scriptures affirm God’s expectations for all to pray.  It IS the business of Christians to pray.  It’s part of ‘who we are’ and ‘what we do.’  Think of it this way too: prayer isn’t some ‘hoop’ we must ‘jump through’ in order to be spiritual.  Prayer is a gift of love, an invitation to help, an opportunity, and an honor. 

Prayer is learned.  At some point you learned how to talk.  Learn how to pray.  Begin informally, conversationally so with God.  Learn to ‘say’ prayers such as ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’  ‘Pray’ the 23rd Psalm with someone sometime.  God is glad to hear from you.  Some are awkward with prayer because they feel guilty that they aren’t praying ‘right,’ formally, or weaving lots of scriptures into their prayers.  Just ‘pray from your heart.’ Learn from the Bible various ways, times, and occasions for your thoughts and your prayers.  Some prayers begin with lament.  Others are moved by the greatness of God’s blessings, His presence, and His divine love.  Praying with others is a basic way to learn how to pray as well.

Prayer is adoration.  Do you ‘adore’ the grandeur of God’s creativeness in nature; in lives He’s given you to share your life with, in answers, hopes, promises, and His peace? 

Prayer is confession.  Confession is good for the soul.  Not only do we ‘confess our sins,’ we also should ‘confess our faith.’  We do that through some formal words such as the Apostle’s Creed.  We also confess our faith when we talk with others about our belief in God, our experiences with our Christian faith, plus God’s answers and provisions in our lives. 

Prayer is thanksgiving.  Thanking God is one of the most rewarding forms of prayer.  Easily enough any of us can build our own little list of complaints.  As totally consuming as our arguments with God might be regarding ‘what’s wrong’ in the world, in our lives, or on account of others, thanking God in prayer is a spiritual exercise in acknowledging blessings.  I don’t want to miss being grateful because I am preoccupied with the negative. 

Prayer is intercession.  This is prayer for others.  It’s so easy to be so concerned with myself that I can lose sensitivity to the needs of other people.  I must share with you something quite humbling that happens to me from time to time.  Someone will say to me, “I prayed for you today.” Makes me wonder, as it should you, are we that faithful in praying for others daily, or at least often, even members of our own family? 

Prayer is petition.  In addition to Jesus’ words, “Ask and you shall receive…” there are over 3,000 promises in the Bible we can petition heaven for.  Petition God specifically for personal help, insight, answers, health needs, financial struggles, and spiritual matters.  There is no item too small or too big for God to hear and respond to.  He does need to hear from you.  Remember - ask, seek, knock, and pray.  Petition God for your needs, the needs of others, pray for our church, and pray for our community.  Pray ‘against’ the violence in this world.  One of the main reasons for lack of godliness is prayerlessness. 

Prayer is answered.  I well affirm today’s scriptures that warm the spirit, strengthen the soul, guide the heart, and inform the mind.  Those words of the Apostle Paul, “Don’t worry, don’t be anxious about anything.  But in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). 

Yes, there are answers to your thoughts and prayers.  Ask God for His help.  Grow to know God does not always give us the answer we want in the time in which you or I want it.  However, I can testify that looking back over 60 plus years of following Jesus, you and I certainly CAN rely upon His faithfulness. 

I’m so glad you have thoughts and prayers.  They are so needed.  Amen.

Faith Basics 1/23/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 22, 2022 and Sunday, January 23, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Our Lord and our God, we bless You for Your Word.  We ask that by Your Holy Spirit You would open our eyes to understand it, that You would grant us the faith to believe it, and by Your Spirit You would enable us to walk in that belief.  This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.  

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 19 (Page 545) & Luke 4:14-21 (Page 1030) 

Sermon Message: “Faith Basics” 

There are faith basics that we function with.  Perhaps early on in our lives we learned how to say our prayers with our family.  Basic prayers such as, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Love me lead me through the night and wake me by thy guiding light.  I still remember our grandchildren learning to ‘say grace’ before meals.  Their ‘prayer’ at mealtimes sounded like this: “God is good, God is great, Lord we thank you for our food.  Amen.” 

There are bedtime prayers we learn and special prayers for those occasions when something ‘special’ is happening such as Christmas, Easter, or someone’s birthday.  

‘Faith basics’ develop in lots of different ways.  I enjoyed learning that even Jesus quoted and memorized scriptures as part of his faith basics.  Such as today’s scriptures which he read while sharing worship at the temple where he grew up in the town of Nazareth. 

Each week I list some basic bible verses in the bulletin for reflection, review, and developing faith basics.  You could also view these scriptures as ‘memory verses.’  Consider two of the scriptures listed in the bulletin for review, reflection, and perhaps as memory verses. 

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” ~ Hebrews 11:1 

“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”                ~ Romans 12:13 

These scriptures applied to our daily lives will sincerely make a lot of difference. 

Do you recall some ‘sayings?’  Perhaps something you once learned and have gained some wisdom from. 

Let’s have a little fun.  Kind of a contest I can use your help with. Let's start with an oral exam.  I'll provide the quote, you tell me who said it.  We will start easy.  

"Two roads diverged in the woods and I -- I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference." (Robert Frost)

"The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." (Roosevelt)

"I have a Dream." MLK (Got it?)

"I never met a man I didn't like." (Will Rogers)

"Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." (Thomas Edison)

"God helps those who help themselves." (Franklin)

"When you are angry, count to ten.  When you are very angry, swear." (Twain)

"You can observe a lot about people just by watching them." (Yogi Berra)

"Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." (Lincoln)

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably why so few engage in it."

  (Henry Ford)

"God is dead." (Friedrich Nietzsche)

"Nietzsche is dead." (God) 

Within Psalm 19 some faith basics are mentioned:  “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.  They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.  Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world.”  This particular reading from the Bible guides us to consider the invisible things of God.  The glory of God shines transcendently bright in the visible heavens, the structure and beauty of them.  Day by day and night by night the glory of God is revealed to all humankind.  Yet the folly of atheists is seeing heavenly bodies and the touch of earth’s life yet say, “There is no God.”  

The further removed we are or choose to be from faith basics, the more vain and compromised is our existence.  Sometimes we ‘go back’ to our beginnings to get a better perspective on what’s basic.  Jesus went back to his hometown, to the place where he grew up; Nazareth.  I wonder what that might have been like for him?  Did you ever ‘go back’ to where you grew up?  In doing so did you recognize some familiar sights?  Perhaps even in the geography. I’ve done that at different times.  What also helps is to get out of the car and walk around some of the area where you grew up.  It’s not only the sights or even a person or two we might recognize.  Sometimes we recall familiar smells as well.  Back in my hometown there was a power plant not too far from town that sometimes gave a smoky eerie ‘sulfur’ (rotten egg) smell.  At other times there is the familiar smell of highway traffic passing by and the occasional train with its diesel emissions or the slow moving nearby river. I’ve often times envied those folks who grew up in a town that had an active bakery.  I could surely go for that! 

When Jesus went back to Nazareth, he may well have appreciated some quite familiar sights and smells.  After all, things didn’t change much back then. 

I wonder what Jesus smelled, or tasted, or touched, on this trip to his hometown.  Perhaps the pungent smell from neighbors’ stables, possibly fresh warm bread as it was baking, maybe even a fire burning as families prepared their meager meals.  Jesus is in his hometown of Nazareth, he doesn’t have any disciples yet.  He’s a good boy, he goes to church.  He is given the honor of reading from scripture.  He picks Isaiah 61:1-2 and does a little editing.  He does not mention binding up the brokenhearted as Isaiah did, but he adds the restoration of sight for the blind.  He makes a good impression. 

I hope you have been impressed by Jesus’ words for they ARE ‘faith basics.’ 

Jesus’ mission statement is:  “Anointed by God to share God’s good news with the poor, proclaim freedom to those imprisoned in various ways, to assist others to see clearly, to help others overcome oppression, and to proclaim the abundance of God’s forgiveness for many.”  

How do we incorporate Jesus in our lives?  Within our world?  

Typically we think of ‘the poor’ as those folks who just don’t have much. Imposing human judgment here, ‘the poor’ become those who are despised by affluent society.  Jesus called attention to those who took advantage of the poor, kept them oppressed or imprisoned in a variety of ways.  Then and now when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, we clearly know that in both our political and religious environment faith basics are gone, missing, or compromised.  

Faith basics remind us to return to the law of the Lord for it shall refresh our souls.  Trust in the statutes of the Lord.  They can make the wise simple.  Honor the precepts of the Lord for they are right and give joy to the heart.  Follow God’s commands for they give light to the eyes.  God’s decrees are firm. 

So much of faith basics are minimized by folks who feel entitled to their desired pleasure, their redefining of truth, their minimizing of facts.  

God sent Jesus to help the poor.  Especially so those who are ‘poor in spirit.’  God seeks to save those who don’t know God well and worse still respond to God poorly, even defiantly, or apathetically so.  Work with government officials and religious leaders to help the poor.  The Spirit of the Lord calls for us to work to bring good news to the poor.  

Remember, ‘the poor’ then and now may be those who are not well off financially but further includes those who are poor in spirit, who don’t know or respond much to God.  Jesus saw ‘the poor’ everywhere in all peoples.  Although born of a Jewish heritage, Jesus repeatedly reached out to the Gentiles, the Samaritans, the non-Jews, and assured them in so many ways that God was there for them, for all of us. 

One of Jesus’ ‘faith basics’ was sincerely helping people to feel welcomed, cared for, of value, and included in knowing God and being blessed by God.  A ‘Prison’ might be an actual jail cell or possibly a metaphor for that which limits us from being fully alive and connected with God, our society, and our world.  

How well are our leaders doing with proclaiming freedom to those ‘imprisoned’ in various ways?  We SHOULD be bothered by the on-going realities associated with gross injustice among entire groups of people and between individuals.  We should hang our heads, pray, and work towards helping those who live in slums and poverty to one day be released from whatever it is that’s imprisoning them.  We are all aware of someone effected by unemployment, unequal opportunities, the threat or reality of war, and by most anything under God’s heaven that constitutes mal-distribution of the means of life!  Part of faith basics remains that of recognizing and being accountable for sin.  It IS still a sin to do anything that disaffirms the infinite worth of persons. 

Some folks think ‘making the sign of the cross’ is reserved only for our Catholic brothers and sisters.  NOT TRUE!  When we make the ‘sign of the cross,’ we draw an invisible line from our heads to our hearts, and from shoulder to shoulder.  We ‘make’ the sign of the cross upon our very selves.  ‘Faith basics’ begin with each one of us and extends in a movement to transform the world. 

‘Faith basics’ help those who would be blind to see.  ‘Faith basics’ enjoin us to proclaim God’s favor, acceptance, guidance, and love. 

Embrace the faith.  Amen.

I Will Follow Him 1/16/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 15, 2022 & Sunday, January 16, 2022

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, give us humble, teachable, and obedient hearts, that we may receive what you have revealed, and do what you have commanded.  Amen.

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  Joshua 24:15 (Page 237) & Matthew 4:18-22 (Page 968)

Sermon Message: “I Will Follow Him”

Perhaps you recall some of the lyrics to the song, “I Will Follow Him.”  They became popular (again) in 2019 during the movie “Sister Act” starring actress, Whoopi Goldberg.  Within that movie she transforms a group of quiet Catholic Sisters (Nuns) into a rather vibrant choir.  One of their sensational songs was “I Will Follow Him.”  Recall with me some of those lyrics: I love him, I love him, and where he goes I’ll follow.  I will follow him wherever he may go.  There isn’t an ocean too deep or mountain so high it can keep, keep me away.  

The lyrics go on to say, I must follow him, ever since he touched my hand I knew that near him I must always be and nothing can keep me from him, He is my destiny.  He’ll always be my true love from now until forever. 

Initially that song was composed as a kind of love song for couples.  Within the movie it was adopted and transformed as a song illustrating a kind of “Faith” one has when following Jesus. 

So, I must ask, is ‘that’ how it happened when you came to ‘follow Jesus?’  Did He touch your hand and thus become your ‘destiny?’  ‘Following Him’ may be marked by a significant event, as seen in the calling of those first disciples.  Yet we also learn from the disciples ‘following him’ becomes a life-long process of faith, hope, love, and redemption. 

The four disciples mentioned in today’s scripture lesson were fishermen by trade.  The good Lord sees us where we are and further ‘calls’ us. Consider a bit further those first two disciples whom Jesus called to ‘follow him.’ 

Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee.  He saw two brothers, Simon, called Peter, and his brother, Andrew.  They were fishing, casting a net into the lake.  Jesus said to those two fishermen, “Come follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” 

Two other brothers, James, son of Zebedee, and his brother, John, were in a boat with their father, Zebedee, preparing their nets.  Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. 

Seldom do I hear of folks today just dropping everything and immediately following Jesus. 

The initial decision to ‘follow him’ does sometimes occur quickly.  At other times it takes a while.  However it occurs, our decision to follow him changes things.  Can you recall the ‘timing’ or the process that settled inside of you and lead you to decide to follow him?

Even those early disciples whom Jesus called spent the rest of their lives demonstrating what ‘following Him’ means. 

Let’s reflect a bit more on Andrew and Simon Peter. 

Some scholars affirm that Andrew became the unquestioned leader of the apostles.  As a leader, Andrew was not known for addressing large crowds like his brother, Simon.  Instead, Andrew ‘followed Him’ by leading people to Christ one by one.  Andrew’s main concern never was inviting himself into Jesus’ inner circle and private quarters.  Andrew was probably the glue in the apostolic band, the nicest and most accessible person in the group.  The record of Andrew does not stand much of a chance against the dramatic record of his brother Simon, the original Rock, one of Jesus’ three closest disciples.  Andrew was a leader of another kind – in friendship and lifestyle evangelism. 

Simon was defined by his larger-than-life personality, but Andrew by his down-to-earth “personability.”  One thing that defined Andrew in the Bible was his personal affinity with unfamiliar people and lost souls.  He was not intimidating, unlike his brother.  People can go through him, talk to him, and be with him.  Just as in this situation, Andrew, along with others, followed Jesus.  There was always somebody with Andrew.  Andrew was not a finder’s keeper kind of guy. Andrew was a humble man, definitely not as eloquent as his free-spirited brother, Simon.  He did not claim he was the one who found the Messiah.  It is recorded in the Gospel of John 1:41 Andrew found his brother and said, “We” have found the Messiah; the Christ. He didn’t reference himself mainly.  He did not say “I” have found the Messiah.  Rather, Andrew sought to remain ‘inclusive of others’ and thus proclaimed, “We” have found the Messiah.  Sometimes too, it’s hard to explain or convey to others what we have found in following Jesus.  So this disciple Andrew did the next best thing; he brought him to Jesus.  Andrew was not pushy, threatening, condemning, feisty, and argumentative.  That is as good a definition of evangelism as any – to bring people to Jesus, not to himself or even to John the Baptist. 

Andrew will forever be known in the Bible as the one who brought others to Jesus:  brother or not, young or old, Jews or Gentiles.  The apostle John seemed to hold Andrew in the utmost respect, especially for his personal touch with people.  The book of John gives us more details about Andrew not recorded in other gospels, such as Andrew finding a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish to feed the five thousand (John 6:8-10) and the Greeks going through Andrew for the opportunity to see Jesus (John 12:20-21).  In that sense, he was like his mentor, John the Baptist, testifying and pointing to Jesus. 

‘Following Him’ shows up in activities and wholesome endeavors we also seek to do for the sake of Jesus Christ, His Church, His ministries, and His missions. 

God uses our personalities as well, our skills, our endeavors, our studies, and experiences in our efforts to follow Him. Today’s scriptures affirm our growing knowledge that following Jesus means that we are going to do some things differently in our life; that there will be some things we too will need to leave behind.

Those early disciples seemed to have ‘their’ lives planned around themselves.  They had their own business and families to attend to.  Following Jesus meant expanding their horizons, so to speak.  It further meant submitting to God’s leading and the Lord’s call within their lives.  Following Him still means making some decisions about ‘how’ we will live our lives and ‘where’ we might need to go and do things for the Lord. 

All people tend to find that ‘following him’ changes our lives.  Sometimes significantly at first but also through varying stages extended over our lifetime. 

Trust and belief are essential components for following Him. 

Perhaps ‘following Him’ began with someone pointing us towards Jesus, saying ‘prayers’ with us, or bringing us to church to better ‘meet’ Jesus. 

Affirming Jesus Christ as God’s Son and our Savior requires trust and belief coming from us.  We need to nurture these essential qualities over a lifetime.  Striving to obey God’s teachings and the Bible’s guidance, confessing our sins and devoting ourselves to become Christians, better Christians, are basic and essential requirements to ‘following Him.’  I will follow Him means changing our ways from self-oriented entitlement to humble listening and reflection upon how God might use us to share faith with others. 

In this early stage we may find ourselves saying, “I will follow Him” perhaps with hesitancy, fear of regret, and unwelcomed humbling of ourselves before the Lord. 

I believe Andrew illustrates a good example of how we can help others who may be questioning what ‘I will follow Him’ means.  Andrew did not go on and on with Simon or others as he tried to get others to know Jesus Christ and follow Him.  Andrew simply, serenely, and sincerely just brought others into the presence of the Lord.  When communicating knowledge doesn’t suffice, bring others home to church and to your family of faith. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought much about it or not, but those early disciples were not just ‘called’ initially; they decided to stay with Jesus and follow him over the next three years of their lives.  ‘I will follow Him’ you see, becomes a maturing response to the presence of the Lord in our lives and unto a growing, workable realization of the benefits we inherit from responding to the Christian faith. 

You’ve heard me share this example before. Early on we may view The Ten Commandments as a list of do’s and don’ts which we must submit to.  As we grow, we begin to see the benefits from following those commands.  They become not just ‘commandments’ but more so ‘covenants’ between God, others, and us. 

‘I will follow Him’ isn’t JUST believing in Jesus.  It is about changing some things in your life. 

The best ‘affirmations’ of love are just that unless we spend time with those whom we love.  ‘I will follow Him’ means spending time with Him.  Get to know Jesus.  Spend some quality time each and every day in prayer, reflection, studying the Word, and getting to worship often, routinely, and regularly.  I have personally found this to be most valuable. 

‘I will follow Him’ is both a reflection and a further commitment.  As I reflect, the better decisions and directions of my life have occurred from how I allow myself to ‘follow Him.’  The more you or I follow Him, the greater becomes our peace-filled awareness that we have grown to love Him and be loved by Him. 

Reflect as did many in the Bible, upon your relationship and experience with the sacred, the holy, the Savior, and the Creator.  To those who choose to change and seek to follow Him, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit.  There is an awareness within that comes from above touching our lives, filling our spirits with forgiveness, peace, love, and further inspiration associated with God’s guidance and direction for our lives. 

Those early disciples quickly learned ‘I will follow Him’ means I will become like Him.  That’s what Jesus is saying to us here.  He says:  “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  At the beginning of a New Year let’s take some time to evaluate ourselves.  How are we doing at ‘following him?’  Are you fishing for men, like Jesus said we would if we were following Him?  Are you reaching people?  Are you discipling people?  Are you caring for people?  Are you touching PEOPLE with your life?  Try bringing people to church.  Endeavor to pray for others.  Help others to follow Him.  Jesus said that’s what following Him is all about. 

How will it be in your walk with Jesus this year?  How might you and I better follow Him?

May we begin with this spiritual/Biblical affirmation: “As for me and my household, we will follow the Lord.”  Amen.

Covenants or Contracts? 1/8/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 8, 2022 & Sunday, January 9, 2022

Covenant Communion Service 

Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, create in us a new openness to hearing, receiving and living Your Word, through Jesus Christ our Savior we ask and pray.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 46 (Page 563), Hebrews 8:10 (Page 1209), and Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 (Page 1028) 

Sermon Message: “Covenants or Contracts?” 

Did you ever make a promise that you just can’t keep?  Such was the case when I got my first ‘set of wheels.’  It was a 1966 Ford Mustang Fastback.  It had a high performance 289 V-8 engine.  Wide tires on the back, skinny tires on the front plus a custom hood scoop.  My mother made me promise that I would NEVER drive over the speed limit.  (With a car like that!)  I kind of wish I still had that very same car today.  But it rusted out, and I got older.  Truth be told I think my mother grew to be wiser when dealing with me back then. 

Promises are a good thing.  Actually they remain a very important thing.  They ‘bring things to mind’ when we need them most.  Promises take many forms.  Verbal, written, passed on, received, revealed, and simply ‘understood.’  I grew to ‘understand that when my Mother ‘made me promise’ to drive carefully, she was sincerely looking out for my own good.  When my Father said, “You better be careful with that car, Son,” I soon learned that he was right.  Speeding tickets were expensive back then as well! I purchased that car in 1972.  Back then, I recall simply ‘shaking hands’ with the guy who was selling it.  We had what was termed ‘a gentleman’s agreement.’  Because I was ‘underage’ my Mother had to sign the title for that car to become mine.  Looking back, it was kind of neat realizing my Mom, who never drove and never had a license, owned a fast car! 

After I turned 18 and graduated from high school, I traded that ‘rust bucket’ in on a ‘big ride.’  I started college and needed something reliable.  When I acquired that green Ford Torino, I was required to sign a contract at the dealership.  I had to sign another contract at the bank for the loan I assumed back then as well. 

‘Contracts’ are more formal than handshakes.  Through the years I’ve grown to appreciate and rely upon ‘contracts.’  There were those ‘times’ when less than honorable people broke their contract with me, and we ended up in some legal scenarios.  Perhaps you’ve benefitted from contracts across the years as well.  You may have also had ‘legal dealings’ when contracts were broken. 

I grew to appreciate as a young man that some contracts need to be learned and obeyed.  If I failed to do so, I paid the consequences - 55 miles per hour means just that - if you know what I mean. On the other hand contracts can be negotiated. When I started working in ‘the real world,’ I was required to follow a contract with my employer.  Every now and again we would re-negotiate the contract.  Most hope for those negotiations to go ‘in their favor.’  Sometimes though we are held to a contract that’s NOT comfortable.  The point being contracts can be changed.  They can hold binding obligations, yet those very same obligations can become renegotiated.  Contracts can be bargained.

Sometimes I hear persons talking about their relationship to God as though they are bargaining with him.  They are convinced that “if” they do certain things, they will be assured of God’s blessings in return.  There’s a difference between a contract and a covenant.  It’s not a ‘contract’ we have with God or God with us, it’s a covenant.  

Contracts are usually made between equals.  Covenants are made between unequals, and the initiative is with the greater.  In religious covenants it is God who initiates the covenant and sets the terms.  Today we gather here in God’s House to learn more about how we live within the responsibility of the covenant. 

A covenant is a solemn promise.  It involves complete trust between two or more parties and takes for granted that the covenant will be honored.  Currently the Soviet Union and the United States are ‘squaring off’ regarding an established ‘covenant’ declaring the Soviet nation will NOT invade Ukraine. 

God has initiated covenants with people throughout the centuries.  The Ten Commandments were covenants initiated by God.  While you and I can readily reference the Ten Commandments within the Bible, more importantly we know God has written them upon our hearts.  Not only are they in our minds, they are also within our hearts. 

God’s covenants are birthed from love; His love for us and for all mankind.  Consider one of our favorite ‘memory verses’:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but receive eternal life.” (John 3:16)  God says, “I will be their God and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 32:38)  That’s you and that’s me!  

Baptism remains a firm covenant (in love) with God. A while back I was honored to share in baptizing an adult.  He had heard those scriptures we read, just today, regarding Jesus’ baptism. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the bodily form of a dove.  A voice came from heaven declaring “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  The adult baptized here some years back sort of hoped for something dramatic to wash over him.  Something more than words and a few drops of water.  But it didn’t.  We’re not Jesus, yet we are God’s children, regardless of our age.  The Covenant of Baptism is between God, us, and our church family.  God sent Jesus, spoke to Him at His baptism, then commissioned Him to ‘go and do.’  Jesus did ‘go and do.’  Part of His ‘going and doing’ was to teach, train, and instruct his disciples, then and now, to go and baptize others, all others, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Our Baptismal Covenant is initiated by God and remains written upon our hearts.  This is a covenant of love affirming faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Affirming ‘trust’ in Him, declaring our heart-felt ‘intent’ to be His disciple, to obey His Word, and show his love.  Nor is this to remain a rather ‘private’ matter between the person and Jesus.  We also are called to ‘go and do’ some things. Within our Baptismal Covenant we promise to ‘uphold’ those whose baptisms we have witnessed, including our own with prayer, Christian fellowship, strengthening ties with the family of God, and sharing the Good News of the Gospel.  This remains a covenant about love, from God, to us and for others.  The Baptismal Covenant is a holiness of binding love with God and for others.  It’s a covenant, not a contract!

God sent us His Son.  Jesus was not only ‘sent to save’ but also to build, to guide, and to bring light and love.  Jesus Christ continues to call disciples.  Will you be His disciple?  Unto one of His early disciples, Peter, Jesus said: upon the faith I see in you I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.  We NEED, truly NEED the church, as the ‘Gates of Hell’ are made evident throughout our world.  While many seem to view the church as a simple ‘option,’ we can choose to belong to or dismiss; the spiritual truth remains that the church IS God’s covenant with us and through Jesus His Son our Lord and Savior.  What a blessing to become an outstanding member of the church of Jesus Christ, which IS His body.  Of all the things you or I can support throughout our lifetimes, the Church remains a covenant we have with God and God with us.  Give God your best.  Be a faithful member.  Support the church with prayers, giving of time, sharing your talents, contributing financially, being present and caring for the church, the people, and for what this all means to God.  The church IS a covenant, not a contract or a broken promise. 

Consider your marriage.  Is your marriage a contract or a covenant?  Some would say ‘both.’  If marriage is treated as a contract, then it shall continually be up for review and renegotiation.  ‘Contracts’ are hoped to be binding but can also be broken.  Covenants are so much more than legal documents and binding ‘words.’  Covenants are written upon the heart, initiated from the heart, and answerable to the heart.  While a marriage ‘contract’ might call for 50/50 shared responsibility, the marriage covenant most often requires ‘whatever it takes’ in the form and degrees of love shared, responsibilities assumed, and promises kept. 

God has a covenant with us.  It remains on-going. He covenants with us to be our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Though the earth gives way and the mountains fall to the sea, though earthquakes and all sorts of natural and man-induced disasters take place, there is a river of peace still flowing, a holy place where God IS.  Nations and kingdoms rise and fall.  Wars and viruses occur.  God breaks the bow and shatters the spear.  An overview of God’s covenant takes the form of this command: “Be still and know that I am God!” The Lord Almighty IS with us. 

Saints of old and saints we know make covenant to follow God, whatever it takes. As for me and my house we will serve the Lord. 

Moses used the blood of sacrifices to seal the covenant between God and the children of Israel.  Christ shed his blood on the Cross to seal the new covenant between God and his children everywhere.  We partake of the Cup of the Eucharist in remembrance of that covenant. 

Come, let us worship Almighty God, creator and sustainer of the universe.  Amen.

New Year, New Light 1/2/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 1, 2022 & Sunday, January 2, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson:  Matthew 2:1-12 (Page 966) 

Sermon Message: “New Year, New Light” 

There’s something refreshing about starting a new year.  I know it feels as though we just celebrated Christmas a few days ago. 

I like how God has things figured out. Christmas is celebrated near the shortest day of the year.  It is recognized with lots of lights and bright decorations at a time when there is the greatest darkness in our part of the world. 

Each day since December 21st,will have new light; an additional 2+ minutes of daylight all the way through June 21st. Two minutes of new light each day might not sound like much.  However, by June 21st that will actually become a few more hours of new light this year. 

Was it hard to say ‘good-bye’ to Christmas?  Recently, I read a narrative of a busy mother putting everything away just a few days after Christmas.  Her son came in their living room, saw his Mom putting things away and asked, “Mom!  What are you doing?”  She said, “I’m putting all of our Christmas stuff away.”  He immediately asked, “Why are you doing that?”  She answered, “So everything will be back to normal again.”  His response: “But Mom, I don’t want things to get back to normal again!” 

It does seem as though Christmas is over.  Next Saturday we hope to take down the outdoor Nativity shed and those three lit trees here at our beloved Church.  Next Saturday evening and next Sunday afternoon we’re planning on taking down all of the indoor decorations; the Christmas trees, garland, candles, wreaths, and most anything ‘Christmas.’ 

This past Christmas was well illustrated by lots and lots of lights.  They made us think of the stars, the angels, the musical selection "Gloria in Excelsis Deo," and of light shining in darkness to celebrate and welcome the birth of Jesus once again.  In the Old Testament, King David looked to the stars and wondered aloud, “O God, what is mere man that you are mindful of him?”  The many lights of Christmas can be cause for wonder. Keep the spirit of wonder far beyond the day and the celebrations of Christmas.  Be ever mindful of what God has done, what the Almighty is doing, and what lies ahead in our walk with our Lord. 

I do well recall how comfortable and meaningful it was for me to visit folks in their homes prior to Covid-19 concerns.  One Spring I was visiting with a senior couple in their home.  They invited me to come sit with them in their living room.  Just as soon as I sat down, I noticed a leftover, perhaps ‘forgotten’ Christmas ornament. The wife smiled at her husband and said, “See that!  Reverend Tom noticed!”  The two of them went on to explain that each Christmas they choose one certain ornament to leave out in their living room till next Christmas.  In their words, that one leftover Christmas ornament serves to remind them to reflect upon Christmas and what it means to their lives throughout the year, not just for a few specific days.  I liked that notion. 

There should be something ‘different’ about us since we have participated in God’s Christmas.  There was wonder, there were stars, and we heard and sang heavenly music.  We were well reminded of the baby born in the manger and the significance of birth in our lives and throughout our world.  We began to see “light shining in the darkness” that veiled much of our world during the past 20 months.  Our hearts were warmed because of God’s Christmas.  Leastwise, if we chose to participate in it. 

While Christmas reminds us that God comes close to earth and unto us, this New Year invites us to get ready for new light.  

Today’s narrative from the Bible reminds us of the visit of the Magi, the Three Kings, three Wise Men from the East.  They traveled far, further than most in those days to ‘behold’ the Holy Family.  They longed to see Jesus.  Their journey took them to the Holy City of Bethlehem. They were led by a star.  It was the shining of a new light that guided those Wise Men.  God’s light still guides us to this very day.  We need to be open to new light from heaven.  We need to work towards embracing God’s light shining in our darkness.  Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. 

The New Testament use of ‘light’ is both literal and symbolic.  Light is a symbol of God.  Darkness can be a symbol of sin.  The Word of God is described as a lamp to our feet and a light for our path.  (Psalm 119:105) 

In today’s Biblical narrative there is the darkness of suspicion in King Herod who was both jealous and fearful that this baby born in the manger would one day become the new king.  

Learn from the Bible.  Those three Wise Men traveled a long way to overcome the darkness of suspicion.  They did so with the light of devotion. 

This New Year let there be more light, perhaps new light, from your devotion to God, Jesus, church, and ministry.  Let that become your mission as well.  Those Wise Men were very wise.  They came to give their devotion to a new king in their lives and would not be turned aside. 

There is still a good bit of suspicion in our world today.  It can poison relationships, goals, noble endeavors, groups, and ideals.  In the darkness of suspicion let the light of devotion shine in you and through you. 

One year while putting the Christmas decorations away my mother said, “Well, Christmas is about over.”  At my young age, I recall saying, “Yes, but we still have the memories.”  Let the memory of that Holy Night and of those days long ago continue to live in your heart.  In your faith outlook, remember those special things about the visit of the three Wise Men and their devotion. 

Like the Wise Men of old, keep Christ as the object of your devotion.  New light for the New Year. 

Three Kings; three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Gold was a gift fit for a king.  It was costly, treasured, sought after, and given to a baby king.  Frankincense was an expensive fragrance, representing a personal treasure.  It was a fine perfume.  Myrrh was a precious ointment used in the preparation for death.  It was tinged with sadness.  All of these gifts were expensive treasures in their day and in that part of the world.  Each of these men brought to the one they worshipped, the best they had to offer him.  This was a sign of their dedication.  Just as their kneeling was a sign of their homage, it was a further statement about their priorities.  When was the last time you knelt before God?  Not necessarily to ask for something, nor even to pray regarding some ‘matter’, but just to ‘pay homage’ to Him as God, Lord, Creator, and Sustainer. 

Give God the best you have.  That doesn’t mean selling your home and cashing in your savings.  But it does begin with choosing to come to worship and giving Him your devoted attention during worship.  It may mean helping another or possibly contributing to the things of God, his church, ministries, and missions.  Remember devotion is light shining.  New Year, New Light. 

On a much lighter note, I can think of a story I once heard that sort of ‘typifies’ how some of us ‘church people’ give.  There was this group of church ladies who met Saint Peter together at the ‘pearly gates.’  Saint Peter questioned them and their ‘Christianity.’  The first lady said, “I’m a Baptist and here’s my Bible to prove it.”  The second lady said, “I’m a Catholic, and here’s my rosary to prove it.”  The third lady began rustling through her rather large purse.  Saint Peter asked her what she was doing.  She said, “Well I’m a Presbyterian and there’s a casserole in here someplace.”  

Actually, I think that is a pretty good story.  It IS important to study the Bible and live a life of prayer.  It is also vitally important to live a life of service.  Like the lady with the casserole, all of us can find some little thing we can do.  We can find a way to serve.  This will be our gift to Christ in the year ahead and some light, perhaps some new light we can shine.  Give him the best you have. 

Coming back to today’s scripture reading, there’s a verse within today’s text that reads, “And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”  (Matthew 2:12) 

If Christ is the object of your devotion, and if you give him the best you have, then your life will take a new direction.  Sometimes we have to ‘go another way.’  Sometimes too, we have to ‘live’ another way. 

The Wise Men had an ‘Epiphany!’  They had a remarkable understanding of a new light in their world and for the entire world.  This week the Christian Church celebrates the Season of Epiphany.  Thursday is the Day of Epiphany when we are to reflect and appreciate the meaningful visit of the Three Wise Men and apply it to our lives today. 

Those Wise Men returned by another way.  Maybe we can return to Christmas in 2022 by another way guided by a new light from God for us, for our family, and for our world. 

Have we found something which cannot be lost?  Something that will carry us into the future by another way, perhaps on new and different roads to a new place in our living?  

The Wise Men have shown us a better way.  It is the way of devotion.  In the darkness of suspicion let the light of devotion shine on you.  The lights of Bethlehem still shine on. 

Light makes us aware.  Light also beckons us to move on. Let’s move on into this New Year with new light.  Amen.

Glory to God and Peace for Humanity 12/24/2021

Christmas Eve Sermon Message 2021 

Prayer for Illumination: Almighty God, you have made this night holy by the gift of your son, born of the Holy Spirit and of Mary. Upon him rested all your grace, through him has come all your mercy. Let his light shine within our hearts tonight even more brightly than it shines from the candles in this place. Help us to hear your word and to celebrate your everlasting love through him. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 8:3,4 (p. 539), James 1:17,18 (p.1216), Luke 2:1-20 (p. 1026) 

Sermon Title:  “Glory to God and Peace for Humanity” 

One of the best-known stories in the world is this Biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus Christ.  For more than two thousand years it has been told and re-told, preached and sung about.  Think about it, no event in history has birthed more music than Christmas!  From “Away in a Manger” to “The Messiah”, from the simplest more child-like melody to the most majestic symphony, the world’s “night” has been filled with the festive music of Christmas. 

While we affirm that the world has ‘come up with’ plenty of songs concerning Christmas, tonight’s Biblical narrative further reminds us that angels also sang on the night when Christ was born.  The Bible references “a great company of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’ ”  From that very first Christmas, through these present times, God has placed songs in our hearts that give glory to God and promote peace for humanity. 

I believe God foresaw the eventual world-wide celebration His Son’s birth would bring about. God created Christmas.  Through the centuries and within these present times, the world needs Christmas! 

Of course, we know humans can make the Christmas celebration about themselves.  Commercial celebrations can miss the point of what Christmas really is all about.  We know and acknowledge that.  BUT, do not let the ‘Scrooge spirit’ overthrow the Holy Spirit’s desire to awaken fresh expectancy and joy in your heart this precious season. 

From that very first Christmas and each year since, the central message remains; God comes to us.  The Word has become flesh.  Each day, every day is a new day with God and from God.  As we welcome God’s Christmas each year, there is fresh joy, hope, and love. 

Ponder with me tonight one of the more familiar songs of Christmas: ‘Away in a Manger.’  Surely you recall some of the ‘words’ - “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.”  What did Mary and Joseph ‘see’ in their child that very first Christmas?  Possibly they perceived some of what your parents saw the very first time they gazed into your eyes.  Imagine the hopes and dreams your parents held for you.  Imagine the joy, happiness, and good things they wished for you.  Imagine the potential and possibilities they saw in you.  Imagine the life they wanted you to have.  They saw all that and more.  They saw beauty that has nothing to do with physical appearance.  They saw holiness that has nothing to do with behavior or being good.  They saw a miracle, the fullness of God’s life, contained in your little body.

I believe ‘birth’ brings glory to God.  God’s Christmas reminds us to look back at what ‘birth’ means.  Go back and look at your baby pictures some time.  Look beyond what your life is right now.  Go back to the beginning.  Do you see it?  Do you see what your parents saw?  It’s all there:  the dreams, the hopes, the possibilities, the potential, the beauty, the love, and the innocence.  That’s you. If you’re unable or unwilling to see it in yourself, then go back to that day when you first looked into the face of your child or grandchild.  I know you saw it there.  Recall the last baby you witnessed being baptized.  It was there too.  Sometimes we even see it in the faces of children we don’t even know and have never met as we see them playing or walking hand in hand with their ‘grown-up.’ 

Remembering and reflecting on Jesus’ birth this Christmas reminds us that we, along with Mary, Joseph, angels, and yes, even cattle and other animals, are also in the presence of a revelation greater than the presence of a baby. 

Moments such as tonight serve to remind us all of what we have forgotten.  We are privileged to catch a glimpse of God become human. 

Along with the Psalmist of old, when we stand in the presence of innocence, holiness, and birth, we too pray and ask God this, “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”  

Evidence of God moving in OUR world this last year humbles us to further inquire of God’s goodness that has come. 

This evening we shall sing the familiar Christmas selection, “Joy to the World.”  Pay attention to the words as you sing tonight. 

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come.  Let earth receive her King:  Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing.” 

As we worship God this Christmas, we sing with heaven’s angels.  We sing with all of nature, praising God and receiving Jesus as King. 

David, the Psalmist of old, looked to the stars, and tonight we look at all the lights of Christmas shining in our eyes with gratitude for such love.  

In another portion of Holy Scripture, we learn that Wise Men from the East came to Jerusalem making their ‘Christmas visit.’  The Wise Men traveled the furthest, geographically speaking.  The account of their travel, in Holy Scripture, tells us something about how God values the efforts of people making a big thing out of Christmas. 

I believe you also are ‘wise’ to have come here to church this evening.  I’m so glad you have made a big thing out of coming to visit Jesus this Christmas. 

Let the Wise Men teach us wisdom.  God has visited us from out of eternity.  Like those Wise Men of old, you are here tonight to make a special visit yourself.  Call upon the Lord for a special Christmas work in your heart. 

People seem to travel a lot each Christmas.  Some say Christmas this year will reach record proportions.  Travel at Christmas time started long before now.  When God comes to earth, all earth is set in motion. 

The shepherds were living out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks at night.  They received an awakening visit from angels.  The shepherds' encounter with God made it impossible for them to remain as they were or where they were.  In response to the angel’s visit, they planned a visit to the manger.  An awakening visit became a seeking visit. 

This Christmas allow the Holy Spirit into your heart.  Allow him to bring you, as the shepherds, to a new place where you meet God.  Think of ‘how it was’ with the shepherds.  They didn’t just ‘get through’ Christmas.  They went to their appointed Bethlehem.  God is waiting for you to come to Him also. 

I realize some ‘have their doubts.’  Doubt has the potential to annul the potential of a promise.  Leastwise in so far as how it might have applied to us.  For some, this Christmas might be a time to learn the power of silence to neutralize doubt and the power of praise to receive God’s works of grace. 

There still are ‘Scrooges’ among us. There was this fellow who made it his business to deride the practice of giving presents at Christmas.  The story is told of how he was angrily assailing another Christian for doing so.  The gift-giving Christian soon responded, “I can’t help it.  It was God’s idea before it was mine!” 

God sent us a ‘gift’ in the form of His Son, Jesus.  God’s gift giving was not just once and for all.  God continues to give.  To this very day and beyond, not just on this Holy Night, the Father ‘gives’ to each one of us a ‘measure of faith.’  This ‘measure of faith’ is a starting point for responding to God’s will.  I know each person realizes we have a distinct gift and some very special opportunities to serve others by acting upon what God places in our paths. 

This Christmas can be better than it was.  This Christmas, come before God with both gratitude and teachableness.  Gratitude first for what God has given.  Teachableness for God to show you more about how His gifts inside of you might glorify Him as you serve and care for others.  God has some creative purposes for your life.

Remember this:  Christmas didn’t just ‘exist’ through the centuries to our present gathering here tonight.  Christmas ‘thrives’ each year because people, just like you and me, embrace it, enjoy it, sacrifice for it, and respond to the innocence of what birth can do.  A tiny baby in a manger remains a very significant reminder that even the smallest of God’s actions are so much larger than the problems we face. 

When we honor God’s Christmas, we bring glory to God.  When our daily lives are transformed because God is within us, there is peace.  

Christmas is ‘full’ of stories about lives that have been transformed. 

Not everyone’s life can be summarized in the ‘likes’ of a Norman Rockwell painting depicting peace, serenity, tranquility, and normalcy.  Some time ago, around Christmas, a young boy from a broken home walked along a very cold, slushy, and dimly lit street.  As he walked, he prayed to God.  He didn’t really know ‘what’ to pray for.  He just prayed asking God’s help.  His prayer became a promise that he made and kept.  His prayer for deliverance from so much ‘aloneness,’ family strife, and poverty became a ‘promise’ that IF God somehow delivered him from his dreary, hurting life, he would remember to ‘give back’ to the Lord.  That ‘walk’ at Christmas, quite alone, was one of the worst days of his life.  That boy grew into a man who cares deeply for God’s church, helps others, and contributes much financially. 

Joseph, the earthly husband and earthly father of Jesus Christ, experienced a ‘worst day’ of his life too. He was greatly perplexed when his fiancé, Mary, shared with him that she was pregnant, but the child was not his.  Joseph could not understand her talk about God and angels coming to her.  Joseph’s worst day became the turning point for something tremendously good in his life. 

Since last Christmas there have been lots of ‘worst days’ in our world.  No one liked the ‘tune’ when heaven and nature seemed to sing of fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, climate change, and further extremes.  Shootings and associated killings in schools, malls, and residences still reflect the worst of days for many innocent souls.  Sickness, death, and impending illness, possibly out of control with the expansive pandemic, frightens our peace and alerts our spirits to be ‘on guard.’ 

This IS God’s night.  You, me, the world, in solemn stillness lay. There is good beyond the evidence of ‘the bad.’  There remains hope far exceeding the dimness of doom in our lives.  For we are loved. 

God so loved that He sent and continues to send. Ask and you shall receive, says Jesus. 

This Christmas thank God for the people He has sent you to bless, care for, help, and love.  Thank Him for the church you have helped to nurture, sustain, and shine as a light in many a soul’s darkness. 

Our lives tonight bring glory to God as we assemble together here in His House.  Our lives tomorrow, and for as many ‘tomorrows’ as God gives, shall provide us with innumerable opportunities to be ‘instruments of His peace.’ 

Christmas is a celebration.  It has always been a remarkable and welcomed transformation in the lives, the souls, and the hearts of many.  

God created Christmas to bring glory to God and peace for humanity.  Amen.

Christmas This Year 12/19/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, December 18, 2021 & Sunday, December 19, 2021 

Prayer for Illumination: Shine within our hearts, loving God, the pure light of your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds and hearts that we may understand and embrace the message of the Scripture.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 80:1-7 (Page 585) &  Luke 1:39-55 (Page 1025) 

Sermon Message: “Christmas This Year” 

Christmas this year will occur on December 25, just as it always has.  Just as it always shall.  Nothing new there. 

Our beloved church will offer a sacred and quite meaningful worship service on Christmas Eve this year.  Just as we always have.  Just as we always will. 

People will think of ‘the good old days’ this Christmas.  Just as we always have, and just as we always will.  

The ‘good old days’ this year are viewed and perhaps ‘defined’ differently than they were just 20 months ago.  Christmas this year we pray to perhaps ‘return’ to a time when the general health of our world was a ‘given.’ 

What will ‘Christmas this year’ be like at your house?  Or here in our beloved church? 

Twenty months ago, America shut down because of Covid-19, and no one thought it would still be shaping our lives 20 months later.  We thought we’d ‘hunker down’ for 4 or 5 weeks; then everything would get back to normal.  Now we know that even the phrase ‘new normal’ has lost its resonance. 

While observing the children attending our church’s Pre-School, I realize many of them have little or no experience of education that is not ‘warped’ by Covid-19. 

Like the Psalmist of old many pray:  “Restore us, O God.” 

Christmas this year, here at the church will be the same as it always has been for years, yet ‘different.’  Akin to years past there will be a presentation of sacred music starting at 7:30 p.m. followed by our traditional Christmas Eve Candlelight service at 8:00 p.m.  Yes, for sure, we shall sing ‘Silent Night, Holy Night” by candlelight.  Jesus Christ’s birth is further affirmed within another hymn of Christmas, “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear.”  This Christmas many will identify with the verse which declares “the world in solemn stillness lay.”  Things are ‘different’ now than they once were.  There IS a solemness as we consider lives lost, lifestyles, jobs, and social movements changing.

As your pastor, I recognize much of what has changed.  Faith, this Christmas, teaches me what faith has taught you as well; we can ask God to restore us.  We can pray for God to help us.  We shall further benefit from reading and studying our Bibles to discern how God has helped people in the past to ‘get through, move on, and find a new sense of peace.’ 

The story of Job is a narrative regarding a soul who lost everything; family, health, possessions, even his peace.  In the end the latter part of Job’s life is blessed in such a way that it becomes better than the former part. 

THAT is sound spiritual advice and guidance for Christmas this year.  Make things better than they were. 

For instance, here at our beloved church I as your pastor do readily affirm, we aren’t going back to the days when we did not videotape the sermons.  Placing sermons on our website has benefitted not only our shut-ins but countless numbers of people.  Videotaping a portion of this year’s Christmas Eve service certainly may help to make Christmas worship even better this year for many. 

Christmas presents this year will be different, yet better than before.  In years past my immediate family tended to feel awkward or even offended if they were presented a gift card.  Now we ask each other for gift cards.  We’ve grown to realize the benefits of not being around so many people when we shop.  In our family we’ve changed to further appreciate ordering things ‘on-line’ even from our local stores.  Myself, I do look forward to making use of gift cards when things are dark, cold, and gloomy in the remaining winter months. 

God does restore us.  God does sincerely appreciate that we bring Him glory, honor, and praise each Christmas.  Throughout the Bible seldom does God restore things to ‘just as they were.’  The Almighty, in His great love and divine providence, makes things better than they were. 

May we pray for Christmas this year to be better than it ever was.  More meaningful.  Better appreciated.  Reflect more than you have in the past.  Anticipate the movement of God now and into the future. 

You remember Mary, don’t you? She and Joseph were Jesus’ earthly parents.  Their lives, even the sacredness of pregnancy, was hugely interrupted.  Mary had ‘made plans’ to be at her residence when she gave birth.  She just ‘figured’ on her family being by her side and calling upon mid-wives whom she knew and trusted.  But that’s NOT what happened.  Mary and her beloved Joseph were required instead to make the long journey to Bethlehem. Perhaps that Holy Couple prayed repeatedly for God’s help.  Possibly they longed for their lives to be restored.  Instead, they were changed forever and were better than they ever imagined. 

When things do go ‘wrong,’ perhaps ‘massively wrong,’ folks will seek some understanding from what God is ‘up to.’  Mary and Joseph were no different in that respect.  They ‘had’ a good life.  They were so looking forward to married life.  Even with visits from God’s angels they questioned and pondered, “how can this be?”  Like Mary and Joseph, we, too, seek some sort of spiritual insight with ‘what’s wrong’ in our world.  This Christmas the world has lost some of our beloved population to this Covid pandemic. 

Many others remain in fear.  Perhaps you have one or more of those age-old problems involving family that refuses to ‘get along.’  Health concerns, economic concerns, and aging concerns all remain quite ‘real’ to us this Christmas.  It remains quite tempting to ‘throw in the towel’ so to speak, blame God, and withdraw from life, from love, and from faith. 

Christmas reminds us not only of what used to be but also of what has changed, and even now remains compromisingly challenging.  

Formerly we may have imagined Christmas to be overloads of decorations, family interacting positively so, an abundance of food, travel, visits, and gifts galore.  Even going to ‘church’ on Christmas Eve was an open-ended and safe choice to make. 

Are you feeling more comfortable this Christmas to interact?  How might you be imaging Christmas this year?  Sometimes God has something in mind that’s better than we can imagine, but maybe we can try. 

Pay special attention to Mary’s words.  She is amazed and filled with joy that the Lord has lifted up one as humble as she.  Mary also declares that the Lord brings down the mighty and powerful.  These reversals are important.  They foreshadow the Sermon on the Mount.  They echo the call of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:10) “to pluck up and pull down…to build and to plant.”  The Lord’s coming into the world means that old things have to pass away, be brought down, and destroyed. 

What if our congregations have been dreaming dreams that are too small?  What if the return to life pre-Covid is not God’s plan for us?  Suppose the Lord’s plan for Christmas this year is to make things better than they were?  

The pandemic has showed us how complacent most of us have been and made us aware of things we took for granted.  The pandemic also exposed enormous chasms in our society between the haves and have-nots; between “essential” workers and well, is there a term for the opposite of an essential worker in God's eyes?  We have created labels such as unessential, superfluous, white-collar, overpaid, dividing between people of color and white people. We have been confronted with the underside of a system that most of us experienced as acceptable. 

Could we redirect our longing?  Not to status quo ante-pandemic, but to something better, fairer, less wasteful, and more contemplative?  Maybe God has been at work through the disruption of the pandemic, forcing us to live more intentionally, humanely, generously, and kindly.  Could it be — and I challenge you to imagine that it will be — that the home we long to return to is a place we’ve never been to before?  The Lord who lifts up the lowly and brings down the mighty is behind something better.  “Behold, I am doing a new thing — now it springs up.  Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19) 

I realize there is a lot of enthusiasm for sports teams.  Recently I read an article that declares sports teams sometimes go through a ‘building year.’  Sometimes this is just a nice way of saying they have been losing a lot.  Perhaps senior players have retired or others have gone on to another team.  When the mainstay of players entails rookies or freshmen, it takes a while to get the winning team coordinated.  This “building year” effort is an attempt to both restore and improve the team.  The coach/manager wants the current team to be as successful or more so than the former team.  They want the winning record restored to the team and the fans.  And they want the new team to be just as good as the old one - only better. 

The same number of players remains on each team.  Playing positions, for the most part, remain unchanged.  Strategies change only a bit.  The team is not going to be restored, for some of the older players have retired or moved on.  Yet sports enthusiasts know they shall see and experience the game differently - maybe even better.  

This kind of transformation is not limited to homes and sports.  Both the Psalm and the Gospel lessons for this day point to this transforming work of God through grace.  In Mary’s poem/song, which we have come to call “The Magnificat,” she praises God for God’s work that, even now, is underway to not just remodel or restore the covenant relationship with Israel, but to transform it, to make it as it was - only better. 

The Psalmist makes the same point.  The poet asks for God to “restore us,” but to what?  To what they were before the Babylonian exile - only better.  Closer to God, closer to each other, more thankful, more dependent, more nurturing, more loving, kinder, gentler - better. 

Now, as we approach the day of the arrival of the Anointed One, this is our constant prayer.  That God will prepare us for his arrival not by remodeling us or even restoring us, but by transforming us.  By making us anew - only better. 

May Christmas this year intentionally and spiritually be better than before.  Amen.

What Christmas Is All About 12/12/2021

A Communion Sermon Message and Narrative for Saturday, December 11, 2021 & Sunday, December 12, 2021 

3rd Sunday in Advent Communion 

Prayer For Illumination: Speak to us, Lord.  Speak to us in the waiting, the watching, the hoping, the longing, the sorrow, the sighing, the rejoicing. Speak to us by your Word in these Advent days and walk with us until the day of your coming.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: John 6:32-34 (Page 1069) &  Philippians 4:4-7 (Page 1181) 

Sermon Message: “Remembering What Christmas is All About” 

Do you remember what Christmas is all about?  I am sure there are any number of ‘things’ we associate with Christmas.  Presents and decorations, snow, and festivities.  Plus, lots and lots of memories. 

Many of us remember performing in a Christmas musicale at church or school.  You may even remember the part you played, or perhaps you remember that you forgot some of your lines.  Or maybe you remember the ‘charge’ you used to get on Christmas morning when ‘Santa Claus’ came! 

Christmas is a time when we can rediscover and reconnect with the innocence that is inside each one of us and allow ourselves to become more open.  When we do so, we start to see the innocence in everyone around us, and we become kinder and more compassionate. This innocence is the true spirit of Christmas.

At heart we are all innocent.  We recognize this innocence in children, but as we have grown up, many of us have struggled to hold on to this innocence and have hidden it under a hard and cynical attitude.  Life can be tough, and this can shatter our innocence in many ways; but it is so important, for our own happiness and for peace in the world, that we do not forget this innocence. 

Christmas is also about angels.  I believe each and every one of us has a guardian angel.  I know angels are around us, and some angels are even inside of us.  From time to time, I also know that God calls us to be an angel. 

‘Belief’ in angels is sometimes dismissed as being ‘innocent or delusional’ in a not so kind way. 

God’s angels came at that very first Christmas.  God’s angels still come to us today.  Perhaps not singing ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo,’ yet making their presence known when needed most.  Your guardian angel is sent by God and loves you unconditionally.  Your angel knows your innocence.  I further believe IF we all recognized the innocence in others, our world would be a much better place.  There would be far less killing and war.  Much less hunger and injustice.  We would have a much more peaceful world.  

The angels taught us that the symbol of Christmas - a newborn baby lying in a manger - is a reminder to us of the importance of reconnecting with our innocence. 

In a time when disease, death, war, violence, shootings, and extreme political division have affected us all, I’d say the world, at large, surely needs to become more ‘in-touch’ with a time of rebirth, a time of renewed innocence. 

This time of year, this Christmas is special. 

In the presence of young children, we often feel their innocence, their sense of wonder.  Then, at Christmas, we may be afforded a glimpse of something more, which can rekindle this innocence within us.  We all have this innocence inside us, even though it may be hidden for most of the year. 

I am not talking about naivety; rather, I am talking about a pure innocence that allows us to see the good in ourselves and in others.  I am not talking about immaturity, rather a maturity that is deepened by the awareness of the innocence of everyone.  The more we understand our own and one another's innocence, the more we grow, and better people we will become. 

When we look at the world through innocent eyes, we see the joy and the wonder in the simple everyday things. 

Give yourself the chance to reconnect with your innocence this Christmas. Some of this ‘reconnecting with what Christmas is all about’ involves your choice of outlook as well as remembrance. 

We all have a ‘past’ associated with Christmas.  What we ‘remember’ can cast a new light or even a certain ‘darkness’ upon both our innocence and on what Christmas is all about. 

A senior couple was talking about what Christmas was all about.  They were anticipating their grown children plus their grandchildren coming home for Christmas.  The elderly gentleman sighed so as to get his wife’s attention.  Sometimes we husbands will do just that! Finally, the wife asks if there is something the matter?  Perhaps you ‘remember’ how those conversations go: 

“What’s wrong, Honey?”

“Nothing in particular.  Sorry to bother you.”  After a while there’s another ‘sigh!’

“What’s up?" she asks. 

He answers, “I was just thinking about what I heard.”  

A few moments will pass; then the wife says, “About what?”  

He answers, “Well you know, gas prices are going up!  There’s a new variant with the Covid virus, and well, you know, groceries are getting more and more expensive!”

Feeling some concern the wife inquires, “Should we cancel the visit with the family?  If things are so bleak and darn expensive, perhaps we should rethink this Christmas get together.”

“No, no,” said the husband. But then he sighed again. 

“What’s really bothering you?” the wife asks. 

“How do you know something is bothering me?”

“I’ve been married to you all these years.  I can tell when something’s up!”

“Well, it’s just that the news is so bleak. 

“I thought you said things were getting better!”

“Well, I guess they were, but now there’s more fear with these new strains of the virus, and the weather is different now with climate change.  It’s getting increasingly harder to plan ahead!  There was such optimism just a few months ago.  People were back out and around, and things were looking up.  Truth is, life was getting back to normal and then. Well now it seems like we’re caught up in another period of worry and fear.  I thought Christmas was all about having something good to celebrate.”

The wife sort of reprimanded her husband.  “What are you talking about? We have money put aside for the holidays, don’t we?  So, ARE WE going to finish putting up decorations, go to church or any of the other things we do to celebrate the season?”

He answers, “Oh, of course we will.  It just feels as though some sort of shadow is over the world this year with all of these troubles and predictions of worse to come.”

She looked him in the eyes and said, “How long have we known each other?  How many of those years was the world calm and everything good at Christmas?”

He responded rather sheepishly, “None of them, I guess.”

She chimed in, “That’s my recollection too.  So why do we bother celebrating Christmas? We remember the birth of Jesus and what God does for us through the Savior which is something to celebrate no matter what is happening in the world.”  She then went on to say, “Actually it IS something to celebrate because of what is happening in the world.  We celebrate because God’s love is greater, God’s grace is stronger, and God’s mercy never ends.  When Jesus is born, we know, we believe, we trust that God will bring salvation and new life.  THAT is why we celebrate and share joy and hope at Christmas.”

The husband says, “I guess you are right!  Even though things are bad in the world, God’s promise in Jesus still shines through.”

“Absolutely!” she affirms. 

Folks, there is nothing wrong with listening to the news and being concerned about events.  We will certainly share memories and miss those we have loved who may have ‘gone home before us’ as well.  Christmas reminds us still that we indeed should do things to help others and make the world a better place.  

Jesus IS our bread from heaven.  We are here.  We have ‘come through’ many dangers, toils, and snares.  The bread of heaven is Jesus Christ.  We are here to commune with Him today, right now in His church. 

This Christmas and beyond please choose to allow your faith to become innocent enough to believe.  Don’t worry so much about anything.  Instead, pray about everything.  Tell God your needs and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers.  The peace of God that transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds as you trust in Christ Jesus. 

Grow to know what Christmas IS all about.  Amen.

Preparing for Christmas 12/5/2021

Sermon Message for SECOND WEEK IN ADVENT 2021

Saturday, December 4, 2021 & Sunday, December 5, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, in you are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Open our eyes that we may see the wonders of your Word; and give us grace that we may clearly understand and freely choose the way of your wisdom; through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Luke 3:1-6 (Page 1028) &  Philippians 1:3-11 (Page 1178) 

Sermon Message: “Preparing for Christmas” 

As we prepare for Christmas, please remember what’s at the heart of this season; God’s message: “Love came down (from heaven) at Christmas." This remains a comforting and consistent theme. God’s Christmas remains a significant reminder in the life of all humanity that we have been blessed; gifted with love.  

Some say ‘love’ is getting what you want for Christmas.  Sometimes there are problems stemming from how folks define ‘love’.  God spells it out rather clearly in His centuries-old message that Christmas remains a reminder and a blessing of how love should be. 

At our home we are getting prepared for Christmas.  I am no longer allowed up on the ladder, since my fall, so my beloved wife asked me to please hold the ladder for her as she strung our Christmas lights.  I was delighted to purchase a brand-new illuminated outdoor Nativity Set for our house this year.  Just after Thanksgiving we decided to set up our tree and decorate much of the inside of our house.  Our children are all grown, yet there are grandchildren to prepare for. 

Christmas is about family.  But considerably more, Christmas is about God, Jesus, angels, and shepherds.  Christmas serves as a firm yet gentle reminder to the world that God gave us gifts on that very first Christmas.  Our gifts are to be thoughtful reflections of God’s love and blessings. 

There’s a lot of nostalgia surrounding our preparations for Christmas here in the United States.  Some of our nostalgia is rooted in our fondness of Dickens's ‘A Christmas Carol’ and Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’  Typically, we all tend to look back to “the good old days” which we did not consider were “good” when we were going through them. The 1970’s singer, songwriter, and children’s author, Carly Simon, called attention to this ‘confusion’ when she sang, “And stay right here, 'cause these are the good old days.”  

The church season of Advent is a forward-looking season, yet we should also look back to those moments in the past that ground us in the kind of hope that we are challenged to live into as those who anticipate the coming of, and the claim to follow, the living Christ. 

Our attitude associated with the gratitude, genuineness, and grace behind our gifts are quite significant to our preparations for Christmas. 

John was sent by God to ‘prepare the way’ for Jesus’ birth and life.  John was a ‘character!’  Quite a ‘character’ in fact. His father was a priest, but John chose NOT to walk in his father’s footsteps.  His mother would plead with him regarding his work, his dress, his lifestyle; but John would not conform. John was not one to blend into the crowd.  He most often was a loner preferring even to live in the wilderness.  His clothes were made of itchy camel’s hair, and he is believed to have had a scraggly beard bearing remnants of locusts.  For these and various reasons John drew attention wherever he would go.  I doubt he would have made a good Presbyterian pastor, but a preacher he was, nonetheless!  John’s recurring preaching was a call for people to repent of their sins, get baptized, and prepare for Christ. 

John wasn’t interested in winning friends or impressing people.  Yet he had a sincere message that still rings true, solid and sincere for all peoples, especially so as we, too, prepare for Christmas. 

We appreciate the seasonal song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”  John sought to prepare people to come off of their sins and come home to God. 

Today’s scriptures confirm John’s message.  He remains “the voice of one calling in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord.  Make straight paths for him.  Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.  The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth, and all people will see God’s salvation.” (Luke 3:5,6) 

Advent is a time of waiting and also a time of preparing.  Can we see ourselves as participants in making straight the crooked places of our world?  John the Baptist’s invitation to us comes not from the center of power, but from the wilderness — a chaotic, disordered place.  Yet the wilderness is often the place where God draws near to God’s people.  Is it possible that the pandemic has placed us in a similar context?  In this wilderness, God offers us an invitation to begin smoothing out the bumpy paths where people are walking.  In this wilderness, we can begin leveling paths of corruption and straightening by-ways of injustice. 

John is the bearer of news, a herald of God’s impending arrival.  His words ripple across the wilderness, much like news of high-profile court verdicts break into our lives.  John comes announcing a verdict, and like the verdicts in the trials of Kyle Rittenhouse and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, his words capture our attention and cause us to reconsider what’s involved in repaving the highways of God. 

John ‘cuts to the chase,’ helping people sense God’s pending arrival.  He announces God’s infrastructure plan and proclaims God’s intent to straighten crooked roads and smooth out bumpy highways.  We hear his voice as we light the second candle of Advent.  But we also hear it against the backdrop of verdicts that brought both relief to some and consternation to others.  John’s call to prepare ourselves bursts into public spaces where inequality waits God’s leveling justice.  Unlike the zombie apocalypse preppers who stockpile weapons, rope, and freeze-dried food, John calls us to be prepared by acts of humility and repentance.  His baptism offers a fresh start, a chance to clear pathways for God, an opportunity to freely travel over the highway of God. 

One of the strangest ‘gifts’ I ever saw involved a family in a small country church and several of the members there.  There was this contractor in their town who was notorious for ‘taking advantage’ of folks when he worked on their vehicles.  His was the only garage around for quite some distance, so folks tended to return to him.  The fellow and his family weren’t much of what you and I would call ‘church attenders.’  Through the years people had gradually ‘written them off.’  Eventually some of the nationally-known repair garages started providing repairs that were within driving distance.  A rather severe accident occurred within the contractor’s family.  Two family members were severely injured.  Their prognosis was long term and kind of ‘iffy’ recovery. This family that had remained estranged from their community and negative towards the local country church soon became aware of their fragileness. So, it was they got together and decided, or should I say, ‘realized,’ they needed to go to church.  The pastor spoke a message regarding salvation, and the father of that family responded.  In front of the entire congregation he repented of some gross sins he had committed against them and others through the years. 

Salvation came to some very troubled souls that day.  Leastwise, that was a part of the report.  The ‘strange part’ was how very doubtful all of the folks of that church were regarding the ‘sincerity’ of that family’s salvation experience. There’s more to the story, but let this much awareness of the narrative suffice for now. 

As you and I prepare for God’s Christmas this year, do invite folks to come here to church.  Let them even come ‘with you’ if they wish.  Your family and your friends, your enemies, and even those estranged from you.  In so doing; like John you help to give knowledge of salvation to people.  Inviting and welcoming people ‘home’ to God is a gift.  It is furthermore part of our preparation for God’s Christmas.  I believe there’s nothing better than love.  Helping another soul, regardless of who that is, to feel and know God’s love is huge.  While I know folks tend to ‘define’ love differently, leading a soul ‘to God’ will enable God to define them. Be like John; help to prepare the way. 

Some folks are not good people.  They have caused hurt, pain, and done some very wrong things.  The one whose birth we shall celebrate informs us still that he is ‘dying to forgive them.’ Forgiveness doesn’t mean approval of sin.  Nor does it imply there are to be no boundaries in the future with that person.  As you prepare for Christmas, speak to God first about forgiving.  Let your gifts come from your heart and soul being ‘right with God.’

 

I am blessed to be loved by God and called by God.  I continue to learn I am a sincere recipient of God’s mercy.  Throughout my life time a ‘mantra’ my father and spiritual elders taught me is: “If not for the grace of God, there go I.”  Strive to prepare for God’s Christmas by striving to become ‘grace’ in another person’s life.  You will not get equal measure in return from them.  More than likely you may not even receive appreciation.  Certainly, what you give to them will not be returned in like measure from them. 

Spiritually speaking, gifts are to be given as “light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  Praise God; I and perhaps several of you have also walked through that valley, passed through that shadow of darkness, and have been given the grace and blessing to have our feet guided in the way of peace. 

There are ungrateful souls in our world.  We do not give our gifts to them to get their gratitude or so that we can feel good about ourselves.  Grow to give because that presence of God inside warrants that you must.  Become a person who gives because giving is its own reward. 

Preparing for Christmas begins and flows through our Christian faith. 

Isn’t it good, so very good, to be a part, a very sincere part, of a Christian community that teaches us so much more about preparing for Christmas?  Within today’s second scripture lesson the Apostle Paul declares that he thanks God for his community of faith and remembers them in prayer with joy.  The Apostle Paul and I share a similar outlook, or should I say, ‘insight?’  I am “confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.”  

The ‘good work’ I see inside of you and myself as we prepare for Christmas is precisely within the areas of where our faith leads us beyond our customs, in spite of our human angers and anxieties, and straight-forward in our relating to others.  Some of those others are troublesome to our lives while still others are blessings.  When it comes right down to it, we have all received God’s grace, and we shall all need some measure of God’s grace for the future. 

So let it be our Biblical prayer as we prepare for Christmas that in our gifts, our giving, our care, and in our receiving, love may abound further and further in knowledge and in depth of insight.  When love abounds from God and through Jesus, we are better able to discern what is best and may be pure in our standing mutually so before God. 

There are lots of ways we prepare for Christmas. Lights, presents, visits, and decorating. As Christians in the community of faith, I invite and inquire of us all to consider some further preparations for Christmas.  Be a part of helping to make straight the crooked places of our world.  We can help God to make this a better world.  Share gifts this season, not because you must, but because you can; perhaps to respond to that movement of God inside you to love people, all sorts of people, beyond themselves. 

Further prepare for Christmas by trusting that “he who began a good work inside of you is carrying it on to completion.”  Amen.

Life Has Changed 11/28/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 27, 2021 & Sunday, November 28, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Open the heavens, O God.  Open our hearts.  Let Your Word fall on our ears and lead us home.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 126 (Page 617) & Luke 21:25-36 (Page 1056) 

Sermon Message: “Life Has Changed” 

So, how was Thanksgiving for you?  Hopefully you can say to yourself, in comparison to last year, Thanksgiving this past week was great! 

Among the many ‘memories’ and ‘realities’ last year were ‘social distancing’ and ‘isolation’ mixed with great ‘hope’ for returning to normal.  

Do you recall how we were praying to God for a vaccine to be developed to help combat the Covid-19 virus? About one year ago we were getting closer to that long-awaited breakthrough but weren’t quite ‘there’ yet.  

Since last Thanksgiving life has changed.  When we came together for worship one year ago, there were those paper signs spread out on the pew cushions of our church, indicating seating was only ‘allowed’ in every other pew.  Those signs disappeared some months ago as more and more of our congregation became vaccinated against Covid-19.  

Although the vaccines, plus the booster shots, have become available and received by many, occasionally there are still some ‘breakthrough’ cases.  The realities of continued Covid-19 concerns indicates we still have a way to go. 

A common hope among humanity last year was a return to normal.  We welcomed the thoughts of returning to things ‘as they were’ previous to the pandemic.  Yet we continue to realize that while lots of restrictions have diminished, we still do have some concerns, worries, and changed realities. 

Consider ‘us.’  We are not the same church nor will Christmas be the same as in years past.  Life has changed.  Good things as well as bad things have changed us.  

There are some things that cannot be undone regardless of medical advances and a return to whatever we call ‘normalcy.’ 

We live with the sad reality that not everyone made it through the pandemic.  Some of those who survived share with us that they have not returned to full health.  Further awareness reveals there has been damage done by civil discourse and sharp exchanges by those holding radically different views.  Some things cannot be easily undone. 

Life has taught us we ‘need’ to be a community together, citizens of a larger world.  While many a thoughtful Christian have wondered, pondered, and prayed as to ‘why’ life has changed so much, there are some common insights revealed throughout the pages of Holy Scripture. 

Our history of faith has abundantly taught humanity time after time that when we search for answers, for fresh insights, for new meaning, we petition God.  The consistent reminder we receive from God, in the Bible, is to turn to Him, turn away from our sins, confess, seek forgiveness, and change for the better.  For we know what generations before us have known; in returning to God we find rest, peace, and hope. 

With God we grow to realize better days, more secure times, are coming.  Clearly the Bible and more current events continue to teach us we ALL need to be ready for the day of the Lord whenever and however that may come in our lifetimes. 

Reading and reflecting upon the Book of Job, for instance, teaches us that God is capable of restoring our lives and reframing our losses.  True cause indeed for thanksgiving and praise. 

Our Biblical faith affirms that with God and through God our trials can actually serve to make us stronger and perhaps better.  The Bible further teaches us that recovery and renewal can also lead to ‘joy.’  God still reminds us that He shall pour out His spirit on all flesh, on our sons and our daughters, on young and old, on male and female.  Rest assured and remain aware that the Holy Spirit is moving powerfully among us. 

Slowly yet surely it is observable that God’s Holy Spirit is moving among us, even restoring some of that we all lost.  “Joy” is sometimes equated with laughter.  Psalm 126 speaks of 'mouths being filled with laughter and our tongues with songs of joy.' 

The letters, LOL, mean Laugh Out Loud.  We use those three letters for anything remotely funny in our texts, emails, or social posts.  Sometimes it’s a way of showing appreciation.  Sometimes it’s a way of just being polite.  

Psalm 126 is an account of one’s ‘Holy laughter.’  It was written to reflect some of the spiritual ‘feelings’ and ‘insights’ of those who had been in exile coming back ‘home’ to their community, to their church, to their ‘new normal.’  Akin to the distress we experienced amidst the worst of the pandemic, the psalmist speaks of a time when a return to anything remotely normal seemed like a vague promise in the distant future. Oh but now the evidence of God’s hand and redemption, restoration, and hope are right before them.  So their laughter reflects their joy.  It’s a holy laughter coming from acknowledgment and humble submission to the love of God still redeeming life and the world.  It is a reality of hope beyond the concerns, the worries, even the circumstances that had been ‘at hand’ for so very long. 

‘Faith’ is sometimes further ‘identified’ in nature.  Right now in our world the leaves are falling.  The world around us appears to be dying. Winter is approaching.  Possibly you have planted a few Fall bulbs in anticipation of Spring 2022.  We realize there shall be another Spring as well as another harvest to be thankful for.  Life is changing for the better. 

Yes, we certainly have been through some dry and even dark places.  We were weeping, but now we are singing. In the words of an old, beloved hymn now we are ‘bringing in the sheaves.’ 

Among the sadder of realities we saw were suffering, sickness, and death.  Worse still were the facts associated with isolation.  Some were alone in hospitals and of those, far too many died alone.  Some funerals were never held because we were not permitted to gather.  Relationships between old friends were sometimes strained because of differing political beliefs that in turn fostered harshly different viewpoints on the pandemic.  I hope and I pray that you are beginning to see what I am seeing; people are returning, healing is taking place, and lots of souls are once more filled with laughter.  

It was so very good to prepare for and participate in a Thanksgiving feast without so much fear! 

Numerous ‘messages’ from God through Jesus, angels, prophets, and disciples declare that we are not to ‘fear.’  We would all do well to strive to live by the teachings of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  What we typically refer to as ‘The Beatitudes.” (Matthew 5)  Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful and the peacemakers.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was a message to people experiencing the insecurities and fears associated with hunger, thirst, persecution, sorrow, brutality, poverty, and martyrdom. 

As the world comes back together, learn from God’s hand in nature.  God continues to sustain this earth.  We are still called upon to do our part as well.  Nature continues to teach us all that we are part of something much greater than ourselves.  While life has changed, with God and through the Lord it can now become better.  God teaches us still to ‘turn the other cheek,’ serve others, and lift others up, yet recognize our self worth. 

Another part of ‘life’ that was so different was not being able to care for each other when life was so very fragile in our world.  God is concerned with all of creation.  We seek to be also.  Then and now. 

It’s time now to ‘move on’ in life and in faith.  Perhaps this is the next great change we all need to claim and proclaim.  Let’s ‘move on.’  Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us of ‘signs and terrors’ we have seen.  Jesus informs us that life can become overwhelming.  Every generation has ‘stories to tell’ of life that has become overwhelming. His message remains, when you see such horrific things happening, stand up and lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing nigh. 

Yes, the Lord has a message for us beyond our concerns of the past.  Sometimes we ‘hold on’ too long and far too much to the past.

I’ve known people who review the past, even if that ‘past’ is distantly removed, as though it just happened moments ago.  

Back in the 90’s, a fellow joined his extended family for a meal at an Eat'n Park restaurant.  One of the items on the menu back then was hamburger made from soybeans.  It was a plant-based burger the guy had previously enjoyed.  So in conversation with his family he suggested they try one if they wish. The brother-in-law accepted the guy’s suggestion and ordered the burger.  Nothing much was said.  Families moved far apart so they had no reason or ability to meet together for another meal.  Fifteen years later they met for a family member's birthday celebration at a local restaurant.  That brother-in-law went on and on about how bad that plant-based burger was.  He spoke of his dissatisfaction as though it was 15 minutes ago instead of 15 years ago.  Why is it that we tend to hold onto things even though their relevance has long expired?  

People tend to have a hard time ‘moving on’ especially so, when life changes. 

The fact of the matter is life has changed.  Some things will not ‘go back’ to where they were.  Some of the people we have lost will not be coming back. Jesus reminds us to be careful or our hearts will become weighed down.  Do not turn inwardly to that which can weigh us down.  Jesus references carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life that can close in on any of us suddenly, like a trap.  Watch what it is that you or I might ‘turn to’ when life changes. 

The church season of Advent is a time of waiting, preparation, and change. 

The ‘ancients’ awaited the birth, the coming of the Messiah.  They prepared all of their lives for His coming.  Once again we are schooled by the Spirit of Christ to watch and pray even as life changes.  The changes ahead are not all bad.  There shall also be further times of great joy as well as great tribulation.  Await the coming of Christ into your heart and home.  Prepare for God’s Christmas.  Pray for a watchfulness that provides for and protects the integrity of your soul. 

Life has changed and will never be the same.  With God, it can be renewed and become better.  Amen.

From God -- To God 11/21/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 20, 2021 & Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: We are thankful for the Word of God.  We are thankful for Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.  Send now Your Holy Spirit upon us that we may be inspired by this Word of God we pray.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Colossians 4:2 (Page 1185), Revelation 1:4b-8 (Page 1236) 

Sermon Message: “From God---To God” 

Those last scriptures, from the Book of Revelation are pretty ‘strong’ in their message.  The first selection of scriptures is quite sincere as well in their brief yet directive message. Be devoted to prayer, be watchful and thankful. 

The seasons just ahead of us, Thanksgiving and Christmas, help us to appreciate that we all come ‘from’ God and throughout our lifetimes need to return ‘to’ God. 

The inspired author of the Colossian Scripture lesson is the Apostle Paul.  Among Biblical characters, Paul is quite often identified with.  He reminds us still of our Christian duty to pray.  ‘Watch’ for opportunities, needs, cares, joys, and concerns to pray about.  Not just in your own life but especially so on behalf of others.  As often as you pray, remember to pray with thanksgiving.  Jesus Christ did when he prayed.  So should we. 

All lives come ‘from’ God.  Our devotion to prayer keeps bringing us, our problems, joys, concerns, family matters, and life back ‘to’ God. 

One of the best forms of evangelism is praying for the needs and concerns of others.  We all need prayer.  Myself included. 

This week be in prayer.  Especially so as you reflect upon that which you are ‘thankful’ for. 

On a personal note, I am thankful for potato candy.  Yep!  You heard right. Potato Candy consists of one large boiled whole potato, confectioners’ sugar, and a layer of peanut butter.  Once the potato is boiled to soft texture, I remove the skin, mash it, then I keep combining confectioners’ sugar until it reaches a solid dough consistency.  I then roll out the dough to about a quarter inch thickness and spread a generous coating of peanut butter across it.  I then roll it all up into what appears to be a white cylinder.  The last steps include slicing the roll into quarter inch sections, and it’s ready to serve or it can be refrigerated.  Another ‘old time’ recipe I hope to work on is Mince Meat Pie.  Unique but not for everyone.  Two of my family’s recipes. I am thankful for these recipes remind me of where I’ve come from, who has loved me and given me life.  Quite importantly I am reminded of who gave me faith and inspired me so in my faith journey. 

This week we are to remember where we’ve come from, where we are going to and be thankful.  I’ve got lots of my personal family ‘on the other side.’  Yet, I well remember them and remain thankful. 

God has given us families.  They are instrumental in identifying where we’ve come from.  Our families provide us with ‘recipes’ for nurture, growth, faith, and love. 

God desires for us to remember, be watchful and thankful.  The Book of Revelation informs us of the eternal nature of God.  Reference is made to him who was, who is, and who is to come.  The Book of Revelation is regarded by many as one of the most confusing books in the Bible.  Strange visions, eerie sounds, and jolting images.  Across the years I’ve heard some very curious interpretations of the future based upon varying interpretations of this unique book of the Bible.  Some Christians are afraid to read or study this book of the Bible. 

The Book of Revelation helps us understand we have come from God and will one day return to God.  Originally it was addressed as a letter to the church during uncertain and dangerous times.  The original name of the book is the “Apocalypse," which means a disclosure.  In the Bible, an apocalypse is a moment when God pulls back the curtain that hides heaven from earth.  The Revelation offers glimpses of a holy reality which is normally hid from our eyes. 

Today we hear a voice from heaven announcing, "I am the Alpha and the Omega."  That unusual expression appears three times in the final book of the Bible.  Each time the voice speaks, we learn something about God that is crucial to our faith and life.  Whenever God speaks, something happens.  

In the Book of Genesis God speaks saying, “Let there be light, and there was light.”  God spoke and there was light, dry land and oceans, animals, people, life, and ‘beginnings.’ 

We come from God and need to pray, remain watchful and thankful if we are to understand any portion of what God has spoken.  By God’s Word life begins.  As your pastor, I urge you to pray about the words of God applied to your life, families, unto the world.  

Soon our Christmas preparations shall begin.  A mainstay of our Christmas faith is the resounding joy that the Word has become flesh and dwells among us.  Jesus Christ. 

We come from God and return to God.  Pray, be watchful and thankful. 

Occasionally I am privileged to hear a heart to heart, matter of fact story, from another preacher.  A certain pastor tells his story of standing at the door after worship each Sunday waiting for compliments on his weekly sermon masterpiece!  He found out that as time went on, he did not get much response at all from his parishioners.  This one Sunday, in desperation, he turned to a wise friend from the congregation and asked, “How did I do this morning?”  The friend shrugged his shoulders and mumbled a few pleasantries.  These words also did not satisfy, so the preacher said, "No, really, I want to know what you thought of what I said in my sermon today."

"Sorry," said the friend, "I wasn't listening to you; I was too busy paying attention to Jesus." 

Now, that is good preaching.  Behind every preacher, prayer, or scripture passage, the wise person listens for the Word of God beyond all human words.  Jesus Christ is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.  When God reveals himself as the Alpha and the Omega, he tells us first and foremost that he draws near through words which point to Jesus Christ. 

I’ve wondered at times if the first word God speaks when any of us are born, when we come from God is “Alleluia?”  May the Word spoken when we return to God be “Amen.” 

The Alpha and the Omega saw darkness upon the face of the earth and said, “Let there be light.”  When we came from God in our mother’s womb, God said “Let there be Tom” and I came from God.  Just as you did. 

When we wake up to the reality that we have come from God, we seem to be given life again. 

Be thankful for what comes ‘from’ God and for what turns or returns ‘to’ God. 

Among your blessings you may thank God for this week are family and friends, salvation, and health.  But also thank God for the simplest of things, even the smallest of things.  Thank him for the air you breathe, the clothes on your back, the job you have, the people you know, AND also for those who know YOU, who love you and share faith, hope, and love.  

You’ve been a part of this church for a while now.  You’ve surely seen ‘a thing or two’ in your time among us.  Across our years of faith, we rejoice when even one soul finds faith, draws close to God, trusts a new way, follows the Lord, and seeks to have a new life, a Christian life.  

We live in a world marred by division, entitlement, mistrust, and outright sin.  A growing awareness each day on the news is violence.  It may not be a ‘war’ as defined among nations.  But on the streets of our communities, we’ve seen gun violence, drug abuse, and intentional injury of others.  All done in the name of self-desire. Pray for the day, for current days to come, when each of us, then perhaps all of us, will join in beating our swords into plowshares.  We value life; others and our own when we remember or perhaps re-discover we all come from God and will all one day return to God.  

Sometimes it appears as though much of the world is God forsaken.  It just doesn’t appear at times as though things are ‘from God.’  Nor does it seem as though enough of life and our world is going ‘to’ God. 

God greets us today as in times of old with these his words, “Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 1: 4b,5) 

“Grace and peace.”  The work of grace is not finished yet.  Sometimes our world seems enchanted with its own destruction.  Yet for a few moments this morning the curtain is drawn back, and we catch a glimpse of how God pursues us through the love of Jesus Christ.  Thanks to such grace, we belong to a God who has set us free and will never let us go. God says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega," and promises to speak to us the ancient word that makes all things new.  He affirms, "I am the beginning and the end" (Revelation 22:13, 21:6).  Perhaps this is our greatest hope:  that God will be both our source and our destination.  Through the grace of Christ our King, we trust that the God who gave us birth will complete and finish our lives. 

Daily problems can blur our vision.  Sometimes things are so rough we find ourselves asking, "What's this world coming to?"  Listen:  every day is full of enough hassles and horrors to shake up the strongest soul.  Each one of us needs a place to stand and a promise to cling to. 

We come ‘from’ God.  Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come.  Tis grace has led me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home. 

We live "from God to God."  Our final destination is to arrive at the Source of our life.  The aim of every life is to return to the God from whom all things were made, and in whose purposes all creation shall be completed.  In between new creation and final consummation, we have a place to stand and a promise to claim.  We belong to God, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. 

Thanksgiving shall remind us of all that we are devoted to. Family, love, life, and faith.  Memories, hopes, and dreams.  Potato candy, turkey, mincemeat pie, and perhaps pumpkin pie.  

Today God reminds us He IS the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  Be devoted to prayer, be watchful and thankful.  Amen.

Birth Pains - Humble Beginnings 11/14/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 13, 2021 & Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Our Lord and our God, we bless You for Your Word.  We ask that by Your Holy Spirit You would open our eyes to understand it; that You would grant us the faith to believe it, and by Your Spirit You would enable us to walk in that belief.  This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  1 Samuel 1:4-20 (Page 267) & Mark 13:1-8 (Page 1017) 

Sermon Message: Birth Pains - Humble Beginnings 

I had a humbling experience this past week.  My wife learned that the Target store in North Fayette and the CVS Pharmacy within was offering the Moderna Booster shots.  When she inquired if I was interested, I immediately responded, “Sign me up.”  When we arrived at the store, the clerk looked up our information on their computer.  They asked Patty for her birth date and said, “Patty Giles, we have your information.  You’re good to go.”  Patty kindly reminded them that I was her husband and was also wanting to receive the Moderna Booster shot.  They could not find either my name nor my information.  So it was I who humbly suggested looking under the last name “Petrosky.”  Still, I got a rather inquisitive look from the young lady waiting on us as though I was somehow misleading with my information.  I cleared up all of the awkward inquiry when I said, “It’s Petrosky.  I kept my maiden name!” 

If you have ever gone back to your hometown after being away for a while, some of the folks in first meeting you may ask, “Who was your mother?”  What they mean is, “What was your mother’s last name before she married?”  Folks sometimes want to know the connection between your father’s last name and your mother’s last name pertaining to the history of where you’ve come from. 

Lots of folks are sincerely interested in a person’s beginnings.  Think about it; there are lots of ways of asking people where they were before they were here.  People will sometimes inquire “Where are you from originally?”  Today we can do reference checks, clearances, credit checks, and so on.  We do all kinds of things to find out any particular person’s beginnings, humble or otherwise. 

Information regarding people’s beginnings can be helpful or possibly confusing.  There is no evidence that greatness has anything to do with where you come from.  Great people can come from insignificant places.  Regarding Jesus, folks inquired of his birthplace, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Did you know that Albert Einstein failed at math, yet that did not stop him from becoming a great scientist?  Ludwig van Beethoven came from an abusive family.  His father abused him to the point that it eventually led to his total deafness.  Yet that did not stop him from becoming one of the world’s great composers. 

In spite of all of the evidence to the contrary, we still often think that a person's beginnings determine where he or she is going to go or who he or she is going to be in one's life or employment. 

Samuel, the son of Elkanah and Hannah, was a giant of the Bible.  During his life, he carried the identity of the people of Israel through a time of transition, from pre-monarchy to monarchy, and defined their future.  He was known as a military and judicial judge.  He was known as a Nazarite, although we usually think of him as a prophet.  Yet Samuel came from humble beginnings that are best described as barren. 

Samuel's mother had to endure the pain of childlessness for many years.  She was shamed by Elkanah's other wife, Peninnah, who had been blessed to have many children.  Even though Elkanah gave Hannah double portions to affirm his love for her, she still suffered the pain of Peninnah's persistent provocations. 

There are birth pains associated with giving birth.  Still there remains another form of birth pain that emerges from waiting to see where one’s suffering will lead them. 

A strong theme that emerges in this vignette is one we human beings do not like:  waiting.  The problem we have with waiting is that we never know if it is hopeless waiting or fruitful waiting.  Until the waiting is over, we don't know which it is:  helpful or wasteful. 

Right now, our country is waiting to see if the long-discussed infrastructure bill becomes law, leading to road and bridge building around the nation.  A building boom is coming our way, even as we try to figure out what buildings we need.  Companies are pondering the usefulness of physical offices as people continue to work from their dining rooms, and office buildings stand empty. 

Post Covid, our physical spaces are changing, and Jesus brings us a timely word about assuming the permanence of the world around us.  Going to work in an office once seemed like the unchanging stones of the temple — something that would never vary.  

Birth pains often result in humble beginnings.  We have experienced birth pains in varying forms these last few years.  Hopefully so, prayerfully so, we resultantly see humble beginnings for what is new or different.  Lots of churches painfully switched to on-line worship as a weekly offering.  Do we lose something when we worship on-line?  Or is the holiness of God ‘good enough’ wherever we are and however we receive it?  Lots of employees see themselves differently since they work from home instead of going to the office.  

These and many ‘birth pains’ we experience are transitioning us both willingly and unwillingly so into new and humble beginnings.  While our nation considers this major infrastructure bill, lots of folks aren’t going back to work in office buildings.  Whole churches are affected by this post-pandemic transition as well.  Will there be less office spaces in the future?  Will church buildings decrease in size as well as in numbers of actual churches being continued?  When Jesus spoke of great changes forthcoming to his disciples, they were perplexed, even as they ‘communed’ in person with him daily. 

‘Birth pains’ come in many forms, so we have seen and experienced.  Birth pains do tend to humble us.  Associated with birth pains and being ‘humbled’ is our grief when we feel things end.  Even when God is already creating something new, we still experience sorrow.  The disciples must have felt as unsettled, listening to Jesus, as we do in our own time.  This time full of changes is also full of mourning. 

God is always in the birthing business, and yet it’s hard to let go of the former things so we can enter into the new things.  It’s unsettling, even with Jesus as our guide. 

Consider again today's first scripture lesson. We do know that Hannah's anguish at being childless overrides the lavish love that Elkanah has for her.  The sad truth remains that Elkanah, with his great and noble past, has a barren wife and no hope of an heir from her.  The family hopelessness mirrors the state of the nation which is confused and demoralized by the threat of the Philistines.  They need a great king -- and the great King David will eventually come and make right all that is wrong -- but at this moment, we find them stuck in a holding pattern of waiting.  Everything hinges on a barren womb that the text tells us God has closed.  Hannah is grief-stricken, depressed, and unable to eat. 

This impasse is broken by worship.  Hannah presents herself to God at Shiloh and the temple priest, Eli, witnesses her struggle.  Just as many of us bargain with God, Hannah vows that if God gives her a son, she will give the son back to the service of God. 

Hannah has to set the record straight with the priest Eli.  When he sees her praying, he thinks that she is drunk.  The priest does not recognize her desperation, grief, frustration, and her intense piety.  To this very day, those of us who are desperate look compromised to the ones who observe us from the comfort of viewing anguish from the outside. 

The priest, Eli, gives his benediction to her prayer:  "Go in peace; may the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him." (v. 17)  The passage speaks of a deep faith. Hannah is in need, the priest mediates, and God answers.  The waiting is over, hope has returned, and the sovereign God has responded.  There is no doubt. 

"And she said, 'Let your servant find favor in your sight.'  Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer." (v. 18)  Husband and wife rose early in the morning, they worshiped, they made love, "the Lord remembered her" and she bore a son and ". . . she named him Samuel, for she said, 'I have asked him of the Lord.' " (v. 20) 

There are times when things may look bleak and barren for us.  We can articulate how bad things are in great detail and with great conviction, but we must always remember and never forget, that even though Hannah was barren, she was still a creature of God's sovereign universe, and she was still an agent for God's future plans in the world. 

There are times of "barrenness" for each of us:  retirement leaves us with the feeling that we are no longer productive; the passion and vigor seems to have left our relationship; our hopes and dreams seem to be mistaken or unfulfilled; our child appears to be lost in an abyss of failure; our church seems to be going downhill; life seems to have lost its zest; a drug addict relapses yet again; the well has gone dry. 

Maybe you think that the predicament in which you find yourself is much too humble beginnings where God is unlikely to do anything creative and wonderful.  But that is exactly where we first found Hannah -- humble beginnings from which God produced the great Samuel.  Hannah was the personification of "humble beginnings." 

When we feel that we are in hopeless despair like Hannah, we need to remember her solution.  She took her problem to God:  "Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord." (v. 9) 

In a spirit of communion, she continued to have faith in God when her options had been exhausted.  She knew that Yahweh was more than she was and knew more than she did, therefore Hannah prayed sincerely.  She was not in isolation; she had her spiritual advisor in the priest, Eli.  She was not discouraged by others' misunderstanding of her and of her goal; she stood her ground (when Eli thought she was drunk).  She continued to love her husband and abide in her faith. 

You will notice that Hannah was not one of these phony, self-help motivators who pretend to be inexhaustible and have all of the answers.  Hannah's source of energy and hope was in something outside of her being, but directly connected to her being.  Her source of energy and hope was her faith in God. 

When you and I, and Hannah and Elkanah and Peninnah, and other people (like your spouse, your friends, your boss) think a situation is barren, Yahweh, the Creator, the Life-Giver, the One who knows and continues to see beyond our horizons, says:  "There is more!  My kingdom is going on.  I have more plans for your future, and they are good!"  With God, there are no barren wombs!  Amen.

Giving With Open Hands 11/7/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 6, 2021 & Sunday, November 7, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Living God, help us so to hear your holy Word that we may truly understand; that, understanding, we may believe, and, believing, we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 127 (Page 617) & Mark 12:38-44 (Page 1017) 

Sermon Message: "Giving With Open Hands" 

‘Giving’ in our lives starts when we are children.  Mostly we are ‘given to’ for our nurture, survival, and sustenance.  One of our initial ‘gifts’ are our parents' hands.  None of us recall when they first swooped us up, cradling our tiny bodies in their open hands.  A more familiar and comforting memory we do perhaps share is placing one of our hands in their open hands as they played with us or perhaps guided us along. 

There’s something wonderful, even ‘remarkable’ about open hands.  They provide something good, wholesome, and special unto us. 

As pastor, one of the many things I do sincerely enjoy about ministry is officiating weddings.  During the course of a wedding there comes that time, that precious sacred time, when the couple takes each other's hands, looks into the eyes of their beloved, and they recite their vows.  Such times of declaration are heard in heaven and felt to the depths of one’s soul here on earth.  

I still recall my own wedding, opening my hands to Patty, looking into her eyes, then these words flowed:  “I Thomas, take you Patty to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for richer for poorer, for better for worse, in sickness and in health.”  You are then supposed to say:  “Till death do us part.”  I instead chose to say: “Into eternity.” Precious memories associated with ‘open hands.’ 

We use our hands, on a lesser scale, each and every day to ‘give’ and to ‘receive.’ 

There are some negative connotations with our hands as well.  One ‘horrifying’ memory I have with my father was his disciplining us with the back of his hand.  In fact, that’s what he would sometimes announce just as he was about to commence disciplining us.  We’d cringe when we heard him say, “That’s enough.  Stop it right now, or I’ll give you a back-hand!”  Certainly NOT the kind of ‘open hand’ anyone would welcome receiving. 

On the other hand (no pun intended), I remember some very meaningful examples of people’s open hands. In a large church where I once served as a student minister, I remember a very stately usher who helped ‘take up’ the offering each week.  After passing the offering plates throughout the congregation, the music would play, folks would all stand, and then it would be time for the ushers to bring the offering down the aisle for the Pastor’s blessing and dedication prayer.  Each week I saw it. That one particular stately usher would reach into his vest watch pocket and pull out a single, thin dime, hold it for a moment over the offering plate, then drop it in.  We all knew he was a ‘man of substance.’  It appeared as though he was giving with the back of his hand instead of giving with his open hand.  The senior pastor one day informed me that this particular man was known to give generously by check each month.  The dime was not a back of the hand gift but a symbolic act of not returning the plate without some gift of his in it. 

Soon we shall be approaching Christmas.  Within our weekly Bible study, the author, Adam Hamilton, whose book we are studying, declares that Halloween has now become the official start of the Christmas season.  ‘Gifts’ are associated with Christmas.  Perhaps you’ve noticed or been involved in some ‘unique’ approaches to gift giving. 

There was this boss who sat behind his big desk.  Just before Christmas he has envelopes spread out across his desk with employees' names on them.  One by one the employees come in to receive their envelope.  The boss hesitantly looks up as he acknowledges each employee.  “You’re Joe aren’t you?”  “Yes sir, I am.”  The boss shoves the envelope towards Joe with the back of his hand and grunts.  “Murr Cs-mas.”  Gifts given from the back of one’s hand tend to carry hurt.  They tend to contain more power to demean than the money has power to buy. 

Some parents work so hard to provide their children with everything money can buy while withholding what really matters: time and attention.  

Giving with the back of the hand implies there is little care or affection given with the gift.  After a while even the associated gifts fade into insignificance.  Some even feel insulted rather than recognized. 

Sometimes our hands are either closed or manipulating our actions, specifically so our giving.  A group of brothers and sisters all wanted tickets for an upcoming concert.  Their aunt and uncle were given two tickets from their work.  They were not all that interested in going to the concert, so they decided to give their two tickets to their nieces and nephews.  There were four nieces and nephews, so that meant two of the four would not be able to attend the concert.  The one brother said to his sister, “Here, take the ticket and you go.”  They ‘did the dance’ so to speak, back and forth until the sister just accepted and went.  Her brother was moping and angry.  His parents ‘picked up’ on the problem.  Finally, when it ‘came out in the open’ as to why this one son was feeling so miserable, his Mom said to him, “Make sure you WANT to give something away when you do.  Don’t expect anything in return!” Sometimes we do give expecting something in return when we really shouldn’t. 

When we give with open hands, we neither put someone down nor expect to manipulate how we might gain something in return.  It doesn’t take much to provide a gift with even a small amount of personal recognition.  Something as simple and sincere as an affirmation of a job done well, recognizing someone’s effort, a good attitude, or just your simple desire to make another person happy. Marriage requires open hands.  Parenting requires open hands.

The greatest people we have ever known or even ‘heard about’ all gave with open hands.  Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr, St. Francis, Gandhi, and of course, Jesus Christ. 

Consider this story in today’s scriptures of the widow.  That widow had nothing to win or lose.  She just gave of herself.  Her giving was simply to show honor and glory unto God. Jesus saw inside this woman her own honor and glory. She gave trusting God would supply her needs.  She had this ‘faith confidence’ and trusting relationship with the Lord. 

During these times we live in we say it's hard to give.  Many say, “we just don’t have it to give.”  Recently I met a fellow who grew up in this church, Robert Gill.  He is now retired.  When ‘growing up’ here in Coraopolis, they lived in smaller housing than does Robert and his family today.  They drove one car, had one tv set, and one phone wired to the wall for their entire household.  Others recall ‘how it was’ ‘back in the day!’  These days we have oh so many creature comforts.  Numerous phones, several TV’s, multiple cars at many of our homes, plus, we still manage to ‘pay the bills’ for all of these things.  

Back handed giving or close handed giving proclaims we just don’t have it to give.  After all we ‘need’ all these pleasures that are a very real part of our daily lives.  Love and faith affect our giving.  It affects ‘how’ we give and ‘what we give.’ 

In our relationships to other people, even our own family, we’ve grown to learn we need to give with open hands.  In our relationship to our church, we further learn that open handed giving works best.  Jesus said, “the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38)  I’ve also identified with some of St. Francis’ words.  Especially so where he says, “it is in giving that we receive.”

It's not always financial rewards that we get in return.  Making someone happy, seeing God’s church continue on, and benefitting the ministries and missions of Jesus Christ are far more rewarding. 

The widow in this story; who could blame her if she said she could give nothing?  After all, don’t we still say ‘charity’ begins at home?  Although many would not ‘blame’ this widow, we probably cannot expect that there are many who would imitate her. Yet our Savior commends her. 

Giving remains a good thing.  Discretion is still called for lest we ‘throw our pearls before swine,’ as the Bible decrees. (Matthew 7:6)  Give from what you’ve got.  But still give something.  So teaches the widow in today’s scripture from Jesus Christ. 

Jesus said the greatest command is to love God.  Jesus said the second is like it - love your neighbor as yourself.  In loving our neighbors as ourselves, we ought to give a little or a lot.  It can be our time, our prayers, our actions, and of course our finances.  

Public charities, such as the church, all require some form of giving in order to survive and contribute what they are designed to give in the form of worship, counseling, care, fellowship, spiritual growth, and a wide variety of services. 

This story from Jesus regarding the widow teaches us to give according to what you have, not according to what you have not. Two pennies illustrate how even a small portion of sacrificial giving can make a huge difference both in the heart of the giver and the life of they who receive.  Our giving is to become ‘thank-worthy.’ 

Psalm 127 teaches us to depend upon God’s ability to bless and far less on our ability to contrive.  For instance, “unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”  If God is not acknowledged and recognized in the building of our families, our church, and our homes, then we have no reason to expect his blessing.  To not acknowledge God is to ‘build in vain.’ 

Those who love God and are beloved of him have their minds at ease and live very comfortably with His blessing.  Our comfort is not necessarily so in our material wealth or possessions but more often in our peace and in the grace to sleep well.  It is well with our souls when our hands are open to the Lord; to love and to how we choose to give of ourselves.  There is a quietness and contentment of mind, a comfortable enjoyment of what is present, and a comfortable expectation of what is to come. 

Our children, too, must learn to give with open hands.  They are to become our heritage from the Lord, a reward from him.  Yet they also must learn to give with open hands. 

Give from the heart.  Give with open hands.  Amen.

God's Commandments for Daily Living 10/31/2021

 Sermon Message for Saturday, October 30, 2021 & Sunday, October 31, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Guide us, O God, by your Word, and Holy Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover peace; through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Exodus 20: 1-17 (Page 75) & Matthew 22:34-40 (Page 990) 

Sermon Message:  “God’s Commandments For Daily Living” 

We’ve been listing ‘faith basics’ in the bulletin each week. These ‘faith basics’ are given a prominent place each week as a bulletin insert.  They include such basics as ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ the 23rd Psalm, and today the Ten Commandments.  Hopefully you are sharing these ‘faith basic’ publications with lots of others, especially so, with children. 

Many of us learned the Ten Commandments when we were children.  It is unlikely that most of us recite those Ten Commandments every day.  Akin to other memorized references in the Bible, you know where to find them and do call upon them from time to time or especially so when needed.  The goal, set by those who taught us the Ten Commandments, was not just memorization of these ten commands, but more importantly, living by God’s commandments daily. 

In our youth we may have learned the Ten Commandments as basic morality lessons.  We probably thought of them as a kind of ‘list’ of ‘do’s and don'ts. The ‘preacher’ in me reminds us all they are NOT the ‘ten suggestions,’ although ‘some’ do attempt to minimize them as being such. 

The ‘story’ behind the Ten Commandments involves God, also known as ‘Yahweh,’ his servant Moses, plus the ancient Israelite people.  Those ancient Israelites had been held captive and forced into slavery under the Egyptian King, Pharaoh.  They were held captive for hundreds of years.  Throughout their captivity the Egyptian slave masters treated the Israelite people ruthlessly.  They were subject daily to hard labor and cruel punishment.  Something NO human being should endure over the course of his or her lifetime. 

God (Yahweh) saw the suffering of His people, Israel, and sent his servant, Moses, to rescue them from the grips of King Pharaoh and His offensive military rule.  Moses did follow God’s leading.  He did listen to God’s call and began leading millions of oppressed people out of Egypt and into God’s Promised Land.  

The journey, this ‘Exodus’ from Egypt and onward towards the Promised Land, required them to pass through the Sinai desert and around the Sinai mountain.  God’s hand of protection, care, redemption, reform, and guidance lead them.  This was ‘blessing’ both day and night for the Israelite people.  God sought to continue and expand his blessings.  Under their Egyptian slave rule they had lost so much and had also learned some rather cruel ways of living.  So it was, God called His servant, Moses, as he was leading the people towards the Promised Land.  He called Moses to come up the huge Sinai Mountain for quite a special meeting.  The effects of that meeting are still being experienced today.  Moses and his co-leaders responded.  They climbed that huge mountain, and God met with them and they met with God. 

It was God’s intent to further rescue those souls He had graciously redeemed and consecrated them to be his ‘blessed,’ ‘chosen,’ and ‘holy’ people.  

It is recorded in the Bible that God gave to Moses two large tablets of stone upon which the very hand of God inscribed the Ten Commandments.  Like you, I have seen lots of good people set aside the Ten Commandments because they perceive them to be strict laws that must be obeyed at all costs.  

Initially, the Ten Commandments were given to Moses and passed on to the Israelite people for their own good, for their betterment and protection; not simply because God was testing them to see if they would be obedient or not. 

Part of God’s process of reform often times involves helping folks to not only be ‘better off,’ than they were, but also to become ‘better people’ than those who hurt them and were oppressing their very souls.  God’s desire has always been for daily living to become better for every single one of His children. 

Initially the Ten Commandments were to ‘make better’ the daily living of Moses and those millions of people set free from ruthless, oppressive, and cruel circumstances. 

So it was, God instructs them;

First:  “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Second: “You shall not worship idols or make graven images.”

Third:  “You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.”

Fourth: You shall keep the Sabbath Holy.’ 

Jesus expanded the list of commandments when he said, “the greatest commandment is to love God with your whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.”  These words of Jesus summarize the first four commandments found on the first tablet of stone God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai. 

Jesus summarizes the remaining six commandments when he further declares the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself.  Commandments six through ten have to do with how we treat other people. 

The Ten Commandments help us from becoming like the Egyptian slave masters.  Part of the Almighty’s further intent was rescuing the Hebrew people from slavery so they could become an example of right living.  God would not have any of this treating others the way their cruel and ruthless masters had treated them.  God’s intent has been for the liberation of people not their subjugation to tyrants.  To this day the Ten Commandments serve as essential rules to keep people from becoming dictators, tyrants, brutes, and bullies. 

The first Four Commandments are for ‘getting along with God.’  The other six commandments are for getting along with others. 

“Honor your father and your mother.”  Commandment # 5.  “So that your days may be long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.  This commandment, perhaps more than others, gets misconstrued to read, “Obey your parents.”  That IS part of what God is saying.  It assumes loving, nurturing, and non-abusive parents who care for their children as God cares for us all. 

It’s worth noting the commandment says ‘honor,’ not ‘obey.’  To ‘honor’ is a weighty term.  It means to validate another’s importance.  It is to trust someone as a person of substance; deserving respect.  It is not about blind obedience.  To ‘honor’ means to listen, to learn from them, to respect and respond to their wisdom, further learning from their experience.  

Let’s face it. Our parents aren’t always right. IF you’ve been blessed, called upon to raise children, then I’m sure, like me, you are aware of times when you needed to say to one of your children, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.  Please forgive me.” 

This commandment to honor our mothers and fathers can be expanded to include learning from our elders, especially so, our spiritual mothers and fathers, from people who have journeyed on the path of faith.  One of the best ‘honors’ is to imitate and incorporate into daily living the good characteristics we see in others.  We all need ‘faith mentors’ in our lives.  Some are biologically related to us.  Some are not, yet are sent by God. 

Today’s scam artists do nothing to ‘honor’ others.  Preying upon the vulnerability of the elderly is a grave sin.  We may have been victimized by less than honorable people.  Doesn’t mean we have to be like them.  Honor. 

Commandment Six:  "You shall not kill.”  Some versions translate this verse as ‘you shall not murder.”  Either way, this commandment from God is a direct reference to the sacredness of life.  Jesus expands on this command when he teaches a way of life that forgives instead of retaliates.  Anger, getting mad, and getting even are stepping-stones to killing with words or actions.  Strive to overcome emotional violence in your daily lives.  Don’t contribute to or give approval to gossip.  Don’t bury your head in the sand when other people are afflicted. Work in your daily life to ‘give life,’ not ‘take life’ in any of its forms. 

Commandment Seven:  “You shall not commit adultery.”  Pretty straightforward.  God gave sexuality as a sacred gift.  While it is beautiful and wondrous, it is not to be used in such a way that could cause emotional or physical damage to someone else.  This command from God is about fidelity to commitment.  Do not betray sacred trust.  Help others to be their best too. 

Commandment Eight:  “You shall not steal.”  Do you trust that God will provide and will continue to provide what you need?  Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you.  Don’t take it out-rightly so or manipulatively so.  Don’t ‘steal’ someone’s dignity by insulting him or her, putting him or her down.  Don’t steal time from God and yourself and those who love you by spending the more precious and prominent part of your daily life working, being overly productive, and seeking instead the good life that costs others plenty. Don’t steal office supplies nor tools from your job.  Don’t be ‘goofing off’ when you should be working.  Don’t steal from God by forgetting to give something back as a sign of your appreciation for the grace you have received.  Trust that God provides. 

Commandment Nine:  “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  Don’t lie, don’t gossip.  Don’t misconstrue things.  Don’t bring others down to make yourself look good.  There are lies of omission as well as lies of commission.  Outright lies and false impressions.  

We all look for exceptions to the rule, but do remember, God IS the rule. Truth telling and truth living requires an inner strength that needs to be developed over time and sometimes revisited from time to time.  Being a Christian, a God follower, in our daily lives is an on-going journey we are all on.  Spirituality reminds us we ARE loved beyond measure, just the way you are.  How we choose to improve becomes our gift back to God, to others, and to our best selves. 

Commandment Ten:  “Do not covet.”  This isn’t just about ‘wanting’ what someone else has.  It’s kind of like this; don’t fondle other people’s things in your mind or spend time thinking about what you don’t have.  Spend more time empathizing with ten neighbors in need than coveting the one who has something you want.  Envy can make you miserable.  No matter how smooth and perfect someone else’s life may seem, there is in all of us an unseen bag of problems. 

Sometimes people don’t realize what they DO have until its gone, lost, or compromised. 

The Ten Commandments aren’t there to make us feel guilty.  They are there to give us a meaningful, daily life that loves God and your neighbor.  Try looking at them through adult eyes instead of as a list of restrictions.  Then further consider how you can be more intentional in your love of God and neighbor.  Amen.

Adversity - The Way of the World 10/24/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 23, 2021 & Sunday, October 24, 2021 

Scripture Lessons:  Lamentations 3:22-26 (page 823)  &  Matthew 11:28-30 (page 977) 

Sermon Message: “Adversity – The Way of the World”

Guest Speaker: Laurie Zickgraf, Elder

 Adversity =  difficulties or misfortune. Some call it bad luck or trouble.  If you look at a list of synonyms, you’ll find everything from, a mishap to a catastrophe; quite a range.  Two of the words in the list caught my attention:  woe and tribulation.

 A woe is a judgement on others, and it’s not used too much nowadays, but it is used a lot in the Bible. In Lamentations we read: ‘Woe to us, for we have sinned!’ 

In Revelation (12:12) the word woe is used in a pretty terrifying way:  “But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you!  He is filled with fury because he knows that his time is short.” 

Tribulation is another scary word.  It means great trouble or suffering.  Christians believe in the Great Tribulation.  These events, mentioned in Revelation, will happen before Christ returns. Revelation 6:8 “And I looked, and behold a pale horse:  and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” 

This is really scary stuff. 

No matter what word you use, adversity is bad.  There are 6 different types of adversity, but no matter what type of adversity we talk about, it has a way of affecting so much more than just one person or one group.  It’s a good example of the trickledown theory. 

Let’s take a few minutes and look at the types of adversity – the first 5 include: 

Physical Adversity:  an accident or an illness.  Maybe a physical handicap you were born with.  When you are limited physically, this affects not only you but everyone in your household.

Mental Adversity:  loneliness, depression, and anxiety, all of which have increased greatly during the pandemic.  I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t experienced some type of mental difficulty during the last 2 years.

Emotional Adversity:  anxiety, fear, excitement, or anger.  Fear tops my list.  Fear has the ability to derail the most stable person if you let it go.  Sometimes, my fears start to run in little circles in my head which causes my anxiety to skyrocket.  When this happens, I turn off the TV news, I get a bowl of ice cream, and I start watching The Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. I know I’m feeling better when the movies get boring.

There’s also Social Adversity:  crime, poverty, or peer pressure.  Social difficulties increased last year when kids couldn’t go to school.  Isolation created many problems for many people.  I have a patient right now that is in a nursing home, and they are on lock down again because of the pandemic.  His wife comes to the clinic to sit with him so they can see each other.

And number 5 is Financial Adversity:  losing a job, physical injury, or quitting your job so you can stay home with the kids are some of the events that can trigger a financial hardship.  A more subtle event is inflation.  Your paycheck doesn’t go as far as it did a year ago, and now you struggle every month with your budget.  

These 5 types of adversity are so interwoven with each other. One problem causes another problem which trickles down into more problems. Is there anyone here today that can look at their life and say – I have NO adversity in my life? ----- Let me warn you -  IF anyone can say that – I want to come live with you! 

The Bible and our world are full of adversity.  Look at the Old Testament.  There are battles and wars all the time.  Someone was always invading someone else.  Now, fast forward and look at the encyclopedia Britannica – they list over 125 wars in the last 721 years.  (1300 AD).  According to the New York Times, of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them!  That’s only 8 percent of the time.  Old Testament times or now, we’re not really any different thousands of years later.  

War or being in the military is a good example of how adversity affects us all.  War creates repercussions around the world.  The financial markets are affected.  The supply lines of materials might be slowed down or stopped completely. During World War II we had shortages in the United States because they couldn’t ship things to us from overseas.  We also sent food and supplies to the troops to keep our military going so the people here at home went without.  Gasoline, butter, and sugar were in short supply, so they were actually rationed. 

But war, like other types of adversity, does more than this.  Adversity trickles down and creates a hardship for everyone else.  If someone is in the military, they are afraid of being killed or injured.  They worry about their families at home.  They miss them and want to get back to those they love. The families at home also face problems.  They worry that their loved one will be hurt or won’t come home.  And while missing your loved one is always in the back of your mind, other family members also have to pick up the load and care for each other in their absence.  

These types of problems can also happen when someone gets hurt or sick.  Maybe someone suffers from severe depression or has problems with work or school.  Other family members or friends may struggle to help the person in trouble.  Grocery shopping, paying the bills, and making sure the checks don’t bounce, yard work, and a myriad of other things that must be taken care of in our daily lives don’t wait for us to feel better.  

Adversity is a way of life.  It was a way of life for Adam and Abraham and Moses.  Certainly Jonah and Jeremiah had some problems.  

There’s David who was chosen by God to be king, but he had to run for his life when King Saul tried to kill him. 

What about Job? And there’s Joseph whose brothers sold him as a slave.  Everywhere you look in the Bible there are problems, difficulties, and adversity. 

It doesn’t get any better in the New Testament. Peter, who betrayed Jesus on the night of his arrest, had to deal with the fact that he walked away from the Son of God.  All of the disciples hid after Jesus was killed.  They were in fear for their lives until the Holy Spirit arrived at Pentecost.  

Paul was always having problems. Read 2 Corinthians (2 Cor.11:24-27):  

"24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.“  

There is adversity everywhere.  Hardship and problems abound.  There is no getting away from it.  But there is one type of adversity that is the most dangerous. It’s the one that can cost you your life, your eternal life.  I am talking about Spiritual adversity.  Spiritual questions may start slow.  

You experience one of the other types of problems; physical, mental, emotional, social, or financial problems.  Doubts creep in and begin to take root in a mind that is preoccupied with other things.  Feelings of depression and hopelessness start to grow.  You can’t understand why you have to suffer, and you begin to question everything. If you start to question God’s love for you, you are in a bad place.  You may begin to believe that you’re worthless, and then you stop talking to God.  

If you stop praying to God and you stop looking for God, then you are in more trouble than you may realize.  This is not just a bad place, but a very bad place.  This is the time to ask others for help.  This is the time to call Reverend Tom and set up a meeting to talk to him.  This is a time to call out to God and tell Him you are lost, and you need Him back in your life. Forget the questions. Blind faith is needed here.  Turn to God and ask for help even if you don’t believe He is there. You know why? Because there is good news.  It’s called the Gospel! 

God is there, and He is waiting for you to come to Him with all of your problems.  Not just the major issues, but everything.  He wants to hear from you when you have questions.  Remember when Jesus comforts us by saying: 

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  

Jesus knows that we face adversity every day in our lives.  He’s there with love so amazing and He’s there with outstretched arms waiting for us.  Jesus was sent to save us.  Not just from death but from fear, from depression, from loneliness, and from the thoughts that Satan puts in our heads as he tries to make us question and forget about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  

Jesus also knows that some adversity in our lives is a way for us to grow and mature in our faith.  You are who you are today because of your experiences, good and bad.  Romans 5:3 says that we ‘glory in our sufferings”! I don’t know about that, but I do know you should read the rest of that verse: 

“…suffering produces perseverance; perseverance – character; and character – hope.” 

Hope – that is what God gave us in the body of Christ Jesus.  Hope – given to us in the gift of the Holy Spirit!  

The Holy Spirit – wow, what a gift!  The Holy Spirit that filled the hearts, minds, and souls of the disciples so many years ago is still with us every day.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is really the ultimate gift that keeps on giving.  

When you allow the Holy Spirit into your life, you will see the fruits of the spirit take root and grow.  You will see yourself change – for the better as you begin to experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Just as adversity trickles down to others so does the fruit of the spirit.  It fills us with love and acceptance.  The Holy Spirit has a way of changing us and allowing that change to be seen by others.  

Let the Holy Spirit become a part of you.  Let God touch your life every day.  Let Jesus give you words of love and kindness.  Accept the adversity in your life and choose to let God help you through it all.  He is there, waiting to help you. 

Amen.

Those Who Love 10/16/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 16, 2021 & Sunday, October 17, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Send, O God, the light of your presence on our hearts so that as your truth is proclaimed, we may trust in you with all our hearts.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Matthew 18:1-5 (Page 984) & 1 John 4:7-12 (Page 1230) 

Sermon Message: “Those Who Love” 

There’s nothing better than love! Those who love are among the happiest people you and I will ever know. 

The ‘Love Chapter” in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13) declares that faith, hope, and love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love. 

Those who love can appreciate ‘innocence’ in its many forms. 

At our home we have two dogs; a large one and a small one.  The larger of the two chases her tail in circles and makes us laugh.  She also like us to take her on ‘flower walks’ so she can smell the flowers growing around our yard.  Her love for us is innocent and pure. 

Our other dog, the smaller one, has this habit that he has built with me.  Each day when I come into our house, Bam Bam jumps up on my lap, puts his two paws around me, and licks my face until I can’t take it anymore.  His love is also innocent and pure. 

Jesus came down from heaven, innocent and pure, born as a child in a stable in Bethlehem.  He is God’s gift of love to us. 

Those who loved Jesus strove to become close to him.  So close, some of them wanted special ‘privileges’ or ‘places of honor’ with him.  Those who love important people do sometimes strive for ‘special privileges.’ 

Notice how Jesus loved. He set them an example, he taught them a lesson by placing a child in their midst.  That child wasn’t placed there for their entertainment or pleasure.  That child wasn’t there to be seen but not heard.  Rather, Jesus placed a child in their midst to teach and remind them of some very important character traits of those who love. 

One unspoken lesson was this: Grown men and great men and grown women and great women should not disdain the company of little children. While we know we are here to teach children, Jesus reminds us still, we should also learn from them. 

Those who love must learn, from time to time, the necessity of humility. 

‘Change’ is not always easy.  Sometimes it's downright uncomfortable for folks.  Change that becomes ‘conversion’ can be even more humiliating.  Jesus instructs his disciples, then and now, to change and become like little children IF we want to enter the kingdom of heaven.  There is a kind of grace God gives us for forgiving our sins.  There’s another form of grace that calls upon us to convert from who we are to whom God would have us to be. 

Those who love are to convert to childlike graces as we relate to God and others.  Sometimes it is ‘tempting’ to be ‘all grown up’ in our views, and we fail to see the blessings of love, especially innocent love around us. 

The Bible teaches us that Jesus and his parents would often times go to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray and to worship.  Part of the magnificent worship may have involved sacred music from harps, lyres, and mature, cultured voices.  The ‘singing of the Psalms probably never sounded better than in the magnificent temple. 

At Christmas time we recall a child’s musical selection and his worship of Jesus, the Babe in the manger.  Our current rendition of ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ converts us to a spirit of genuine humbleness as we, too, identify ‘what’s in our hearts’ as we bring the basics of ourselves to worship Christ in the cradle and embrace Christmas again. 

Sometimes late at night as I lay in bed, I scroll down my electronic tablet for Christian music to listen to.  There’s a young blind and autistic boy who strives to sing the contemporary Christian song, “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord.”  It’s moving for lots of reasons.  The words and meaning behind the song are moving.  This small, innocent boy, Christopher Duffey, who sings from his heart while working through some disabilities, inspires a form of love for God, for life, and for those who love with such pure innocence.  

IF we only have time for the best of the best in music and other areas of our lives, we shall never appreciate the purity of love even when it is ‘right there’ in front of us. 

The older we become the harder it seems to be for us to ‘remember’ when we were a child.  Something we surely can identify with though is this; childhood is the learning age.  When you are too old to learn, you are too old. 

Those who love choose to remain humble enough to learn, while further learning to become humble. 

It’s good to be ambitious, but do remember Christ’s lesson that this can easily enough be coupled with pride.  It was pride that threw the angels out of heaven, and it remains pride that can compromise how we love and who we love. 

The better honor and advancement stems from humility.  The humblest Christians are the best Christians.  Childlike faith is better than superior faith. 

Love comes down from heaven.  Those who love know God.  A very ‘humbling’ truth about God’s love is this; God loved us first. 

Those who love should strive to become more ‘God-like’ in how they love.  These are ‘nice words’ but sometimes quite hard to put into practice. 

Jesus knew there’s nothing better than love.  He lived it, spoke about it, preached it, shared with us the commandments that affirm love as being the best, the greatest, and the most important aspects of life here on earth and in God’s heaven.  Jesus knew the lessons on love well.  He welcomed children, ate with sinners, healed the hopeless, and suffered immensely in his heart, his body, his mind, and even his soul.  Jesus Christ once said, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  Jesus did just that.  He laid down his life for us. 

My life and yours are better, more meaningful, and far more peaceful due to love, God’s kind of love inside of us. 

Those who love are a reflection of God.  

Recall Jesus’ instructions regarding childlike faith and love.  Children need to be held.  This too is a form of love.  One of the things I like about being a big guy is that I am able to hold people and help them feel loved.  Those who love understand that love can be something as simple and sweet as a smile, a firm arm placed around the shoulder of another, a handshake, or possibly an embrace.  

Though I am a big man, I shall never forget the time I once needed to hold a guy nearly twice my size because his heart was broken, and his life felt crushed.  

When is the last time someone picked you up and carried you?  Not too many can carry big guys like us.  Yet everyone experiences those times when we’d sure like to feel the arms of Jesus and sit at his feet for a while. 

Those who love provide others with a listening ear and an understanding heart.  Jesus was slow to judge but seemingly quick to forgive, make whole, and provide hope. 

Children will sometimes say, “Life isn’t fair.”  As we mature, we grow to realize they are sometimes right.  Life isn’t always fair, but life still remains life. 

Those who love with the love of God inside of them and flowing through them make choices to love somebody each and every day, even though that love is not fairly reciprocated.  Those who love know they love not because it is ‘fair,’ but because they can, and also because God knows they are choosing to love. 

Surely we have watched marriages and friendships whereby ‘love’ is not balanced and far from the 50-50 contributions and receptions one might expect.

Possibly we have seen whereby love has needed to be ‘tough’ because the other person was swimming in addictions or some form of self-destruction.  There are also those times when people must have boundaries imposed upon them, else wise they will bring harm. 

Along the road of life, like you, I have met souls who choose not to love, for they fear rejection or the possibility of pain should the relationship end.  

Jesus Christ and the Christian faith continues to teach us all that love is a risk.  We risk getting involved in another person’s life or letting them in ours.  We risk extending ourselves, opening our hearts, or expressing our vulnerabilities.  In short, the summary of Jesus’ life and teachings has well informed us that suffering goes with choosing to love. 

Jesus hurt for those disciples who saw their relationship with him as a means to achieving greater prosperity or position.  Instead of figuring out how they could better help him with his hurt, they continued to vie for who’s the most important.  Jesus Christ hurt when he met the woman at the well who had a multitude of sins she was bearing.  He hurt for the woman who was just about to be stoned to death because others judged her as being an adulteress.  Jesus hurt for those were born blind and for those who were so blinded by their thoughts and beliefs that they could not see God’s love in their midst.  Jesus hurt for those who crucified him and took his life.  He asked the Father to forgive them.  

Those who love have learned the art of forgiveness, the blessing associated with loving others in spite of themselves and moving on. 

Yet we have also learned from our faith that following the path of love is the greatest fulfillment known to human kind.  

No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us. Amen.

The 23rd Psalm Warms My Heart 10/9/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 9, 2021 & Sunday, October 10, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Shine within our hearts, loving God, the pure light of your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds and hearts that we may understand and embrace the message of Holy Scripture.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 (Page 662) & Psalm 23 (Page 548) 

Sermon Message: “The 23rd Psalm Warms My Heart” 

When you read this first chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes, how does it make you feel?  Personally I find it rather depressing, even cold. It declares that life is meaningless.  Everything is meaningless.  Utterly meaningless. There’s nothing new under the sun.  Bad history has a way of repeating itself.  All things are wearisome and, in the end, even after all of our labors, no one will be remembered for what they have done. 

What kind of mind ‘thinks’ this way?  What sort of soul believes such heavy decrees?  Perhaps the author of these words was just sort of ‘reviewing’ some thoughts?  Maybe he was ‘evaluating’ during this particular ‘time’ or ‘season’ in his life?  

The writer of this portion of the Book of Ecclesiastes seems to have a very cold heart. 

Allow me to share some brief insight into ‘who’ this writer was. The accredited author of the book of Ecclesiastes is Solomon.  A king of Israel.  He is the son of King David.  His teacher; Nathan, referred to young Solomon as ‘Jedidiah’ which means ‘beloved of the Lord.’  Solomon reigned some 40 years. During his reign Solomon was blessed to erect a Temple for the Lord.  Quite a massive structure with extensive spiritual meaning.  In addition to erecting many buildings Solomon was accredited with completing numerous waterways to supply his people with much needed daily supplies of water.  Solomon went on to construct commercial depots and various military outposts. 

There was abundant prosperity in the land during Solomon’s reign, as well as remarkable intellectual activity.  In those early years Solomon spoke and had recorded over three thousand proverbs.  The Book of Proverbs is still being referred to for great wisdom and insight. 

Those bright days of Solomon’s glory ended in clouds and darkness.  It is a rather sad record.  God did not ‘abandon’ Solomon.  Rather, Solomon succumbed to the effects of polygamy and his great wealth.  Gradually Solomon began to believe more in his pleasure than in the God of Israel.  He referred to God, but his heart just wasn’t in the right place.  Even his worship of God became a ‘formality.’  His soul was left empty. 

So it was, Solomon wrote from a place of feeling forsaken having brought upon himself divine displeasure.  He was penitent, that’s for certain.  Solomon refers to himself as ‘The Teacher.’  This designation may be translated as ‘Koheleth’ or ‘the penitent soul.’  Solomon had become a lost sheep. 

Sometimes that has to happen in a soul’s life. Sometimes a penitent soul stirs from a broken heart or spirit, not merely from a head that is bowed down like tall grass if only for a short time. 

God has a way of using even our broken spirits and our sinful acts to impart insight, provide wisdom, and thereby help to gather souls together in order that many others may hear, benefit, and respond to God prior to their own forsakenness. 

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to NOT feel God in your life, consider some of these words found in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Meaningless, meaningless, meaningless.  Everything is meaningless. THAT’S how a soul feels that is far from God.  That ‘coldness’ impacts a person’s heart and soul like nothing else. 

Psalm 23 shall be referenced soon.  But for just a moment please further recall the very first verse of the previous psalm, Psalm 22:1:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  That particular verse of scripture was penned by Solomon’s father; King David.  Job, in his huge and numerous sufferings felt it.  Jesus Christ, upon the Cross, repeated those same words as He cried out to the Father.  Perhaps we have all experienced spiritual desertions.  There are times when we cry out, “God, why am I so sick?”  Or “Why am I so poor?” 

What we have in common with David, Job, Solomon, and others is this:  When we want the faith of assurance, we must live by a faith of adherence.  

When life is the most complicated and the heart feels quite cold, can you ‘posit’ enough faith to still declare, “The Lord is my shepherd?” 

David, who penned these familiar words in Psalm 23, was speaking not so much as a shepherd but as a sheep; one of the flock.  He spoke with a sense of spiritual pride, devotion, and admiration.  It was as though he was literally boasting aloud, “Look at who my shepherd is. I belong to Him.  I follow the Lord, come what may.  I trust Him.  I know he shall lead me, my heart, my soul, my very life.” 

‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ implies a profound yet practical working relationship between a human being and his Maker. 

I belong to God, not only because I choose to.  More importantly I belong to Him because He deliberately chose to create me as the object of his own affection.  The Lord IS my shepherd because He has bought me at the incredible price of His own laid down life and shed blood. 

The Lord IS my Shepherd because I am and do remain a ‘sheep.’  Did you know that ‘sheep’ do not just ‘take care of themselves’ as some might suppose?  They require more than most creatures, endless attention and meticulous care.

Jesus wasn’t ‘just’ the Shepherd from the past.  Jesus Christ remains our Good Shepherd who continues to intercede for us with God the Father, guides us still (daily) by His gracious Spirit, and is ever working on our behalf to ensure that we will benefit from His care. 

Read and study Psalm 23 in its entirety.  The entire psalm recounts the manner in which the Good Shepherd spares no pains for the welfare of His sheep. 

There is a coldness in my heart when I consider people the world over who have not known what it is to belong to the Good Shepherd—who suffer instead under sin, Satan, and forsaken feelings. 

Consider further the character of Jesus Christ.  Oh I know there have been lots of false representations of Christ.  But, if even just briefly you can look without bias at His life, you shall see a person, an individual of enormous compassion and incredible integrity.  Jesus Christ was the most balanced and perhaps the most beloved being ever to grace this earth.  He was born is disgusting surroundings a member of a modest working family.  He always exuberated great dignity and assurance.  Here was a person who had no special privileges as a child, either in education or employment, yet His entire philosophy and outlook on life were the highest standards of human conduct ever set by human kind.  He had no vast economic assets, political power, or military might; yet, Jesus made such an enormous impact upon the world’s history.  Because of Him millions of people across twenty plus centuries of time have come into a life of decency, honor, and even noble conduct. 

Jesus the Good Shepherd was gentle and tender yet stern as steel and terribly tough on phony people. 

I for one sincerely admire His magnificent and generous spirit for forgiving fallen folks all the while remaining a terror to those who indulge in double talk or false pretenses. 

Jesus Christ, this living Good Shepherd, continues to set people free from their own sins, their own selves, and their own fears.  Those liberated by Him love Him with fierce loyalty! 

Jesus Christ is the good Shepherd, the concerned Shepherd, the shepherd who still cares enough to seek out and save and restore lost men and women. 

Things are different, better, and more peaceful when the Lord IS your Shepherd. 

Perhaps you’ve heard of cattle being ‘branded’ with a mark identifying them as part of a certain ‘herd?’  Sheep are sometimes ‘marked’ by a particular ‘cut’ on their ear as belonging to a certain shepherd. 

What ‘marks’ your allegiance to Jesus Christ as your Good Shepherd?  What is it that people see in you that makes them identify you as a Christian? 

Jesus said we are known by our ability and evidence of picking up our own cross and following Him. 

So how is it in your life when things get ‘tossed over’ and perhaps ‘reviewed deeply?’ 

This church of Jesus Christ and our relationship to the Good Shepherd is not a club we belong to nor a book of ideas we can randomly pick up or set aside.  Christianity is a way of life.  24/7. 

Admitting that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, affirming that He IS the Son of God, even ‘believing’ that Jesus is divine is well and good, yet not sufficient.  Even Satan believes those things to be true. 

Following the Good Shepherd, giving Him leadership over your life is another thing altogether. 

Do you REALLY belong to Him?  Do you Really recognize His presence and leadership in your life?  May it warm your heart to know, affirm, and live belonging to the Good Shepherd. 

Faith is self-evident.  Maybe not at first, otherwise it wouldn’t be ‘faith.’  But faith ‘shows up’ in some pretty sincere ways.  Psalm 23 affirms, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”  This doesn’t mean you will be blessed beyond measure and never ‘want’ for anything at all in this world.  Being a Christian, a ‘sheep’ of His pasture and care, does not mean we will never experience lack or need. 

We all need to keep a balanced view of our Christian life and way of living.  Surely, we know that Jesus himself and many well-known Christians even in our time, experienced adversity. Jesus said, “In this world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer-I have overcome the world.” 

Far too many preach what’s called the ‘prosperity Gospel.’  By this it is meant IF you believe, pray, act, and live in certain prescribed ways, you will reap the blessings from God of pain free life and abundant prosperity with no trials, adversities, or afflictions.  That just isn’t true. 

“I shall not want” applies to peace, help, guidance, comfort, forgiveness, and love from God.  Not specifically to material wealth or gain.  Contentment may come from putting our affairs in the hands of God. 

“He makes me to lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.”  Jesus is nearby. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”  (II Timothy 1:7)  Tonight may your prayer be “Now I lay me down to sleep.  I lay me down in peace to sleep.”  No need for foreboding fear for the future.  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  The Apostle Paul stated, “I have learned in whatever state I am in to be content.”  Green pastures imply a state of contentment and needed provisions.  I have long-felt the 23rd Psalm provides us with some much needed ‘imagery’ of what God’s heaven is like; a place of green pastures and a table prepared before me. 

“He leads me beside still waters.”  There is peace and refreshment in still waters.  They are a picture and a place for meditation and renewal.  God alone knows the place where you find contentment for your heart, your mind, and your soul.  He leads you there. 

Perhaps we all long for ‘mountaintop’ experiences with God.  However, we must always remember, every mountain has its valley.  Recall and reaffirm, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”  Because there is a shadow, we can surely believe there is a light.  The light of God, the light of Jesus, the presence of the good Shepherd warms the heart while illuminating the path. 

I’ve grown to know I cannot face life’s valleys alone.  Some have been darker than others.  Some are yet to come as I pass though this life.  Strive to become an example of trusting in the Lord’s provision. 

“Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”  The shepherd’s rod or staff was a tool, a weapon of power, authority, and defense.  It remains a continuous comfort to the sheep.  The ‘rod’ is also a reference to the spoken ‘word’ - the expressed intent and extended activity of God’s mind and will in dealing with people/us. 

May it warm your heart to know, even in the presence of your enemies, God, the Good Shepherd, prepares a table for you, anoints your head with oil, and extends His goodness and love to you all the days of your life. 

For some, Christianity becomes adherence to certain doctrines or believing certain facts. 

Within Psalm 23 feel the touch of His presence, of His Spirit upon your spirit. 

“All the days of my life.”  That really does mean ‘always.’  Turn things over to him daily, minute by minute, if you need to or just desire to.  A Shepherd cares for His sheep 24/7. 

Our life with God is far from meaningless.  The 23rd Psalm truly does warm our hearts.  Amen.

Grace Not Perfection 10/2/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 2, 2021 & Sunday, October 3, 2021 

Worldwide Communion Sunday 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth.  Make us hungry for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Ephesians 2:8-10 (pg. 1174), Mark 12:28-34 (pg. 1017), Colossians 3:23,24 (pg. 1184) 

Sermon Message: ‘Grace Not Perfection’ 

Grace, not perfection, is what God desires for us.  We receive ‘grace’ from God and are expected to extend ‘grace’ to others. 

In my ‘growing up’ years ‘grace’ was something we ‘said’ before meals.  Not every meal, but the important ones like Sunday dinner, birthdays, and a few other times during the week. 

The type of ‘grace’ being referenced in today’s scripture lesson may be thought of simply and sincerely as the goodness of God coming to us.  The goodness of God, the Lord’s ‘grace’, is not something we can well-earn lest we boast or strive to manipulate our Maker.  Rather, ‘grace’ comes to imperfect souls leading imperfect lives.  Consider a human example for analogy here. 

I’ve heard numerous people report that dining room tables and chairs plus elegant ‘place settings’ are slowly fading away.  Less and less are folks gathering for ‘proper’ or ‘formal’ meals.  However, many can well recall how it was when participating in such ‘dining’ experiences.  I recall being told ‘how’ to properly set the table.  I learned where each plate was to be set, how each napkin was to be folded, precisely where each knife, fork, and spoon were to be placed.  Plus the ‘proper’ seating arrangement for each meal participant.  These were but a few of the important details required for things to be made ‘perfect.’  This is an area whereby we learned, ‘there’s a place for everything and everything in its place!’ ‘Sacredness’ is often times associated with perfection or at least striving towards perfection. 

I hope you have noticed in a variety of churches, including our own, we strive to honor the Lord each time we ‘share’ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion by ‘setting up’ communion precisely, in good order and format.  However, this on-going reality with Covid-19 restrictions has required us to ‘adjust’ a few things.  We can no longer receive ‘precise’ portions of communion bread hand-made by our own folks.  Nor can we use those precise little communion cups.  Instead, we have to learn to balance the opening of two different flaps on those small ‘k-cups’ to receive the bread of communion and the ‘wine’ of communion. 

In our personal lives, within our church lives, and even where we work or attend school the former ‘perfect life’ remains challenged and somewhat compromised out of necessity. 

Part of the ‘grace’ that we receive is knowing and experiencing ‘communion’ still with our brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Personal ‘grace’ I receive from you is your consistent ‘understanding’ that while this is NOT how it used to be, you are accepting of the same. 

Grace, not perfection, is called for in our personal lives AND in our lives with God. 

Striving for perfection can be our attempts to honor God.  While we should strive to always ‘give God our best,’ even the Bible confirms that none of us ARE perfect nor will we ever be in this life.  We are saved by grace and THAT remains a gift of God. 

Sometimes it’s not very ‘easy’ to accept a free gift.  Especially this ‘free’ gift from God.  Most of us were taught to ‘produce’ and ‘earn’ what we have received or might seek to gain.  But God’s grace is different than all of that.  His grace is a part of his love for us. 

Along with our having been taught to ‘be perfect’ sometimes we strive for perfection as a means of gaining some semblance of ‘control.’  After all, if we ‘dot’ every ‘i’ and ‘Cross’ every ‘t’, who can criticize us?  If we strive to follow even some semblance of ‘the letter of the law’, we may feel more ‘in control’ of things.  Striving to make others follow OUR definition of ‘the letter of the law’ may seem to make us feel as though we are exerting control over others. 

“Grace” not perfection is what’s called for in our lives of following God.  Jesus taught us that ‘love’ is the greatest commandment.  Clearly the Bible teaches us that fear, pride, or even arrogance can get in the way of grace.  Strive to ‘commune’ this day and forever with this teaching from the Bible:  “Beloved, let us love one another for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”  1 John 4:7 

God expects of us what He gives unto us; grace and love. 

Sometimes we strive to ‘push’ against God and to ‘push’ against others.  Especially so if we tend to feel we are being negatively controlled or unfairly cared for. 

Folks, we make a mistake when we demand too much ‘perfection’ before extending even a small measure of love.  Institutions, even churches, can be guilty of the same.  

Whatever you do and whoever you care about, strive to follow God’s guidance: “work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” 

Our labor for God is not in vain.  Our labor for human overseers can sometimes be in vain.  The Bible further teaches if we do our work, any and all work, with all of our heart as though we are working for the Lord, this shall help us to overcome the negativity imposed upon us by human masters.  Some deeply reflecting Christians known as ‘the desert fathers’ learned and well-communicated this vital spiritual insight.  They wrote of ‘mopping the floors as though doing so was for the Lord Jesus himself.’  They further wrote of their maturing decision to mop those floors better than they had ever been mopped, for they were striving to honor the Lord far beyond human masters.  They had well learned a form of grace, not perfection. 

My friends, there is another verse of scripture I am sure many would like to receive as a blessing in their lives.  It is located in the Book of Jeremiah 29:11; “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

This Biblical affirmation sounds like a prescription for ‘the good life!’  The trouble with ‘the good life’ is far too many people equate that with ‘perfection.’  Easily enough any of us can feel trapped by our own desire to live the ‘perfect life.’ 

We are called to strive towards perfection all the while bearing in mind that such a state shall only occur in eternity.  This is NOT a perfect world we live in. 

In this world God calls us to live a life of grace, not perfection. 

But I think you all can identify with what we’ve been told concerning living the perfect life or at least striving for perfection.  Those lessons have repeatedly been ingrained inside of us.  

Somewhere along the way someone told us we were not good enough.  Or standards were set high for us.  Thanks to social media, blogs, and magazines, we mash together everyone else’s highlights and best moments in life and call it perfection. 

Each Fall season my wife and I consider a trip to the Amish country.  Patty sometimes reads books about the Amish country.  Inside many of us there remains this ‘longing’ for simplicity and joy.  It remains tempting to complicate our lives with comparison and the ‘not good enough’ principle.  Busyness seems to be the norm for lots of folks these days.  Some have grown to learn that running so fast makes it easier for the world to tell us its version of what the ‘good life’ looks like.  Much of the world’s version involves perfection and comparison. 

The grace that comes from God is free for imperfect and unworthy people, like us.  Our lives with God don’t have to be perfect.  We are to know that regardless of our imperfections, each of us is worthy of happiness and joy, silly moments, and rich memories. 

It’s good to identify with some of the folks from the Bible.  For instance, the Apostle Paul.  Here is a guy who worked hard to get everything right in his life with God.  

Paul was a very distinguished apostle yet one who suffered severe trials in his service of the Lord.  Paul questioned God about this one consistent ‘trial’ that bothered him, slowed him down, and irritated him.  For all of the ‘good’ Paul was doing for the Lord, this one particular physical ailment kept slowing him down.  Paul referenced this as being a ‘thorn in his flesh.’  Perhaps you have a ‘thorn in your flesh’ as well.  Some physical thing that slows you down, compromises your life, and makes things far less than perfect in your world. Some Biblical scholars ascertain that Paul’s ‘thorn in his flesh’ was actually a recurring eye infection that would end up matting his eyes shut from time to time.  

Admittedly I’ve gone to God as well and asked Him about a thing or two in my own body that just isn’t quite right and also slows me down.  Take my left leg for instance.  Ever since my accident two years ago, I have some sort of pain every day.  Some days more than others.  The medications help, but nothing takes it away altogether. It’s not that my physical life was perfect prior to my accident.  It was just a lot better, so it seems to me. 

God’s message to Paul, I further identify as God’s message to me.  The Lord says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 

The good Lord can and does use our ailments and afflictions to accomplish his will, keep us humble, and remind us of far greater need for grace than for perfection. 

Sometimes we would do good to make a list of our imperfections; then see how God has helped us or perhaps called upon us to help or encourage others who also have ‘imperfections.’ 

In your faith walk with God do remember this, Love is the greatest commandment.  NOT perfection.  Come now; let us commune with God who loves us as we are.  Amen.

A Caring Church 9/25/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 25 & Sunday, September 26, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Ever-loving God, whose Word is life, and whose touch brings healing and salvation, make your Word real to us now.  Speak your presence in our hearts and lives, that we may know the reality of your grace, and bear it to others in your name.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Mark 9:38-50 (Page 1012) and James 5:13-20 (Page 1219) 

Sermon Message: “A Caring Church” 

Churches are associated with several things: worship, love, mission, fellowship, prayers, and lots of forms of caring. 

A caring church may or may not have large numbers in attendance and may also have rather humble and even small facilities in which they worship and share God’s love. 

A vital aspect of any caring church is considered in today’s second scripture lesson. James, the brother of Jesus, references ‘prayers of faith.’  One such prayer of faith is The Lord’s Prayer.  While there are other ‘prayers of faith’ found within the Bible and expressed from our hearts, this particular prayer, commonly known by most as The Lord’s Prayer, was taught to us all by Jesus. 

Did you know there are many variations of The Lord's Prayer?  Many of us learned The Lord's Prayer as children, simply from hearing it, then saying it every Sunday in church.  I was one of those children.  By the time I was eight or nine years old, I could recite The Lord's Prayer by rote, along with The Apostle's Creed, the Doxology, the alphabet, and the multiplication tables.  This is good, but it can also be bad.  By that I mean that when we can recite something without even thinking about it, the meaning is often lost for us.  That is what happened for me in my ‘growing up’ years.  Today, I actually listen to the words and consider their meanings.  For example, when we say, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done," we are actually saying that we want the Kingdom of God to come, and that we want God's will, not our own, to be done here on Earth, just as it is in heaven. 

As we ‘say’ the Lord’s Prayer, we sometimes declare forgive us our debts, OR forgive us our trespasses, OR forgive us our sins.  Actually, according to the Bible, all three of those versions are correct.  

Wrong doing puts us in debt to those we have harmed or offended and unto Christ who died for the forgiveness of our debts. 

Wrong doing is a ‘trespassing’ of the Laws of God, the teachings of Jesus Christ, and the breaking of civil or religious laws.  For instance, ‘breaking the Ten Commandments’ is a form of trespassing against God or others, even against our own better self. 

When you or I attend “Mass” at a Catholic Church and we ‘say’ the Lord’s Prayer, we employ the word ‘trespass.’  “Forgive us our ‘trespasses,’ even as we forgive those who trespass against us.” 

Here at the Presbyterian Church we say, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  

In any Christian Church or gathering, using the word ‘sins’ is also appropriate.  “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” 

As a Pastor, I’ve had people from every ‘school of thought’ and diverse religious affiliation ‘report’ how others ‘say’ The Lord’s Prayer OR how Holy Communion occurs in ‘their’ church versus ours.  This reminds me of Jesus’ dealing with his disciples who observed ‘others’ driving out demons and performing miracles.  Jesus reminded them, even as he reminds us, NOT to stop others who are doing good in his name, for whoever is not against Jesus is for us.  

One thing I have never been able to understand is why some pastors, churches, and denominations imply that they are the only true church.  Both major and minor church bodies have done this down through the years, and some still continue to. 

The Bible makes it clear that there is only one true church -- the church of Jesus Christ (and I'm not referring to the Mormons!).  This is the church universal; consisting of believers in Christ from various Christian denominations around the globe.  Why are we at odds with each other when we are about the same mission: proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to a spiritually lost world?  Granted, I'm fully aware that there are both major and minor differences in doctrines and practice, but if the gospel is at the heart of what we profess and the main purpose of our ministry, then I believe Jesus would say to all of us:  Do not stop [them]; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  Whoever is not against us is for us. 

What many pastors and churches are doing is putting each other down to try to make themselves look better.  So maybe you think your doctrine is better than someone else's; good for you!  You should, or how else can you keep teaching and preaching it with confidence?  But the truth is, any church with a set of doctrines that is Christ centered, believes in the Trinity, holds to Christ's words that he is the only way to the Father, and sees the primary purpose of the church as carrying out Christ's Great Commission, is on the right track.  They are for Christ and not against him.  So how can any of us presume to be so much smarter than Christ, and be against them when he isn't? 

What this separatist mentality and isolation is doing is confusing young and immature believers and creating a stumbling block for unbelievers.  Time and again I have tried to share the gospel with skeptics who raise this one question over and over again:  "Why can't Christians get along?"  Good point!  Why can't we?  Either it's Jesus' fault for instituting a shabby organization such as the Christian church, or else it the church's fault for doing such a shabby job of running this pure and holy body which he instituted.  I hope you will humbly agree with me that it is, without a doubt, the latter of the two.  In part, due to differing interpretations of scripture and deep convictions, and in large part due to arrogance and pride, we have continued this same attitude of the disciples where we tried to stop [them], because [they were] not following us. 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I'm not proposing one big Christian church, for that would be ridiculous.  I'm urging us to follow Christ's advice.  Let's quit bad-mouthing one another and back-stabbing each other.  Let's pray for, and with, one another now and then.  Let's do a better job of educating our children on our differences and similarities and let them decide where they want to go to church.  Intimidating them with non-biblical fear and consequences if they leave the fellowship of our church is only keeping the conscientious ones; it drives the others away, not only from the church but from God. 

Some parts of the Christian church have become a stumbling block.  Jesus Christ speaks strongly against whoever and whatever becomes a stumbling block.  Especially so if we hamper young believers from following ‘Him’ instead of ‘us’ and our ways. 

In the words of the Nicene Creed we affirm ‘one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.’  Thus when folks come to be married or to join this church, I inquire of them if they have been baptized.  Neither our Session nor myself requires that their baptism was within a Presbyterian Church, for we do affirm ‘one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.’ 

The caring church recognizes and affirms that we are all ‘in this together.’  These communities where we reside have realized for years that the missions and ministries of Jesus Christ are better served when we share in them together.  I, for one, believe and affirm the sharing of various community ministries provides a wholesome example of the caring church.  Some examples include our community food pantries, Meals on Wheels programs, Helping hands ministries, and Faith in Action to name but a few. 

To employ ‘church language’ the caring church occurs best when we are ‘ecumenical’ in our actions.  Perhaps this too is part of the ‘saltiness’ that Jesus references?  “Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” 

While many church participants tend to measure the success and effectiveness of a church by its numbers, its programs, and its finances, the Bible indicates a far greater ‘listing’ of what constitutes a caring church.  Let’s ponder and evaluate: 

Much of Jesus’ ministry and guidance calls for His followers to care for one another.  An essential element of a successful and effective caring church. 

We are to care for those who are suffering.  By ‘we’ I do not mean ‘me’ alone.  But all of us.  Together, we are the church.  We all can and should care for those who are suffering.  Strive to become aware of the needs of others.  Pray with them and for them.  Visit, call, send cards, share the music of the church, and touch them with your hearts.  Ministries from the heart make for a very caring church.  I know and understand this personally.  We are further inquired to care for the elderly.  James, the brother of Jesus, encourages us to anoint others with oil as we pray for them.  A wholesome opportunity for pastors and elders.  

A strength of our church is communicating quickly when one of us becomes aware of the needs and the suffering of another.  A caring church is not only aware, but also quick to respond with compassion.  

This care requires some things that are seriously lacking in today's culture: selflessness, time, and good health.  If we want to do this well, we will think less of ourselves and more of others.  If, while caring for others, we are constantly thinking about all the things we should be doing or want to do, it will show in our attitude, lack of concern, and attention.  To be an effective caregiver, we will want to make time for those who are suffering.  We can't be holding their hand and looking at the clock at the same time (unless we're checking their pulse!). 

Caring people also take good care of themselves.  This not only applies to the obvious, of taking good care of ourselves physically (for the sick cannot care for the sick), but also taking care of ourselves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Are we in a good state of mind?  Are we thinking rightly about those who need our care?  If we are too tired, for example, we will probably be less patient with those we are caring for than if we are well rested. 

And how are you doing spiritually?  A major aspect to caring for those who are suffering is spiritual care.  When it comes to this, we cannot give what we do not possess.  James urged that the confession of sin be associated with prayer and anointing with oil.  However, if we are living in sin and operating in a spiritual vacuum, we lose our nerve to confront sin, and our prayers are hindered.  On the other hand, the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.  That is exciting, for if we are in a right relationship with God, he is going to use us in powerful ways to accomplish his eternal purposes! 

The main purpose in care giving is not to make people laugh or feel good, but to bring them to the truth.  Notice what James wrote about this:  You should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner's soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.  That, my friends, is what spiritual care giving is all about and should be the primary goal of every pastor and congregation.  

Care can, and must, begin with us.  Amen.

Wisdom Works 9/18/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 18, 2021 & Sunday, September 19, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, in you are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Open our eyes that we may see the wonders of your Word; and give us grace that we may clearly understand and freely choose the way of your wisdom; through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 1 (Page 536) & James 3:13 - 4:3, 7-8a (Page 1218 ) 

Sermon Message:  “Wisdom Works” 

“Come near to God and he will come near to you.”  Good wisdom to live by.  Sounds ‘sensible’ to most of us I am sure.  This is a bit of Biblical wisdom that we know ‘works.’ 

Walking with God, sharing and embracing the Christian faith makes us ‘sort out’ wisdom.  

There’s a type of wisdom that comes from experience, living life, reading, and studying. 

There is another form of wisdom that is born from the elements of human envy.  Jealousy, pride, and strife. 

The Bible counsels of a firmer form of wisdom known to us as ‘godly wisdom.’ 

At differing points in the Bible wisdom is ‘personified’ as a female character or sometimes as the wind, or perhaps the ‘still small voice of God.’  Wisdom is portrayed as a giftedness of God and a further display of God-like qualities in a person’s life. 

If you walk the Christian walk.  If you have children, are married, seek to get along with others, or interface with people in any capacity, you’ve grown to see, learn, and appreciate differing forms of wisdom.   

Not all wisdom works, but Godly wisdom surely does. 

Take a look at the world around us and strive to perceive varying ‘forms’ of wisdom. 

Covid-19 isn’t ‘over.’  It remains front and center in the news.  Out West, the United States is still on fire.  There are many people in Louisiana who still do not have power following Hurricane Ida.  The remnants of Hurricane Ida caused dramatic, deadly flash floods many miles north of its landfall.  City planners are calling attention to the inadequacy of our existing infrastructure.  Climate change means warmer air, which can hold more water vapor, so sewers built even a few decades ago are not adequate when sudden, dramatic storms appear.  Western Europe was hit by flash floods of a similar magnitude earlier this summer — as was Tennessee. 

It seems we’ve gotten so used to “pandemic,” that we’ve forgotten to recognize and respond to those smaller catastrophes called ‘epidemics.’ Pandemics are worldwide, crossing national borders, reaching every time zone in a matter of months.  They contrast with epidemics that are localized and easier to contain quickly.  When there are outbreaks of measles or mumps in the United States because vaccinations against those diseases have failed to reach herd immunity in some communities, they rarely spread.  Not so with the Covid-19 pandemic and its variants. 

President Biden took dramatic action September 9, instructing the Department of Labor to put in place a requirement that businesses employing more than 100 people vaccinate their staffs against Covid-19.  The mandate extends to federal employees and contractors, the staffs of facilities that serve Medicare and Medicaid patients, the staffs of Head Starts, Department of Defense schools, schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other entities. 

President Biden’s patience with those who have refused to be vaccinated is gone:  “What more is there to wait for?  What more do you need to see?" he asked.  “We've made vaccinations free, safe, and convenient.  The vaccine has FDA approval.  Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot.  We've been patient.  But our patience is wearing thin.  And your refusal has cost all of us.  So please, do the right thing.” 

Pushback was immediate and predictable.  “Government has no business telling me what to do with my body!”. 

Many communities (including faith communities) have made changes recently in their masking and physical distancing standards.  Some require masks, others request masks, some say it’s your choice.  Who’s wisdom works? 

‘Godly wisdom’ as referenced in the Bible, appears to begin with individuals.  

My dear wife and I will be married 20 years next month.  To celebrate the event, this past week I called the funeral home. No, we are not making pre-arrangements!  There’s a story behind my remarks: 

About 18 years ago we moved into our current home.  The previous owner passed away, and his son left many of the ‘belongings’ with the house.  There were several very heavy vinyl upholstered ‘sitting chairs.’ We decided we had no need for those heavy chairs.  Back then, I inquired if our church could use them and learned we were overwhelmed here with furniture.  So we gave those chairs to a funeral home in Imperial, PA.  The funeral director said, “I owe you a favor!”  Eighteen years later I thought I might ‘collect’ on that favor.  Perhaps you have seen where funeral homes will sometimes put together a DVD of pictures honoring the person’s life who has passed?  I talked it over with Patty, and we agreed to seek out this particular funeral director to put together a DVD for us representing our 20 years of marriage with some music in the background.  Patty wants Andrea Bocelli’s song, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love.”  She just giggled when I mentioned the Beach Boys! 

There is ‘some’ wisdom that works in songs we hear.  Particularly some Country songs. 

Back in 1988 a Country music artist, Tanya Tucker, composed a # 1 hit, “Strong Enough to Bend.” Here are some of the words to that particular song: 

“There's a tree out in the back yard, That never has been broken by the wind.  And the reason it's still standin'  - It was strong enough to bend.” 

One thing we all might agree upon: wisdom teaches you ‘how’ to bend and the need to bend. 

My father taught me what your father perhaps taught you:  “Work hard son, and you’ll get ahead.”  He also tried to teach me some sort of moral value when he’d say, “whatever you do, remember to keep your nose clean!” 

Psalm 1 is all about happiness and prosperity — for those wise enough to meditate on the Lord’s instruction.  While this is no advertisement for the prosperity gospel, Psalm 1 points us in the direction of sustainable, godly wisdom for one’s life. 

The scriptures from the Book of James point out two kinds of wisdom.  There is the wisdom from ‘above.’  There is also the wisdom from ‘beneath.’ 

I suggest we all choose the wisdom from ‘above.’  Godly wisdom works.  It is peaceable, gentle, and willing to yield.  Much of human wisdom is rooted in bitter envy and selfish ambition. 

I’ve long favored the godly wisdom referred to in Psalm 1.  These scriptures imagine the wise one as being a soul who understands and continually seeks to grow in understanding.  Such wisdom from ‘above’ makes a person sturdy, well-rooted, like a tree near a reliable source of water. 

Perhaps better still is James' advice to the early church.  He writes of wisdom that ‘shows up’ in people’s good lives and in deeds done in humility. 

There’s a difference between those who ‘pretend’ to be wise, or strive to ‘convince’ others they are wise, and those who really are wise.  There remains a distinct difference between wisdom that is from beneath and that which is from above. 

A wise person does not value him/herself merely upon knowing things.  True wisdom is not only knowledge but application of that knowledge. 

Perhaps you have met people who strive to ‘impress’ you with their knowledge, their title, their position, or even with their authority.  Those are usually ‘rough’ conversations.  True wisdom is better known by its works. 

‘Talking well’ and ‘thinking well’ are only part of wisdom.  One must further live and act well for wisdom to work. 

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek.” (Matthew 5:5)  True wisdom may be known by the meekness of the spirit and meekness of one’s temper.  Wisdom teaches us still to prudently bridle our own anger and strive to patiently bear the anger of others.  When we are mild and calm, we are best able to hear reason, form reason, and speak reason.  Wisdom produces meekness, and meekness increases wisdom.  Such wisdom works. 

Today’s scriptures declare: good life and deeds done in humility come from wisdom. 

The Bible further warns us that if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambitions in your heart, the ‘wisdom’ produced does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 

Wisdom from above, the kind of wisdom that ‘works,’ is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. 

Unless we submit to God our prayers seem to go unanswered.  Praying from wrong motives results in emptiness. 

Throughout the Bible we are repeatedly taught that we must submit ourselves unto God and resist the devil.  

Wisdom works.  Wisdom from above teaches us to bend.  Employing Biblical imagery here, we may be like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season and prospers.  Yet we are to remember that only trees that are willing to bend will survive the storms and trials.  

Some of the ‘bending’ we have to do is letting go of ego and selfishness, becoming willing to admit we have been wrong, and be forgiving. 

There are numerous situations and scenarios in our nation and inside of us that need to bend in order to yield good life.  God desires for us to have life.  God has never desired for any of us to become God.  Simply put, we are not God nor do we have all the answers. 

The world does not understand nor well relate to our godly wisdom that teaches us to pray for our enemies, bless those who persecute you, go the extra mile, pray for your enemies, and forgive. 

The wisdom that works is born of God and from God.  Such wisdom knows Jesus and responds, positively, affirmatively so, to Jesus. 

Come near to God, and he will come near to you.  Amen.

Remember Your Faith 9/11/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 11, 2021 & Sunday, September 12, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: O God who is wisdom and life:  Grant us the grace to still the noise that is all around us so that we might hear you speak the words of life to us; through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson: Matthew 18:1-5 (Page 984) 

Sermon Message: ‘Remember Your Faith’ 

When leaving our house the other day, my wife said to me, “Thomas, remember your umbrella.”  With so much rain being forecast these days, that was sure sound advice. 

Since we both have to take our ‘share’ of medicines, one or the other of us will sometimes say, “Did you remember to take your medicine?” 

Parents need to sometimes communicate to their children when they are leaving for school; “Did you remember your Back Pack?” 

‘Remembering’ is much needed and often times appreciated. 

This particular weekend our nation pauses to remember the sadness and sorrow associated with the 20th anniversary of 9/11 here in the United States. 

We learned a lot from that time in our nation’s history. Any time there is an accident somewhere, or some act of violence, we tend to pay attention more.  Also, we immediately assess and inquire if anyone we ‘know’ may have been involved. 

Today, when we share in Holy Communion, these words of Jesus will be shared:  “Eat this bread, drink this cup, in ‘remembrance’ of me. 

Our scripture lesson for this Sabbath affords us another guidance, a further set of instructions for faith development, and spiritual maturity even as we share in this Sacrament of Holy Communion. 

Jesus Christ ‘communes’ with us still as he reminds us, instructs us actually, to change and become like little children.  Otherwise, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 

Across the years of serving God as a minister, I have well observed that children have an uncanny ability to remember their faith.  Sometimes it is with the simplicity of ‘trust’ we see in their eyes.  It may be something as pure as a ‘look’ or possibly their sincere words.  I well recall one little girl saying, “I feel God.’  She was struggling in the hospital at the time. 

Jesus’ further instructions are meant to direct our faith and our actions to become ‘as a child’ in how we position ourselves. 

During Jesus’ earthly walk among us many sought to be recognized by the position they held around the table, or perhaps in the temple; the church.  The clothing they wore, where they were from, their ethnic background, who they knew and were associated with, held power, esteem, and authority. 

Have you ever noticed though when we most need help, seldom does our power, esteem, or authority provide what’s needed immediately? 

For instance, when an accident occurs, those who come to our ‘rescue’ seldom inquire of our title, position, or authority.  They are just ‘there’ to help. 

The Christian faith isn’t only for responsiveness to dire scenarios.  One of the more beautiful and mature aspects of the Christian faith remains its appeal to us at all times and in all seasons.  In times of joy, praise, and thanksgiving, as well as when we experience trials and great sorrows, worries, and fears. 

Scriptures afford us seemingly countless words of advice for life guided by faith.  Repeatedly I have preached the message inquiring of us to remember Jesus.  Do remember how Jesus interacted with this world as he lived among us.  One of his spiritual strengths that he drew upon was remembering and recalling scripture. 

As our world changes, as religion, in general changes, and even as our beloved church changes, we need even more to ‘remember our faith.’ 

Akin to many of you, I grew up attending not only weekly worship services but also Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and later seasonal Bible studies.  It was there that you and I studied, learned, and memorized important aspects of our faith. 

We were taught in our Christian Education experiences to know Christian doctrines pertaining to salvation, heaven, hell, sin, forgiveness, even love, praise, and thanksgiving.  

Less and less do children ‘grow up’ knowing, reciting, and understanding the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the 23rd Psalm, the Beatitudes, and deeply gratifying knowledge of the kingdom of heaven.  It remains our opportunity and responsibility to change this sad truth. 

Jesus’ words, his abiding instructions, ring true for us all this day and for our lifetimes; “Change and become like children.”  

Surely, we have all noticed children readily absorb what they are taught, what’s presented to them, and how it applies to their ‘becoming’ lives. 

Take time, as children of God, to review just how meaningful your inner awareness of faith knowledge has applied to your lives. 

In times of trouble and for daily devotions you remember to ‘say’ the Lord’s Prayer.  It ‘fits your soul’ well.  You are comfortable with this prayer for you’ve known it ‘forever’ or so it seems. 

Readily you can help another troubled soul experiencing deep troubles, for you are acquainted with the words, the flow, and the spiritual meaning of the 23rd Psalm. 

Life isn’t quite as troubling for those of us who ‘grew up’ with applying those Ten Commandments to our lives. 

When asked ‘what it is’ that you believe easily enough, the Apostle’s Creed comes to mind. 

These and various forms of church doctrine have been applied to our faith development.  Throughout our time here on earth we are ‘better off,’ for these ‘faith awarenesses’ have been developed in us and are consistently applied at various times and seasons. 

God forbid that something such as 9/11 should happen again.  However, if it does, we have faith to draw upon.  

The faith found in scriptures reminds us all still; in life and in death we belong to God.  From dust we have come and unto dust we shall return. 

I wish to share with you some very good news.  Two people recently got some great news regarding awareness of cancer in their bodies. 

Sue M. was quite burdened that initial test results showed a possible cancerous mass inside her stomach.  The good news associated with further testing revealed it was a mass of infection but NOT cancer. 

Patty and I have requested prayer for a nephew on my side of the family, Kelly A. Just in his 50’s, Kelly and his wife, Tracy, have two children.  Kelly’s prognosis looked gloomier each time I talked with my brother.  Last week the hospital requested a video conference with Kelly to discuss his ‘options.’  Kelly and Tracy thought the worst.  Last Wednesday my brother tells me on the phone that while Kelly has some very real skin cancer, his internal cancer is all clear.  None detected. 

Remember your faith when you gain good news.  When happiness assails you like the winds, remember your faith.  Return to the Lord and give thanks.  One of the more blessed ways to do that is to look up and simply say, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”  Remember the Biblical narrative of the 10 lepers who were healed and only one returned to give thanks.  Be that one-in-ten.  Remember your faith.  Attending worship is a sincere and abiding means of praising and thanking the Lord. 

Fall on your knees, humble your heart, praise your savior.  Good news still comes.   

God guides us all to remember our faith but also to share our faith.  Development of faith is needed.  Strange thing about faith.  It might be inside of us.  We may have been taught many scriptures, examples, and teachings concerning faith.  Our long lives may even exuberate faith.  Yet, when challenged, our faith is made stronger by someone sharing the abiding anchor of faith ‘with us’ and ‘for us.’ Go back to the basics.  Follow Jesus’ teaching to become like children in trust, in faith, in dependency, and even for hope. 

Soon we shall share in the Lord’s Supper.  Holy Communion.  The Eucharist as some refer to it.  This sacrament has aided scores of Christians to remember their faith.  I know, for I have repeatedly seen this to be true. 

Communion is our closeness, in a special way, to God, to Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit.  Communion calls us to ‘share faith’ and ‘remember faith’ with one another in Christian fellowship.  The Bible reminds us that the disciples were devoted to the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup of communion.  So should we be devoted to receiving and sharing Holy Communion whenever and wherever possible. 

As pastor, I have a few suggestions that require your help.  In the few months remaining in 2021 please invite someone else to come with you to church for worship, for prayer, for singing the hymns, for hearing the Word of God, and for sharing in Holy Communion.  By doing so you shall help another to ‘remember their faith.’ 

I plan on publishing some basics to be printed in the church bulletin and newsletter.  Some of which I have referred to, perhaps a page dedicated to The Lord’s Prayer.  You might be surprised to learn of folks who don’t know this important prayer that Jesus taught his early disciples and now teaches us. 

I hope to have printed a list of the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, even the Beatitudes. 

One of the strange parts of remembering our faith is our genuine need, repeatedly so, to go back to the basics, become like a child, reflecting and re-learning God’s message to our hearts, our souls, and our minds, when we need it most. 

Jesus wants for us all to experience the kingdom of heaven.  Today’s scriptures provide quality insights into ‘how’ that should happen.  Jesus will be present ‘right here’ among us as we share in His Sacrament of Holy Communion. 

As you eat the bread and drink the cup, remember your faith, children of God.  Amen!

The Evidence of Faith 9/4/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021 & Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul. Pour out on us the spirit of wisdom and understanding that our hearts and minds may be opened. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 (Page 650), Psalm 125 (Page 617), James 2:14-17 (Page 1217) 

Sermon Message: “The Evidence of Faith” 

Reading the Bible can be challenging at times.  Today’s Scripture Lessons carry ‘challenges’ as well.  

James, one of the brothers of Jesus Christ, challenges us in his message that faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 

The Psalmist seems to challenge us by inquiring if we have the kind of faith that trusts in the Lord and cannot be shaken. 

The scripture lessons from the Book of Proverbs seem to have a bit easier ‘challenge’ at first review, for they ‘come across’ as so many ‘wisdom sayings.’ 

The world, at large, has been challenged and remains challenged by Covid-19.  Also on the world scene is the recent evacuation of America’s presence in Afghanistan.  Here, in our own country, we seek to rebound from Hurricane Ida and its effects upon thousands. 

The rain we received here in Western Pennsylvania was perhaps bothersome as we dealt with both heat and humidity.  Yet our concerns were minor in comparison to the ongoing devastation in Louisiana.  When we traverse a storm, our electricity is out for a few hours, and for maybe a day or so, we are quite bothered.  Current predictions for power and phone service to be restored in parts of Louisiana are open ended.

Some ‘wisdom sayings’ such as those found in the Book of Proverbs provide an initial evidence of faith.  Across the years perhaps you have communicated the following ‘saying’:  “Into every life a little rain must fall.”  Our country has experienced more than ‘a little rain.’  

Natural disasters, wherever they may occur, inform us that rich and poor are victimized.  We grow to learn, we are ‘in this together.’  ‘Faith’ informs us, (Proverbs 22:2), “Rich and poor have this in common:  The Lord is the Maker of them all.” 

One of the poor faith responses we can have is to begin thinking in ‘we/them’ terms.  To think that ‘we’ are somehow ‘better’, more ‘loved’ or ‘protected’ by God from disasters, than are others, makes for poor faith and even poorer evidence of faith.  The Lord is the Maker of us all.  Just as we are ‘all’ in this together, so too we ‘all’ must respond together.  Our response begins with prayer and, as James declares, will show up best in our actions and our deeds.  

Several occurrences have literally ‘shaken our faith!’  Too much rain, too long of a war, extensive death, illness, and affliction from this historical pandemic.  

On this Labor Day weekend God strives to remind us ours is a labor of love and a required response of faith.  I remind us all that there are even now scores of people who are not strong enough to have faith alone nor within themselves.  Such has been the horror and devastation that remains far reaching. 

Trusting in the Lord is something that many need our help with.  For those who are so challenged, ours remains the opportunity to pray for, talk to, and share our help and support with. 

Spiritual strength and spiritual ‘food for the task’ shall help us all to evidence faith. 

Jesus memorized scriptures and drew strength from them. So should we. 

The wisdom of Proverbs is often times well received by folks for they remind us of some of our own ‘wisdom sayings.’  We ‘say’ things such as ‘A penny saved is a penny earned.’  Or ‘a stitch in time saves nine.’  The wisdom of Proverbs is a summary of wisdom gathered from an intense observation of life.  It is a very familiar form of wisdom treasured in most cultures.  It is the golden nugget mined from the flowing stream of life.  It is not meant to be a truth imposed on life like a commandment but rather a truth deduced by serving life.  We can also think on these maxims as evidences of faith. 

Proverbs 22:1 declares: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches and favor is better than silver or gold.”  Perhaps you have seen the evidence of faith, or lacking thereof, associated with this Proverb. 

Consider two contrasting examples.  Albert set out to become a rich man, and he was not concerned about who he stepped on to get there.  He described himself as a bottom-line guy.  He forgot that "a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches."  He did not have many close friends since he assumed that other people were a lot like him and were basically after his money.  He was a rich, lonely, unhappy man.  Mary was always able to find time for other people.  People intuitively trusted her.  She did not have much money.  She cleaned other people's houses for a living and put two children through school.  When she fell ill, people from all over offered to help her with expenses.  At such times, she knew that "favor was better than silver or gold."  Of course, one can think of exceptions to the truth of such proverbs, but they represent a truth that has stood the test of time. 

Psalm 125 challenges our trust in the Lord and our faith in God’s providence. “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.” -- Psalm 125:1

We are to trust in the Lord and pray that God will surround us with protection.  Evidence of faith remains clear; God does afford protection, love, and care.  Sometimes our very faith IS shaken when pandemics, closures of 20-year wars, and devastating hurricanes touch our lives and hurt our world.  

Faith can provide us a shield, but we cannot assume that no natural disaster will never befall us.  It was not ‘lack of faith’ that caused the pandemic nor the hurricane.  Nor was it lack of faith that caused the 20-year war in Afghanistan.  Some would choose to argue otherwise. 

When much of life is ‘out of control’ and severe circumstances are left ‘unexplainable,’ we seek to ‘blame,’ ‘convict,’ or challenge whatever ‘higher power’ might be approached. History reveals there have been continual attacks on our faith.  Sometimes ‘occupying forces’ of doubt and fear are also our enemies from within. It is precisely then that our only protection is the Lord.  Eventually, it becomes our humble prayer and contrite response, “Lord, do good to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart.” -- Psalm 125:4 

Evidence of faith sometimes becomes recognizing and affirming that the Lord God remains our one and only hope. 

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers for these great catastrophes which sincerely do shake the faith of many.  

What you and I do share is the evidence of faith reflected in one of the verses of the familiar hymn, ‘Amazing Grace.’  “'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” 

“Evidence of faith” is sometimes best seen in how it leads us home to God, to our abiding relationship with the Lord. 

James challenges our faith perspective reminding us that faith and deeds are co-requirements.  

Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.  Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”  -- Matthew 7:16-17 

The evidence of faith is not just in our devotion and faithful worship.  Some of the best evidence of faith is in how it translates into behavior.

• Do you pray for patience?

• Do you give generously to others?

• Do you treat the less fortunate with the same deference as you would the wealthy?

• Do you seek to understand, not just to be understood?

• Do you stop yourself from responding rudely to others? 

Faith without action is dead.  A vibrant, living faith produces healthy fruit.  Our spiritual maturity begins with the realization that we are all imperfect.  Hollywood teaches us to admire and reward beautiful faces and physiques.  Scripture instructs us to beware of the pride and conceit that accompanies riches or adoration of the body.  Faith opens our eyes to see beauty in our differences.  Much of prejudice is based on the inability to accept that which is different from oneself.  Subconsciously we are thinking, unless you have the same political and religious views, unless you are the same skin color, unless you are on the same socioeconomic level, you will be unacceptable.

This is sad, because there is so much we can learn from our differences.  There is a broadening enrichment that can come to us when we learn to tolerate, to question, to learn from those who see the world from a different perspective. 

Yes, today’s scripture lessons do carry ‘challenges.’  Yet this, too, is the working of faith in our lives.  Faith changes not only our situation or circumstances, but quite importantly ‘us.’  

Often times the evidence of faith is illustrated in the transformation of the heart. 

Faith is evidenced when we help another who is in need instead of simply saying kind words of blessing and sending them on their way.  Faith is evidenced when we cease blaming God and commence depending upon God.  Faith is evidenced when we choose to be generous and share with the poor, even as evidenced by the examples of Jesus.  The ‘poor’ are not to be taken advantage of.  Nor are we to ‘crush’ others with our strength of mind, body, intellect, or spirit. 

Faith reminds us the Lord will take up the case of the poor, the meek, the defenseless, even the ignorant. 

Faith is evidenced by trust.  Best by the kind of trust that cannot be shaken but endures forever.  Remember and reflect upon the spiritual truth ‘the Lord surrounds his people.’  The scepter of the wicked will not remain.  The Lord DOES do good to those who are good but deals with those who are not upright in heart, choosing instead to be crooked in their ways. 

Faith reminds us that God will bring peace in His time.  Faith is evidenced by the kind of peace that passes human understanding. 

Go into this peace.  This IS our calling and labor of love.  Amen.

Acceptable Religion 8/29/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 28, 2021 & Sunday, August 29, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination

Pastor:   Come and hear the word of God.

All:       We long for the words of life from our God.

Pastor:   God does not speak just so we can hear the word.

All:       God speaks so that we may hear and act.

Pastor:   The word of God is life to those who follow it.

All:       We will listen and follow God’s holy Word. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  Psalm 45:1,2 (page 562), Mark 7:1-8 (page 1009), James 1:17-27 (page 1216) 

SERMON MESSAGE: “Acceptable Religion” 

‘Religion’ isn’t acceptable to all.  Some just don’t ‘believe’ that way.  However, ‘acceptable religion’ does involve some essential elements worth considering.  Today’s scripture lessons provide some awareness, some quality insights, into acceptable religion.  

For instance, lots of acceptable religion carries elements of tradition with it. In today’s first scripture lesson the Psalmist writes in poetic form.  His words are set to song and may even be considered a wedding song.  He writes, “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.” 

Acceptable religion embraces the familiar, the memorable, even the poetic and song-worthy aspects of knowing and worshipping God.  As a ‘for instance,’ who could ever disagree with seeing the children stand before us in worship, assembled together to recite and sing memory verses of scripture and songs we may have long ago learned, such as ‘Jesus Loves Me.’  ‘This Little Light of Mine’ and so on?  It’s been so long since we’ve heard the children sing, I trust we would all rejoice to hear them again making music to God, the kind of music that also floods our souls and touches our hearts. 

Acceptable religion appeals to us, in part, from the truth of innocence and the Word of God that has endured for centuries.  

Jesus calls into question religion; knowing and worshipping of God that is based upon what He refers to as being merely human teachings, traditions, and rules.  I ran into a situation involving that ‘calling into question’ when I was first out of seminary and serving a small church near Elizabeth, PA. Soon after I arrived, we shared in a communion service.  I thought it went well.  Early on I learned several members of that church were disappointed.  I reviewed some of what I had been taught in seminary, and sure enough, everything in our communion service was ‘by the book!’ 

The folks in that particular church liked to come forward to receive communion.  That had been their tradition, and I honored it.  A month later, we shared in communion, and once more, I got the distinct feeling folks were not pleased with how I administered communion.  So, I asked one of the longer established church members what I might do to improve things?  He told me it would ‘be alright.’  He went on to say the folks were just quite familiar with the way the former pastor ‘administered’ communion.  After the third communion service revealed similar results, I took it upon myself to contact the former pastor and discuss my dilemma.  He laughed, then said to me, “You’re not walking over to the radiator and touching your preaching stole to it just prior to communion.  Do that, and all will be well!”  I was inquisitive and asked, why this ‘ritual’, this tradition?’  He said, “I was always concerned static electricity would come off of my stole or robe when I shared communion with individual people.  I just did not want to ‘shock’ anyone!”  His way, that ritual and tradition, worked.  I later shared this bit of information with my seminary professor who taught Pastoral Care.  He in turn passed it along to prospective preachers as a teaching mechanism and a warning regarding human traditions that may tend to be viewed as more sacred than communion itself. 

Some ‘traditions’ are born of necessity.  Some are merely evolved human behaviors.  

I’d like to invite you all to have a little fun on your computers today.  Don’t be doing this now on your phones during worship! Go to the site, “DumbLaws.com.”  Type in the name of our state or any other state and see some of the human traditions that became ‘laws’ which really are ‘dumb.’  I learned of a state law that declares you may not sleep on a refrigerator that is outside.  It is also illegal to catch a fish with your bare hands.  And (get this) you may not sing in a bathtub. Hopefully these laws have been rewritten and abolished.  It was just fun and a bit humorous to review what were once laws based upon humans' needs or perceptions. 

The Book of James shares a wholesome point in guiding us to listen more, be slow to speak, and even slower to become angry.  This does make for more ‘acceptable religion.’ 

In a very real way, the book of James reminds us Christians of what we already know how to do but do not do.  Knowing what to do is not as important as doing what we already know to do.  What we profess and what we hear are never as important as what we do. 

Many Christians come to worship to have a moment of calm in the midst of an overwhelming world.  Nothing wrong with that.  Other Christians come to worship to have their spirits lifted and their enthusiasm renewed by hearing the music, listening to the prayers, and reflecting on the sermon.  Nothing wrong with that, either.  We all need to come home to God.  We all need filling stations where we can get a dose of high octane preaching.  We sometimes feel refreshed, if not enlightened, when the service is about to conclude, and the benediction has occurred. 

Illumination, right thinking, and lofty praise are sought-after elements in worship.  I pray your spiritual ‘gas tank’ IS filled up today as you return to the parking lot. 

Don’t just ‘hear’ the Word of God.  Be doers of the Word whenever you ‘go to church.’  Wherever you ‘go to church,’ receive the Word, do the Word, and reflect genuine religion so you will recognize even yourself as a Christian.

This is where James’ writings further apply.  He writes, “Don’t be like someone who looks at his face in a mirror, then goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”  Remember WHO you are, WHOSE you are, and WHAT you believe.  You are a Christian at ALL times, not just when you ‘come to church’ or ‘think about’ being a Christian. 

Jesus reminds us to honor him not only with our lips but mainly so from our hearts. Acceptable religion stems from the heart.  It ‘shows up’ in how we live and in how we love.  

Within the Gospel of Mark we learned that the Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law, who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is unwashed.  There were certain ceremonies and traditions the Pharisees and teachers of the law kept regarding ceremonially washing your hands before eating.  So, when they saw Jesus’ disciples eating without ceremonially washing their hands, they ‘called him on it!’  

Sometimes when we have been bothered by some form or degree of unacceptable religion, we too will point out some details and call attention to them.  It’s just human nature for us to do that.  Acceptable religion isn’t a reflection of perfection.  It IS an affirmation of honoring God with words, actions, and thoughts from our hearts.  

While there are some elements of tradition within religion, the goal of religion, the goal of ‘church,’ is not the worshipping of the traditions as much as it is in the responsiveness from the Christian faith. 

Coming back to James’ teachings - He writes, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight reign on their tongue deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” 

As long as religion, some sort of ‘belief in and response to’ God has occurred, there have been and always shall be those whose actions make a bad name for God, Church, and Religion. When I was younger and heard such ‘war stories,’ I used to do my best to apologize for the bad experiences someone had with church, religion, church people, and even clergy.  Through the years I grew to realize I was not the cause of those misdoings.  So, while I could listen, counsel, and care, I could not apologize for bad things others had done or caused in the name of religion.  Nor can you. 

What we can do and should do is become the examples of what is ‘acceptable religion.’  Oh, I could go on and on quoting countless examples of statistics pertaining to where religion is, where it was, and where it seems to be going.  But God teaches us that true religion begins inside the heart, the mind, and the soul of each of us.  We must practice what we believe, affirm what we have been shown, and allow our lives to be led by the Spirit of the Lord. 

Nor is religion reducible to what “I” simply choose to believe. Acceptable religion is combined with the lives, the beliefs, and the good works of others.

Draw some analogy here to what is now happening with our response to Covid-19.  For many it’s fast becoming a matter of individual choice.  Do I wear a mask or don’t I?  Do I get vaccinated or don’t I?  To some degree it remains healthy to make our individual choices.  However, in the world of humanity and in the world of religion, the greatest health will come from the greatest relating to the overall good.  

God sets the standard.  He reminds us to ‘do for others as we would have others do for us.’  Care for others.  Be mindful of others.  You and I may be individuals, but together we make up the human family and the church we call home. What you and I do individually does affect others, lots of others.  

Today we are reminded that religion which God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. 

If we ‘come to church’ only to make ourselves feel good or even ‘right’ with God, then we’ve probably missed an important point behind what is acceptable religion.  Our experiencing ‘religion’ should give birth to a heart response to love, forgive, and care. 

The scriptures remain clear; “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He gave us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” 

Acceptable religion has become a part of our lives.  Otherwise none of us would be here ‘in church.’  We have tasted and seen various elements of the goodness of God and some of his perfect gifts such as innocent love, pure compassion, children and spiritual gifts of forgiveness, peace, and salvation. 

When nothing else and no one else can be trusted, recall these trustworthy words of Holy Scripture: “The Father of heavenly lights does not change like the shifting shadows.” 

God Almighty created you, made you and sustains you still.  You and I were made through the word of truth, His truth.  

Acceptable religion further means we are to be a kind of first fruits of all he created. 

“For they’ll KNOW we are Christians, by our love.”  Amen.


God Is Faithful Even When We Are Not 8/21/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 21, 2021 & Sunday, August 22, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Send, O God, the light of your presence on our hearts so that as your truth is proclaimed, we may trust in you with all our hearts.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 91:4 (page 593), 1 Corinthians 10:12,13 (page 1149), Hebrews 10:23 (page 1211) 

Sermon Message: “God Is Faithful Even When We Are Not” 

God protects, God Loves, God cares, God keeps His covenant, His promises with us even when we are not faithful unto Him. 

One of the first ‘promises’ of God we see in today’s scripture lessons reminds us that God will save you ‘from the fowler’s snare’. 

The ‘fowler’s snare was a kind of ‘trap’ set to both tempt and catch birds.  In analogy, the ‘fowler’s snare’ represents anything that might tempt and possibly trap us.  Perhaps you may recall how the ‘teachers of the law,’ repeatedly sought to set a trap for Jesus, catch him in his own teachings, and thereby capture him as a fake or imposter compared to themselves. 

God is faithful in protecting us even when we ‘fall into temptation.’  I love the further portion of these scriptures from Psalm 91 that declare, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” 

‘Life’ is a gift, a very precious gift that God has given to each of us. Yet we have seen far too many folks treat their life as though it is an unlimited resource.  We have long witnessed far too many succumb to addictions and self-destructive behaviors.  We have observed the lives of those who choose to disregard their potential for living a quality life choosing instead to compromise in exchange for what feels good now. 

It IS tempting to get ‘caught up’ in the fowler’s snare of anything at all that becomes excessive, compromising, and tempting. 

When I was growing up, the prevalent ‘fowler’s snare’ I saw happening was alcoholism and gossip.  In the small town I grew up in there were four bars.  My father and lots of others frequented those establishments, and we’d often times find their vehicles off the side of the road somewhere.  It was tempting for my father and others to meet at one or more of those bars and drink until they could not drive their vehicle home safely.  Yet time and time again folks would say, “God surely has grace for drunks!”  It was and still remains true.  God has His ways of sheltering and protecting us when we abuse or misuse our lives.  Gossiping was also prevalent back then.  Many were judged, condemned, and persecuted by nasty and fowl conversations. Yet God had a way of re-establishing integrity where there was compromise.  Repeatedly He did that even for His own Son who was persecuted for the good things he was doing. 

A ‘sin’ I believe we are all guilty of to some degree is misusing our bodies; compromising our health.  None of us are perfect at eating just what we should.  Perhaps we all could stand to use a little bit more exercise and learn how to rest our bodies so as to maintain good health. The term ‘workaholic’ is a familiar term.  It connotes an excess of time and energy devoted to work, work, and more work.  Whether we eat too much or work too hard, it’s tempting to push ourselves.  When confronted with excess, it is so comforting to still know that our God “covers us with his feathers.”  

I sincerely like that image of a mother hen covering us with her feathers.  Think back to a time when you’ve been hurt and then cared for, and you shall further identify with this image from the Bible.  

God restores our health and remains our shepherd even when we have ‘pushed the envelope’ so to speak.  

The love of God still reminds us to take good care of ourselves, take our medicine, get our exercise, sleep well, rest as we should, and be a part of the ‘answer’ - not the ‘problem.’ 

There is this story in the Bible about a man who was close ‘in faith’ to God.  The hand of God was upon him from the fellow’s youth. He became known as “a man after God’s own heart.”  God blessed David with health, with family, with prosperity, with victory in numerous battles, and with faith.  All that he could want, God bestowed upon David.  Yet this man “after God’s own heart” was tempted by what he saw and desired.  David had a household of love and devotion yet wanted more.  So it was, he manipulated to get more, taking another man’s wife for his fulfillment and pleasure.  To make matters worse he strove to ‘cover up’ what he did by arranging for the woman’s husband to be killed in battle.  David was unfaithful to God and to His family, to his kingdom, and to his household.  He suffered greatly for his sin yet God was faithful in forgiving and eventually restoring David.  Know this, although forgiven and restored, the consequences for his actions lived on. 

God is faithful unto us even when we are not faithful unto Him. 

Has there ever been ‘excess’ in your life that became tempting or even compromising?  

A few additional examples to share with you - two different fellows coming from similar situations: 

The first fellow didn’t have much time nor thought about God, church, or religion.  He was sort of a ‘free agent’ doing what he wanted, when he wanted.  His garage was full of the latest tools even though he could not possibly use them all.  A new ‘brand’ of recreation vehicle had ‘come out,’ so he just had to have one.  His wife and kids suffered because there wasn’t enough money left over for school clothes, weekly groceries, braces, computers, and so on.  His ‘fowler’s snare’ was attaining whatever it was he wanted and desired even if it was at the expense of others.

The second fellow was church oriented.  He did pray often concerning his daily walk with God and others and even concerning his finances.  Sometimes he’d become frustrated because he just didn’t have the kind of tool he needed for the job he was performing around the house.  He too liked what he saw in the newer version of recreational vehicles that had come out. Yet, try as he may, he just could not ‘swing’ the money he needed to acquire certain tools nor even that ‘special’ recreational vehicle that was so popular.  

The first fellow ‘fell into temptation.’  He compromised his finances, his family and his own integrity. 

The second fellow also ‘fell into temptation. He knew about being a good steward of finances, caring and providing for his family, even contributing to his church.  He thought he was ‘standing firm’ as the Bible communicates, yet the temptation was both real and strong.  But let me tell you how God was faithful unto Him even when he had little or no desire to be faithful to God, to family, or even unto himself. Repeatedly, when he tried to arrange to ‘come up’ with the money to secure the ‘special tools’ or acquire the latest recreational vehicle, the funds just weren’t there.  Something would ‘come up.’  Something ‘spoke’ to his heart.  Some ‘inspiration’ reminded him of ‘whose’ he is and what should remain more important in his finances.  

That ‘something’ was God in his life.  God helping him to be a better steward of life, family, finances, faith, and priorities.  

The scriptures are true; “God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 

Have you ever been in a tempting situation and realized how God showed you a way out?  

When our faith is faithless, God can and God does ‘step in’ to show us a way out, and how we can endure. 

God ‘calls us to faith’ in the Ten Commandments.  No false gods.  No lying, stealing, gossiping, cheating, killing, or committing adultery.  Honor your mother and your father.  Mostly we do these things.  Sometimes we don’t.  Perhaps we’ve all lived long enough to both see and understand when we forsake following these Ten Commandments. We end up hurting ourselves and others.  God gets hurt too, yet God is God.  God is faithful, and God is just, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  At times others may forgive us.  We might even be led to believe that perhaps God forgives us, yet we tend to find it hard, really difficult at times, to forgive ourselves.  It’s precisely then that we need to reflect upon this message: “God is faithful, even when we are not.” 

God calls us to prayer.  Perhaps we do pray routinely.  Perhaps we just don’t pray as often as we should nor when life’s circumstances and situations could really benefit from prayer.  If you are ever hurting so bad that you just can’t pray, if your life is so messed up that you can’t even form a prayer, remember this: God remains faithful.  God sends the Holy Spirit into your life precisely during such times to pray ‘for’ you. 

God is faithful in restoring us when we’ve broken the Ten Commandments, disobeyed the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures, even when we have failed, miserably so, at life and at love. God so loves us that he restores us, over and over again.  Some refer to this as ‘love.’  Others refer to this as God’s mercy.  

Soon we shall sing a hymn that I hope and pray you shall reflect upon and keep singing in your soul from time to time: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” 

“Great is thy faithfulness!  Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed thy hand hath provided; Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.” 

God’s faithfulness is not based upon our worthiness.  If that were so, no one would be saved.  For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  God’s faithfulness is not dependent upon our works, lest any man should boast.  Nor is God’s faithfulness dependent upon our asking or inviting Him to be faithful unto us or others.  He is Lord, and we are ALL His children, the sheep of His pasture. 

Our views may be extremely different, even polarized opposites.  Yet God remains the single bearer of truth.  God is faithful to ‘truth’ even when we compromise it, redefine it, or deny it altogether.  

We may even go so far as to turn our backs on God, but God never turns away from us.  He remains “Our Father, Maker, Creator, and Sustainer.” 

You may be worn out.  You may be beaten down.  You may be discouraged.  You may feel like nothing is going right in your life.  You may feel like a failure.  But I am here to tell you today, whether you are on the mountain top or in the valley, you can trust God. He is faithful. 

Here is a quote:  “People with good intentions make promises, but people with good character keep them.” 

God doesn’t decide to be faithful on a whim.  The faithfulness of God is part of who He is.  Amen.

Praise Is Beautiful 8/14/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 14, 2021 & Sunday, August 15, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: We praise You, O God, for the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ.  We further praise You for the written Word of God revealed to us in Holy Scriptures.  Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS: Psalm 100 (Page 597), Isaiah 61:1-3a (Page 744), Matthew 21:12-16 (Page 988) 

SERMON MESSAGE: “Praise Is Beautiful”

 Praise is beautiful!  Most folks like to be praised.  Sometimes when we express ‘praise’ to another person we are complimenting them or perhaps affirming something good we perceive in them.  Spiritual praise may be complimentary or affirming, yet it is so much more than that.  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Praise Him all creatures here below.  Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts!  Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” 

‘Praise’ carries with it an affirmation of respect and gratitude. 

Reflect with me upon a wondrous example of praise. When God sent the angels to announce the birth of Jesus, they sang praises unto the heavens.  God sent angels for the shepherds and all to hear the beautiful praise regarding the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. 

Consider some forms of praise and associated words.  

During the Advent/Christmas season we sing the familiar hymn, “O Holy Night.”  Remember a portion of that hymn, “Fall on your knees, O hear the angel’s voices, O night, O night divine when Christ was born.”  Have you ever fallen to your knees as an act of praise for God’s presence?  Possibly you’ve ‘touched your chest’ in praise.  I know I’ve shed lots and lots of happy tears as I praise God.  Some can’t help but lift up their hands in praise to God.  Our worship time is also a beautiful reality of praise. 

There are some familiar words associated with praise.  Words such as ‘Hosanna,’ ‘Glory Be to God!’ ‘Behold,’ ‘Amen,’ and ‘Hallelujah!’ 

God desires for us to share praise with one another.  Praise that is beautiful comes from the heart. If your parents are still living, offer them praise for having raised you, nurtured you, and loved you.  Let your spouse know from time to time you appreciate them, how they have provided for you, cared for you, and stayed with you through the years. 

Psalm 100 is an affirmation of praise that is beautiful.  In Psalm 100, it is recorded, “Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth.” Remember portions of another hymn of Christmas, “And heaven and nature sing!”  You can see that and feel this praise that is beautiful today when you stop and behold the flowers growing around our beloved church, in people’s yards as you drive home, and perhaps in your own yard.

Praise that is beautiful partially comes from beauty we behold and the presence of God we enjoy.  The foundation of praise stems from knowing and affirming that the Lord is God.  It is He who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 

During these beautiful days of summer and sunshine take some time to lie flat on your back in the grass.  Feel God’s sunshine; see the blue sky and the white clouds.  From time to time stop and smell the roses, keep looking up to the heavens.  Recognize and enjoy plenty of sunrises and sunsets.  I believe in flowers and trees, sunshine and rain, changing seasons, and abiding wildlife; the earth still ‘shouts for joy’ praise that is beautiful. 

Today’s psalm inquires of us to worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.  Each week we share in songs of worship that are affirmations of joy and of praise.  Don’t be afraid to sing a song of praise as you enjoy your home, your family, and your life. 

Praise is beautiful when you KNOW the ONE you are praising. 

On the other hand, I have found within myself and among others, it remains hard to praise God when you think or feel as though you are the center of everything. KNOW that the Lord is God, and we are NOT!  There was only one Savior.  I am not him, nor are you.  It is beautiful to praise God for being ‘God!’  It is beautiful to know Jesus as the Son of God.  ‘Faith’ is both an affirmation and a surrendering of the ‘me, myself, and I’ persona. 

When you come to church, “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.  For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;  his faithfulness continues through all generations.” 

Consider some further reasons for praising God. When you see ‘good news’ coming to the poor, praise God.  When you perceive somebody with a broken heart be healed and made whole again, praise God.  When you learn of captives being freed and those in darkness being released, praise God.  When comfort comes to those who mourn, praise God.  God shall take care of vengeance.  We need not.  Instead, put on what the Bible calls ‘a garment of praise.’ 

Praise that is beautiful can cover you, like a garment.  Especially so when you feel as though your entire being is being held in God’s hands.  Praise, instead of despair, is a good thing.  It’s actually a very beautiful thing! 

Throughout human history the world has experienced times of despair.  As we choose to praise God, we are affirming that He is in charge, He is bigger than any or all of our problems, and we are saying we love Him and trust Him even as we choose to believe more and more in Him. 

Did you know there are more than 225 references in the Bible to ‘praise?’  An example we have from Jesus is this; Jesus praised the Father for revealing important and vital things to children. ~ Matthew 11:25 

Praise is kind of ‘automatic’ when it flows from a grateful soul.  We are further taught that praise is often times a ‘sacrifice’ we need to make.  Recall and reflect upon today’s scriptures; Jesus ‘cleared out the temple’ from the moneychangers.  He was admonishing them for mocking God.  You and I realize when God admonishes or disciplines any of us, it usually doesn’t feel very good.  Yet we are reminded that we can ‘get right’ with God again.  Sometimes we do compromise the things of God, we may break the rules, disobey the commandments, fail to worship, or just don’t care enough to love where we could and perhaps should.  Communion remains a time, an opportunity, an occasion to ‘pick up the pieces,’ change for the better, confess, seek forgiveness, and ‘get right’ with God again. 

The word ‘sacrifice’ comes from the Greek word “THUO,” a verb meaning to kill or slaughter for a purpose.  Praise often requires that we ‘kill’ our pride, our overwhelming fears, lazy attitudes, abundant self-centeredness, entitlement, or anything within us that interferes with worship and praise of the Lord. The ‘sacrifice’ associated with praise is hard at times.  Those early disciples did praise God yet found it difficult, and sometimes quite challenging, when they were incarcerated, persecuted, exiled, or being put to death. 

Today may we remember with the disciples of old we too remain God’s children, the sheep of his pasture and KNOW His hand IS upon us. 

Jesus inquires of us to become like children in our praise, our faith, and our trust of God.  Then we shall see the kingdom of heaven. 

Rest now and reflect upon those scriptures we shared; they tell us of a time when Jesus was being heavily persecuted for the wonderful things he did.  AND the children were SHOUTING in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”  Jesus ‘communed’ something beautiful that day.  He said, “From the lips of children and infants, you Lord have called forth your perfect praise.”  There is nothing quite like innocent love reflecting beautiful praise. 

It’s not easy to have child-like faith.  Harder still it remains to praise God with a child-like attitude when life’s most serious and severe problems are taking place all around us. 

Perhaps the only single word of praise you can utter during such times is “AMEN.”  In communion today, let the ‘Amen’ sound from His people again.

The Loving Truth 8/8/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 7, 2021 & Sunday, August 8, 2021 

Prayer for Illumination:  Leader:  Jesus said, "Those who have ears, let them hear."

                                     People:  Lord, give us ears.

                                     Leader:  Allow us to hear the truth this morning.

                                     People:  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: John 3:1-3,19-21 (Page 1064) and Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (Page 1176) 

Sermon Message: ‘The Loving Truth’ 

Throughout the history of the world ‘truth’ is very important.  People have always sought to know ‘truth’ and thereby gain wisdom.  ‘Truth’ ‘comes across’ differently these days.  

For years professional athletes seemed to have been taught to disguise their ‘truth’ regarding how they were feeling and push on to achieve the goal, the trophy, the medal, or the reward. Recently, some Olympians are instead declaring their ‘truth’ regarding stress, physical and mental limitations, even choosing to withdraw from some world class events. 

Admission or affirmation of one’s limitations is actually a healthier communication of truth. 

Our Country’s political environment for these past few years has been ‘contentious’ to say the least.  Increasingly so, we are becoming acquainted with some rather harsh awareness of ‘truth.’  Much of the ambiguity is due to the varied and assertive definitions of truth. 

In both the political and our personal environment, we have surely seen where ‘truth’ is ‘prescribed’ for us sometimes by who asserts the loudest or the longest.  

So, it remains for us to wonder what is ‘fake news’ and what might be the ‘real truth?’ 

Perhaps you became aware this weekend, if you journeyed to Giant Eagle or Get Go, that you are once again requested to wear a mask to protect against spreading or getting the Covid virus and its variants.  The medical world strives to teach us their version of ‘scientific truth.’ Yet there are those who resist such definition of ‘truth.’ 

Within the world of religion, the greatest scholars strive to reach what they call ‘discernible truth.’ This ‘truth is based upon a discerning process that comes from scripture, experience, tradition, reason, and prayer. 

Today’s scriptural reading from the Book of Ephesians starts with telling the truth, and it ends with living in love.  

There is a harsh, even abusive, truth to be found in much of the world today.  The sadder reality remains that far too many believe and assert their version of ‘truth.’  When road rage ends in gunshots, woundedness, and death, someone’s version of ‘truth’ is harsh and abusive.  We receive numerous reports of this locally on the Pittsburgh news channels. 

When gun violence is reported as the second major cause of death in our country, someone’s version of ‘truth’ is harsh and abusive.  

I stopped for gas the other day in Canonsburg.  While pumping gas into my vehicle, a few pump stations away I overheard two guys ‘getting into it’ as they expressed opposing views regarding our government, immigration, leaders, and elections.  All within the time of simply pumping gas into our vehicles.  The scene lent itself to explosive tempers. 

People throughout history have sought to know truth and thus gain wisdom.  We all need a working knowledge of wisdom for living our lives, making decisions, and getting along.  

There simply isn’t much wisdom to be gained from the kind of ‘truth’ that becomes defined by who yells the loudest, speaks more aggressively, or asserts their opinion the strongest.  You and I probably know of a few folks who establish a thought or notion within their mind and therefore confirm that thought to be truth. 

Human history has taught us all to measure truth by standards that have prevailed and are based upon reliable sources. 

Perhaps the longest and most reliable source of truth throughout history has been divine revelation.  

The most loving truth the world has ever received is this; God so loved the world that He sent us His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him might be saved and inherit eternal life.  

The presence of the divine in our lives is the most loving truth we shall gain or receive. 

Today’s scriptures provide us a prescription for truth; put away falsehood.  Speak truthfully to your neighbor.  Back in Biblical times the heathen were quite guilty of lying.  They believed a profitable lie was better than a hurtful truth.  

I was visiting my daughter, husband, and our grandchildren just a few weeks ago.  I had been wearing a hat outside as I helped them to do some work around their house.  When it came time for supper, I went inside, took my hat off, and was blissfully unaware of how ‘messed up’ my hair was.  My daughter smiled and said, “Oh don’t worry dad, it’s not all that bad.”  She was lying to make me feel better.  My grandchildren giggled, laughed, and said “Ewwww Grandy, your hair is gross!”  They had no problem sharing the hurtful truth.  We do tend to be careful how we communicate some ‘truth’ with one another since it can be hurtful.  Mine was but a small example. 

Perhaps you recall the childhood jingle, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  The hurtful truth is, we all can still be hurt, not just kids.  Mean and hurtful words can be crippling, for a while or even for a lifetime.  Children tend to believe their parents who tell them, “You were a mistake!”  Or, “you are so stupid!”  Far too many are the words that hurt and harm.  Worse still are the negative effects that can cripple a heart, a mind, or a soul.  Some of those negative effects follow people well into adulthood, even throughout their lifetimes. Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.  It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”- Luke 17:1,2 

‘Loving truth’ is a debt we owe to one another.  The opposite of ‘loving truth’ is deceitful, hateful lying.  Today’s scripture lesson remains clear.  Put away falsehood.  Speak the truth.  Not merely our personal version of what is the ‘truth’ but sound, Biblically-based, discernible truth. 

Deceitful, self-gaining lying is a sin.  If we love one another, we shall not deceive one another.  While much of the world minimizes and excuses lying, divine wisdom still teaches that lying is a very great sin. 

Arguing is not necessarily the best way to discern, affirm, or establish truth.  Proverbs 23:9 cautions us “not to speak to those who will scorn our prudent words.” 

God gets angry sometimes.  Failure to revere God’s holiness is wrong.  Breaking any of those Ten Commandments is wrong.  They are loving truth coming from God.  Living the Ten Commandments leads to a better life.  Sin, injustice, and crime anger God. 

You and I sometimes ‘get angry.’  God knows we are apt to get angry.  God has a restriction he puts on all of us; “In your anger, do not sin.”  Perhaps we’d all like to ‘hold on’ to our anger.  The one thing to be angry about is sin.  A common sin associated with anger is letting it burn inside of us.  The Bible advises us, before night, calm and quiet your spirit.  Do your best to be reconciled to the offender.  “Let not the sun go down on your anger.”  

I was reading a true story regarding a black female pastor who had this abiding anger due to some black members of her church being killed during racial violence and gun rage.  She was actually being coerced into forgiving the offenders, yet she took a bold stand, different than most.  While she strove to adhere to the scriptures which I just shared with you that strongly advise each of us to not let the sun go down on our anger, she replied that she was not yet able to forgive due to the anger she felt for years associated with racial violence and gun rage.  Hate the sin. 

Sometimes the loving truth is what we need to forgive and move on.  At other times the anger associated with long-term sin can lead towards further prayer and working at long-term reform. 

Don’t give place to the devil in your anger nor your resolve.  Loving truth is to be just that; loving.  Remember there are two sides to every story.  Don’t jump to conclusions in any situation, but do your best to discern what God wants you to see and how to respond. 

Our vocabulary is an indication of our intellect.  Our words provide a window to our character.  Our grammar reveals the degree of our refinement.  Our speech is a reflection of our spirit. 

Today’s scripture lesson from the Book of Ephesians starts with telling the truth, and it ends with living in love.  Throughout the history of the world ‘truth’ is very important.  People have always sought to know ‘truth’ and thereby gain wisdom.  

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.  For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him. 

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” 

Jesus went on to say the Light of God has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly. 

‘Truth’ ‘comes across’ differently these days. 

Jesus Christ is the loving truth sent down from heaven by God.  Today we have received some prescriptions, some spiritual guidance, and divine insights for speaking, sharing, and living the loving truth.  Amen.

Church Gratitude 8/1/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 31, 2021 & Sunday, August 1, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 122:1 (p. 616), Colossians 3:15-17 (p. 1184), Ephesians 4:2-6 (p. 1175) 

Sermon Message:  “Church Gratitude” 

Every once in a while, I have the honor to speak at another church.  Mostly I cannot because I am here at this church each week.  However, I well recall going to a humble, little white-framed church in a small town near Blairsville, PA, to share a Sunday message.  It was a warm Sunday morning, kind of like today.  As I pulled up and started to get out of my car, another family had pulled up near me.  Their ‘kid’ had jumped out of the car and did this sort of ‘dance’ as he began waving to folks, “Hey, I’m here!  We made it!  We’re all here for church this morning!”  I smiled at that little fellow and his joyous enthusiasm for ‘coming to church.’ 

Kids are pretty neat. When my daughter was little and we went somewhere, she would often times ask, “Are we there yet?”  I’ve met some folks who answer their kids by saying, “Five more minutes. Just five more minutes.”  Half an hour or an hour later, the kids ask the same question, “Are we there yet?” and get the same answer, “Five more minutes. Just five more minutes.”  I tried something ‘different’ with my daughter.  I used this same response with our grandchildren, leastwise until they all became able to ‘tell time!’  What I would say to them is this: “You know how long it takes us to get to the store?”  “Yes.”  It will take that long to get where we are going.  OR if we were traveling far, I’d say something like, “We have to get hungry and stop for lunch and then again for supper before we get there.”  This helped them, in another way, to ‘tell time’ and remain somewhat more patient and understanding until we arrived. 

Psalm 122 can be considered a ‘song’ from the Bible.  Many of the psalms were sung.  Some still are. Psalm 122 is a song of arrival.  It’s a song of someone who has been looking forward to that arrival for some time.  It’s also a psalm about going to church and about gathering with God’s people for worship each week.  It’s about ‘being glad to go to the house of the Lord.’ 

Ever ask someone why they don’t go to church?  They’ll give you all sorts of reasons.  “It’s boring.  I have better things to do.  I am busy.  It’s my day to sleep in.  We have sports on Sundays.  We like to keep Sundays for family time.”  People give lots of reasons for not going to church, but there is this one real reason, actually it’s quite a huge reason, why we should all go to church, and that is God. 

Psalm 122 is the song of a person who decides to go to church and worship God. 

Some statistics are not well known and even far less publicized.  MANY people have discovered the joy of Christian worship.  Going to church is one of their highest priorities and one of the high points of their week.  Listen and hear the following ‘quiet’ yet remarkable statistics:  There are more people in church on Sunday morning than people at all the football stadiums combined in the afternoon. 

There is a common denominator among church-going Christians.  The common denominator is this: ‘Church is viewed as a gift.’ 

Lots of folks have gratitude for the church.  My research indicates that as many as 9,000-11,000 people travel through Coraopolis each day.  Regardless of the statistics, there are lots and lots of folks who drive past our church each and every day.  There remains a gratitude for this beautiful church building, how it is ‘kept up’ but also for the significance and symbolism of this Christian Church.  Every now and then some parent will tell me their child gets ‘all excited’ about coming to church here.  I am certain you have special and sacred memories associated with this church and furthermore with the ministries we’ve shared. 

Many are aware that you cannot be a growing Christian without also being an active part of Christ’s church.  

Today’s scripture lessons begin with Psalm 122.  David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote this Psalm.  David further remembered what it felt like to be around people who just didn’t care about God or God’s ways. Back in Psalm 120 David reflects upon his distress from being around people who having ‘lying lips and deceitful tongues.’  “Too long” he writes, he has lived among those who hate peace.  When he is invited to go to church with others, he is therefore glad to go to the House of the Lord. 

Surely you have lots of reasons to look forward to gathering for worship each week.  It’s good to be with people who have learned to trust in God’s providence and care.  It’s so good to worship God with his people.  Here we meet God, and God meets with us, together. 

If there is a spirit of ‘church gratitude’ inside of you, then don’t be shy about inviting someone to church.  Perhaps even a member who you have not seen here in a while.  Do not be condescending, condemning, critical, or judgmental when you invite someone to church.  I ask you to instead reflect upon this: many a church invitation has resulted in salvation and a life changed for all eternity.  Perhaps the person you invite will someday say, “I am so glad someone said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” 

This Word of God from Psalm 122 is not just about inviting someone else to come to church.  It’s about mutual encouragement, encouraging each other to gather for worship, whether you do that in person, by a phone call, a conversation, an email, a text, or posting on Facebook.  It’s about looking forward to worshipping with God’s people. 

Gratitude is sometimes forgotten or forsaken.  Folks drive by this church and assume this building has always been here and always will be.  Members remember this church across their lifetimes and may simply project it will always be here, long after they are gone.  A precious few recall when there were hundreds attending worship here each week.  Some are growing in their abiding ‘concern’ with the limited number in attendance each week. 

God has preserved this church and ministry for reasons.  While it is a symbol to the community, to those who drive by and a significance to all who have benefitted from our shared ministries and missions, that gratitude is important, yet not sufficient. 

God has called upon you and several other ‘donors’ to ‘keep up,’ improve, ‘fix up’ and maintain this church; the ‘main-stay’ for this church continuing on is divine worship.  Each week.  Every week.  When folks fail to worship, this will fail to be a church. 

What’s your motivation for going to church?  There’s an old joke about the mother getting her son up on a Sunday morning.  “Time for church,” she says.  “But I don’t want to go to church,” her son replies.  “No one likes me there, and the people are all mean to me.  Give me one good reason why I should go.”  The mother replies, “I’ll give you two good reasons.  Number one, you’re 54 years old.  And number two, you’re the pastor!” 

Last Saturday I officiated a funeral for a lady who lived in Winchester, Virginia.  Her name was Virginia Dickson.  104 years old.  Years and years ago Virginia Dickson played the organ and piano in this church occasionally.  Her children, some who are now in their 70’s and 80’s, asked me if it would be ‘alright’ to come into this church sanctuary and just ‘see’ where Mom used to play the organ and the piano all those decades ago.  Friends, there was a sense of wonder and delight as Virginia’s family stood in our sanctuary with humble gratitude.  They rejoiced. 

Look forward to coming to church.  Pause as you enter here.  People do not climb a mountain only to immediately turn around and go back down.  They pause and take in the moment as well as the view.  Pause when you come here.  We come here to anticipate worshipping God together with his people.  Some call this ‘church gratitude.’ 

Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”  How you enter worship matters.  It shows your attitude towards God and his people.  When you’ve been looking forward to worship all week long, you will enter worship with anticipation and joy.  

Remember, the church is not the building.  It’s the people.  And one of the benefits you reap from weekly-gathered worship is enjoying the closeness of Christian fellowship.  As we read in Psalm 133:1, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” I remain humbly amazed and spiritually grateful that the church welcomes and invites so many people from such different backgrounds for worship.  We worship together as different age groups, social and economic backgrounds.  Some sinners and some saints.  Jesus Christ and divine worship are the ties that bind us plus the gratitude that forms us into a church.  We all come from different backgrounds, places, and situations, but we have a unity because we are all members of the one body of Christ.  We are not merely members of a church; we belong to God!  As Romans 12:4-5 says, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  

At church we all learn to get along with each other despite our differences.  As long as we keep the main thing the main thing, we will get along just fine.  And what’s the main thing?  Worship.  Praise.  Christ.  God.  

Across the years some have inquired of me, “Rev. Tom, where do you get the inspiration for sermons you share with us week after week?”  I am glad to share with you at least a partial response to that inquiry: I feel your prayers and the Holy Spirit’s inspiration as we worship each week.  THIS is vital to me.  During worship there remains a flow of inspiration.  This contributes to weekly sermon planning.  There are lots and lots of reasons why I feel glad to come to the house of the Lord. 

Church gratitude has provided us with quality memories, sustaining grace, prayer, fellowship, and love.  Yet there is something more, actually quite meaningful, associated with our coming together each week. We receive direction from God’s Word. 

Church gratitude involves enjoying the closeness of Christian fellowship, experiencing the unity that comes from praising God together, AND receiving direction from God’s Word. 

Weekly worship is full of God’s word.  It is in our Bibles; it is in our songs; it is in our prayers; it is in our preaching and teaching.  Colossians 3:16 gives the following instruction to churches gathering for weekly worship:  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  

God gave us the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.  In turn, Jesus has given us the gift of the church.  ‘Gifts’ were never meant to be placed on a shelf or set aside, but to be used, shared, and enjoyed.  Do you love the church?   

Cherish the gift of this church and your church family.  Cherish and give thanks for Jesus Christ who owns and heads up this and every Christian church community.  The church is presented to you not as an obligation but instead as an invitation.  Here we receive God’s gift, this building, this faith, our church family, compassion, kindness, communion, faith fellowship, and love. Many have and many shall come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through the giftedness of this church and you, the people of God.  Church gratitude between heaven and earth.  Amen.

Our Church Home 7/25/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 24, 2021 & Sunday, July 25, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: God of light, may the brightness of heaven shine through the scriptures today, and shine in us as we listen. This we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Matthew 16:13-18 (page 983), Hebrews 10:19-25 (page 1211), 2 Corinthians 5:1 (page 1159)

 SERMON MESSAGE:  “Our Church Home” 

Do you enjoy ‘going to church?’  Obviously so or you probably would not be here right now. 

Have you ever noticed in your growing awareness of Jesus that he sometimes used the smallest example to make the biggest point? 

In addition to today’s scripture lessons, consider this one as well: Mark 12:41-44, “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.  Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” 

Sometimes it doesn’t require much for great things and good lessons to occur. 

Jesus and those disciples spent some quality time in the temple.  We are here today in this ‘house of the Lord.’  We aren’t just ‘here’; we are members of the household of faith.  This is our church home. 

There are 3 homes that we all have need of: A Family Home, a Church Home, and a Future, Heavenly Home. 

Our Family Home may include a particular house we call ‘home.’  More importantly though, our ‘Family Home’ is when and where we are with the people we love and who love us.  Whenever and wherever you are with the people you love and who love you, then you are home.  Your Family Home. 

This is where our security and nurturing begins and expands.  Our Family Home includes consistent familiarity, even certain ‘traditions,’ we look forward to.  Such as ‘going to Grandmas’ for Thanksgiving, or whose house we go to for Christmas.  

Some of the marriages I admire most include spouses who comfortably and confidently say to one another, “Wherever we go, as long as I am with you, then I am ‘home.’

‘Home’ is a good place to be.  Our ‘home’ was our safe place throughout the pandemic.  To this day when you don’t feel good or safe and secure, you just want to ‘be home.’ 

Happy is the home when God is there.  If there is no mention of God, no religious depictions such as a cross or picture of Jesus, no Bible to be seen or accessed, a ‘home’ may contain a family but little faith within its walls.  

In a home where prayer is ‘said’ before meals and during other occasions, where God is freely mentioned, referred to, and honored, there are sacred memories and even further sacred realities for this life and the next.  Our Family Home is to be our safe haven while serving as our spiritual foundation.  Always strive to make your house a home.

 In my childhood ‘home’ we played, ate, rested, reflected, studied, learned, sometimes fought, and grew together.  Each of us had a clothes closet where we kept our ‘good clothes’ as well as our ‘everyday clothes.’ We’d ‘put on our ‘good clothes’ each week to ‘go to church.’ 

As you have surely perceived, our ‘Church Home’ remains quite important to me.  Admittedly, there have been times when my beloved has needed to say to me, “Don’t forget you have a home, a house as well!”  It’s easy to invest myself in our beloved Church Home.  Yet a balance needs to remain.  

Early on in my ‘walk with the Lord’ these following scriptures appealed to me and actually became written upon my heart; Psalm 122:1 “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord.”  Do you ever feel that way?  You know, glad to go to the house of the Lord? 

Entering a church is one thing.  Being a member of a church is another thing all together.  Membership is a commitment.  God seems to consistently require solid commitments with us and from us.  Kind of like marriage as compared to dating. Some years back a meaningful and insightful book was published.  The title of that infatuating book is “Stop Dating the Church.’ 

Lots of folks say, “I am a part of the ‘invisible church.’”  Or, “I have no time for organized religion.”  Sadly enough the ‘invisible church’ does not accomplish very much that is visible in their spiritual lives. 

When you grow to be a part of a church home, treat your church experience like a marriage, knowing it won’t be perfect, because it’s filled with imperfect people.  

One of the best ‘ministers’ I ever knew wasn’t really an ordained minister at all.  Bob was just a faithful Christian who felt strongly about staying involved in his Church Home through the years.  Not only did Bob feel this way by himself, he taught his children to be ‘church oriented’ and quite often ‘took some poor soul under his wings.’  Bob had seen what happens in lots of churches.  He saw a pattern where people would come to church, perhaps out of curiosity, need, or even tradition.  Then after a while Bob saw where these same folks would get a little more involved in the church.  Some would grow and become increasingly involved.  Yet a few would become discouraged when they met up with some ‘imperfect Christians.’  I watched Bob’s pattern.  He’d be watching ‘newbies’ as he called them.  Mostly they never knew he was watching them.  When Bob saw members taking that step toward getting more involved, he’d pay attention to ‘how things were going.’  As an example, I’ve witnessed newly involved church members who sometimes innocently ask, “Why do you do things this way?”  It can be a report, setting a table, arranging tables and chairs, even flowers.  When the usual response comes, “because we’ve always done it this way,” newly involved souls benefit from the “Bobs” in the church who help them to be heard, who share with them further insightful explanations and aid in the blending together of members becoming a ‘Church Home’ together.  Bob also realized sometimes things did need to change to accommodate new ideas and new members.  Be a Bob. Help others to get involved, stay involved, and love the church. 

As today’s scriptures affirm, it takes “a sincere heart with the full assurance that faith brings” to draw near to God and become His Church. 

Through the years we may have all seen some of the ‘ups and downs’ associated with church commitment, involvement, and membership.  Yet we are to know and affirm “we hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” 

Part of God’s further message to us all today is this, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” 

Do you encourage others to come to church?  Today’s scripture lesson actually inquires of us to “spur one another on.”  That means to ‘prompt.’ 

‘Prompting’ and ‘encouraging’ takes place, in part, by the examples any of us set.  By our ‘coming to church’ others see that, and some will follow.  But that is only a small part of ‘prompting.’ 

Actually inviting another to come to church sure helps as well.  Many a soul started coming to church because somebody invited them, came with them, and sat with them. 

Today, please further consider the spiritual foundation of any church home. Reflect again upon the teaching of Jesus Christ.  He once had a conversation with the Apostle Peter.  Jesus noticed that Peter confessed and declared, that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  WHO is Jesus Christ to you?  Jesus in essence was saying to Peter, “Your faith in WHO I am is the foundation upon which I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it!”  Those words of Jesus Christ have spoken to my heart time and time again through the years, reminding me that strong faith in Jesus, sincere affirmation of WHO he is, awareness of His example and presence, are perhaps the best prompting and encouragement for assembling together, for coming to Church. 

IF Jesus Christ is important to your life, then coming to church shall be also.

The Church is our Faith Home. 

We find God in ‘church.’  More importantly, God finds us and walks with us in our Church Home.  Walk with God to be happy.  Those who would be spiritual must be in regular contact and fellowship with the Spirit.  Great, also, are the benefits of being around and with spiritual people. 

I’ve always enjoyed associating with ‘church people.’  Those who associate with evil will want evil.  Ask your family to attend church.  When you talk with them, don’t be afraid to explain why church is so important.  If you ‘make excuses’ for others who do not attend church, they will surely miss a lot of spiritual opportunities for growth, faith, fellowship, and love.  Church people tend to be peace-filled people.  Spiritual wisdom connected with church attendance is a huge benefit while working our way through this life. 

We have need of our Family Home.  We have need of our Church Home.  Each of us prays for and ‘longs’ for our Heavenly Home. 

Today’s scriptures mightily affirm, “Together we know that if this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house, not built by human hands.” 

There are lots of reasons to pray for and ‘long’ for our heavenly home.  Knowing we have a home in heaven with God provides a far different perspective to ‘how’ we see things in this life and respond. 

Many a good soul has affirmed, “If this is all there is to life, it’s rather shallow, even meaningless.”  We feel that way, especially so, when we go through some sort of trial, face death, and encounter old age.  Consider ‘some’ of that which awaits us in our heavenly home.  The Bible affirms it is a place where death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore.  Within our heavenly home every tear shall be wiped away from our eyes.  There we shall meet God, see Jesus, find answers to our deepest questions, and enjoy a peace like nothing we can imagine and meet family and friends who have missed us for years. 

Life might not be fair nor even ‘right’ while we are here.  But in heaven we will see things clearly.  Our home in heaven remains our reward for life well lived and love sincerely demonstrated here on earth.  In our heavenly home there is balance, peace, righteousness, and love like none other.  We will be given a new body unlike our human, limited, and sometimes hurting body we now dwell within. 

Jesus is preparing a place for us.  Be a firm, loving, and contributing member of this church.  It remains your faith home.  Prompt others to attend here with you.  Long for the day when your membership is transferred from the Presbyterian Church of Coraopolis to the Church Triumphant, Immortal, and Eternal.  Our Church Home. Amen.

Prayer-Sustaining Grace 7/18/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 17, 2021 & Sunday, July 18, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: O God of wisdom and knowledge, illumine us by your Spirit and by your Word.  From the Scriptures may we learn your instructions, and by your Holy Spirit may we be inclined to follow these instructions to live a good and holy life.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson: Romans 12:3-13 (Page 1137) 

Sermon Title:  “Prayer-Sustaining Grace” 

Today’s scriptures remind us we are to be “faithful in prayer.”  That means we are to ‘stay at it.”  Be consistent, not sporadic.  Pray daily and often. Each week our church receives additional prayer requests. Prayer is a sustaining grace in our lives.  

Church people pray.  That’s what we do.  That’s not ALL we do, but prayer is foundational.  I know you pray for lots of folks, your family, your friends, those victimized by disasters such as those in Miami, Florida, and for a wide array of ‘needs’ many have. 

Jesus taught us to pray.  He taught us to pray to the Father, pray for others, and pray for ourselves.  Pray for your church.  That’s what members are also supposed to do. 

There is one soul in this church that needs, actually ‘requires’ daily prayer. Your pastor.  Pastors are responsible for guiding and enhancing the spiritual well being of others.  LOTS of others. A pastor’s life is seldom routine but often times overwhelming.  Please, pray for your pastor.  Pray also for all of your church leaders.  The members of Session, our Board of Deacons, our Child Care, and others who lead us ‘home’ to God. 

‘Prayer’ is a grace that sustains us. I can tell when you are praying for me.  I can feel those prayers.  Church members are responsible to pray, knowing their prayers are a sustaining grace. 

I KNOW you are praying that God would give me wisdom, insight, and words to preach.  Friends, it remains an incredible task to speak and preach the Word of God every week again and again.  While you may be listening to the preacher, remember there are those who need to hear from God.  Pray for your pastor’s preaching. 

When you comment, “Good Sermon!” OR, “I needed to hear that!”, prayer has inspired the message, the messenger, and the receiver. 

Pride gets in the way of prayer. When you or I think more highly of ourselves than we ought, there is far less humility in our prayers.  Pray to be protected from pride.  May we follow Paul’s discourse to instead “think of ourselves with sober judgment.” 

Slow down when you ‘say’ the Lord’s Prayer.  The spiritual message within this prayer Jesus taught us consistently leads to a more ‘humble’ attitude.  There is praise, petition, hope, sacredness, and request for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer.  God guides us when we pray.  Our souls are refreshed.  Prayer becomes grace that sustains us. 

Remember ‘faith’ is a two-way street.  We have ‘faith’ in God.  Realize, too, God has faith in you. The Good Lord has blessed you with faith.  Church members pray for folks to ‘come to faith,’ ‘respond’ to faith, and to be ‘protected’ by faith. 

Pray for protection.  Prayers for protection become a grace that sustains us.  I ask you to pray for protection of my family, and I shall pray for protection of yours.  There’s an old ‘saying,’ “If not for the grace of God, there go I.”  More than any of us can possibly realize, God’s grace has sustained us hundreds of times throughout our life. 

Prayer is a form of grace.  I trust we have all learned that prayer is our way through darkness.  Prayer is our way into the light.  Prayer is what leads us home to grace.  Prayer is our way to God. 

You can always pray. Formally, here in church.  Informally at home.  You can pray even when you can’t get out of bed.  Anybody can pray.  Everyone should pray.  Many of you have said to me, “Rev. Tom, I just don’t know how people get through life without faith and prayer.”  I think we all know that praying on a regular basis brings a certain power and support into our lives.  FURTHERMORE, there are SO many joys and benefits that we receive daily from God that would have far less impact on us if we were not able to give our thanks and praise to God through spontaneous prayer. 

Your prayer might simply be a single word or just a smile as you gaze heavenward. 

This past Monday evening as I drove home from Lawn Rangers, I had to steer my truck carefully for God had lit up the sky with a beautiful double rainbow.  Like the pillar of fire that led the Israelites centuries ago, that double rainbow preceded me on my trip from Coraopolis to my home in Robinson.  My prayer was this:  “Alleluia, Amen, Thank you” over and over again. 

Do you remember how you first learned to pray?  Probably by rote. We learn the Lord’s Prayer, grace at mealtimes, the night prayers for sleep, and the morning prayers for a blessing on a new day.  These prayers bring us into the habit of praying to God and gradually bring us into an ongoing conversation and relationship with God throughout the day. 

Teach yourself and teach others to cultivate an attitude of prayer as we go through each day beginning with daily ‘rote’ prayers. Daily routine (rote) prayers bring us even deeper into a loving relationship with God that sustains us.  This sustaining grace brings us through dark times into the light.  Many have found they lead us to praise God at all times and in all circumstances.  

Prayer is our way to God.  Prayer is a grace that sustains us.  Prayer must be accompanied by some sort of action.  Prayer AND compassion.  Prayer AND discipleship.  Prayer AND care.  Prayer AND work.  Prayer AND forgiveness.  Prayer AND love.  Prayer AND laughing.  Prayer AND crying. Not prayer alone. Not compassion or planning or loving, forgiving or serving alone. 

Pray WITH God and TO God.  Pray FOR others and pray WITH others.  Prayer is a vital aspect of our spiritual foundation.  It remains the grace that sustains us. 

Remember Jesus.  Recall that Jesus called and appointed disciples for reasons.  Jesus demonstrated that which he taught; we need one another.  We belong to Jesus Christ.  We are his body.  We thus belong to one another.  Together we make up the body of Christ.  Nor do we all have the same function. 

Look around anytime you attend church.  In worship there are a variety of persons each with their own needs, each, also, with their unique gifts, strengths, and abilities.  Common to us all is prayer, this grace that sustains us. Jesus prayed and so should we. Jesus has helped us all to see that without this dynamic of prayer and work, our faith will lack vitality.  We will not bear much ‘fruit.’ 

Across the years lots of well-meaning folks define ‘success’ in ministry or within a church by numbers in attendance and financial strength.  Jesus kept no record of ‘how many’ he reached when he preached, healed, or ministered to folks in their homes, on the mountain, or even in God’s temple.  I have learned from Jesus that the more valued spiritual measure of ‘success’ is transformation. 

When an individual, a family, a church, even an entire community, changes/transforms from conflict to working together, from entitlement to humble appreciation, from mistrust to trust, from bitterness and hatred to love and kindness, from personal agendas to Spirit-inspired group agendas, the grace of God, the blessings are immeasurable. How can any of us even begin to measure love, peace, acceptance, and mutual forbearance?  When the people of God respond to the movements of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, there comes a most peace-filled change.  God is then worshiped and adored.  

I ask you to pray for this transformation that becomes a sustaining grace.  

Clearly, God’s Word points out that we all have different gifts according to the grace given us.  Pray about your gift.  If you’re just not sure what your gift is, pray about it, and God will show you.  He may send another to guide or even inspire you as well.  

When you pray, you won’t always get the answer you are seeking.  Yet it remains true; prayer changes things.  The main thing it changes is YOU.  Some things fail because they are a reflection of a personality instead of the results of prayer. 

Church members have a ‘calling’ from God.  There remains a ‘calling’ inside each of us to ‘say’ our prayers and to become our prayers.

‘Revival’ was a popular ‘church word’ for quite some time.  A more familiar ‘term’ today is ‘renewal.’  If you want to see ‘renewal’ in yourself, your family, then pray daily, fervently, humbly, and sincerely.  If you want to see change in our church, pray daily, fervently, humbly, and sincerely.  Should you desire to see more people attend worship, then pray, specifically for souls you know, to come home to be here with the Lord and God’s people.  Clearly, we all need worship.  

Whatever the need may be, pray for renewal.  Renewal begins with a renewal of ourselves.  I am not talking of a technique to manipulate God in order to get what we want.  When we pray, it’s often that God changes us.  When we pray, we sometimes get an answer we don’t want to hear.  

Without prayer, we will never see renewal in our church.  Without thoughtful, humble, and sincere prayer, any of us may have the tendency to put ourselves in the place of God rather than in the arms of God. 

The ‘best’ and most ‘successful’ churches have prayer as an on-going 'essential' for new beginnings and life, survival, and thriving. 

Some things to pray for - some grace that will sustain us: 

When you come to church and see others gather here with us, pray that they may be encouraged, fed, and have their spirits lifted into God’s presence. 

Pray for your preacher that he may be kept humble and aligned with God’s will and Word.  Pray for the children who come to this church for worship, for Child Care, that they would feel encouraged. 

Pray for people who bear heavy loads.  Pray for those who are battling loneliness. 

Pray for those who are grieving, whose lives are experiencing dark moments.  Just ask God to be with them. 

Pray for others, lots of others, to come to know Jesus Christ personally as Lord and savior. 

Pray for those dealing with addiction, bad habits, and ill health. 

In a miraculous way God holds the whole world in His hands.  May in our prayers, we hold others.  Help to become the grace that sustains another soul.  Amen.

A Servant's Heart 7/11/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 10 & Sunday, July 11, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Since we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth, make us hunger for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson: Matthew 20:25-28 (page 987) and Philippians 2:5-11 (page 1179) 

Sermon Message: “A Servant’s Heart” 

Today, as we share in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we want to see Jesus.  We need to identify with Jesus.  We seek to commune with Jesus and one another, here in His church. 

Something I think we’ve all noticed about Jesus, even as shared in Communion, he was not about status but rather servanthood. 

When Jesus met with His disciples inside that Upper Room, he served them bread and wine.  He washed their feet.  He shared his words and acts of kindness and of love.  THIS is part of what we recall today and each day we share in Communion. 

Today’s scriptures remind us, in sincere detailed reflection, that Jesus was a servant, and we are supposed to be also. 

Sometimes we think ‘servants’ are just supposed to be humble people who are at the ‘beck and call’ of others, having little or no needs of their own.  That’s NOT what Jesus was teaching in his repeated messages and guidance to be servant.  We are not supposed to be a ‘doormat’ for others to use and step on.  Rather, there is dignity, honor, respect, and even integrity within a servant’s heart. 

Consider some of the examples we have of Jesus’ servant heart. Not only did he wash the feet of his disciples, he saw to it that they understood many things.  Jesus showed compassion to blind people, sick little girls, to those who were hungry, and to people’s needs that sometimes ‘showed up’ spontaneously.  Part of ‘being a servant of God’ means being ready, in an instant, to serve. 

I think you and I have some pretty ‘common’ examples of ‘servants' hearts’ in our daily world as well as within this church.  Yet, we need to take into account the principle of love before doing all things. 

Let’s examine our hearts. . .are you a servant? 

Availability.  Are you a soul who makes yourself available to serve?  Soldiers are trained to serve whenever called.  A servant of God must always be standing by, ready for duty.  In our hearts we must be willing for our “schedules” to be interrupted.  Real servants do what’s needed, even when it’s inconvenient.  Are you available to God anytime?  Can He mess up your plans without you becoming resentful?  

Pay attention.  Do you pay attention to the needs of others?  Are you on the lookout for ways to help others?  Galatians 6:10 records, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good, to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  Sometimes we miss opportunities to serve because we lack sensitivity and spontaneity.  Have your heart teach your mind that you have to be willing to be interrupted.  Be kind and be generous to those who belong to the family of believers, even in your business dealings. 

Do your best.  Do you do the best you can with what you have?  I’ve seen too many good folks make excuses, procrastinate, or wait for when the time is right.  One reason you might not serve is because you fear you are not good enough.  With Jesus it’s NEVER about being ‘good enough.’  If God shows you someone to help, he’ll show you the way and the means to help.  But it starts in the free will portion of your heart and your mind.  Use what you’ve got to serve others.  Little is much with God in it. 

Work. Being a servant means we’ll need to work.  It’s true you know, ‘work is good for the soul.’  Not only for your soul but quite importantly for the souls of others.  ‘Work’ in the Judaeo-Christian tradition is not punishment for sin.  Work is the mark of the conscientious human.  We do not live to outgrow work.  We live to work well, with purpose, to work with honesty and quality and artistry.  If we believe God is to be found in everyone and everything, to some degree, then we need to commit our work to doing the best we can with what we’ve got as often as we possibly can.  May the floors be mopped for yourself and for others as though doing so is for Jesus himself.  After all, Jesus gave his best for you.  Not just when it was comfortable nor convenient for him.  There is much to think about ‘the work of the Lord’ inside a servant’s heart and through a servant’s actions. Colossians 3:23 records, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” 

I continue to learn that working alongside others develops a rapport, a bond, and even a trust not easily gained otherwise. 

Jesus specialized in menial tasks; washing feet, fixing breakfast, serving lepers.  Nothing was beneath him.  He came to serve.  Small tasks often show a big heart.  Your servant’s heart is sometimes revealed in the smallest of acts that others don’t think of doing.  Great opportunities often disguise themselves in small tasks. 

IF you have a servant’s heart, then you are faithful to the ministry God has called you to serve.  Every now and then someone will bring me a bulletin from another church they have visited.  In one of those bulletins, I noticed on the front page the listing indicating the clergy person’s name followed by the title, Pastor.  Directly underneath those words were these: Ministers:  All Members. 

We ARE all in God’s ministry together.  Not just by title or position but by means of the Holy Spirit touching our hearts to be servants of Jesus Christ.  God has called each and every one of us to serve.  Are you faithful to the ministry God has called you, however small or large that might be?  Are you still fulfilling your responsibilities and keeping your promises?  Are you known as a ‘follow through’ kind of person?  Can you, do you, ‘hang in there’ when things get tough?  Do people trust you?  Do folks know you to be dependable?  Can we ‘count on you?’ 

Genuine humbleness.  Folks with a servant’s heart tend NOT to call attention to themselves.  They just don’t do things to impress others.  Instead, as the Bible says, they “clothe themselves with humility toward one another, because, God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5. 

Do you serve for the applause and approval of others, or do you live for the audience of The One? 

Jesus Christ teaches us, too, that we serve God by serving others.  He informs us that even if we give just a cup of cold water to one of the least of people, God will surely reward us in His own time and way.  Matthew 10:42. Get involved. 

Today’s words and God’s message to us all can be quite challenging. They are supposed to be such.  Remember the image of Christ that is most familiar to you.  Think on that when you feel challenged in your servant’s heart.  Should you struggle with humility or self-denial as you strive to serve those who are hard to love? Recall that image of Jesus you have in your heart and mind, perhaps even hanging on a wall somewhere in your house. 

Scriptures affirm we are to ‘NOT look to our own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”  Philippians 2:4.  This is what Jesus did when he came to die in your place.  This is also another way of Jesus saying “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39 

Find your joy in making others joyful.  If you are watching television and your child/ grandchild says, “Can you play with me?” don’t just think about how tired you are.  Employ your servant’s heart to put the child’s interests before the pleasures of your relaxation. 

As you commune with God and He with you, pray to have a servant’s heart further nurtured within your life, your personality, and your daily walk.  Self-centeredness can be such a bondage. 

Hear now this prayer:  “Lord, may you ‘work’ on me.  Work in my heart so that I am freed from the bondage of self-centeredness and will instead be given the disposition to look not only at my own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Amen.

Unity in Diversity 7/4/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 3, 2021 & Sunday, July 4, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: In his own hometown Jesus could do no miracle because they did not believe in him.  Lord, protect us from the familiarity that turns the scriptures into nothing more than words.  Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS: Psalm 84 (Page 588), 1 Peter 4:8-11 

SERMON MESSAGE: “Unity in Diversity” 

Which ‘saying’ do you think is more ‘true’?  “No two persons are exactly alike.” OR  “Great minds think alike?” 

Perhaps there is truth and insight to be gained from both ‘sayings.’ 

Recently, I saw on a commercial another ‘saying’ that pertains to today’s message.  Within the commercial two ladies on two separate sides of a wall, are talking about how to ‘pronounce’ a certain word.  I believe the word was ‘malware.’  Finally, the elder of the two speaks through the wall, her message: “Agree to disagree!” Kind of cute, yet meaningful. 

For years (prior to Covid-19) I would attend group meetings of Pittsburgh Presbytery.  Those meetings could become quite challenging as debates continued at length regarding controversial subjects.  The moderator of our Presbytery meetings often reminds us of our call to respect one another, hear one another, and consider one another’s points of view with the phrase, “Unity in Diversity.” 

We do not live in a world where everyone thinks alike.  Within our families each member has different thoughts.  Even within the church there is diversity. 

In am sure most of us can think of a Thanksgiving dinner or two that may as well have been one of the more recent presidential debates.  It is easy to let disagreements and differences get in the way of healthy relationships and unity, even within the church.  So, why did God create diversity?  

If you think about it, God is diverse, being made of three persons, yet the same being.  God has gifted us to be diverse, yet united through the presence of the same Spirit. 

Growth is stunted without some diversity.  The gospel is fully exposed in the midst of diversity. 

There really can be unity in diversity.  We seldom find two persons exactly alike.  Among human beings, as well as among the things of the natural world, there is diversity. 

The greatest person that ever lived was Jesus Christ.  

Jesus shows us, by His life, that when the human partakes of the divine nature, there is the greatest unity in diversity.  

Our unity with Jesus Christ establishes a bond of unity with one another.  

The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives completes us. 

Jesus Christ, His disciples, and every disciple since the time of Christ, grow to realize the powers of darkness stand a poor chance against believers who love one another as Christ has loved them.  Our bond, our very union with Christ, ‘shows up’ in our refusal to create alienation and strife.  ‘Shows up’ further in how we stand together, in our choosing to be kind, instead of mean, courteous and tender-hearted, cherishing the faith that works by love and purifies the soul. 

The closer our union with Christ, the closer will be our union with one another.  

In unity there is strength; in division there is weakness. 

The world tends to teach us variance, disaffection, selfishness, and conceit as being supreme.  But these are the fruits of a divided heart and thus open to the suggestions of the enemy of our souls.  Satan exults when dissension is sown.   

In unity, there is life. The world has learned repeatedly that a life that is choosing to function in unity produces a power that can be obtained in no other way. 

‘Yearn’ for unity.  Let that become your daily prayer, your on-going supreme passion, and the evidence of your actions.  The Psalmist declares that his soul ‘yearns’, even faints, for the courts of the Lord.  He further declares that his heart and his flesh cry out for the living God.  The ‘courts of the Lord’ are the religious places, the churches, the temples, the sanctuaries.  

I have witnessed something special and spiritual across my faithful years of ministry: “Blessed are those who dwell in God’s house,” the ‘courts of the Lord.’  People who commit time, devotion, labor, and work to the house of the Lord, as well as worship, do receive blessings. 

When the church pulls together and the members work together, there is a strength that is nothing short of a miracle as well as a blessing.  Walking the walk with God.  Faithfully living the Christian life enables us to live life going, as the Bible states, “from strength to strength.” 

Ask God to “hear your prayer.”  Right now, this 4th of July weekend, while you are here in church, call upon God to “look on our shield,” our nation, our country, our home.  Ask the Lord to “look on our shield” of military service personnel, past, present, and yet to come.  Pray to the Lord to “Look on our shield” of first responders but more importantly upon ‘prayer warriors’ that help to spiritually sustain those who work to unite us with God and one another. 

There are lots of references to unity found in the Bible and quite a few ‘directives’ for achieving it.  One certain ‘directive’ for nurturing unity is our call and response to humility. 

Ponder verse 10 of today’s Psalm 84, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” 

Think about that today as you leave church and perhaps ‘hold the door open’ for another.  Reflect on that as you choose to ask and act in a way that opens the door to this or any of God’s churches to another. 

As we know, lots of ‘different’ people have walked through the doors of this church across the years.  At one point in time someone held the door open and welcomed you here, time after time. 

The Psalmist informs us that in God’s house, being there, working there, inviting and welcoming others there, encouraging the faith will be like both sun and shield as the Lord in turn bestows favor and honor. 

Wholesome unity stems from the blessing of trusting in the Lord. 

Take a look at our world today.  Take a good hard look. I think we can readily see and wearily know the lack of trust has caused such disunity and further diversity throughout our world.  It seems as though the more we seek the truth these days the more questions we have. 

Some researchers ascertain that the Covid-19 virus was actually man-made.  Other researchers speak strongly against that theory declaring it could not have been man-made. 

What is ‘truth?’  Jesus affirmed himself as being ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’  Pilate, his crucifier, ascertained truth to be that which he or another affirmed or defined ‘Truth’ to be. 

Our world certainly would embrace more unity if there was far less diversity in understanding of what truth is.  Who can we trust?  What shall we trust?  Our questions run deep.  The mysteries associated with the pandemic further added to our inquiries about ‘truth.’ 

By far the easiest ‘truth’ to understand is ‘love.’  We tend to believe in love, over and over again in our lives.  Even though we’ve been hurt and broken, don’t we all know some way, somehow, ‘love’ seems to put us back together and allows us, even encourages us, to move on.  

The Bible declares unequivocally, “ABOVE ALL, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 

Has it ever happened to you?  Have you lived through, participated in, or seen “Love covering over a multitude of sins?”

A young 14-year-old boy once purchased a vase for his mother.  It was a very nice vase.  Soft colors, a few floral imprints on the side, even a tall neck.  The vase appeared to be very heavy.  The kind of vase that makes an impression that it will be used for years. 

That boy’s Mom was so pleased to receive the vase as a gift.  Without hesitation she cut some flowers outside their house, trimmed them ‘just right,’ placed them in the vase, and gave them a drink!  All was well until a few minutes later everything under the vase was getting wet.  The well-chosen vase was not so well made nor well repaired.  It seems her son had ‘gotten it on the cheap’ because the previous owner had done such a poor job repairing the crack on the bottom. 

It was hard to be humble that day for the 14-year-old boy, but he chose to be.  With his head down, his eyes lowered and his voice quite contrite, he told her his story, and said he was sorry.  That Mom recognized the goodness still in her boy, so they talked, then hugged, then grew closer from that day forward.  Not only had love covered over a multitude of sins, it furthered opened a door for trust and maturity into their future. 

Love will lead to unity, even in the midst of diversity.  Not the run-of-the-mill ‘fake’ kind of love, but the real deal; humble kind of love that is genuine and comes from one’s heart. 

Today’s scripture lesson includes a verse that declares we should “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”  If you have to ‘grumble’ about being kind, extending hospitality or ‘welcome’ to another, that’s meaningless.  ‘Grumbling’ can lead to dissension, mistrust, and the kind of diversity that divides souls one from another. 

You’ve got some stuff inside of you that comes from God.  The Bible remains clear, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”  Our ‘diverse’ gifts contribute to the best kind of unity.  Spiritual faith, Holy living.  Sacred truth.  Trust we can believe in. 

Our world and our country needs, actually craves, unity in the midst of so much diversity. 

Unity starts among us.  One soul at a time.  You be a good soul, and you shall become a contagious Christian. 

The closer our union with Christ, the closer will be our union with one another.  In unity there is strength; in division there is weakness.

The Big Picture 6/27/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 26, 2021 & Sunday, June 27, 2021 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 100 (Page 597) and 1 Corinthians 12:12-20 (Page 1151) 

Sermon Title: "The Big Picture" 

As you can see, there are lots of ‘analogies’ found in the Bible.  Within today’s scriptures the Apostle Paul draws ‘analogy’ between the human body and members of the Church.  Sometimes these analogies or stories do help us to grow and see the ‘bigger picture.’  Perceiving the bigger picture helps us in life.  

Consider with me, briefly, how any of us might ‘see’ things.  Take for instance this story about three stone cutters, each chiseling away at their block of stone.  One day, a traveler walking along a lane came across these three stonecutters working in a nearby quarry.  Each was busy with their particular block of stone.  So the traveler asked the first stonecutter what he was doing.  The stonecutter replied, “I am cutting a stone.” 

The traveler turned to the second stone cutter, also working on a similar block of stone and asked him what he was doing.  “I am cutting this block of stone to make sure that it’s square, and its dimensions are uniform, so that it will fit exactly in its place in a wall." 

A bit closer to finding out what the stonecutters were working on but still unclear, the traveler turned to the third stonecutter.  He seemed to be the happiest of the three and when asked what he was doing replied:  “I am building a cathedral.” 

There IS joy to be found in ‘the bigger picture.’  

I believe God wants us to have ‘the bigger picture’ not only within life in general, but specifically in our church life. 

Kind of like those three different stone cutters we might all be working on the same thing yet have very different perspectives.  Consider some of our ‘church perspectives’ and how they apply to our church membership. 

Sometimes folks ‘perceive’ being a part of a church in a similar fashion to belonging to a country club.  Within that perspective the church is viewed as providing perks and privileges. 

Across the years I’ve heard folks say, “This is my church, so you have to play the music just the way I want it.”  A few have even said to me, “Look pastor, you need to remember who pays your salary.”  Still others have declared, “If you don’t do this program, I will withhold my check to the church.”  More than I’d like to recognize have said, “I’ve been a member of this church for decades, so I have a right to get what I want.” 

I think you are seeing the smaller picture associated with church membership.  In accordance with today’s scriptural analogy that’s kind of like the foot saying, ‘because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body.’ 

Thankfully, we are NOT a country club in this church and ‘status’ is not the motivation for any of us to be members here nor of the Body of Christ, in general. 

I believe God has sent and still sends His Holy Spirit to awaken us to the bigger picture. 

The Holy Spirit does speak to us, even ‘awakens’ us, through Holy Scriptures.  

Are you aware of something we all have in common with every other Christian in every church throughout the world?  As today’s scriptures points out, “though we have many parts, we form one body.  We are all baptized by one Spirit.”  Friends, whenever and wherever we may have been baptized, this remains our common bond with Jesus and ALL Christians. 

Christians the world over form the church.  Together, even in our diversity, we make up the Body of Christ.  Again, as today’s scriptures teach us, we are not made of one part but of many. Each of us has our part to do.  Every person has something from God they can contribute to the bigger picture; His Church. 

Just as we work together so too, we suffer together. That’s part of the reason we come together each week to pray, share our concerns, and build each other up in the Body of Christ.  In similar fashion, when one member is honored, all the members rejoice with the good news, the achievement.  

Sometimes we need an ‘awakening’ of sorts to help see and embrace the bigger picture in any portion of life and specifically in our spiritual life. 

As students of the Bible, I trust we have all gained insights and perspectives from specific scriptures such as those found in 1 Corinthians 12. Easily enough we perceive that the Apostle Paul is writing a message to the early church in Corinth regarding spiritual gifts and what it means to be members of the Body of Christ, His Church. 

1 Corinthians 12 is often times used as a point of reference for pastors, committees, and members in general.  The Apostle Paul then writes within 1 Corinthians 13 a perspective on love.  Many, if not most Christians, remain pleasantly familiar with 1 Corinthians 13; the ‘love chapter.’  Recall some of those scriptures: “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  

Like you, for years I would read those same scriptures, reflect upon them, smile, and even share them repeatedly at weddings.  Here is the spiritual ‘awakening’ associated with the ‘love chapter.’  It was originally written by the Apostle Paul, even as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, to the troubled church of Corinth, to demonstrate how church members relate to one another. 

If applied, still today, abiding by these principles of the love chapter will give us healthy churches. 

Further consider what this spiritual insight means and ‘awakens’ any of us unto. Church members are patient.  Church members are kind.  Church members do not envy one another, are not conceited, selfish, nor easily provoked.  Nor do church members keep a record of wrongs.  

You see, within the bigger picture of the Biblical perspective church membership is founded on love.  Authentic, biblical, abiding love. 

Our membership is not about ‘me, myself and I.’  Rather it remains being about ‘Jesus, others, and then, ‘you.’ Paul's’ analogy to the human body as a reference for what church membership looks like and how we are to function with one another reminds us that we do in fact need and depend upon each other.  

We function best when we contribute to the whole, when love is the guiding principle and we each ‘do our part.’ 

God has created and nurtured the church, in all its varied forms and denominations down through the centuries.  Post-pandemic lots of churches are changing. 

This church, the Presbyterian Church of Coraopolis, is a part of Pittsburgh Presbytery.  Within Pittsburgh Presbytery there are 132 churches.  I recently learned that during the course of the pandemic, 46 of our churches experienced significant ministerial transition.  Some churches closed, a few are currently struggling to reopen, some pastors needed to move on.  Several remain healthy, such as ours.  

When blessed, always stop to pray, be thankful, and remain humble.  This applies to all areas of life and living.  Especially so to church life. 

The Bible offers further perspective on the bigger picture of faith, life, and being a part of the church.  In Psalm 100 the Psalmist writes we should “shout to the Lord, worship with gladness, remember we are His sheep and he cares for us." Furthermore, we should weekly “enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise, giving thanks to him and praise to his name.  The Lord is good.  His faithfulness continues through all generations.” 

In the bigger picture of things we belong to God and this church.  Care for the church even as you care for your human body.  Do good things, for the church.  Feed her well, choose to function in ways that lead to health, happiness, joy, and eternity. 

Recall those three perspectives of the stonecutters. One sought to simply cut a stone.  A second stonecutter sought to make his stone ‘fit in.’  The third stone cutter, working on a similar block of stone, saw his work as part of a bigger picture and said with joy, “I am building a cathedral!” 

While this particular building has been standing for quite a long time folks, we ARE still building a church.  Enter His gates with gladness.  Come before Him with joyful songs. 

I spend a lot of time and give in many ways to this church.  Mine remains an attitude of gratitude.  I remain committed, as do most members, to giving cheerfully and abundantly, to ministering and to serving.  To doing my part of being the Body of Christ.  

While Jesus once walked the face of this earth and had a human body much as we do, now we are to be His body and pledge to continue His work, achieve His goals, share His love, and become the church. 

There are many parts but one body.  

God designed the church, and God continues to design us to be part of it.  Churches are stepping stones to heaven while remaining anchors for all here on earth.

 

It's good, really good, to be a functioning member of the church. It's also quite good to live into the bigger picture of what faith, hope, and love can do. Amen.

Members of the Faith Family 6/20/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 19, 2021 & Sunday, June 20, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: God of our Fathers and Mothers, God of us all, send now your Holy Spirit upon us to quiet our hearts, care for our souls, and open our minds to the Word of God and thy Divine message, we pray.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 103:13-18 (Page 599), Ephesians 6:1-4 (Page 1177), and Matthew 5:16 (Page969) 

Sermon Message:  “Members of the Faith Family” 

Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are times within the Church to celebrate and reflect upon the Christian faith and family. 

Being a ‘parent’ is an honor.  Our children remain gifts from God.  Ours remains the privilege and responsibility to nurture, care, and provide for those we love and those who love us. 

As parents, we grow to learn our participation in family is a cycle.  We start out in life dependent upon our family.  Gradually we grow and acquire family of our own.  Eventually we are called upon to care for those who once cared for us. 

God teaches us to acquire wisdom for life, for living, for family, and for faith.

Common-sense wisdom teaches us that while we may strive towards independence, self-sufficiency, and self-fulfillment, in reality we remain designed by our Maker to love one another, enjoy each other, and depend upon others.  In short, we need to be ‘part’ of something that is bigger than ourselves.  No man is an island.  

My father used to flex his muscles before us boys and say, “Look at that!  Rocks!”  Then he’d smile. When I was in my teens and my own muscles were forming, I too would flex my muscles before my father and say, “Look at that!  Weapons!”  Then we’d both smile. 

What my father, my mother, and my brothers and I grew to further realize is our need for others. 

My father and mother sure had their share of ‘problems.’  Thus, my three brothers and I were raised on welfare.  No shame in that, just some trials that were quite challenging. 

There was a list of people that helped us through our trials.  The welfare agency had a social worker visit us to be sure we still ‘qualified’ for government assistance.  Local doctors, dentists, and the community police were a part of our evolving family.  Teachers had compassion on us, slipping us a few freebies now and then.  Of course, our local church family was essential to our ‘making it’ through those years.

We all have our ‘stories to tell’ regarding family and faith.  God shows us that we must all learn to function in both our families and our faith.  There’s a difference between ‘functioning’ and ‘surviving.’  

For any of us, when our trials are at their worst, it feels as though we are barely surviving.  God, our Heavenly Father, sends help, love, and others.  FAITH makes a difference, often times, all the difference in the world.  There is an analogy for this to be found in today’s scriptures.  Within Psalm 103:13-18, it is recorded that “as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him, the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.” 

God consistently sends help.  God, our heavenly Father has also given each of us free will.  Even His Son, Jesus Christ, had free will to endure the cross or not.  It remains our free will choice to respond to God’s help.  Within our daily lives, sometimes our free will gets us into trouble.  At other times it can lead us to make wise choices in our faith and for our families. 

Sometimes dysfunctional attributes are present in ourselves, our family, where we work, even within the church and our faith formations. Whatever dysfunctional things we may have seen in our faith or our families, let’s choose to be functional instead.  This will require some intentional effort, work, and insight on our part.  Coupled with prayer and ongoing spiritual guidance.  May our compassion and our participation in church and families reflect our precepts. 

Jesus Christ has taught us, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25)  God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.  Look further to the example of Jesus; His life, time, and purpose.  Jesus was sent by God to unite us.  Jesus chose to obey His Father. We, too, are taught to obey and honor our parents and our God. Today’s scripture lesson warns us fathers “not to exasperate our children instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” 

Let’s choose to be unifying in our families and in our church membership.  

Across the years, I’ve shared lots of personal insights with you.  One particular ‘insight’ I do not think I’ve ever shared entails a peculiar behavior I sometimes share with my personal family on days such as “Father’s Day”, my birthday, and so on.  It’s something I learned from my father. When I was growing up, we were rather poor.  So, purchasing special or significant presents was sometimes difficult to do.  My brothers and I went to church and heard the Biblical teaching to ‘honor our fathers and our mothers.’  We learned much about ‘honor’ in church and how that relates to our parents. Another common way we chose to interpret that spiritual teaching was by procuring a present for our father on ‘Father’s Day.’  This one year, try as I might, I could not come up with much.  So, I looked around outside and in my room for something, anything, that could become an appropriate ‘Father’s Day’ present.  I think I ended up picking a few wild flowers and placing them in an old Coca Cola bottle that I had washed out and cleaned up to the best of my abilities.  I think I even tied a piece of ribbon around the neck of that bottle.  My Dad smiled, gave me a rub across the top of my hair and said, “Thanks Son!” Then he reached under the table and said, “I got a present for you. It’s something I made.”  Turns out Dad had found an appropriately sized tree branch, cut out the part where the branch formed a ‘Y’ and hand scraped all of the bark off of it.  He then used two pieces of bicycle inner tube.  Each piece was first tied to a leather tongue from one of our old shoes.  He then tied each end of those two rubber inner tubes to the Y-shaped tree branch.  “Here you go son.  I made you a slingshot.  Just be careful.  I don’t want you putting anyone’s eye out or breaking any windows!” 

I’ve always remembered what it’s like to ‘not have enough.’  Especially so when your own daughter has used her pennies and borrowed from her ‘allowance’ to get you a proper “Father’s Day” present. So every now and then, when it’s really supposed to be about me, I tend to get a present for someone else, extend a favor, give them some money, and just ‘be a Dad!’  

Family at home and family in the church are not supposed to be just about our preferences and desires.  Just as we are to honor God and our parents, we also are to honor and not exasperate those we are privileged by God to care for. The Scriptural directive to ‘not exasperate’ also means to not annoy, agitate, anger, disturb, ‘drive up the wall,’ ‘get under one’s skin,’ inflame, infuriate, or irk.  I think you ‘get the gist.’  

We honor our earthly fathers.  We are also to honor “Our Father who art in heaven.”  Honor God in our families.  Honor God in His church. 

An example Jesus sets is to pray. Jesus prayed for guidance and for strength.  Jesus prayed for his disciples and for his family.  Jesus Christ even prayed for his enemies.  

Honor God, our Father, by praying routinely, sincerely, and with devotion.  Pray for those who lead us to become better fathers, good families, functional members of church, home, and society.  Pray for me, please, as your pastor. 

Fathers, pray for your children and continue to teach them the ways of the Lord.  Even when they are all ‘grown up.’  I firmly believe we never quit parenting. 

God inquires of us all to live in such manner that others will see who we are, how we live, and what we believe in and thus be drawn home to God, to faith, to love, and to Jesus.  May our words and our actions bring honor to the Lord and life to our children as we lead them in His ways.   

Let your light shine, the Bible declares. Fathers, parents, children, and church members, ask yourself: are our children learning to live in the stress of the world or the joy of the Lord? May your actions and my own reflect our prayers.  

A further question: “What good are you?”  By that, I mean to inquire what benefits are God, family, church, children, and faith gaining from ‘who’ you are and from the good deeds you do?  Perhaps you were or still are part of a dysfunctional family.  You may desire to change all of that.  History does not have to repeat itself.  Not in families nor in church.  God remains the God of new beginnings.  Hear afresh His assuring words, “Behold, I make all things new!” (Revelation 21:5) 

Choose, by your own free will, to change things for the better.  Lead your family to be healthy and functional.  You can do it.  Not alone but with God’s help and the care, support, and help of other believers.  Be a healthy father.  Help your family to be healthy.  Be a healthy church member.  The processes involved in health require some extensive effort, growing, learning, praying, listening, and free will choices on our parts. Jesus inquires of us to “let our light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  One of the greater ‘good deeds’ you or I can perform is to treasure our families and our faith. 

Today we affirm that we are members of the faith family.  Amen.

The Grace of Life 6/13/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 12, 2021 & Sunday, June 13, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, as we turn to your Word for us, may the Spirit of God rest upon us.  Help us to be steadfast in our hearing, in our speaking, in our believing, and in our living.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 90 (Page 592) and 1 Peter 3:1-7 (Page 1222) 

Sermon Message: “The Grace of Life” 

Some years back, when I read those scriptures referencing ‘wives submitting to their husbands,’ one woman in the congregation abruptly folded her arms, crossed her legs, and turned her head away! 

At first glance, some verses of scripture can seem ‘challenging’ perhaps even abrasive.  

I further recall sharing these scriptures from Psalm 90 which speak of living to be 70 years old, perhaps 80, if our strength endures.  When I was in my forties, that time seemed pretty far away.  Not so much anymore.  May we all remember the Psalms were written long before the birth of Jesus Christ.  Our human life spans have changed, granting us longer length of years accompanied by better health.  

Today’s scriptures, specifically from the Book of 1 Peter 3:1-7, opens with a command for wives to live their lives in such a Christ-like manner that their unbelieving husbands will be irresistibly drawn to Christ.  It concludes by encouraging husbands to understand and honor their wives.  

Peter goes on to say that when we do not live in understanding and honor, our relationship with God can be hampered, and our prayers go unanswered. 

When our lives reflect Jesus’ actions and attitudes, then the pathway to God is opened wide.  Our spiritual health and growth are assured, and we become heirs of ‘the grace of life.’ 

‘Grace’ can be understood as an acronym…G…R…A…C..E… God’s Redeeming Aide Coming Everyday. 

‘Life’ can be understood as existence. 

The ‘grace of life’ can be best understood as the miracle of life that only God can give. 

Upon first reading of today’s scriptures in the Book of 1 Peter 3:1-7, the Apostle Paul’s words can seem quaint and challenging by today’s standards.  Always look a bit further, dig a bit deeper, and pray further as you study and seek to learn from Scriptures.  

The Apostle Paul informs us that wives have an opportunity to help their husbands draw closer to God, become believers, and thus better husbands.  Wives extend the grace of life by means of their inner self; their unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.  I readily affirm that the purity and reverence of a holy woman is of great worth in God’s sight and of sincere benefit to a weak or small-faith husband. 

Husbands and wives are a team.  Always have been.  Always will be.  God created marriage in order that the two shall become as one.  The essence of the two becoming one is in itself a full evidence of the grace of life.  Two are better than one.  Each ‘completes’ the other. 

Husbands and wives become families.  But have you noticed that family meals are ‘not so much’ anymore in lots of homes?  Yet, they still do occur in some.  At one such family gathering the expanded family was present.  They had met for the little girl’s birthday.  She was maybe 5 or 6.  After singing ‘Happy Birthday’ and blowing out the candles, she indulged in opening her presents.  At one point a large red bow fell off of one of her presents.  She picked it up, placed it on her head and said, “Look everyone, I am a present!” 

How wise and true her words were beyond even her immediate comprehension.  Children become God’s opinion that the world should go on.  

That same little girl waited until everything had settled down and folks were enjoying their cake and ice cream then asked, "Mommy and Daddy, if you guys never got married, who’s child would I be?"  Those parents did their best to answer their little girl all the while realizing, by the grace of God they were, in fact, married AND by the further grace of God, they did have this little girl, in all her sweetness, inquisitiveness, and innocence to enjoy, love, and nurture. 

Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems. In our youth we tend to believe we shall live forever.  As we age, we pray that won’t be the case due to infringing infirmities that compromise life. 

The grace of life calls us, even commands us, to live in a way that draws ourselves and others ‘home’ to Christ, to God, and eventually to heaven.  The grace of life makes love better and appreciation more ‘real’ and ‘sincere.’ 

Living ‘through’ and ‘beyond’ this pandemic also reflects the grace of life. 

I officiated a funeral last month and met a fellow I have not seen since the beginning of the pandemic.  I hardly recognized the guy.  Not because of his mask.  But because of his hair!  He had always kept his hair cut short and even with his head.  He had this ‘bush’ on top of his head that fell down the sides of his face.  He giggled as he shared with me ‘who’ he was.  He went on to say he has not had a hair cut since the pandemic began.  

The pandemic affected us all.  We are more aware of God, one another, and the world community than before.  Isolation tends to be devastating for human beings.

Clearly the Bible communicates, “by the grace of God we have been saved.”  While we generally attribute those scriptures as pertaining to being ‘saved’ for eternal life, one can’t help but believe God’s grace ‘saved’ us from the entire world being overcome by Covid-19. 

The grace of life has indeed come to us in many forms.  His grace has brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.  The grace of life, my friends, leads us home to a love that is significant on earth and in heaven.  The grace of life affirmed in the Book of Psalms is a directive to not only appreciative living but also quality and meaningful living.  “O Lord teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  Establish thou the work of our hands.” 

The grace of life affirmed in today’s reading from 1 Peter provides women and men with ways to live, in such a manner, that even our example will draw others ‘home’ to God, to Christ, to faith, and to the church. 

What is it that ‘attracts’ you to Jesus Christ, to this church, to the Christian faith?  

What is it about YOU that attracts others to Jesus Christ, to this church, to the Christian faith?  The Apostle Paul’s words are clear; live your life in such a way, that others will be attracted to Jesus Christ because of your actions, the purity and reverence of your life.  Give people something godly to see, believe in, and trust.  Share the grace of life with others, all others. Amen.

Do Not Lose Heart 6/6/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 5, 2021 & Sunday, June 6, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Send, O God, the light of your presence on our hearts so that as your truth is proclaimed, we may trust in you with all our hearts.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Mark 3:20-34 (Page 1004) and 2 Corinthians 4:13 - 5:1 (Page 1159) 

Sermon Message: “Do Not Lose Heart” 

“Do not lose heart.”  We have all been ‘disheartened’ from time to time. Jesus’ mother and brothers came looking for Jesus when he was nearly at the ‘height’ of his ministry.  He and his disciples were so busy, at one point, that they didn’t even have time to eat.  His family went to ‘take charge’ over him because they were ‘disheartened’ with him.  Jesus refused to ‘listen’ and leave the meeting he was having with the teachers of the law.  He did not feel as though he needed rescuing from his work or busyness.  So, Jesus goes on to redefine ‘who’ is family. 

Have you ever ‘lost heart’ with someone?  

Within my personal life, what I consider to be a ‘greater miracle’ was my transformation as a quiet, keep-to-myself, shy kind of child, to an extroverted public speaker. Because I was shy and quiet, my mother especially, would sometimes try to ‘arrange’ friendships for me.  She’d call some neighbor lady who had a son somewhere around my age and ask that mother if her child would be my friend. At the pre-school age that was ‘fine and dandy.’  But in elementary school and later, that was a bit too much.  Even embarrassing.  

Families most often ‘mean well’ but don’t always end up ‘doing well’ for one another.  

As a pastor, I’ve met more than my share of families who have ‘lost heart’ with one or more members. 

‘Families’ continue to change.  Jesus reminds us that family can be more than the people we’re related to by birth, genetics, or blood.  Some family is chosen.  Have you noticed the trend among some young folks and some of us seniors, to choose our family members from what used to be an unusual place?  Some research indicates that younger people are not getting married until in their thirties, and they see their pets as family members, even ‘starter children!’  Some statistics affirm that as high as three-fourths of Americans in their 30’s own a dog, and better than one half own a cat.  Marketers say they’ve noticed the perception of pets has changed with this generation.  Pets teach the qualities many young folks feel they’ll need as parents, and they make lifestyle choices based on their pets’ needs.  They want to take their pets out with them, and so public spaces need to be pet-friendly.  One woman says she “considers her dog to be her baby” and thinks this experience has prepared her for the ‘real deal’ down the line, thanks to the specific routines, checkups, and preferences she now takes into consideration.”  She adds, “Obviously there will be bigger challenges as a parent to a human baby, but for now, my fur baby keeps my hands full.”  People can be vexing, so some people are choosing to claim their pets as family members. 

Friends fill the place of family for many people. Especially as we age, our friends can become a kind of chosen family who have a protective and caring effect.  Having supportive friendships in old age is sometimes found to be a strong predictor of wellbeing.  Both family and friend relationships are generally associated with better health and happiness overall.  When family cannot be around, strong friendships sincerely can make a huge difference, especially so for seniors. 

Jesus’ family was ‘disheartened’ with him.  They were also quite ‘concerned’ with his well-being.  They saw where Jesus had become so ‘busy’ that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. His own family went so far as to say, “He is out of his mind.” 

At the same time the teachers of the law came down from Jerusalem and accused Jesus of being possessed by demons.  Jesus was ‘getting it’ from both sides!  Surely Jesus must have been disheartened by both the lack of support and hurtful accusations. 

Jesus defended himself.  He addressed the teachers of the law, speaking to them in parables.  A parable is a story containing a message within.  Jesus inquires, “How can Satan drive out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  If Satan opposes himself, he cannot stand, his end has come.” 

President Abraham Lincoln referenced these precise scriptures as he sought to unite a land, this land, our nation, when divided over the issues of slavery and freedom for all. 

Pastors and counselors, for years, have referenced this parable teaching of Jesus Christ when addressing marital concerns amidst couples.  A house divided is indeed sad and disheartening. 

Within the same conversation Jesus went on to say, “In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up.  Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.” 

At first glance this seems to be a bit of a ‘strange’ teaching from the Lord Jesus.  Yet we must remember Jesus was speaking to us in the form of a parable.  That is, a kind of story or teaching within a story.  Consider briefly how this particular teaching of Jesus Christ might apply to our lives today. 

‘A strong man’s house’ might become a reference to long-held beliefs, even traditions. Such ‘beliefs and traditions’ might range from long-held ‘outlooks’ regarding race, religion, gender, and political views to over-protective measures that end up hurting or dismissing someone.  Churches can become quite embedded with beliefs and traditions that can make a person ‘lose heart.’  I have a brief example to share with you. 

Ralph and Jimmy were both members of a suburban church I once served in another town.  I well recall those two; strong-willed in nature and even stronger in their ‘church outlooks!’  Jimmy harbored some very ‘strong’ feelings against Ralph.  After all, his thoughts regarding the neighborhood youth playing ball in the church yard were for the good, for the betterment of the church, to welcome ‘young blood’ as he called the youth in that neighborhood.  Ralph, on the other hand, opposed anyone setting foot on the well-manicured lawn.  He believed it was to be ‘sacred ground’ reserved as a thing of beauty.  Besides, hitting balls around could only lead to disaster, broken windows, and possible lawsuits!  So he thought.  Both fellows had very ‘strong’ opinions concerning ‘their’ church.  Jimmy harbored bitter feelings towards Ralph.  Eventually those strong feelings became disheartening to him, even as he sat through sermons proclaiming love, unity, forgiveness, and tolerance.  I’ll never forget the day I saw Jimmy sitting on the front steps of that church, burning with strong feelings just prior to worship beginning.  I could tell Jimmy didn’t really want to come inside that Sunday for he was SO disheartened with Ralph.  Something peculiar happened that day.  From my vantage point, I saw Ralph walking up the steps to enter church, and instead of passing by Jimmy, who was there on the steps, Ralph sat down beside Jimmy.  I feared the worst.  So, I got a bit closer to them both.  Ralph spoke to Jimmy from his heart.  He acknowledged that Jimmy and his family had become such a sincere part of that church nearly 15 years ago.  Ralph shared a bit of his history associated with that church: weddings, funerals, special church services, times for much-needed community outreach following natural disasters, and so on. Ralph went on to say he was sorry to have become so protective of this church he loved. Ralph realized he just wanted to be sure that the next generation, which included Jimmy and his family, would be as protective and loving of that church as he had become.  I needed to go inside to lead in worship, so I was not ‘privy’ to the rest of their conversing.  Finally they made it inside just as I was about to start the sermon.  That day I saw them smile and touch each other’s shoulders as they sat in the pews.  As pastor, I knew the ‘strong man’s house’ had become trusted and shared with the next generation. 

Sometimes the strength of our views can become disheartening to others.  We are the Lord’s.  He is Lord and God.  We are not.  Don’t lose heart; God shall come and make all things new!  

Jesus went on to say people can be forgiven of many things; all of their sins and every slander they utter.  ‘Sin’ can make any soul lose heart. Jesus Christ taught us that sin can be forgiven.  He then warns us that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. Many have wondered what is ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?”  It can mean continued and obstinate rejection of God, the gospels, and Jesus; hence, it is an unpardonable sin simply because as a sinner remains in unbelief, he voluntarily excludes himself from pardon.  Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit can also be regarded as attributing to the power of Satan those miracles, which Christ performed, or those works, which are the result of the Holy Spirit’s movement.  Either meaning leads to disheartening. 

Jesus instructs us to reconsider our priorities.  Who is it that we love?  Who do we choose to love and ‘who’ loves us?  It’s easy to lose heart with those we think ‘should’ love us but do not. The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, reminds us all that we have the same spirit of faith.  For we know that the one who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us to God. 

Paul goes on to say, “Therefore, we do not lose heart for we are being renewed day by day.”  Perhaps you are aware of some ‘renewal stories’ that have helped you or another NOT to lose heart. 

In the daily devotional, The Upper Room, a woman who would only identify herself as Claudia, submitted a thoughtful article.  Claudia identified herself as the wife of the president of a major corporation.  She explained that her husband was near retirement, and their children were grown and living away from home, before she accepted Jesus as her personal savior.  With remorse she looked back over those years and realized how different they would have been with Jesus in her life.  She would have had a much closer relationship with her daughters, and she would have used her wealth and status in the community for the betterment of people.  Claudia continued to be sad and troubled by this loss until one day during her devotions she read this passage:  “I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten.” (Joel 2:25)  Claudia wrote, “I just rested upon this promise.”  She began a new life for herself, no longer-guilt ridden over the “lost years.” 

Do not lose heart for God still has a way of ‘making all things new!’  Even the past.  Hear again Paul’s promising words of Holy Scripture: “We do not lose heart though outwardly we are wasting away.  Inwardly, we are being renewed day by day.  Our troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  Together we know that if this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” 

Therefore, we do not lose heart, come what may here on this side of heaven.  Amen. 


Three Ways God Comes To Us 5/30/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 29 & Sunday, May 30, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Guide us, O God by your Word and Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  John 3:1-17 (Page 1064) & Matthew 28:16-20 (Page 1000) 

Sermon Message: “Three Ways God Comes To Us” 

I am one of a very few persons who can remember when I took my very first steps. Not from when I was an infant.  Rather, I remember my first steps following extensive surgery on my broken left leg. 

‘Memories’ are most often a good thing.  ‘Memories’ are special moments that tell our story.  On this Memorial Day weekend, we recall ‘stories’ associated with people, places, and events.  Memories imply some degree of ‘history’ as well. 

As ‘memory’ serves me, when I broke my leg, initially I thought, “Oh they’ll fix me right up, and I’ll be back to church next week!”  Instead, I was 4 days in Sewickley Hospital followed up by ten days at Encompass Health Center for rehab.  Once home I had another ‘wait’ of a few more weeks before I was allowed to come back to church. 

At the rehab facility they asked me if I could walk?  I thought about it in my mind and said, “Yes, of course I can.”  My mind said ‘yes’ but my body said ‘no’. 

You know something, after a while of struggling with the pain and inability to walk, my ‘spirit’ started to go down.  One week prior to my accident, I had been down here at the church on a Monday evening running a weed whacker, walking all over the block, with very little exertion. 

Throughout recovery, my mind kept saying yes.  My body was slow to respond, and my spirit was starting to hurt.  After a while your body teaches you what your mind doesn’t want to accept. My spirit was grateful for care and hope whenever and wherever it came from. 

Like you, my memories tell my story. 

There are numerous ways God effects the stories associated with each of our lives. 

Along with today marking Memorial Day weekend, this is also recognized in the Christian church as being Trinity Sunday.  Today we affirm the three parts of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

Employing a metaphor here for illustration; God the Father is kind of like the Mind of God.  Jesus Christ, God the Son, is kind of like the body of God.  The Holy Spirit is kind of like the spirit, the soul aspect of God. Today is Trinity Sunday – it is called Trinity Sunday because it is the first Sunday after Pentecost.  The three persons of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three ways God comes to us. 

Summer time is upon us, and things are starting to ‘open up’ once again in our world.  Slowly we are starting to hear that several public gatherings are going to become available.  Perhaps you remember going places where caricature artists set up their easels and draw pictures of people who are willing to pay a modest price for a humorous image of themselves.  Those drawings can be quite amusing because they exaggerate one or more of our physical features in a way that is recognizable but funny. 

Caricatures of God, on the other hand, are not funny.  Exaggerating one of His attributes presents a distorted view that people easily dismiss.  Like a caricature, a distorted view of God is not taken seriously. 

Those who see God portrayed only as an angry and demanding judge are easily lured away by someone who emphasizes mercy. 

Those who see God as a kind-hearted grandfather will reject that image when they need justice. 

Those who see God as an intellectual idea rather than a living, loving being eventually find other ideas more appealing. 

Those who see God as a best friend often leave Him behind when they find human friends who are more to their liking. 

God declares Himself to be merciful and gracious, but also just in punishing the guilty. 

As we put our faith into action, we need to avoid portraying God as having only our favorite attributes. 

We must worship all of God, not just what we like.  Because we believe in a Trinitarian God, we cannot believe in a God that is distant or aloof – apart from us.  We have a God that created us – that came as one of us – knows what it means to be human.  We have a God that is with us, always, to the end of the age.  Our God is not merely some master engineer that has only set His creation in motion, like some master watch maker, and now observes us from a distance. 

God came to us as Creator, Maker, and Sustainer.  As affirmed in the creeds, we believe one of the ways God has come is the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.  In the beginning, God walked with us in the cool of the evening. 

Jesus comforted the disciples and us by saying, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)

One of the ways God came to us was to be born among us as a human being in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. God was born of a woman and was raised from infancy. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)  God lived among us as a human being.  God’s Son died for each and every one that chooses to believe.  We have a God that is intimate.  God comes to each of us intimately and to all of us collectively.  God relates to us.  We are part of God’s family. 

Everybody needs somebody sometime.  We all need someone to love and someone to love us.  This life and this world are NOT heaven. The best is yet to come. In the meantime we are designed to need God and one another.  We have received what the Bible calls a spirit of adoption.  Jesus sometimes referred to God the Father as ‘Abba-Father’ which translates “Daddy-Father.”  When we, like Jesus, call out intimately and sincerely to the Father, the Bible affirms that very Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15b-17) 

Suffering is not evidence of the absence of God as some might suggest, BUT of God living in the conflict zone right alongside us. 

Jesus instructed and declared:  “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18) 

God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the manifestation of God’s love.  Strive to understand these three ways God comes to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In the process we meet God. 

Understanding and learning things happen in a lot of different ways these days.  Some say you can ‘look up’ anything on the computer, and there is probably a video or YouTube presentation for it somewhere.  

For example, have you ever wanted to learn fly-fishing?  An online video may be all right, but the mentoring of a seasoned angler would be better.  If you wish to be fluent in a new language, an immersion program is a good idea.  Generally, the closer you get to the source of knowledge, the more wisdom you receive. 

Within today’s scriptures, there comes a point in the visit from Nicodemus that we had read today, when Jesus turns to us.  He has "insider information" for the entire world to hear:  If you want to know God, watch the Son.  You can't get any closer to the source.  

God comes to us in at least three ways: He comes as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. Nicodemus refers to Jesus as ‘Rabbi.’  He further references Jesus as a teacher who has come from God.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee and also a member of the Jewish ruling council.  Nicodemus makes reference to God as Father and converses with Jesus as ‘coming from the Father.’  Nicodemus wants to see and know God mainly through the mind. Nicodemus admires Jesus.  In a somewhat similar fashion Nicodemus admires himself as being born a Pharisee and having become a member of the Jewish ruling council. 

While knowledge, title, and position are both relevant and important, Jesus challenges all of that, informing us, that knowing God requires relating at a deep level.  Actually, through a life changing means.  You must be born again.  We have to do more than ‘admire’ God or His Son, Jesus.  We need to relate.  Consider how the Father ‘relates’ to others.  He loves us.  He sends His Son, and He sends the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit comes as the breath of God to comfort, to care, to inspire. 

You and I have a limited yet functional understanding of the Trinity of God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We draw analogy to having a mind, a body, and a spirit.  All three are required.  We grow to learn that by paying attention only to one’s mind, body, or spirit will cause neglect and suffering to the other dimensions of ‘who’ we are. 

Don’t just gather knowledge about God; know Jesus, His Son, personally.  Call upon the Holy Spirit for prayer, inspiration, guidance, and care.  Not only for your life but also for how you relate to others in this life. 

Jesus was ‘sent to save.’  Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save the world. 

On this Memorial Day weekend, may we ‘remember’ to do the same.  One soul at a time.  

Amen.

Pentecost; God Breathes Hope 5/23/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 22, 2021 &  Sunday, May 23, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: God, send your Holy Spirit upon us today that we may grow to hear, understand, and apply the Word of God to our lives. In the precious name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Romans 8:22-27 (Page 1133) & Galatians 5:22 (Page 1171) 

Sermon Title:  “Pentecost; God Breathes Hope” 

Today’s initial scripture lesson begins with a thought-provoking message that 'the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.'  ‘Groaning’ seems to be a theme associated with the Holy Spirit as well.  Today’s scripture lesson further discloses that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans. 

Today is Pentecost.  This is a time to recognize that God breathes hope. 

Perhaps like me, you have things that make you ‘groan.’  When Jesus Christ walked the face of the earth, there were things that may have caused folks to ‘groan’ back then.  There was division among many.  Different languages being spoken only seemed to add to the confusion.  On Pentecost, we recall that when the Holy Spirit came, the people were able to hear and understand the messages of God, each in their own language.  This brought unity. 

Music is accredited as being the universal language.  Perhaps you also have recognized where folks sometimes ‘hear’ music’s message ‘differently.’ 

Do you recall what a transistor radio is?  It was a small radio that a person could carry around with them or set beside them to listen to music.  I once owned a transistor radio that had this neat ‘option’ of a silver metal clip that allowed me to fasten it to my belt.  Let me tell you, walking around with that transistor radio on my belt was super cool!  Back then we used to listen to the “Top Forty” popular songs on the radio.  I well recall those radios often times lacked clarity and sounded pretty scratchy.  Back then when you heard songs the station chose to play, it was entirely possible to get the lyrics wrong. 

The musical group, Credence Clearwater Revival, sang “There’s a Bad Moon on the Rise.”  I and many others heard:  “There’s a bathroom on the right.”  Another musical group, “Iron Butterfly,” sang:  “In-a-gadda-da-vida, honey,” which doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Some folks instead heard:  “In a glob of Velveeta, honey.”  

Perhaps you are ‘groaning’ as you hear these awkward ways we sometimes get the same message wrong.

‘Groaning’ remains an identifiable characteristic of the Holy Spirit.  This ‘groaning’ is not negative nor immature in nature.  As the Bible points out, this becomes a form of prayer from the Holy Spirit on our behalf.  

The entire world has become quite familiar with groaning during the course of this Covid-19 pandemic.  We have groaned with pain, frustration, and fear.  Suffering and death made us groan.  Early on there was no vaccine; then there wasn’t enough to go around. Now many ‘groan’ that while it’s readily available, many are refraining from receiving. 

The Bible points out that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Especially so, ‘we’ who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly. 

The ‘first fruits of the Spirit’ are love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

The ‘fruits of the flesh’ include hatred, sorrow, conflict, impatience, meanness, viciousness, infidelity, harshness, and lack of control. 

Since the beginning of creation, the spiritual side of people has been groaning against the ‘first fruits of the flesh.’

Straight-forward, God is speaking to Christians today concerning how our spirits ‘groan’ with desire, with conviction, with spiritual hope for things to change, and to become better.  

‘Spiritual hope’ within us should make us ‘long/groan’ for things to change and become better according to God.  Even Jesus Christ prayed, “Not my will but thine be done.’ 

I believe, as I’m sure you do, that ‘hope’ is built into the Christian experience right from the start and remains a central part of who we are all of our lives.  After all, isn’t all of Christian living a straining forward for what is yet to come, for what is unseen?  

I really like this part of the Bible whereby God affirms that the Holy Spirit prays for us with groans or sighs too deep for words.  The Holy Spirit of God helps us in our weakness.  I think in every believer’s life there have been times, and there shall still come those times, when life’s circumstances hurt us so much, we just can’t seem to form the words to pray.  It is both comforting and assuring to know that during those precise times, God’s Holy Spirit is praying for us. 

Today we honor members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars who have ‘gone home in faith’ before us.  I feel certain that any member of Keith-Holmes Post 402 could share with us memories of times when they or fellow comrades faced such circumstances that it was hard for them to pray.  Permit me to share one such personal ‘memory.’

It’s been a while now, yet my dear wife and I vividly recall the call that came to us regarding our son being injured in Afghanistan.  Justin called and spoke to me from a temporary battlefield hospital.  He had stepped on a land mine and wanted me to ‘run interference’ with his mother. As things progressed and Justin finally arrived ‘stateside,’ we eventually were able to see him.  Several years have since passed.  His ‘spirit’ groaned with a strong desire for ‘hope’ to be restored or to perhaps start to embrace a new sense of normalcy. 

Several of us ‘groaned’ during that time of injury and on-going recovery. 

Groaning is a deep, inward response to suffering.  It is both personal and intense; an agony so deep it cannot be put into words.  Groaning is a universal language.  Groaning will be swallowed up by the glory of the sons of God that is yet to come.  For the Christian, groaning directs our hope heavenward to that which is not yet seen. 

In part, groaning stems from suffering; from experiencing or seeing things that just aren’t ‘right.’  It further stems from having ‘hope’ that things should be better, can get better, and will get better. 

On that very first Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit to breathe upon those remaining disciples who were suffering immensely and feeling extensively ‘hope-less.’  Has God ever breathed ‘hope’ upon you?  Through you?  Or from others?  Again, I reference a personal example and memory. When Justin arrived at Fort Lewis in the State of Washington, we went to see him.  You can’t imagine the pain, leastwise, we couldn’t. For days on end he was bed bound, not even able to sit up on the edge of his bed without extensive pain. This one day the medical people helped him into a wheelchair and into the bathroom.  As silly as it may sound to some, this act brought him a lot of hope. 

Trust this, when you or I suffer in any form or fashion, from whatever the cause may be, we are being ‘prayed for’ by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit ‘groans’ to God the Father on our behalf. 

In part, that is why it will sometimes seem as though 'out of the blue' something peaceful, warm, or calming washes over you, perhaps even flooding your soul. 

The Bible declares the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to this present time.  Most mothers will tell you that childbirth is a pretty intense pain.  Many have said, while it’s one of the worst pains in the world, it’s also one of the easiest pains to ‘get over!’ 

God’s Word goes on to say, “we who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly, as we eagerly await for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” 

The first fruits of the Spirit are as the breath of God coming upon us still.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  The first-fruits of the Spirit are more than a ‘breath of fresh air;’ they are as the very breath of God itself. 

To be ‘loved with the love of the Lord’ is a breathing of ‘hope’ for those needing to give love or receive love. Because we ‘love with the love of the Lord,’ we are better able to forgive those that harm or hurt us so.  We are able to love the ‘unlovable’ and generate a hope that in our greatest sin, God shall love us still. 

‘Joy’ for the believer is immeasurable!  There is ‘joy’ in knowing our faithfully departed are at ‘home’ with God in heaven.  There is ‘joy’ in understanding, however sad and bad our lives may be, Jesus loves us, this we know.  Our salvation becomes our greater ‘joy.’  

When God’s Spirit breathes ‘joy’ upon us, it finds a home deep within us and continues to flow through us.  We exuberate ‘hope.’  We grow to appreciate in a uniquely different way that which makes us happy.  Happiness is not just what we feel in our hearts and experience in our daily lives.  Happiness is when we just KNOW we are right with God. 

Peace is still longed for by many.  Needed by most.  Peace is NOT just the absence of conflict.  Spiritual peace involves rightness with God and right living with others.  We sometimes ‘groan’ for peace.  There is a certain sense of ‘peace’ associated with rest, getting along with others, and knowing things are turning out alright.  There is also the ‘peace of God that passes human understanding’ which the Apostle Paul wrote of in the Bible. 

There is hope in this latter form of peace.  Jesus Christ stated, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give.”  Pray for the breath of God to give you this peace. 

There remains much wisdom to be found in the Bible.  Sources of wisdom are sometimes found in other remote areas as well.  I came across a piece of ‘graffiti’ a while back.  It read something like this:  “Patience is a virtue, possessed by very few.  Seldom found in women, never found in men.”  A bit ‘slanted’ we might agree, yet those words make us ponder the spiritual fruit of ‘patience.’  We sometimes ‘groan’ for patience.  Especially so when trials come.  Are you known for your patience?  Does your Christian faith help produce patience within you?  God wants you to be patient in all areas of your life.  He breathes His hope upon you today. 

Some of the other ‘first-fruits’ of the Holy Spirit include kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  

When the first fruits of the Spirit are missing, set aside, or cast off, there is suffering.  

On that very first Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit upon those troubled disciples.  Imagine, what appeared to be ‘tongues of fire’ resting upon the heads of each one of those disciples.  I cannot well imagine what that looked like but have benefitted from some artists' renditions.  Fire that ‘rests but does not consume’ is associated with God appearing to Moses, centuries earlier, in the burning bush.  There, God called upon Moses while reminding him that he was standing on Holy ground. 

“Holy Ground” is wherever and whenever God’s Holy Spirit has touched, inspired, or used us to accomplish His greater tasks, affirm His calling, and provide for His people. 

Some of those we honor today are people who have stood on Holy ground.  

Remember, groaning is a deep, inward response to suffering.  It is both personal and intense, an agony so deep it cannot be put into words.  Groaning is a universal language.  Groaning will be swallowed up by the glory of the sons of God that is yet to come.  For the Christian, groaning directs our hope heavenward to that which is not yet seen. 

Remember Pentecost as the time when God’s Spirit came breathing hope upon troubled disciples living through very troubled times. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  Renew your strength in and through faith. 

Today, God breathes hope.  Amen.


The Wisdom Of Love 5/16/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 15, 2021 & Sunday, May 16, 2021 

Prayer for Illumination: Almighty God, in you are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Open our eyes that we may see the wonders of your Word; and give us grace that we may clearly understand and freely choose the way of your wisdom; through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  James 3:13-18 (Page 1218) and Romans 12:9-21 (Page 1137) 

Sermon Message: “The Wisdom of Love” 

Friends, I wish to begin today’s sermon message with a true story that reflects the wisdom of love. 

This story took place in a previous congregation I once served.  A married couple was having some ‘problems.’  Usually, it’s the wife who comes to me initially wanting to share and gain some help.  Not in this case.  It was the husband who first approached me.  This couple had two sons, innocent in their own right, yet victims of their parents' wrath and on-going fighting.  Within the husband and wife there were some ‘trust issues.’  ‘He’ mistrusted ‘her.’  Some months later I discovered he had good reason to mistrust.  She had ‘stepped out’ on him. I met with each of them a few times, then with both of them together.  We were able to successfully ‘patch things up.’  Their marriage actually blossomed, leastwise for a while.  But then a peculiar thing happened just a few years later.  ‘She’ came to talk with me regarding her concerns, her suspicions and fears, her on-going ‘trust issues’ with ‘him.’  We sorted things out for a while, did some serious praying, then I began meeting with ‘him.’  While she did NOT have good reason to mistrust ‘him,’ he was not entirely innocent.  It seems he had been harboring an anger inside for quite a while towards her.  At long last, he had a scenario whereby he could make her feel insecure, fearful, and mistrustful.  Although he had done nothing wrong, his plans to ‘get even with her’ and ‘make her suffer were also wrong. 

 ‘He’ agreed to meet with me.  We talked and shared in submissive prayer.  A ‘different’ plan was devised.  A plan based upon the wisdom of love.  Here is what happened: 

 ‘He’ went home and calmly asked his wife to come sit with him in their living room.  He met her eyes and said he had something to share with her.  He then proceeded to tell her what he thought, how he felt, and where they were headed. He removed his shoes, and then sat comfortably on the floor in front of her.  As he gently took her hands, he said, “I’m not like you.  Once in our lives you hurt me, and now it's my turn to make you feel as you once made me feel.  But I’m not going to, because I am not like you once were.  I assure you in the eyes of God of my love and my faithfulness to you and to our children, to our families and our community, even to our church.  The only thing I really want and need to say to you right now at this time and place is that I love you with the love of the Lord.”  He tells me he then held her. 

The wisdom of love ‘shows up’ in good life and in deeds done in humility.  Earthly wisdom shows up in harboring bitterness, envy, and selfish ambitions of the heart.  Such wisdom does not come down from heaven.  As today’s scriptures further declare, “wherever you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and various forms of evil practice.” (James 3:16). 

The wisdom of love has guided many a soul, healed many broken scenarios, and has brought forth light in darkness.  I trust you will find, as you look back upon your life, that the moments when you have truly lived, are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.  

Another ‘wisdom of love’ many of us have been taught and put into practice is this: ‘Hate the sin and love the sinner.’ 

The wisdom of God ‘shows up’ in love.  Out of love, God created the heavens, the earth, you, and me.  For God so loved the world that He sent us His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but receive everlasting life. 

This wisdom of love shows up in families.  We see it in families who live in harmony; who are able to express their love for each other, and who are able to disagree with each other in healthy ways.  Families and relationships that can survive through difficulties, and not just survive, but they thrive.  We see co-workers who can sort out their differences.  We see people who have a gift of bringing harmony and unity in a tense and possibly explosive situation.  We see God’s grace lived out in their lives and in their interactions.  We see this because these people are following a wisdom that is pure, considerate, and full of mercy, instead of a wisdom that is full of envy, bitterness, and selfish ambition. 

The wisdom that comes from heaven is pure, peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest. 

The wisdom of love is far more than an accumulation of knowledge, wit, or even just ‘insights.’  This is a more spiritual way that God has inspired inside of us all who follow the living God.  The wisdom of love is sincere, devoted, and honoring of others. You know when this wisdom of love is within, for you have a certain sense of encouragement and enthusiasm much different from the norm.  

The wisdom of love guides us to put others first, not being eager to get our needs, nor even our wants, ahead of others.  There remains a spiritual fervor within us.  We find ‘joy’ in hope.  We may surprise even ourselves in how patient we are even in the midst of affliction.  To gain the wisdom of love, a soul must be faithful in prayer.  These ways of living and perceiving may not always be automatic and sometimes need to be practiced to be made perfect.  Practice sharing with others, especially so with the Lord’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality. 

Some of the hardest lessons to be learned in the wisdom of love requires of us to bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Remember, the world doesn’t revolve around you.  The more selfish and self-centered you are, the less wisdom of love you will have or possibly receive.  

Sometimes there is more peace in silence than in confrontational communications. 

The wisdom of love spoke to the heart of the man I told you of earlier on in today’s message, as he spoke with his wife.  He found it was far better to be on good terms without surrendering himself totally in the process.  He also found with the wisdom of love that its far better NOT to repay anyone evil for evil. 

God puts the wisdom of love inside of us.  He then further requires of us to put it into practice.  ‘Feel’ for others.  Be happy for others. Mourn with others.  Teach yourself first and foremost to get along with others, then proceed to teach others to get along.  Clearly the Bible declares we are NOT to be proud.  Pride, in its many forms, comes before the fall. Remain willing to associate with people of low position.  Even the dull and the ignorant have their life stories to tell.  Listen and learn.  Don’t be conceited.  Nor should we spend much time comparing ourselves to others.  Be yourself.  Be that person God has created YOU to be.  

The wisdom of love gradually transforms us to be more humble in our outlooks, as well as, in our self-evaluations.  There shall always be those who are greater or lesser than us.  Learn to be content with who you are and what you’ve got. Too much comparing and contrasting is not good for the heart, the mind, nor the soul. 

On the other hand, the wisdom of love teaches us to remain cautious, for we surely do see in our world of scams, computer hacking, and compromises of various forms. There is surely a lot of ‘trickery’ in our world. 

God continues to inspire the wisdom of love inside of us.  Such wisdom from heaven greatly reduces one’s cynicism while prescribing a kinder and gentler nature within.  

The wisdom of love begins and ends with God.  Today may you further know peace in your very soul.  Amen.

Passing the Torch 5/9/2021

Sermon Message for Mother’s Day

Saturday, May 8, 2021 & Sunday, May 9, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth.  Make us hungry for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 139:13-14 (pg. 622), Psalm 23 (pg. 548), Galatians 6:9 (pg. 1171) 

Sermon Message: ‘Passing the Torch’ 

Today we celebrate ‘Mother’s Day.’  Perhaps being a man and a father in some ways ‘disqualifies me’ from speaking a message regarding ‘mothers.’  Yet I shall endeavor to share some spiritual and personal insights reflecting on ‘mothers.’  Both men and women are called and appointed by God to be caring parents.  It was God Almighty’s calling and wisdom to bless young Mary to become the mother of Jesus Christ. 

Parents, in general, share some common insights and traits regarding the on-going nurturing process of our children. 

My own mother was often times ‘there’ in the nurturing of my daughter, Bonnie.  ‘Mom’ went with me to my daughter’s kindergarten graduation.  I was in my thirties at the time.  We sat on these tiny little chairs in a classroom and together learned of how ‘my child’ talked incessantly at times, disrupted the class and was probably headed for a career making license plates! Not ‘all’ of Bonnie’s teachers were so dramatic!  In fact, one of the teachers said, “Don’t worry, they all go through this stage; then you can sit back, relax, and enjoy them.”  My mother just smiled a bit but said nothing. 

I bought my daughter her first car when I was in my forties.  What I didn’t count on was all of the times I had to spend waiting for her to call or even text me, for the garage door to open up, and her to walk in.  The fellow next door said, “Aww, don’t worry, in a few years you can stop worrying.  She will be an adult.”  My mother just smiled a bit but said nothing. 

When I was in my fifties, I began to get sick and tired of being so vulnerable.  I was still worrying over my child, but now there was this new wrinkle; there was nothing I could do about it!  My mother just smiled a bit but said nothing. Still, I remained quite concerned over her failures and was still feeling tormented by my child’s disappointments. 

After a while friends my age would say when my kid gets married, I can stop worrying.  “She will be on her own!”  I could then lead my own life.  You know I wanted to believe them, but I remained haunted by my mother’s smile and her occasional inquiring of me: “You look pale, son.  Are you alright?  Everything OK?  Promise you’ll call me the minute you get home.  Are you depressed about something?”

So, I ask you, can it be that parents are sentenced to a lifetime of worry?  Is concern for one another handed down like a torch to blaze the trail of human frailties and the fears of the unknown?  Is concern a curse, or is it a virtue that elevates us to the highest form of life?  

My daughter became pretty upset with me a while back.  She called me saying, “Where were you Dad?  I’ve been calling and texting you for three days and no answer!  I was worried about you.”  This warm smile came across my face as I realized, “The torch has been passed!” 

Some things we are to ‘know full well’ just as the Bible proclaims.  Know full well that God created you.  God created your inmost being.  Today is a day to honor both God and our mothers with the grateful knowledge and acceptable praise that we were knit together in our mother’s womb.  Praise God, along with your mother, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  There may be times when you just don’t feel as though you are much ‘fearfully wonderful’ or even made in God’s gracious image.  Be assured, God made no mistake in designing you.  Your mother carried you for some nine months.  Your life, and my own, is a gift. 

Along the way we need to learn how to live.  Not only how to survive, but more importantly, how to thrive. 

The Bible teaches that among God’s best gifts for surviving and for thriving are faith, hope, and love.  Gifts that I hope are modeled, encouraged, and taught by not only our mothers but by all who are in the position to help, to care, to love, to encourage, even a little or a lot. 

An important lesson we further learn in parenting is this: we continue to grow in learning how to be a parent as our children grow.  We may have had the very best of parents or possibly some of the worst, yet common to us all are the possibilities for growing in faith, hope, and love.  Regardless of how very functional or dysfunctional our nurturers may have been, ‘ours’ becomes the possibility of transforming into sincere Christians who nurture and share that which matters most; faith, hope, and love. 

A further learned lesson is this: faith becomes most important when it is most needed.  Nothing makes you call upon God quite like the responsibility of bringing a soul into this world and nurturing that child’s life. Ask any parent if they’ve ever needed to pray for their child, and they will reflect deeply while smiling sincerely. 

Many mothers and caregivers of children have relied upon the Lord to be their shepherd through everything; from ‘boo-boos’, incessant crying, boyfriends, girlfriends, broken hearts, further education, marriages, sickness, and life and death transitions.  Faith informs us, with God we lack nothing. Mothers sometimes need a break.  Green pastures become a metaphor for much needed rest and respite at times. 

The Lord IS our shepherd.  He leads you, sometimes, beside still waters and into green pastures.  Sometimes, too, that ‘shepherding torch’ is passed on to you, and I, too, lead others in safe places and more quiet times in life and in love.

Christians have the ability to help others ‘refresh their souls.’  Living or dead, tell your mother today that you love her.  Don’t spend lots of time ‘qualifying’ that love.  Just simply and sincerely tell her that you love her.  This will refresh her soul. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced the ‘silent treatment’ from your mother!  I certainly have.  It wasn’t always bad.  Yes, there were those times when her anger just simmered inside of her yet remained unexpressed.  Anticipating what Mother might ‘say’ or ‘do’ was always a bit unnerving!  Yet there was another form of ‘silence’ that gave a clue about what was further inside of your mother or my own. 

We have often times experienced that calming silence as Mother walked with us through those dark valleys in our lifetimes.  There was a certain ‘strength’ to be found in those quiet, ‘down in the valley’ times. 

Jesus is referenced as being the Good Shepherd.  The Psalmist writes of the Good Shepherds’ rod and staff comforting. 

The rod and the staff provided boundaries and prodding, discipline, and even love.  Sometimes it’s not only a ‘torch’ that gets passed down to the next generation, but furthermore, a rod and a staff to guard and protect, establish boundaries, and provide goalposts for comfort, for addressing fear, and for further forming faith. 

On this Mother’s Day when I re-read the 23rd Psalm and review the verse which states, “You prepare a table before me,” I think back, affectionately so, on lots and lots of family meals prepared before me on our kitchen or dining room table. 

Please continue to do that; share meals together, prepare ‘food’ for one another.  ‘Food’ that nourishes our bodies; ‘food’ that refreshes our souls; ‘food’ love that forgives, renews, and transforms something inside each of us. 

The Psalmist writes of ‘food’ that is prepared and served in the presence of our enemies. 

Being raised with three brothers, sometimes my siblings were my enemies. Being raised poor, sometimes poverty itself was our year-round enemy.  If mother and father were fighting, it seemed as though they were the ‘enemies’ attacking each other.  When my father was ‘drinking’ the bottle on the table and ensuing stench, the bottle was an enemy.  Sometimes we are our own worst enemies as well. 

There remains still another portion of life’s ‘torch’ we should pass on. Our parents and our God have passed on the torch of forgiving anyways, moving on always, loving beyond full measure of what’s fair or balanced. 

Jesus, when leaving his family and those he loved, provided this blessing: “Peace, I leave with you.  MY peace, I give you, not as the world gives do I give.  Let not your hearts be troubled.  Neither let them be afraid.”  “My peace” he said.  “Not as the world gives do I give.” 

There is a certain kind of peace we get when we lay our head down on our pillows to sleep.  There’s another kind of peace when the torch of Christianity is passed on. 

Families are a lot of work.  Parents are a lot of work.  Children can be a lot of work.  Do good for your parents; honor them as God inquires of us to do.  Do good for your children. Children do good for your parents and for all persons, God, your heavenly Father, places across your path and within your heart to care about.  Faith, hope, love, boundaries and provisions, faith and forgiveness, do good for those we love AND for those who make even our souls weary. 

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 

Pass the torch, don’t give up.  Amen.

The Sin No One Admits 5/2/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 1, 2021 & Sunday, May 2, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, give us humble, teachable, and obedient hearts, that we may receive what you have revealed, and do what you have commanded. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Exodus 20:17 (Page 76) & Luke 12:13-21 (Page 1043) 

Sermon Message:  “The Sin No One Admits” 

In all my years as a pastor, you’d think I would have ‘heard it all!’  Yet this is only partially true.  People have come to me to confess something or even numerous things they’ve done wrong.  I’ve had people confess the sin of lying, cheating, stealing, vanity, pride, bitterness, hatred, and adultery, even murder.  But the one sin that no one seems to confess, even within one’s self, is ‘avarice.’  This is quite simply another word for ‘covetousness.’  No one says, “I have a covetous spirit, can you help me?” 

Coveting is not always a negative term.  The Hebrew word for ‘covet’ is used in both positive and negative senses.  In its positive sense, the word simply means “a strong desire.”  (I covet having a strong faith like that person has.)  It can also mean, “delight, dear, precious and desirable.”  Used in the negative sense, the word means, “A strong desire for something I have no right to have.” 

God says you and I have no right to our neighbor’s spouse, or to their house, not even to your neighbor’s animals.  Yet God knows what happens when you tell someone they can’t have something. They begin wanting it all the more. In the Garden of Eden God told Adam and Eve they could not have the fruit from this one particular tree.  That made them want that fruit all the more.  A conversation with a serpent ensued, and soon enough, they were eating forbidden fruit.  We may have learned in Sunday School that ‘disobedience’ was the original sin committed by Adam and Eve.  I can’t help but also wonder if it was ‘coveting?’ 

The ‘sin’ associated with coveting is having such a strong desire for something or someone that you are willing to steal, harm, hurt, lie, cheat, manipulate, or further compromise the integrity of yourself, of God, or of another in order to get what’s not yours. 

Typically this is where a lot of folks ‘tune out and turn off’ preaching and teaching about God, the Bible, and living the Christian life.  We don’t so much like being told ‘no’ or shown where we are wrong and especially not having our secret sins exposed. 

As your pastor, I suggest something a bit more healthy and beneficial to today’s scriptures and reference to the sin of coveting. Think of what’s being communicated in today’s message and the Ten Commandments as guardrails to protect us and guideposts to help us experience the good and beautiful life God intends. 

We have a pretty successful Day Care program here at our church.  It offers various forms of childcare five days per week.  I can tell you, first-hand, most days it’s just such a joy to hear the children saying their ABC’s, reciting their prayers before eating, and singing some precious ‘Jesus’ songs and other familiar tunes of repetition and tradition. The other day, while working on this sermon message, a ‘not so happy’ child let out this chilling scream!  All I could hear was “Mine, I want it!”  The people who work here surely do earn their money! 

After pulling my office door shut for some quiet and peace, I smiled and recognized that ‘coveting’ starts at a very young age.  “Mine, I want it,” was a prime example. 

Have you ever coveted or craved something that belonged to someone else?  Or, when you desired it so much you tried to take it? 

In the Bible there is the story of a king who coveted another man’s wife and took her.  King David saw from his back porch a beautiful woman down below his castle.  David coveted Bathsheba and made arrangements to take her.  Regardless of how powerful one may be their sin catches up with them.  God and others ended up dealing harshly with David because of his coveting nature and actions. 

When you are driving on I-79 and the sign says 55 miles per hour, does it make you want to go 65 miles per hour instead?  At least that fast?  Sometimes we even let others ‘egg us on’ as we say. Those ‘others’ may give us the most rational explanations in the world as to why we should have that which we covet.  The first biblical reference to this is back in the Garden of Eden.  Adam, Eve, and the serpent sort of ‘tempt’ or ‘egg on’ each other.  Finally, the forbidden fruit is plucked from the tree and eaten by the man and the woman.  Coveting is often times the sin before the sin of eating the forbidden fruit. 

Initially we look at the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden at face value and say it’s meant to tell us of ancient history or tell us about whether it was a man or a woman who brought sin into the world.  As our faith matures and our spiritual openness increases, we realize this story is meant to teach us about ourselves. We, like Adam and Eve, know there are things that are off limits! Things God says we should NOT have.  But the very fact that we know better seems to make us want them more! Truth is, we’ve all had conversations with the serpent. 

Most sins are easy to spot.  You either murder someone or you don’t.  You steal or you don’t.  You lie or you don’t.  You commit adultery or you don’t.  At least on the outward level, most of the other sins have some kind of visible manifestation. 

Coveting is invisible.  A person may be quite wealthy and not covet at all.  You may drive a BMW and have a Rolex watch on your wrist and not have a covetous bone in your body.  The Bible does not teach that all wealth is evil or that all wealthy people are covetous.  Not at all! 

Coveting is hard to control or even to patrol within us, much less others.  Compare this commandment to the other nine commandments.  You can make a person take a day off.  You can penalize the murderer.  You can prosecute the thief.  You can pretty quickly identify the liar.  But covetousness goes beneath public conduct.  It touches at the motivational level, which society cannot patrol.  It takes God to probe deeply into our inner motivations in a way that roots out those attitudes that can produce outward antisocial behavior, even sin.  That’s the tricky part of coveting.  Since it is invisible, we tend not to take it seriously. 

The Tenth Commandment is not forbidding strong desire in general.  It’s the object of the strong desire that crosses the line into coveting.  That’s why specific objects are named in the verse:  I have no right to possess my neighbor’s spouse, nor their house, nor their servants, not even their animals. Take notice, the word ‘neighbor’ is used 3 times within this Tenth commandment to ‘not covet!’  “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or anything that belongs to your neighbor. We rarely covet things far away from us.  It’s often the things we see every day that bother us.  We want what our neighbor has. 

Coveting destroys quality life, negatively impacts spiritual life, and diminishes happiness. 

Within today’s scriptural lesson, Jesus told a story about a farmer whose crops brought in a good harvest.  In fact, the harvest was so good that he didn’t know how to handle it all.  So he decided to tear down his old barns and build bigger ones.  “And I’ll say to myself, ‘you have plenty of good things laid up for many years.  Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.’ ” (Luke 12:19)  But God said to him, “You fool!  This very night your life will be required of you.  Then who will own the things you have prepared for yourself?”  Jesus references this rich man as being ‘a fool!’  Two insightful reasons Jesus calls him a ‘fool.’  1) He acted selfishly with no concern for anyone else.  2) He acted with no regard for his long-term future. 

This “rich fool” is the classic example of a covetous man.  He wanted more barns to give him more space to hold his ever-increasing harvests.  He truly felt that he was a self-sufficient man.  He didn’t need anyone else; he did it on his own.  Most importantly, he didn’t need God! 

Coveting makes sense, as long as you are going to live forever!  But if you plan to die someday, coveting is the most foolish thing you can do. 

Here are three possible antidotes to coveting in any of our lives: gratitude, generosity, and love. 

The most basic form of prayer and worship are these two words: ‘thank you.’  Scriptures instruct us to “Give thanks to God for he is good” (Psalm107:1) and to “Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:18). Here’s the ‘common sense’ associated with God’s Word: the more I give thanks for what I have, the less I want what I don’t have.  This is true for everything; our mates, possessions, lifestyles, etc.  Unhappy with your spouse?  Thank God for your spouse, over and over and over again.  Gratitude in marriages strengthens marriages.  Gratitude expressed to employees makes for happier employees.  Grateful kids are happier kids.  Teach gratitude while practicing it yourself.  The more grateful I am for what I have, the less I feel the need for more.

The second key antidote to coveting is ‘generosity.’  I’ve seen it happen again and again in families, workplaces, and even in the churches that I serve.  The act of giving shakes us loose from craving’s grasp.  It’s hard to focus on what you desperately want when you are busy giving to others.  Admittedly we have found there is more joy in giving than there is in receiving.  Consider Christmas as one prime example of this.  “It IS more blessed to give than it is to receive.”  (Acts 20:35)  I so enjoy the wisdom sayings found in the book of Proverbs.  Consider this one: “Generous persons will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25). 

Money can’t buy happiness.  So we are told.  Current research does indicate, on the other hand, that those who spend money on OTHER people had significantly greater happiness than those who spent money on themselves. 

Some of the most generous and happy people I have ever met are those who have the smallest amount to give but share anyways. 

Giving actually quiets my desire for more while increasing my sense of satisfaction and happiness.  My friends, it really is more blessed to give than it is to receive.  

The simplest antidote to craving, covetousness, or extreme desire remains love.  So simple yet so very true.  Jesus emphasized the greatest commandments to be two great loves; our love for God and love for one’s neighbor (Matthew 22:40).  Jesus describes ‘love’ not so much as a feeling but as a way of living, acting, and being.  It happens when we seek the good of the other.  Strive to be ‘happy’ for another when they acquire, achieve, or succeed in some way.  This takes some training and renewing of our minds, hearts, and souls. 

Think about it; we cannot love our parents and dishonor them.  We cannot love our neighbor and seek to take what’s theirs.  We cannot love our neighbor and sleep with their spouse.  We cannot love our neighbor and steal from them.  We cannot love our neighbor and falsely accuse, gossip about, or slander them.  And we cannot love our neighbor while fostering a craving for what is theirs and plotting to take it from them. 

Coveting is a hunger, a craving to have more, a narcistic approach to life focused on self-fulfillment that is ultimately insatiable.  However, being grateful, generous, and kind leads to contentment, satisfaction, and joy.  

Coveting isn’t what ‘keeps you going.’  We were meant to spread love.  Our hearts are designed by our Maker for goodness to fill them, not covetousness.  We were made to help others where they need help.  That’s what keeps us going.  Amen.


Anger Affects 4/25/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, April 24, 2021 & Sunday, April 25, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Dear Lord, help us as we read these scriptures together.  Come bring your understanding and reveal your truth.  Come open our minds, hearts, and souls to all that these words of life offer us.  We long to be continually challenged, transformed, and renewed by your word.  May we hear your voice of life as we read and draw close to you.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Matthew 5:43-45 (Page 970) & James 1:19-27 (Page 1216) 

Sermon Message: “Anger Affects” 

Anger affects us all.  Even God gets angry. On more than one occasion Jesus became angry and deeply distressed at people’s stubborn hearts.  Especially, those of the leaders.  He became angry when the honor of God was abused.  Seeing God’s Temple courts being used as a marketplace where outrageous prices were charged for exchanging currency and for clean animals to be used in sacrifice, Jesus overturned tables and drove out the people who were buying and selling (Mark 11:15-17). Yes, Jesus Christ did become angry.  His was a righteous type of anger. 

Surely you understand how righteous anger affects any of us.  What parent among us would not easily and quickly become angry with anyone seeking to harm our children, our grandchildren, or any other ‘innocent one’ for that matter? Within today’s scripture lessons James provides some very straightforward advice for how Christians should deal with anger.  Jesus provides some spiritual truths that surely do help to alleviate anger. 

Sometimes I get so angry when I am leaving this church!  I would like to tell you ‘WHY!’  I drive a very large, white pick-up truck.  It’s pretty easy to see.  I don’t pull out of the parking lot fast.  My truck has a back-up camera that I always use.  When exiting the church, I look (both ways) as I enter Fifth Avenue, and ALWAYS look across the street, just in case some individual is pulling out from Suburban Nursery.  Inevitably, regardless of how careful I may be, how large and visible my truck is, some driver will ‘step on it’ as they leave Suburban Nursery, and I end up slamming on my brakes!  Well let me tell you that happened just the other day.  This guy pulls out right in front of me. I want to tell you what I did. I gently hit my brakes, saw the guy looking at me defiantly, and I raised my right hand, smiled, and motioned him on. Admittedly, I’ve not always been that calm with my responses to negligent drivers.  We all continue to grow, to learn, and relearn as Christians, that we must transform how anger affects us and our response to others.  

Irritation is a mild form of anger. Anger affects us as it grows.  It further affects those around us.  Like anything else, anger can quite easily become a habit, a very damaging habit.  Anger contributes to brokenness in relationships, can be the root of marital issues, can lead to poor performance at work, depression, isolation, and as we have learned, to outbursts of gun violence.

I doubt this is the first sermon or refection you have been acquainted with regarding anger's affects.  There is an older illustration relating to this subject that I think warrants repeating. This illustration is appropriately titled, ‘The Fence.’ 

There was a little boy with a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, to hammer a nail in the back fence.  The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence.  Then it gradually dwindled down.  He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. 

Finally, the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all.  He told his father about it, and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.  Most days he got to pull a nail, but some days he had to pound a nail in. 

The days passed, and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.  The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.  He said, "You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence.  The fence will never be the same.  When you say things in anger, they leave a mark just like the nails left a mark in the fence.  It won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound is still there."  

The ‘wounds’ of anger can be far reaching.  Uncontrolled anger is one of the most destructive forces around.  Anger channeled in the wrong way leads to so much hurt, damage, pain, and agony – both for the person with the anger and for those they visit their anger upon.  We can assume that people will be murdered today because of someone's anger.  Some gun-toting person with destructive anger will open fire on innocent individuals, even children. Others will die from physical ailments resulting from or aggravated by their angry feelings.  We’ve grown in our awareness of people who die in anger-related auto accidents and of others who carry out one of the angriest acts of all; suicide.  Countless relationships die, little by little, as resentment gnaws away at the foundations of love and trust.  Anger is a devastating force, and its consequences should sicken us. 

Unresolved anger tends to ‘fester’ inside a person.  Anger affects can spring up in a moment or be the results of something long ago in a person’s life.  Whether short or long term, God’s Word to us today is directing us all to 'be serious and do something about it.'  ‘Don’t just listen to what the Bible says or to what God is disclosing. Do what it says.’ When anger replaces peace within, do some checking, some serious checking, to see what’s caused it. 

Jesus Christ prompts our thinking. He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45).

‘Hate’ is a very strong word.  It’s also a very devastating feeling in a person’s life.  There’s a difference between setting boundaries with someone and hating them. Hurtful, unrighteous people and situations may require boundaries.  Even Jesus imposed boundaries.  “Hate” can be made up of revenge, strong negative passion, death wishes, and even directed violence.  There’s no turning back from the serious affects of hatred.  This becomes a form of strong and severe judgment sometimes accompanied by jealousy.  Hating can lead to bitterness or depression. God's word instructs us to deal with anger immediately rather than letting it fester, or lead to a loss of control where it can become destructive.  “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.  Don’t give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26) 

If hatred is the most negative force in the world, the most destructive, then love must be the greatest answer for transforming one’s heart and soul.  Perhaps this too is why Jesus instructs us, straight forward, to “love our enemies and bless those who persecute you.”  

Not everyone who claims to belong to Christ actually has a saving relationship with the Savior.  Too many people are characterized by a pattern of sinning, repenting, then sinning and repenting over and over again.  Saying “I am sorry,” or actually feeling sorry is good and much needed, but a saving relationship to Jesus Christ shows up in transformation.  It’s wrong to ‘blow off steam’ and hurt others.  It’s wrong to have a lasting, suppressed anger.  Jesus Christ IS our Lord and Savior.  We are not slaves to sin.  Transformation is possible, the Bible points out, by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:1-2).  We must train ourselves, even in the midst of our anger, to 'set our minds on things above,' especially on God and Christ.  When we seek first and foremost to honor and please God, kindness and love will prevail inside.  Our hearts will find an inner calm and harmony during trying times.  Patience will be practiced, consciously so. 

Transformation leads to reacting differently.  Even to ‘seeing things’ differently.  I recall a lesson learned in seminary.  This one day the seminary class just knew they were in for a fun day.  On the wall was a big target, and on a nearby table were many darts.  The professor’s instructions were to draw a picture of someone that they disliked or someone who had made them angry, and he would allow them to throw darts at the person's picture.  

This one girl drew a picture of a person who had stolen her boyfriend.  Another student drew a picture of his little brother.  Still another drew a picture of a former friend, putting a great deal of detail into her drawing, even drawing pimples on the face.  She was so pleased with the overall effect she had achieved.  

The class lined up and began throwing darts.  Some of the students threw their darts with such force that their targets were ripping apart.  The girl who drew with great detail looked forward to her turn and was filled with disappointment when the professor, because of time limits, asked the students to return to their seats.  As she sat thinking about how angry she was because she didn't have a chance to throw any darts at her target, the professor began removing the target from the wall. 

Underneath the target was a picture of Jesus.  A hush fell over the room as each student viewed the mangled picture of Jesus; holes and jagged marks covered His face, and His eyes were pierced.  The professor said only these words, "In as much as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me" (Matthew 25:40).  No other words were necessary; the tears filled eyes of the students focused only on the picture of Christ. 

We don't usually think about it this way, do we?  We don't realize that anger expressed wrongly ends up hurting Jesus.  In fact I am sure there are lots of times when, in our anger, we’d rather NOT think about either the image of Jesus Christ NOR His teachings. 

We all have problems with anger.  So what do we do about it?  James, the brother of Jesus, tells us a technique for anger management.  He says, "be quick to listen, slow to speak" (James 1:19).  There is a Chinese proverb that says the same thing:  "Never write a letter while you are angry."  Thomas Jefferson said, "When angry, count to 10; when very angry count to 100."  Mark Twain changed it and said, "When angry, count to 4; when very angry, swear."  [We can't agree with the second part of his advice.] 

Think before you act or react.  Control that temper!  Manage what’s inside of you, what ‘eats away’ at you.  Sometimes we are angry with others.  Sometimes we are angry at life or God, even at ourselves.  “Taking it out’ on others is of no value.  We end up distancing ourselves from God and others, especially from those we love and need love from.  Jesus Christ encourages us to love, to forgive, and to move on. 

Amen.                                          

 


God Is Getting Close To Us 4/18/2021

Sermon Message for April 18, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Living God, help us so to hear your holy Word that we may truly understand; that, understanding, we may believe, and, believing, we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Luke 24:13-35 (Page 1060) &  Deuteronomy 30:19,20 (Page 206) 

Sermon Message:  “God Is Getting Close To Us” 

Have you ever had the experience when you can’t see something, and it’s right in front of you?  This past week I was looking in our refrigerator for a slice of cake someone had given us, but I couldn’t find it.  When I opened the fridge, it wasn’t there, and when I moved some of the food and other items, it wasn’t there either.  Patty was at the store, so I called her and asked if she had put the cake in the fridge, and she said she had, and I told her I couldn’t find it.  I looked again but nothing.  When she came home, she found it in less than 5 seconds. 

I think what happened is that when I looked in one part of the fridge, the cake ran to a different part of the fridge.  It’s frustrating when you can’t see something, but you’re told it’s there.  Now a good slice of cake matters for our family, but in the overall scheme of things, it’s not a big deal.  Does this ever happen to us with the big things in life?  Where we’re looking for something important but just can’t see it? 

How about when you look for God but can’t sense his presence?  We look for him, and we’re told by our pastors and more spiritually attuned friends that “he’s right there!”  But we just can’t see him for ourselves.  Instead of sensing God, you feel like he’s gone or like he’ll talk to anyone but you.  When you can’t see God or sense Christ’s presence, what should you do?  That’s a dark place to be at, but it’s similar to where some of Jesus’ followers found themselves after his crucifixion.  

The last time they saw Jesus he was dead.  He was gone.  They thought he was never coming back.  They’d made it through the last couple days, yet they are sad and depressed.  But now they’ve heard word from several women who followed Jesus that his body wasn’t in the tomb, and that angels had appeared to them telling them Jesus is alive.  They don’t believe and just feel more confusion and darkness.  They’d come to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, and now it’s time for them to go home. 

Luke 24:13-16 – “Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.  They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.  As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.” 

Those two walking to Emmaus had erected a wall of hopelessness around them, and they were trapped in their misery.  “We had hoped.”  What they were saying is, “We don’t expect it now, but once we did.  We had it, this thing called ‘hope,’ but now it’s gone.”  I wonder if this is something that we can identify with?  Has something or someone come between us and our relationship with God?  If so, listen to the Emmaus story, because the heart-breaking experience is only its beginning! 

Today’s gospel lesson is like an old friend to us – the walk to Emmaus:  Two men are on their way home from Jerusalem following the crucifixion.  Jesus comes up beside them.  They tell him all that has happened.  He tells them what it means.  They invite him to dinner, and in the breaking of bread, their eyes are opened, and they recognize him as the risen Christ. 

This story from the Bible, as well as numerous prominent stories in our lives, reveal God is getting close to us. 

When I drove from my home in Robinson to our church last Tuesday morning, there was a terrible ‘fog’ covering the entire area.  It’s hard to see when the fog is heavy.  Harder still to anticipate what’s coming ahead.  In analogy there are times in everyone’s life when it just feels like some sort of ‘fog’ is over us. 

For three years, 12 faithful disciples had followed Jesus wherever he went.  They looked forward to things getting better and better in their lives.  No doubt they were of the belief and harbored the ‘hope’ that Jesus was sent by God to become their next king.  For them they saw a clear path of ‘how things should be, could be, and would be.’  But none of that turns out the way they had seen it. Jesus is captured, crucified, and their hopes, prayers, insights, and beliefs died with him on the cross that day.  An immense ‘fog’ came over them.  So, they did what our world is now doing; they began working towards returning to what had been ‘normal’ for them prior to all of this.  When you can’t make sense of things, you try to get back to what was normal, familiar, stable, and secure. 

So it was, Cleopas and one other disciple ‘took a walk.’  Jerusalem, the traditional Passover holiday, and all of these mysterious, yet intriguing events associated with Jesus Christ for the past three years, was over.  It was now time to ‘go home.’  It was strange how God came close to them that very day.  Jesus himself came and walked along with them, but they were kept from recognizing him.  Has God ever sent you or used you to help another soul feel close to God? 

Some years ago, a married woman in her 40’s was involved in a horrible car crash up near New Castle.  She had been broad-sided while on her way home from work.  What started out as a usual, normal kind of day was permanently interrupted.  A long time had passed when a friend of the family asked if I might extend a favor and go talk to Carol.  That friend said Carol just hasn’t been the same ever since that accident happened a few years back.  You can be sure I did a lot of praying prior to that visit.  Her husband made us a cup of coffee, sat with us a while, then excused himself to start some laundry.  You see, the accident had left Carol paralyzed from the waist down.  She terribly regretted how limited she was and was suffering from on-going and increasing depression.  We ‘chit-chatted’ for a while.  I could see she ‘accepted’ me.  Eventually she got around to asking me if I wanted to hear what happened to her?  I said yes.  Carol told me of her peaceful life, prior to the accident, her work, and her involvement with her husband and their children.  She even told me of how ‘normal’ it used to feel taking their dog outside when she got home from work so the little fellow could ‘do his business!’  Then she described the details of what happened to her, ‘out of the blue,’ in her car accident.  She summarized her thoughts saying, “I just haven’t been the same since then!’  So, I asked her to share with me the rest of the story. She looked at me as though I was the dumbest person you’d ever meet.  Slowly and somewhat carefully she mustered up the strength, and the patience, to share kind of a summary of what happened one more time.  Again, I asked her to share with me the rest of her story.  She said in no uncertain terms, “That’s it!  I was in a bad accident that left me paralyzed, and I haven’t been the same since.  What’s worse, it feels like this dark cloud or shadow is encompassing me, actually ALL of my life.  It feels as though something died inside of me that day!”  Carol started to become defensive, and I could see she was just about to summon her husband back in the room.  So, I inquired, ever so gently, what happened to you AFTER the wreck?  Who helped you?  How long were you in the hospital?  What kinds of therapy were you able to do?  Who helped you to establish your ‘new normal’ once you got home?  

Our conversation took a completely different and gentler route.  Carol decided something that day.  She determined she would ‘tell’ the rest of her story and begin associating with that instead of focusing on the event, the accident, itself.  She called this her ‘grace.’  Slowly but surely her depression lessened.  Carol even realized some positive change in her health.  Best of all, she felt God’s closeness to her.  Something that had ‘been there’ all along, but as she said, was unable to recognize for quite some time. 

God is getting close to us.  He sent His Son.  He sends Him still.  God is coming close to us.  Sometimes You are part of that process.  Sometimes so am I.  Admittedly for us all, there are times when WE need the closeness of God, whether we recognize it or not. 

God’s Easter has occurred. ,There is resurrection and new life. ,While Lent called us to focus on a closer walk with Jesus, practice spiritual disciplines, and repent of our sins, Easter has brought the world hope.  We can focus on death and all things associated with it, OR, we can focus on life and the closeness of God in our lives. 

The entire world and each one of us has seen life and death, blessings, and curses.  God’s instructions to us all: CHOOSE LIFE SO THAT YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN MAY LIVE. 

When God gets close, we begin to see things differently, perhaps ‘better!’  The Lord is walking with us.  He is among us, even now.  Perhaps something is keeping US from recognizing him. 

Like those disciples walking along the road to Emmaus, quite possibly our burdens limit us from sensing God in our midst.  Courtesy of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world’s nations have tasted defeat, although to varying degrees.  We have found a vaccine, but the end is not in sight just yet.  This health crisis has ripped open wounds caused by centuries-old transnational, economic inequalities, and ongoing racial injustices.  Further revealed is the structural violence in our societies whether in India or the United States.  We have not found a vaccine for these centuries’ old societal epidemics.  As God draws close, groups bond together affirming the basic human dignity of every disenfranchised individual. 

Further evidence of God’s closeness is perceived in stronger degrees of peace and gainful even spiritual insights.  Folks are comfortably sharing their awareness of how many things we had long ‘taken for granted.’  A large portion of our world, and even of ourselves, felt so ‘entitled’ for so long.  Yet this life has no guarantees.  Best of all, those who have not recognized God in their midst, Jesus among us right along, are beginning to do so in new, better, and more solemn ways. Religion now has a role in life that has matured perhaps just enough to recognize, accept, and respond to God’s closeness among us.  Amen.

Restoring The Lost 4/11/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, April 10, 2021 & Sunday, April 11, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul.  Pour out on us the spirit of wisdom and understanding that our hearts and minds may be opened.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  John 20:19-31 (page 1088) & 1 Timothy 2:1-6 (page 1193) 

Sermon Message: “Restoring the Lost” 

Thomas was a ‘lost soul’ for a while. 

When we come to church on Easter Sunday, typically we share in a litany that is an age-old and time-honored greeting…it goes like this: 

“The Lord has Risen,” and the people respond: “He has risen indeed!” 

When Thomas was told “The Lord has risen,” his response was, “No way!” 

Thomas had his reasons for doubting, for questioning, for feeling ‘lost.’ 

We need to remember when dealing with ‘lost souls,’ they, too, have their reasons.  We may not ‘agree’ with their reasons for feeling lost, yet they remain within the heart and soul of the individual experiencing ‘loss.’ 

Jesus helps to restore the lost.  As his disciples and faithful followers, we also are to help with restoring the lost. 

We use the word ‘lost’ in lots of different ways.  It can mean you’ve misplaced something that was in perfect working order; it’s just that you can’t find it.  We’ve heard of folks who ‘lost’ their life savings in the stock market crash.  That does not mean it was misplaced, and it will someday be found.  It means it’s gone…forever! 

Dreaded are the words in the Emergency Room when the doctor comes out to the waiting family and says, “We are so sorry, we did all we could, but we lost her!” 

In Massachusetts there is a list of names in an old whaling town under the title, “Lost at Sea.”  They aren’t misplaced.  They are gone forever. 

“Loss” can feel like forever, especially so if it’s you going through it.  Yet ‘loss’ is further experienced by those who are striving to restore some lost soul. 

A much-referenced story from the Bible regarding the ‘lost’ being restored is that of the Prodigal Son.  The son, that boy emphasized one portion of his life primarily so over the other equally important parts and for a time was ‘lost.’  It seems as though that prodigal child emphasized a blunt disregard for family ties, for spiritual integrity, and even for his own physical well being.  When he finally ‘comes to his senses’ and humbles himself to his father and his family, notice the dad’s response.  His words have depth of meaning for how we, too, may endeavor to restore the lost among us. The father of that Prodigal Son says, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” 

Folks, when the ‘lost’ find their way back home again to God, to church, to family, to us, even to their truest ‘self,’ it’s nothing short of a miracle! 

Easter was a miracle!  You just don’t think much about Good Friday when Easter comes. Typically it’s kind of like we are saying, “Ok, so Good Friday happened.  Yes, Jesus died upon the cross, but NOW He is alive.  He has risen from the dead.  So whatever fear and ‘loss’ you may have been feeling, ‘Get Over It!’ 

Loss remained ‘real’ to Thomas.  Loss, which many experience today, occurred for reasons.  While we would like to simply advise folks to ‘get over it,’ their ‘loss’ remains real to them. 

‘Loss’ is usually a pretty ‘heavy’ reality that effects people’s lives.  Sometimes briefly, at other times long term.  Jesus’ disciples were fearful.  So much so they locked the doors in the room where they met.  Seeing someone you love suffer so much and die a cruel death was overwhelming.  Going to an empty grave a few days later and being told by some of the women that He had risen was bewildering to them.  They just could not ‘wrap their heads’ around these events. 

Jesus Christ seeks to restore the lost. He is God’s Son.  He is our Savior. Jesus comes to them.  Locked doors do not shut him out.  Not their doors nor ours. Not the physical doors to a building, nor the doors to our hearts, nor the barriers from our minds, nor the obstinacy from our very souls!  No matter how difficult our pain and hurt may be, regardless of how ‘determined’ we remain to ‘hold on’ to what bothers us the most, Jesus comes, for He IS Lord and Savior to one and all.  He comes with this simple, serene, and abiding message if we will but choose to hear:  “Peace be with you.” 

To restore the ‘lost’ follow the example of Jesus Christ.  Be a presence.  Offer them peace.  Everyone needs something and someone strong, reliable, and trustworthy to believe in.  Especially so when they are ‘lost.’  For the Prodigal Son it was acceptance, forgiveness, embrace, and love.  A ‘restoration to integrity.’  Remember that Prodigal Son had some ‘work’ to do.  He had to come to the end of his rope, hit rock bottom, acknowledge his difficult state, humble himself, and reach out for help.  For those disciples they just sat there trembling in fear.  Thomas needed some substantial ‘proof.’ 

‘Loss’ takes many forms and may require a myriad of responses.  Some of the basic guidelines from Jesus include, ‘being present,’ ‘providing ‘peace,’ and offering some ‘proof’ that everything is alright or getting better.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, numerous times, people asked Jesus for ‘proof’ of his identity as the Messiah, Son of God, and regarding His spiritual authority.  Most often he refused to comply with their wishes or demands.  Jesus’ response to Thomas though is different. 

Thomas was skeptical.  Lost souls most often are.  As a matter of fact, Jesus had taught his early disciples to have a healthy sense of skepticism over and against those who would say they had seen the messiah here, there, or somewhere else.  Or of those who ‘laid claims’ to ‘special insight’ into Jesus or the Father.  So it is when the risen Jesus finally shows up in person to Thomas, Jesus does not scold him, but simply offers Thomas the proof he demands. 

In similar fashion when you or I strive to restore some lost soul, offer them patience and confirm the best ‘proofs’ you have and they may need. 

Some folks don’t move quickly nor ‘bounce back’ readily so from their Good Friday experience to Easter, resurrection, hope, and adjustment to new life.  Even if that new life is a better life.  Sometimes folks are ‘stuck’ in their past, in what causes them to feel and remain ‘lost.’ 

Notice too from Jesus’ example. He doesn’t just offer ‘proof’ nor answers and insights to Thomas who was lost.  Jesus doesn’t ‘sugar coat’ things.  The hurt, the wounds, the disgrace, and harshness of Jesus' anguish are still evidential.  He invites Thomas to ‘see and touch’ his wounds, his hands, his side.  “Here’s proof Thomas.”  “See for yourself!” 

Not everyone in life gets what Thomas got that day for restoring one’s self from loss.  Some folks believe from seeing.  Others ‘see’ from believing. 

Those ‘other’ disciples dealt with their loss ahead of Thomas.  After they made their report to Thomas of what they had experienced with Jesus, surely they would have assumed Thomas would join them in their happiness, peace, and restoration from such terrific loss.  But he doesn’t.  Emphatically so, he demands proof.  Those early disciples may have tried to be convincing, patient, and assuring to Thomas, but it wasn’t working.  Thomas wasn’t ‘getting it.’  I trust those disciples had to come to the reality, pretty quickly so, that they could not help Thomas and restore his lost soul.  So they chose to do what you and I and all believers need to do after we’ve tried everything we can.  They prayed.  They prayed for God’s strength, insight, solutions, and possible answers.  They prayed for divine help.  They prayed for something else, something we still sometimes ‘miss’ as we seek to help restore the lost.  They prayed what Paul wrote of in his spiritual guidance to young Timothy. Paul advises us to lift up to heaven petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving for all people. 

An ‘illustration’ may help at this point. There is the true story of a mother who prayed 17 long years for her son who was ‘lost’ from faith.  Her two other children were close to God and lead sincere Christian lives.  But not this one boy.  She prayed and prayed, many times to the point of tears.  She ‘turned him over to the Lord’ on many occasions.  Eventually that son did ‘come around.’  His name was Augustine.  You know him as St. Augustine.

Sometimes darkness invades our lives, and we become lost.  Sometimes we bring the darkness on ourselves.  Do your best to practice the patience of Christ and the wisdom that comes from God’s Holy Spirit as you share in this dimension of God’s work; restoring the lost.  There is not one simple formula that fits all.  Glean from the Bible, learn from experience, and pray for the Holy Spirit to inspire you and those suffering loss.  A very fair prayer becomes that of “Lord, open the minds, soften the hearts, send help to the one who is lost.”  Remember, there is no magic, nor instantaneous answer in most scenarios.  Be careful that you don’t become too ‘pushy’ in your endeavors to help restore the lost; I find that sometimes makes the lost soul all the more determined to prove you wrong and for them to persist on their dark endeavors. 

I’ve witnessed people coming back to church following many years of absence.  As a matter of fact, I’ve seen and experienced the resurrection in some pretty unique, yet sincere ways.  The resurrection of Christ in our lives surely does help in restoring the lost.  We are part and parcel of His creation.  Whatever, whoever, and whenever causes us to become ‘lost,’ Jesus Christ paid the price to buy us back. 

He did so for Thomas; he will certainly do so for us. His resurrection remains real. 

So much of the time the signs of resurrection are so slight as to be imperceptible.  But God's resurrecting activity is ongoing. Its timetable may vary, but God's intent does not. 

Show me a repaired relationship, and I'll show you resurrection.  Show me a person with an attitude baptized in the fount of humility, and I'll show you resurrection.  Show me a son or daughter who defiantly went off to the far country to waste and wander and is now on the way back, and I'll show you resurrection.  Show me a community where people from distinctively different camps have found a common ground of promise, and I'll show you resurrection.  Show me a self-righteous, pride-filled person who suddenly discovers her own shadow and weeps copiously, and I'll show you resurrection.  Show me someone who has wrestled with the black dog of depression and has lived to tell about it, and I will show you resurrection.  Every congregation is full of resurrection stories, if we will but take time to note them.  And just because your story seems to be a modest one, don't be fooled; modest stories are mighty in their own right. 

We weren't there for the first Easter -- only a handful was.  But like Thomas, we didn't have to be.  Easter is for Thomas -- the Thomas who lives in me and you, too.  We have had, and will continue to have, moments when the presence of the risen Christ is made known to us; and like Thomas, we will only be able to say:  "My Lord and my God!" 

Become a part of restoring the lost.  Pray, become aware, listen for God, respond, and pray some more.  Pray patiently. Amen.

Easter, Light Shining in Darkness 4/4/2021

Easter Sermon Message 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul.  Pour out upon us the spirit of wisdom and understanding that, being taught by you in Holy Scripture, our hearts and minds may be opened to know the things that pertain to life and holiness, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: John 20:1-18 (Page 1087) and Psalm 23 (Page 548) 

Sermon Message: “Easter, Light Shining in Darkness” 

The sun rose this morning around 6:30 a.m.  I was awake before then, and everything was still so dark.  After making myself a cup of coffee I sat in our living room and watched the sun come up on the horizon over Pittsburgh.  I am blessed to live in a home where I can see such beautiful sunrises, especially so on THIS Easter morning.  Through the years I’ve experienced Easter sunrises at different places where I’ve lived and churches where I have served.  Some of my most memorable are associated with Easter Sunrise services shared with the worshipping community on a church lawn, in a cemetery, at the foot of a huge cross, and even a few in my backyard. 

Lest we forget, Easter began in darkness.  The thing about darkness is it makes you welcome and appreciate light.  Today we welcome God’s light.  The light of Easter raises hope.  Today, throughout the world, there is hope from virus to health. 

As of March 29, 2021, 5,893,502 people have been fully vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus.  The last numbers: ‘2’ reflect my wife and myself.  The availability of vaccines has increased immensely, the distribution sites for vaccines has grown.  Testing is now ongoing for children to become vaccinated.  Whether you prefer the vaccine or not, leastwise the availability and choice is now before us.  Eventually light will further shine in this current world-wide darkness.  

Every Easter has the possibility of reminding us, informing us, of a second chance at life.  Clearly the Bible teaches us that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Today, we are reminded and reaffirmed in this blessed Christian faith, that Jesus Christ died for our sins upon that old, rugged cross.  Forgiveness is being offered.  While the wages of sin is death, because of the life and shed blood of Jesus Christ, there is a second chance at life, forgiveness, love, and salvation.  There is today a newness of life for our hopes, for our minds, for our hearts, and for our souls. 

Reflect on how that first Easter began. “While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” Both the physical darkness and the spiritual darkness were quite heavy for Mary Magdalene.  Earlier, Jesus had forgiven her of much.  Jesus had cast seven demons out of her.  Mary’s gratitude and love for Jesus was immense for you see, He had given her a second chance at life.  In the midst of her grief, sorrow, and confusion that very first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been lain.  In both devotion and love she went there.

While God’s Word proclaims that ‘love’ is the strongest and greatest of God’s gifts, humanity affirms and fears that death is the strongest reality that besets us.  Mary’s love to Christ was strong as death, the death of the cross, for she stood by him in life and in death.  She went to the grave to weep, to wash the dead body of Jesus, and perhaps anoint him with proper burial ointment.  Hers was an extraordinary affection, so much so, that she was willing to endure the grave.  Love for Christ will take off the terror of death and the grave.  Be well assured this Easter morning with this light from God; even though we may walk through the darkest valley we shall fear no evil. 

Mary came early in the morning, while it was still dark. Do the same, come seeking Jesus while it is still dark in your life.  Don’t wait, don’t put off coming home to Christ.  Seeking God early, first, will bring light.  

The scriptures inform us that it was three women who came seeking Jesus early in the morning, while it was still dark.  Pay attention to that fact.  It remains important.  Jesus Christ reveals himself to women who seek to care for him.  

Has it ever happened to you as it did to Mary and those first women that when things are at their darkest, your thoughts can easily become that of fears, doubts, and even confusion?  Sometimes it’s quite hard to remember our faith and those spiritual insights we were taught when darkness prevails, and circumstances seem obviously hopeless and confusing.  When light shines in our darkness, we are amazed at our dullness and forgetfulness with things that later appear so obvious. 

I’m so glad we are here together in ‘church’ this Easter.  Last Easter we could not assemble together.  I remember how ‘odd’ it felt preaching to an empty church while being videotaped for the Easter message.  Sharing together, worshipping God together, is what Christians do. 

On that very first Easter morning Mary did something which helped the light of Easter shine in the darkness the world was experiencing back then. She went running to share her sorrows, her fears, her concerns, and her confusion.  The communication of sorrows is one good improvement of the communion of saints.  

Then there was Peter.  It was Peter who had denied knowing Jesus three times just hours previously.  Yet he does not desert the other disciples who were with him.  By this there appears the sincerity of his repentance.  The other disciples, in keeping up their closeness with him, teach us to restore those who have been faulty.  If God has received them upon their repentance, why not should we?  

When Peter and John were told, by Mary, what had happened, they immediately went to the tomb.  When WE are told of that which God is doing or has done, may we, too, go and see, right away, with our own eyes.  Be ready to share with others in our cares and our fears.  Today’s scriptures inform us that John ‘outran’ Peter. Do your best to get to God.  Do not envy those who can do better at that than you nor despise those who are a little slow, catching up, or catching on to faith and closeness to the Lord.

‘The disciple whom Jesus loved’ was John.  Sensing love, especially from Jesus, helps us also to excel in virtue and that which is good.  Love will do that. Peter, on the other hand, was cast behind for he had denied his Master and was in sorrow and shame for it. 

When you or I compromise our conscious, we lose ground.  John could not go into the tomb.  But Peter did.  The warmest of affections are not always accompanied by the greatest of resolutions.  Finally, John did get up enough courage to go inside the tomb.  While John could outrun Peter, Peter could out dare John! 

Today on this Easter Sunday may each and every one of us remember we need not be afraid of the grave since Christ has lain in it. Do not indulge in fear when you perceive death, nor when you walk through the cemetery.  It was through a grave, a cemetery, and death that Jesus Christ went to his glory.  So must we. 

Christ left his grave clothes there when he came out of the tomb because he arose to die no more.  Lazarus came out with his grave clothes on, for he was to use them again. 

When Jesus Christ gives us a second chance at life, we need to leave the old behind that hung on us and defined us.   Scriptures inform us that Jesus’ grave cloths were left in good order, which serves as evidence that his body was not stolen away while men slept.  Peter’s boldness encouraged John, so John ‘took heart’ and went in.  He saw and believed. 

Yet they still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.  In fact, it may have been the furthest thing from their thoughts.  Those two were shy of believing at first.  They needed convincing proof.  They were honest men who would not deceive others, cautious to a large degree. 

They saw all this at the grave, the tomb, but then went back to where they were staying.  Some of it was fear.  Perhaps they feared being accused of taking the body or being charged with something.  In difficult and dangerous times its’ difficult for good men and women to go on in their work with resolution.  They were at a loss and did not know what to do next nor of what to make of what they had seen.  When our faith is weak, it’s just real hard to see things clearly. 

Peter and John came and went.  Mary came, sought the others, returned, and stayed. She continues in her love for Jesus even when what she most wants and needs is the comfort of his love. When we lose something, we most often return to the last place where we had left it.  Crying must not hinder our seeking.  Like Mary, make the effort to see even though you are hurting. 

An angel or two had come during the darkness and rolled the stone away from the entrance to the tomb.  After Peter and John’s brief visit, two angels come, and they comfort Mary. However God chooses to come to us, it is always light shining in our darkness. 

Two angels from heaven. One seated at the head of where Jesus’ body had lain.  The other seated at the foot.  They were sent to honor the Son.  These angels attended to Jesus Christ at his death just as they had at his birth.  Now they appear to Mary as they do to others; to comfort and give notice.  In this, for instance, they comfort Mary and give notice that the Lord has risen.  Be prepared to see him.  They have come to bear witness.  These angels are in white denoting their purity and holiness.  One day too, dear saints of God, we shall wear white as we walk with our Savior in the kingdom of God’s heaven.  Rest assured of this. The angels came to teach us not to be afraid.  Graves are only temporary. 

Angels serve to direct us to the way of life.  They compassionately inquire of her, “Why are you weeping?”  Angels are concerned at the griefs of the saints.  Christians should sympathize with one another.  Our sympathies should become occasions that inform us of that which shall turn mourning into rejoicing. 

Mary answers the angels by saying, “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.”  When the darkness is heavy, the faith seems weak.  It is then that we perplex ourselves needlessly with imaginary difficulties that faith would discover as real advantages.  Yet Mary persists.  She wants to ‘see’ Jesus. 

Jesus was ‘right there.’  Yet she did not realize it was him.  Mary wanted to see the dead body of Jesus.  But He was ALIVE! 

Remember this, dear friends, many times Jesus does more for answering our prayers than we first realize or even expect.  Christ is often nearer than we realize.  

What happens next between Mary and Jesus is the simplest thing in the world or in human relations.  Jesus speaks her name.  Mary does what any of us would do; she seeks to embrace him and hold on.  Oh, but then, Jesus steps back, pulls away just a bit, and presents her with a message for all: “Go and tell them I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  

Jesus made it clear, this earth is not his home.  Nor is it ours, but for a while.  

Easter offers us a second chance at life.  God’s Easter does. Think of it also in this way: Why did our lives get ‘spared’ during Covid-19?  Why are we still here and others have ‘gone home?’  What might God’s timing and purpose be for us?  Not to simply return to the former ‘normal’ of entitlement, boredom, and indifference. Easter remains light shining in the darkness of our old lives and our former ways of living.  

God comforted Mary so she could go and comfort others.  Light has shined in your life so that you can shine light in others.  Where there is darkness, let there be light!  Amen.

Maundy Thursday: You Will Be Blessed 4/1/2021

Maundy Thursday Message: April 1, 2021

 Prayer For Illumination: Like Peter, we do not realize at the time what Jesus is doing or calling us to when he expresses the depths of his love.  O Lord, give us eyes of faith and increase our capacity to understand your ways and your presence here among us.  Perfect Teacher, make your word and actions clear to us, so that we may follow your example and learn from you.  Amen.

 SCRIPTURE LESSONS Gospel Lesson: John 13:1-17 (p. 1079)

                                     New Testament: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (p. 1151)

 COMMUNION MEDITATION: “You Will Be Blessed”

 Jesus knew the ‘hour had come’ for him to leave this world.  Those he loved, he loved until the end.  At the culmination of a very humbling foot washing ceremony and meager meal, he tells those with him, ‘You will be blessed.’

 A ‘blessing’ was no small thing back then.  It wasn’t a polite greeting following someone sneezing.  A “blessing’ carried weight.  ‘Blessings’ bestowed upon a soul were divinely inspired and likewise conveyed the goodness, help, and care of God.

 The ‘blessing’ we share tonight concerns a meal.  A remembered meal.  The meal did not take place in a palace or in one of the earth’s great houses.  Rather, it took place in the upper room of a house of which we know neither the name of the owner, nor the condition, nor the address.  There were thirteen people present at the meal, and only one of them had any public reputation at all, and even he was not known beyond a radius of 150 miles from his home town.  Moreover, he was killed the day after the meal as a disturber of the peace.  The other people who attended the meal were young, laboring men whom nobody had even heard of before or expected to see again.  So, it was not a banquet; this meal consisted of the bare necessities of life, bread, and wine.

 And yet, this meal, so hidden, so apart from the great stream of events, so obscure, so apparently local and transient, this meal is now being celebrated and remembered and participated in by people in practically every country in the world.  This is extraordinary!

 But let’s look again at the atmosphere of this last meal, this last meeting together.  Jesus knows the keen inner sharpness of forlornness and loneliness which always accompanies us in our most trying and decisive moments.  The disciples, no doubt, are cognizant of the fact that all is not going well and that something is about to happen.  Just prior to this occasion, Jesus has been saying strange things about the last days of judgment and the coming of death, and he has hinted that he himself is about to die.

 The meal Jesus hosted for his disciples on Maundy Thursday was a Passover Meal.  Maundy is from the Latin mandatum (which means commandment) based on the fact that Jesus commanded us to love one another (John 13:34) and to continue the practice of the Lord’s Supper in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

 The Jews of Jesus’ day, peering into the future, knew that tough times were coming.  They looked for a Messiah who would act as a new Moses to deliver them from bondage to the Romans as the first Moses had delivered them, bewildered, bleeding, and despairing from bondage to the Egyptians across the Red Sea.

 As Christians, we affirm that Jesus, the Son of God, the host of this Maundy Thursday meal, delivers us from bondage to sin and death, bewilderment, hopelessness, and apathy.  We can be certain of his presence amid an uncertain future. 

 Tonight marks the last meal of Jesus’ earthly life before his trial and crucifixion.  And it marks the disciples’ last really good meal before the events that will ensue later tonight and tomorrow.  I wonder how clearly they’ll remember it as their leader is betrayed, abused, and strung up on a cross?  I’d love to seek out Simon Peter tomorrow, sit him down before he betrays Jesus, and ask him, “What do you remember about last night?  At what point, Peter, did it dawn on you that this wasn’t Passover as usual?  That Jesus, your server for the evening, was making substitutions in the menu?”

 The Passover script tells the host to break the unleavened bread in half and say “this is the bread of affliction our fathers ate in the wilderness.”  Instead, Jesus breaks it and says, “This is my body.”

 When it came time, over the blessing of the third cup of wine, he was supposed to say, “This is the cup of redemption from bondage in Egypt,” he makes another substitution and says, “This is my blood of the new covenant poured out so that you may be freed from your bondage to sin.”

 “Peter, at what point did it dawn on you that in Jesus’ last meal he was offering himself as the main course at a New Passover, proclaiming a new exodus, and a new covenant and entry into a new promised land?”

 Tonight, we motley crew of 21st century folks join 12 spiritually hungry disciples - reclined around a candlelit table in an Upper Room. We have gathered to join Jesus in his last meal before he is betrayed, beaten, and crucified.

 In 1787 at the age of 84, John Wesley wrote a tract called “The Duty of Constant Communion,” a reissuing of something he had written 55 years earlier and believed even more than ever.

 He gave several reasons why Christians should commune as often as possible:

1.    It is the plain command of Christ;

2.    It brings forgiveness of sins;

3.    The bread and wine strengthen the body, and these tokens, of the body and blood of Christ, strengthen the soul.

Why would we neglect to partake of this meal that brings forgiveness of sins and spiritual refreshment?  One night, as Thomas Jefferson was sitting at his desk at the White House, he took a straight razor and cut out all the portions of the New Testament that he didn’t like - the miracles, the Resurrection, anything that indicated Jesus’ divinity.  He didn’t have much use for the Eucharist.  He wrote to a friend, “I have made a wee little book from the gospels which I call the ‘Philosophy of Jesus.'  I made it by cutting the pages out of the book and arranging them on the pages of a blank book.”

 To Jefferson, God was like a rich Aunt in Australia, benevolent but not very involved.  And Jesus was to him a moral example and no more.

 One of the passages he excised with his straight razor was from Luke 2 when Jesus was 6 weeks old, and his parents brought him to the Temple to dedicate him to God. A righteous old man named Simeon believed he would not see death until he had met the Messiah.  The Spirit guided the old man into the Temple that day, and when he saw the baby Jesus, he took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing me in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation!”

 Years later, on Tuesday, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, at age 83, Thomas Jefferson lay on his death bed at Monticello.  There would be no more earthly food for him.  He had had his last meal.  There are many accounts of Jefferson’s last words, but the most inspiring among them is that, near the end, those around him saw his eyes fix on a point at the foot of his bed and heard him repeating the prayer of Simeon to the Messiah:  “Master, now you are dismissing me in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”

 With all due respect to Thomas Jefferson, my money is on John Wesley when it comes to the Eucharist we celebrate this Maundy Thursday!

 Let us fortify ourselves with this holy meal as we head into a challenging time.  May the bread and wine strengthen our bodies as these tokens of the body and blood of Christ strengthen our souls.  May we leave this place to stand by our savior in the challenges that face him in the next few days, as he has promised to stand by us in whatever lies ahead in our lives.

Holy Week Changes Everything 3/28/2021

Sermon Message for Palm Sunday

Saturday, March 27, 2021 & Sunday March 28, 2021

 Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, we recognize this Palm Sunday the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus, for the sins of all humankind and specifically for our sins.  Help us now to humbly receive God’s Word for our lives.  Amen.

Scripture Lessons:  Mark 11:1-11 (Page 1015) & Philippians 2:5-11 (Page 1179)

 Sermon Message: “Holy Week Changes Everything”

 Can you imagine what it must have been like to be a part of that very first Palm Sunday?  We have shaped palm crosses and perhaps a few thin strips of palm.  But those first Palm Sunday crowds had large, full palm branches they waved in the air and laid on the ground to acknowledge Jesus Christ.  Everyone there was told that Jesus was coming down the street, arriving as their new King, their promised Messiah, who would deliver them from misery to joy.  ‘Life’ would become quite ‘different’ and ‘better’ under this new king, so they thought.

 This ‘Messiah’ coming into town wasn’t what anyone expected, but he was to be their ‘king’ nonetheless.

 Can you imagine waving a big palm branch as though you’d just never stop? A palm branch was thought of as a kind of symbol of their country.  Anyone who waved a palm branch was telling the world that their country was special, and that they were immensely proud to be Jewish.

 If you’ve ever been to a parade, you know there’s usually quite a bit of ‘clamor’ plus background noise as the procession occurs.  Surely the noise level must have been quite loud as people cheered and more and more shouted “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Yet there was still another sound.  Quite distinct, yet only heard if you paid attention beyond the crowd.  It was the clip pity-clop of a donkey coming down the cobblestoned roadway.  Not just any donkey, but one carrying a load, pushing through the crowd, and dealing with all the distractions of so many people, coats strewn all over the road, and even palm branches to be traversed.

 Choosing to really pay attention and focus beyond all of the cheers, branches, and royal symbolism of laying coats down on the road, revealed a sight to behold.  On the back of that donkey was NOT a man wearing robes of royalty nor weapons of military might.  Just a guy that looked like the rest of them donning an old, faded white one-piece robe.  His hair was long, but his smile was contagious and confident.  When he met your eyes, your world changed from the inside out.

 That crowd was immense.  Maybe the only way to break through the crowd was to press forward on the back of a donkey. There were so many people there waving palm branches to greet Jesus and acknowledge him as the one who would become their king.  That’s why this day is called Palm Sunday.

 Everyone was so happy to see Jesus.  They followed him down the hill all the way into the city of Jerusalem. Well, not everyone was happy. Some of the leaders in Jerusalem didn’t like Jesus and didn’t like things he was telling people.  Jesus told them that God loved everyone, and those leaders didn’t agree with that.  Jesus said that God loved poor people just as much as rich people, and those leaders did not agree because they were rich and thought they were better than everyone else.  Jesus said that God loved people no matter where they were from, and those leaders did not agree with that either.  The leaders were not only unhappy to see Jesus coming to town, but they were also trying to figure out a way to get rid of him.  They considered coming up with a way to arrest him, but they knew they couldn’t because the crowds of people would stop them.

 I think everyone got a little mixed up that day with ‘who’ Jesus was.

 Those leaders thought Jesus was some sort of ‘messiah king’ that just didn’t understand what leadership means.  For them it meant they were ‘better than’ the rest and that ‘they’ ruled people’s lives, telling them what to do.  They feared Jesus was jeopardizing all they had ever worked towards and achieved in life.  They believed Jesus didn’t ‘get it.’  They felt as though he refused to understand and was far too ‘lax’ and ‘easy going.’  In short, they viewed Jesus as some sort of ‘troublemaker.’

 The crowds that day were a lot mixed up. They really and truly believed Jesus was there to rally support to overthrow the Roman government that had been holding their entire Jewish nation in captivity for far too long.  They believed Jesus would set them free so they could practice their religion as they wished and pretty much keep to themselves while living in prosperity.

 The children who were there in that first Palm Sunday crowd were probably looking for something far more dramatic and perhaps regal such as swords and soldiers, large horses, and carefully sewn uniforms.  Instead, there’s only a small donkey and some guy that looks just like the rest of them in an old, faded one-piece robe.

Lest we forget, the twelve disciples were also ‘with’ Jesus as he ‘processed’ into Jerusalem, on the back of a donkey, to the sound of cheering crowds shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Plus, there was the sight, as well as the sounds of welcoming royalty, as the crowds spread their cloaks on the ground.  The masses of people waved large palm branches and further laid them on the ground.  Those disciples knew, they well understood, what the crowds were ‘up to!’  They were not only naming and proclaiming Jesus to be their king.  Their very words, “Hosanna” are translated, then and now to mean “rescue us!”

 The crowds believed what those disciples believed, and even the children believed, Jesus had come to rescue them from an oppressive foreign regime.  They believed Jesus had come to rally them into action to overthrow the soldiers who occupied their land.  They were all a lot ‘mixed up.’  One fellow, in particular, was more ‘mixed up’ and ‘messed up’ than others.  Jesus’s one disciple, the fellow who was the treasurer for the group, Judas, believed he needed to ‘push’ Jesus along to rally the people and become their nation’s new king. The way he thought he could do this was by informing the Jewish leaders (who didn’t like Jesus) how and where THEY could get ahold of Jesus and push the issue. Today is the beginning of Holy Week.  Today we remember Jesus coming to Jerusalem, and we also remember what Judas did when he got to town.  On Thursday of this week, we remember the night that Judas told the leaders where to find Jesus so they could arrest him.  On Friday, we remember how Jesus was taken away and killed upon a large wooden cross in front of everyone, including his family!

 Holy Week had its share of casualties, some of which we can relate to.  That initial Palm Sunday grouping was somewhat of a ‘carnival crowd.’  They were happy, joyous, and caught up in the moment of hope and expectation plus palm branches, cloaks, and shouts of “Hosanna.”  Soon they were dispersed as were their ideals and their perceived ‘hopes’ for what they deemed and defined their ‘messiah’ to be and become for THEM.

 Public gathering became one of the first casualties of Covid-19.  Crowds became prohibited.  Numbers of people who could meet were tightly regulated to lower the risk of viral spread.  The freedom to congregate and seek communion was suspended.

 Reading and reviewing today’s scriptures reminds us of the uncertainty of their times and ours.  Yet there remains for them and for us the certainty of Christ’s love through even our most uncertain of times.

 Those early crowds were made up of an uneasy mix of those with Messianic religious beliefs, political agitators, and those who had just come along for the ride.  Their joy is infectious.  They chant in boisterous waves: ‘Hosanna!’ (‘Save us!’)  Perhaps our chant is ‘vaccine!’

 In late 2019 we became aware of this Covid virus that soon became a world-wide pandemic.  The world has prayed, each person in their own way, for “hosanna,” for that which will rescue us.  The ‘politicizing’ of Covid-19 is both a sad and somewhat solemn awareness.  Yet it becomes political leaders from all parties who support us now with avenues of help.

 In uncertain times it’s so easy to become ‘mixed up’ with what to believe, ‘who’ to believe, and the directions that are best to be taken.

 On that very first Palm Sunday the authorities, political and religious, were right, and they were wrong.  Jesus had not come to overthrow their military might.  But he had come to do something far more subversive.  He had come to overthrow and conquer their hearts.  Jesus did this not with a show of force, but by initiating His reign of love from the timber throne of his Cross. In the uncertainty of their times, they had woefully misread the situation. Jesus had not entered Jerusalem in order to rouse a crowd to rebellion, but to rouse them for the new life of love.  He had come to clear a path to His Father’s heart.

Akin to those ancients, we too have exhibited our share of defenses regarding God’s provisions and Jesus’ coming into and through our world.  Especially so during the course of these past 15 months.

 Think about it, Jesus was ‘right there’ in the midst of them, riding in a parade on the back of a donkey.  He was in plain sight, yet they nearly missed him and his central message to us all because of their notions, their perceived ‘wants,’ and poorly discerned spiritual insights.

 The Bible teaches us that God does most often come in discreet and unexpected manners.  In ways that we could easily miss Him and misunderstand His meaning.  It was so at his birth.  Jesus, the Incarnate Word, born in a stable.  That was not the way popular opinion would have the Messiah come into our world.  Similarly, at his death when Pilate presented Jesus to the crowds with the words, “Behold the man!” the glaucoma of fear prevented us from seeing that Incarnate love was in our midst.  Because love is hard for us to recognize and accept; we find it too challenging.  When Love came into our world, we blamed life on Him and nailed Him down.  After all, uncertainties will do that, don’t we know?

 There’s something else we need to know about Palm Sunday and Holy Week. That festive cheering crowd waving palm branches seems to turn into a lynch mob later on.  Their chants of “Hosanna” mutates into the words, “Crucify him!”

 Our world talks of ‘herd immunity.’  That first Holy Week crowd had become immune to truth and love. ONLY an employee of the Roman state, a centurion, has stayed virus-free and humbly recognizes that ‘In truth this man was the son of God.’

 Three days later, a few grieving women would gather at the entrance to Christ’s tomb.  Hardly a crowd, but first witnesses to the fact that, on the other side of fear and violence, all that was dead was stirring to new life; and the first light of that Easter morning was changing everything.


We Wish To See Jesus 3/21/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 20, 2021 & Sunday, March 21, 2021 

Fifth Sunday in Lent 

Prayer For Illumination: O living Spirit of God, illumine our minds and hearts today so that, though we are often slow to understand, we may hear you speaking clearly, and may be willing and eager to obey.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Page 789) & John 12:20-33 (Page 1078) 

Sermon Message: “We Wish To See Jesus” 

Certain ‘words’ can become very meaningful in our lives.  They can ‘speak’ to us long after conversations and events take place.  Words of Holy Scripture can do that for any of us.  For God’s Words tend to get memorized by our minds, but also written upon our hearts.  Within today’s Gospel reading, John 12: 21, we hear these words: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 

A brief story I’d like to share with you regarding these words: In the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh there is a large urban church.  Emory Church has been there for years.  I was privileged to serve there as a young student minister for two years.  The senior pastor gave me opportunities occasionally to preach and lead in worship.  He shared with me some words written on a small metal plaque he had mounted on the pulpit.  Those words were these from Holy Scripture: “Sir we would see Jesus.”  He informed me there was perhaps no better verse to place before the preacher when facing the congregation.  Although those words were written on a small metal plaque, I well recall standing with that senior pastor one Sunday morning and realizing from that day forward they would be written upon my heart. 

These words remind me of the covenant the prophet, Jeremiah, wrote of in Holy Scripture. A covenant that is in our minds and written upon our hearts.  Surely, you and the Lord God Almighty share such covenants that remain ‘in your mind’ and ‘written upon your heart.’  Covenants such as the Ten Commandments.  Promises such as the Lord’s words, “I am with you always…” 

Our initial reading of today’s scriptures, from the Gospel of John regarding these Greeks who wanted to see Jesus, might get easily passed over.  Possibly seen as a request to see this dramatic preacher everyone’s talking about, by the name of Jesus.  But those Greeks who made their request, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” were not doing so for entertainment reasons.  Not at all.  These Greeks had come to worship at a festival in Jerusalem.  They were non-Jews who likely ‘showed up’ at the Jewish Passover festival and perhaps other Jewish festivals because they intuitively felt that the God of Israel was the true God.  The Greeks were known for their own philosophies and religious systems.  Their systems were not satisfying to them.  They were searching for something more.  They knew there was more to be found.  So, it was they spoke to Philip, one of only two disciples with a Greek name.  Perhaps Philip would not dismiss their request just because of their cultural background.  It seems Philip did not know what to do with their request, so he consulted with Andrew.  Together, Philip and Andrew went and told Jesus of the Greek Gentiles’ request. 

Jesus did NOT say, “OK I’ll talk to them!”  Nor did Jesus say, “See them in.”  Jesus did not invite them to stay for supper, nor did he inquire of them to wait and see him later on during some portion of the Jewish Passover festival.  Instead, Jesus offers what may at first seem a bit ‘odd’ to us.  Jesus replies: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (vv. 23-32). 

Throughout the Gospel of John, at various critical points of Jesus' ministry, when the crowds are either very upset with his teachings and ready to kill him, or very impressed with his miraculous powers and ready to crown him king, he says repeatedly, "My hour has not yet come."  But here, in today's reading, after this apparently innocent request by Greek visitors, he announces that the hour has come, that the glory they've been longing for was to be revealed, not in wreaking vengeance on his enemies or in doing even greater miracles, but by his falling into the earth and dying as a grain of wheat, in his losing his life, by being lifted up on the cross. 

Perhaps we ponder what it was that made those Greek visitors so curious to see Jesus.  We are afforded the knowledge that they had come to worship during the Jewish Passover Festival.  At worship plenty of folks gain much-needed spiritual insight.  Those Greeks would have known that much of what they had heretofore learned was perhaps an illusion.  The kind of truth they were seeking was to be found in the Christian religion.  Particularly so in the person of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps they were seeking to find answers beyond Greek ‘gods’ and ‘goddesses.’  Much of Greek philosophy provided wisdom but not sufficient practicality.  Even the very Greek lifestyle had its share of illusions.  Here we perceive two Greeks desiring to ‘see’ Jesus.  They look for that which all of God’s people seek: the way, the truth, and the life.  

Jesus’ initial response to Philipp, Andrew, and those two Greeks is the long-awaited, spiritual awareness of what leads a soul into the way, the truth, and the life. 

“The long-awaited ‘hour’ has come.”  God the Father had a time, a purpose, and a plan for Jesus’ life.  If we wish to see Jesus, we need to affirm his time, purpose, and plan as the way that leads us to God. 

“Seeing” Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life is not some sort of cosmic or religious illusion.  Life is full of illusions.  Many illusions prevent us from “Seeing Jesus” in our everyday lives. 

Consider these ‘general’ illusions that negatively impact our abilities to ‘see Jesus’: 

1. Most of us see the present through the past.  We can and should learn from our past, but then we need to move on and not live there.  Jesus stands at the door and knocks.  Jesus forgives us of our past.  Fixing our eyes upon Jesus sure helps to make all things new.

2. We believe we can control things….all things.  Yet there shall always remain things beyond our control.  It is the tendency of all of us to look inwardly for our strength, our answers, and for some semblance of ‘control.’  This past year the world has come to realize how very much is beyond our control and our increasing need to see Jesus in the midst of life.  When life presents us with the illusion that we are comfortably in control only to realize we are vulnerable, seek Jesus.  Pray to the Lord.  Draw close to our Savior.  Come, and worship the Lord in His House.

3. Life is such that we tend to see only the bad in ourselves and others.  When we see Jesus in ourselves and others, we see the goodness of God.  Remember you are a child of God.  Jesus Christ has bought you with a price.  The words to the old hymn ring true today, especially so during Lent: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

4.  We tend to believe everything we feel and think.  It is an illusion to believe that’s all there is or all that matters.  Our feelings and our thoughts are challenged and sometimes transformed every day.  ‘Faith’ is not reducible to only feelings or just our thoughts.  Look to Jesus for guidance, for strength, and yes, even for our thoughts and feelings to be transformed.  Strive to ‘take on the mind of Christ.’  Our thoughts and feelings inform us but should not rule us.  Jesus Christ is Lord.

5. The commandments warn us not to have any ‘false gods,’ nor to worship any ‘idols.’  ‘Things’ can actually be quite fulfilling.  We tend to function under the illusion that IF we can just acquire or accumulate enough ‘things,’ then ‘who we are’ will be better defined.  Things are nice, but they can’t define us.  If we wish to ‘see’ Jesus, the Bible teaches us we need to ‘pick up our cross and follow Him.’  Strive to follow Jesus, and you shall find the greatest fulfillment in this world and in the world to come.  Be a good steward of all ‘things’ you’ve been given.

6. One’s sense of self-worth used to be defined by our title, position, education, place of residence, and relationships.  Even our ‘clothing made the man, or woman.’  These days many seek their self-worth through social media.  Depending on social media makes us feel relevant.  Increasingly the world is discovering this is a sad and destructive illusion.  Life is best defined and made most relevant through our relationship to God in Jesus Christ.  When we ‘see’ Jesus, we see love, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness, patience, and abiding faith.  The presence of these qualities defines our sense of self-worth.

7. There is much to be said about ‘happiness.’  We are known to say to ourselves or others: “Whatever make you happy.”  It isn’t ‘whatever’ or ‘whoever’ that makes a soul happy.  Happiness begins within each person.  Spiritual happiness stems from one’s on-going humble, yet sincere, relationship to Jesus.

8. Far too many worship the ‘god’ of ‘me, myself and I.’  Such self-centeredness is one of the most destructive illusions.  There IS a higher power, a greater good than us.  Not everything goes our way.  But looking to Jesus we can see things going ‘God’s way.’  That enlightens the mind and fulfills the soul while bettering one’s life.

9. We tend to function under the illusion that we don’t need any help.  We’re good! The only rewards that idea gives us are frustration and exhaustion.  God made us to help each other.  “Beloved let us love one another,” the Bible points out.  We are designed by our Maker to need each other.  Strive to ‘see Jesus’ in others.

10. This spiritual season of Lent is about repentance and renewal.  It’s about walking close to Jesus.  Many just don’t ‘see’ the need for that because they don’t want to change, don’t see a need to change, or simply believe they can’t change.  The ability to grow, learn, and change is one of God’s greatest gifts to human beings.

11. God has His hand upon you.  Jesus Christ is leading your life.  What we do with our life is needed and important.  The success of our lives is not based solely upon ourselves and the work we’ve done.  That does count, yet, we need to look to Jesus and thank our heavenly Father for the life we have; the gifts and talents we appreciate and use.  We don’t ‘do it alone.’

12. Sometimes we feel we’re alone.  God is with us always.  Jesus promises:  “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 

God created us with a mind, a body, and a spirit.  Don’t forget or neglect the spiritual side.  Remember that story of the Prodigal Son.  He fed one part of his being and starved another.  That’s why we end up in the pigpen of life.  We are not just a mind and a body.  We are a spirit as well.  By choosing to take God's path, no matter what your age or station in life, you can begin to live again from the inside. 

Jesus teaches death of self, loss of one’s life, and being lifted up on a cross. 

As our Lenten disciplines and devotions reach their Easter goal, it is good for us, actually for each of us, to ‘see Jesus.’ 

To those seeking Jesus His message remains, “the hour has come.”  “Seeing Jesus” addresses many of life’s illusions.  The ‘way of the Lord’ IS in our minds and written upon our hearts.  If you, like those ancient Greeks, wish to see Jesus, follow their example; walk their path.  Seek Jesus in His church and call upon Him in prayer.  Study Him in the Bible and imitate His example.  “See” Jesus in the lives of others.  Sometimes within those you’d least expect. 

Lent is a time for change, transformation, and ‘seeing Jesus.’  Amen.

By the Grace of God 3/14/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 13, 2021 & Sunday, March 14, 2021

Prayer For Illumination: Dear Lord, help us as we read these scriptures together.  Come bring your understanding and reveal your truth.  Come open our minds, hearts, and souls to all that these words of life offer us.

Scripture Lesson:  John 3:14-21 (Page 1065)

 Sermon: “By the Grace of God”

Some years ago, I taught our children during their moment in worship, an acronym using the word, ‘grace.’ G=God’s R= redeeming A= aide C=coming E=everyday.  That message still holds true. God’s grace comes to us each day, every day, new every morning.

God’s grace came to us in the ministry and personhood of Jesus Christ.  Yet God’s grace was flowing long before the birth of Jesus into this world.

 Perhaps you recall the narratives associated with God freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and their 40-year trek through the wilderness prior to reaching the Promised Land?  A lifetime of grace in that wilderness experience.  Along the way the people of God became disenchanted.  They spoke against God and against Moses saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  There is no bread!  There is no water!  And we detest this miserable food.” (Numbers 21:4,5)  Their complaint was directed at God.  Then to make matters worse they ran into venomous snakes! Some were bitten and died.  The people came to Moses seeking help.  Moses prayed and the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it on a pole.  Anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole.  The people looked at it and lived. A form of grace was extended to the people who had sinned against God.

 Within today’s scripture reading we hear a similar prescription for grace offered in part by means of an analogy. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” John 3:14, 15.  Looking to Jesus Christ lifted up, we receive grace upon grace.

 Akin to those ancient Israelites we have to stop complaining about what we don’t have, appreciate what we do have, and more importantly we must stop focusing on ourselves and start looking up.  Grace isn’t forced upon us. Grace requires us to look heavenward towards God.

 Consider with me some of the more wholesome ways we live ‘by the grace of God.’

 Those ancient Israelites had grown tired of God’s provisions of manna from heaven.  When Moses spent time with God on Mt Sinai and the Almighty provided the Ten Commandments, the people grew tired of waiting for Moses to come back down the mountain and fashioned for themselves a golden calf to worship instead of the Lord God Almighty. God’s provisions were repudiated.  God’s timing was questioned.  In turn the people suffered from their own poison.  By the grace of God, a symbol of a bronze snake lifted up on a pole gave them hope, salvation, and healing.  All forms of God’s grace.

I don’t know if you much like snakes or not?  I’ve met people who do, yet lots of folks who do not.  Have you ever noticed that hospitals and doctors sometimes use the symbol of a snake wrapped around a pole, (also referred to as the caduceus)?  This remains a symbol associated with healing.  We believe healing occurs through varying means, all by the grace of God being extended.  Especially so when we grumble and grow weary with God’s provisions. 

It is by the grace of God that we are saved and healed.

The Bible affords multiple insights into how people act, interact, respond to grace, and affirm faith.  Numerous are the stories in the Bible associated with people growing weary with waiting on God’s grace to come.  Our world can certainly ‘identify’ as well.

Recently we learned of governors, anxious to please a Covid-weary population, rolling back restrictions on restaurants and facemasks, while health officials urge caution, believing that new variants of the virus could strike.  Meanwhile, those who are weary of waiting for vaccines are finding ways to jump line and game the system.  Political parties are growing to realize there is no golden ticket assuring their party’s legislation will automatically ‘go through.’  It seems we are perhaps within weeks, if not just a few months, from everything turning around and quite possibly getting better. Yet in our weariness and impatience we may perhaps be poisoning ourselves.

 God offers our world this season of Lent and Easter as a means of grace to stop and ponder, meditate, and pray.  Not only for our Lenten disciplines that just might better ourselves, but more importantly, for the grace of God to be seen, felt, experienced, and relied upon for the future of the world.  Not just the distant future either, but quite importantly our immediate future.  Too much too soon really could backfire on us.

 By the grace of God there is a cross and a Savior to look up to in the midst of any and all poisons in our lives.  Grace is freely offered, yet too often, not well received.  I advise and urge us all to keep wearing our masks and practicing social distancing as a sign and symbol of the grace of God still being offered in the midst of this pandemic.

 The greatest form of grace God Almighty has delivered is that of so loving us that He sent His Son Jesus into the world.  Remember, Jesus was sent to save, not condemn.

 Condemnation remains a form of judgment.  Belief is a form of grace.

 Today’s scriptures speak of light coming into the world.  Wherever God is, there is light.  Whenever God is ‘looked to’ there is light.  Some shut their eyes against the light and don’t much care about receiving God’s grace.  Their deeds are dark; therefore, they don’t want to be exposed.  Coming to church, reading and studying the Bible, and praying and fellowshipping with other Christians is seen more as a challenge then a hope.

 

In our daily lives and within this pandemic there is light at the end of the tunnel.  We are almost ‘there.’  By the grace of God, we can be saved, renewed, and experience true hope.

 Last year at this time we were not permitted to hold worship services inside this building.  Since May of last year, we have.  This past year made most folks feel fear and anticipate that everything is moving towards death, even our ‘allowed’ activities.  Businesses died, finances died, churches died, and over 500,000 people died.  Today’s scriptures direct us to look up to this image of Jesus on the Cross.  If you want life to get better, to be helped, to be healed, by the grace of God, you have to stand up, look up, and be counted as faithful and hopeful and believing beyond death.  God is saying no to the world’s logic that everything is moving towards death.  In the same weeks just prior to Easter we are now in, those early disciples were feeling as though everything around them, within them and all that was important to them, was dying.  It was when the disciples ‘remembered’ that things began to change, hope began to be felt, and light began to shine.  We are here now to share in communion with Jesus, to look up to him, to stand up for him and to be counted as belonging to him and believing in him.

 By the grace of God we have received and continue to receive Jesus Christ into our hearts, our souls, our lives, this church, our homes, and this world.  Even our ‘religion’ has grown to be more focused.  In the past, lots and lots of folks would pick and choose between religions and religious beliefs.  Religious leaders were followed here and there by folks.  It was kind of like a religious buffet of sorts whereby we would pick and choose what seemed to fit our thinking, our lifestyles then dismiss the rest.  That’s called syncretism.  Picking and choosing bits and pieces, and slices and selections of religion, but not being dedicated, devoted, or truly challenged by any one set of teachings or affirmations of faith is poor for the soul.

 By the grace of God, we shall live beyond this pandemic.  By the grace of God, we are blessed with mercy that grants us forgiveness, provides us with new beginnings, and calls us forward into a sweet communion with the Lord that sheds light in our darkness.  Easter is just around the corner.  The light of God is shining in our darkness.  Although we have despaired for quite some time, we are so close to the finish line.

 God has provided us a means of grace.  He has so loved us and loves us still.  Communion is a means of God’s grace in sacramental form.  Communion sustained the disciples of old.  Communion gave Jesus what he most needed with his friends and family.  Grace, amazing grace.  How sweet!  Amen.

 


Honor and Glory 3/7/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 6, 2021 & Sunday, March 7, 2021

Prayer For Illumination: Dear Lord, help us as we read these scriptures together.  Come bring your understanding and reveal your truth.  Come open our minds, hearts, and souls to all that these words of life offer us.

We long to be continually challenged, transformed, and renewed by your Word.  May we hear your voice of life as we read and draw close to you.  Amen.

Scripture Lessons: Exodus 20:1-17 (Page 75) and Hebrews 12:1-3 (Page 1213).

Sermon Message: 'HONOR & GLORY’

Lent is truly a time to reflect upon Jesus.  Today’s scriptures encourage us to ‘fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of faith.  The next part is just a bit perplexing at first. It reads: ‘For the joy set before him he endured the cross, according to its shame…’

Part of the ‘joy set before him’ was to bring honor and glory unto God the Father.  Jesus’ human nature had to be sacrificed in order for the Father’s divine will and plan to be fulfilled. There are times throughout our lives when we, to a far lesser extent than Jesus, must sacrifice some portion of our human nature in order for the Father’s divine will and plan to be fulfilled and for honor and glory to come to God.

Within our world both ‘honor and glory’ are sometimes thought of as rewards or even ceremonies associated with quality achievements.  For example, we ‘honor’ and bring ‘glory’ to persons who do well with significant sports achievements.  We ‘honor’ and bring ‘glory’ to those who serve selflessly as firefighters, police, doctors, nurses, and of course within the US military.

Right now both ‘honor and glory’ are being bestowed upon Dr. Fauci for his accomplishments, research, and leadership throughout this Covid-19 pandemic.

Lent remains a spiritual season to reflect upon the movement and presence of God, the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and, quite importantly, our spiritual growth and involvement in this season of Lent.  Some of our further ways to bring ‘honor and glory’ to God during this wholesome spiritual season of Lent includes daily focused prayer and quiet time spent with God, reading, studying, and meditating upon scriptures, devotional studies, giving up something for Lent, and of course, what we are doing right now in worship; Christian fellowship, hearing, receiving, and reflecting upon the Word of God.

As today’s scriptures reference, we do have a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ that have taught us, through their life examples, how to ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.’  We all know someone who lives according to God’s Ten Commandments.  Hopefully, we all do as well.  The Ten Commandments teach us what some of those things are that we need to throw off so our lives are not hindered nor entangled by sin.  Following the Ten Commandments brings honor and glory to God but also peace and a good quality of life to others and ourselves.

Honor and Glory are two words we know something about.  These are two great words.  There are not many synonyms that can explain what honor and glory mean.  These two words carry a lot of meaning, even ‘sounding’ unique unto themselves.  What ‘comes to mind’ for when you think about glory?

A young girl came to Church and Sunday school routinely.  She heard some ‘church words’ over and over again that she struggled with.  When she heard all the stories about people and events in the Bible, in her mind, they seemed hard to believe.  When family and friends, even the preacher, talked of ‘glory,’ she tried to imagine what that meant.  Mostly, she’d look at a picture of the sun she often carried around with her.  She’d see the sun’s rays streaming down to earth, and for her, that was an illustration of ‘glory.’

Perhaps you associate the word ‘glory’ with the Patriotic selection, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on. Glory, glory!  Hallelujah!  Glory, glory!  Hallelujah! Glory, glory!  Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.’

There is ‘glory’ in nature, such as the young girl saw in the rays of the sun.  There remains patriotic ‘glory’ as ascribed in The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

There are other forms of ‘glory’ the Bible speaks of. The ancient Hebrew word for ‘glory’ is ‘kabad.’ It means ‘weight’ or ‘importance.’  Thus, to have glory is to be weighty or important to oneself or others.  In the Bible the word ‘glory’ is sometimes applied to humans, showing their significance in the world.  Frequently it is applied to God.  Some of God’s manifestations to humans reveal His glory.  For example, the giving of the Law, or the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.  From upon the Cross, Jesus, the Son of God, brought honor and glory unto God the Father.  In fact, Jesus’s entire life was spent in bringing honor and glory unto God.

The Biblical theme of ‘glory’ may further reference God’s future intervention in this world.  Our appropriate human response to the presence and movement of God in our lives is to ascribe glory to Him.

Within the New Testament affirmations of ‘glory’ continue and expand in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and also in the spiritual words of wisdom from our diverse Biblical authors.

Christ is the Word of God incarnate.  Within the Gospel of John 1:14 it is recorded: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  ‘Glory’ is revealed through Christ’s miracles. Even Jesus’ death is associated with his ‘hour of glorification.’  The Gospels further refer to Christ’s Second Coming as His return to glory.

Glory unto God means worshipful praise, honor, and thanksgiving.  It means to recognize the importance of God, the ‘weight’ God carries in life, your life, my own, and throughout the entire world.  Glory further means to recognize the manifestation of God’s presence and reflect that glory as we “let our light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Anytime you become aware of God’s presence in life, inside of yourself or through others, give God the glory.  Ascribe to Him praise, honor, and thanksgiving.

On a personal note, when Patty and I received our first Covid-19 vaccination, afterwards we gave God the glory, praise, honor, and thanksgiving in prayer and simply out loud.  I even experienced a few tears of joy.  God inspired collective minds to research and develop this vaccine.  God moved inside of lots and lots of folks to distribute and administer the vaccine.  I firmly believe this vaccine gives life as well as hope and further well-being.  This vaccine inspires inside all of us the glory we feel towards God for the precious gift of life.

Glory and honor be unto God now and forever and ever.  Amen and Amen.  In today’s world, more than ever, we should feel honored to be a Christian.  An important part of our Christian faith foundation is the Ten Commandments.  Do you still recall learning the Ten Commandments in Sunday school?  I came from a family of four brothers, total.  Sometimes we got along.  Sometimes we fought pretty badly!  Our teacher asked us to memorize the Ten Commandments.  She asked what the Fourth Commandment stated?  (Honor your father and your mother.)  I knew it, got called on, and felt proud to offer the answer.  That is until my older brother gave me a shove that knocked me over into the little girl sitting next to me.  Just then our teacher asked if there was a commandment for ‘getting along with our brothers and sisters?”  I said yeah, “Thou shalt not kill!”

The Ten Commandments remain God’s Law that governs us.  I can’t imagine how Moses would have ‘done it,’ that is, lead those millions of people through the wilderness without those Ten Commandments.  The first four commandments speak to how humans are to live in right relationship to God.  How they were to honor God.  Still do.  The remaining six commandments speak to how humans are to live in right relationship with their parents, with their families, and with their neighbors.  These Ten Commandments were never intended to be burdens robbing us of our joy, but rather these are words of life; guideposts and guardrails aimed at helping us experience the goodness and beauty that God intended.  God longs for these commandments to be inscribed on our hearts, understood with our minds, and lived in our daily lives. All of the Ten Commandments lead us to bring honor and glory to God while making our lives better, more sacred, and precious.

The Fourth Commandment declares: “Honor your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”  The word ‘honor’ has a number of shades of meaning.  Basically ‘honor’ means to esteem and treat another with respect because of who they are and what they have done.  Honor has the sense of value, worthiness, and quality.  The Biblical emphasis on honoring others has everything to do with the biblical command to honor God.  The commandment to ‘honor our mother and father’ is sometimes misconstrued with obeying our parents at all costs.  That is NOT what God’s design nor guidance was.  We remain aware that some ‘parents’ are neglectful, abusive, and guilty of many forms of maltreatment.  The command to honor our parents is not a requirement to continue to be abused by someone who acts in ways that are inconsistent with a legitimate and loving parent.

When we are young, we take and take from our parents for we are in fact ‘dependent’ upon them for life.  Early on their rules and restrictions, akin to the Ten Commandments, are for our own good, welfare, existence, and benefit.  The older we get the less our parents should demand obedience.

The fourth commandment about honoring parents is also about honoring family life.  Honoring can also mean NOT belittling our parents, not abusing them, not speaking ill of them, or harming them.  Don’t say something about your parents, or any other person when they are not present, that you wouldn’t say about them if they were present.  The fourth commandment informs us that we are to care for our parents.  To ‘honor’ our parents includes treating them as important and significant, considering their needs, their feelings, and what might bless them.  How well do you know your parents’ likes, interests, and desires?  Love them.

All Ten Commandments are God’s teaching for us to live from our heart.  Not just from our human heart, but more importantly, from our Christian heart.  Jesus Christ IS your Lord and Savior.  Honor the Lord, bring glory to Him in how you live think, act, and respond to God, to Jesus, and to others.

Today’s scriptures declare: “For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross.”  The joy set before Him, in part, was to bring honor and glory unto God.  I inquire of us all to draw near to Jesus this Lenten season, carry our cross, and set our eyes on the joy set before us. When God is worshipped, whisper a prayer thanking Him, honoring Him, and bringing glory unto Him.  Sometimes you just have to say it out loud: “Honor and glory unto you God,” for overcoming false ‘gods,’ for NOT taking God’s name in vain, nor diminishing that which is sacred in church, in the divine Trinity, in ourselves or others.  Glory and honor to God when Sabbath rest benefits a soul, when fathers, mothers, and families are kept sacred, cared for, and loved.  Glory and honor unto God when anger and vengeance that could lead to murder is better handled.  Glory and honor unto God when you, your spouse, and other couples choose NOT to commit adultery in thought, word, or deed.  Glory and honor to God when you or another chooses NOT to steal something you’ve not earned or have a right to.  Glory and honor unto God when you speak the truth, live the truth, and refrain from gossip or what the Bible terms ‘false testimony.’  Glory and honor be ascribed unto God when you choose to be satisfied with the life and blessings God has given, and perhaps you’ve earned, rather than coveting what someone else has.

Sometimes a person just NEEDS to feel it in their heart, live it in their lives, and be further led by their soul to pray out loud and deep within: “honor and glory to you God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

For the joy set before us we bring honor and glory unto God.  Great things He has done.  Amen.



God Trusts Us 2/28/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 27, 2021 & Sunday, February 28, 2021

Prayer For Illumination: Our Lord and our God, we bless You for Your Word.  We ask that by Your Holy Spirit You would open our eyes to understand it; that You would grant us the faith to believe it; and by Your Spirit You would enable us to walk in that belief.  This we ask in Jesus' name, Amen.

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 25:1-5 (Page 549) and Matthew 25:14-28 (Page 994)

Sermon Message:  "God Trusts Us"

When my daughter was small, we had a swimming pool in our back yard.  Bonnie learned to swim there.  Yet every once in a while, we’d take her to someplace like Settler’s Ridge Wave pool and spend some time there.  Early on, when Bonnie still did not know how to swim, I’d tell her to “jump in and Daddy will catch you!”  Lots and lots of times my child would respond, “Are you sure Dad?”  I would always answer, “Of course, I am right here.”  Eventually she would jump into my arms, and I would catch her.

My child trusts me.  She knows she can.  Even to this day.

Do you know what I still find quite amazing?  God trusted me enough to give me a child.  That precious, innocent being came into this world totally dependent upon her mother and me. Across the years the ‘tables have turned’ a bit, and I’ve personally needed to trust my child to help me, carry me, and perhaps ‘catch me.’

God trusted me with a little girl.  I remained equally amazed across the years and hugely honored that God trusted me with churches to care for, people to serve, but mostly God trusted me with LOVE.

In the Bible we read of God trusting Mary.  God trusted Mary with bringing Jesus into the world.  God trusted Mary to carry him, nurture him, clothe and feed him, but most of all to love him.

There are lots of things God trusts us with.  Maybe He’s trusted you with your own business, authority, great influence, or with more money than most.  Why has God trusted you with so much?  Ever asked that?  It’s always to partner with God in His work.  Maybe He’s trusted you with a loving family, or the freedom of singleness, time, gifts, or experiences.  He trusts all of us, and He asks all of us to join Him in restoring a broken world.  What He asking you to do - will it cost you something?  Will you respond courageously like Mary:  “I am the Lord’s servant.  May your word be fulfilled.”?

Folks can spend a lifetime trying to figure out if they can trust God.  For today, as we make our way through this spiritual season of Lent together, let’s try looking at things just a bit differently.  Instead of spending so much time trying to figure out if we can trust God, ask yourself this: Can God trust you?

Surely most, if not ALL of us, could answer YES, we can be trusted.  We don’t steal, cuss, or cheat.  We do strive to follow those Ten Commandments.  We think of ourselves as being good people.  Even Godly.  We ‘believe’ in God.

Trust is dependability – a deep confidence in someone. We tend to trust people who are reliable, who are consistent, and who don’t change with the season or the wind direction. Ever think that maybe God is looking for people He can trust?

Many Christians I know say their faith varies daily.  And mine has seasons too. But what if our faith was strong enough, and we became solid enough that God felt he could trust us?

Jesus’ parable is in part a message about being trusted with money.  God trusts us with money.  What we do with money reveals whether we are worthy of trust.  Some folks use money well.  It benefits not just themselves but others as well.  Some folks are wise when it comes to money.  God wants us to be good stewards of finances.  He inquires of us to help others and support His church.  God trusts you.  He trusts that you’ll handle money well, spend it wisely, use it to help others, care for His church, and not let it become too important.  God warns us, money can become the root of all evil.

Jesus’ parable provides further insights into that which God trusts in us.  God trusts you with your soul.  He trusts that you will tend to your soul, protect your soul, and not ‘sell your soul’ to the devil.  God has even placed the souls of others in your life to care for.  Caring for a soul and loving a life are among the highest and best of callings.

God trusts you with the body He has given you.  Remember, as the Bible points out, you are ‘wonderfully and fearfully made.’  There’s only one of you.  We only go through this life once.  Make the most of it.  He trusts you.  Take good care of your body.  Do not harm the body of another.  For God says our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

You’ve been given a good mind.  Develop it.  Use it wisely.  God trusts you to use your mind for good.  Praise God for minds that have stimulated research that benefits the world to be vaccinated against Covid-19 and its derivatives.  God loves when you use your mind for good.  God invites us to use our minds in relating to Him. In the Book of Isaiah 1:18, it is recorded: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

Some folks are more talented than others.  God trusts us with talents and abilities.  God trusts that whatever our talents might be, and further become, they won’t become more important than God. The God-fearing folks and people of integrity I know use their talents and abilities, not just to make a living, but to make a life and provide a better quality of life to others, to God’s church, and to His extensive faith communities.

Haven’t you noticed that as these natural disasters destroy power lines, waterlines, and lifelines in the South, lots of talented people are coming forth to help others in need?  Use what God has blessed you with to help others.  God trusts that you know, well understand, and appreciate that you weren’t put here on this earth just to take care of yourself and those closest to you.  If we’ve learned anything amidst this year plus reality of Covid-19, it’s that we are in this life and this world together.  God trusts you.

Why is it that some people have more possessions than others?  Is it because God loves them more?  I think not.  In today’s Biblical account the spirituality associated with it indicates that God blesses those who are good stewards of what He trusts them with. In other words, as you’ve perhaps heard me share with you before, we are blessed to be a blessing.

God trusts you with lots of things.  God trusts you with love.  He trusts that you won’t hurt the people He’s invited you to love.  God trusts that you will love others in a similar fashion to how He loves you.  God also trusts that you won’t waste what He has put into your heart, your soul, and within your ‘reach.’  God trusts that you will not enable bad behavior.  He trusts you not to sin nor contribute to sin in that way.  God trusts you to set boundaries from time to time, and as the Bible cautions, not to ‘throw your pearls before swine.’

An important element of ‘trust’ is our ability to confide in someone.  We all may have lots of acquaintances but very few close friends in whom we can confide. The level of intimacy needed to reveal deep things of the heart goes far deeper than we usually find comfortable.  Trusting someone enough to be ‘open’ with him or her is unique and special.

Perhaps you have prayed to God in the past and revealed what’s in your heart and ‘on your mind.’  Isn’t it amazing that God wants to confide in you?  God wants to share with you the deep matters of His heart.  He confides only in those who fear Him, who honor Him enough to treat those intimate revelations as the treasures they are.  He may want to show you an insight into a portion of His Word, clarify some aspect of His plan for your life, or just expand your understanding of His love.

The primary issue involved in all of these “confidings” is trust.  The more trustworthy you prove to be in the small details He shares with you, the more He will open up to you.  When He finds those who genuinely revere Him, fear Him, and long to honor Him in all things, He delights to make His ways known to them.  What an honor to be trusted by God!  Just think about that today!

As mentioned earlier, ‘trust’ can ‘change with the direction of the wind,’ or be seasonal within any of us.  Some things can diminish, even ‘kill’ trust.  That which diminishes ‘trust’ includes things such as losing faith in God the minute circumstances don’t go our way.  Or, putting ourselves at the center of our relationship with God, rather than God at the center.  (What can I do for God, rather than what can God do for me?)  Another diminishing factor is keeping God at the periphery of our lives, not at the center.

God wants to build in us faithfulness.  But not just for this age.  Faithfulness is valuable here in this age, but its primary purpose is for the next age.  And the way in which God builds into us faithfulness is by giving us a few things over which to be faithful.

God trusts us.  This Lenten season do reflect upon ‘how’ God trusts you and strive to live into that trust.  Please don’t let anything come between you and God.  I want us all to live in such a trustworthy manner that one day our Lord will say unto us, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant:  thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things:  enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” (Matthew 25:21)

God Trusts You.

 


Give God Your Best 2/21/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 20, 2021 & Sunday, February 21, 2021

Prayer For Illumination (From Psalm 25:4-5): Show us now your ways, O Lord.  Teach us your paths.  Guide us in your truth and teach us, for you are our God, our Savior, and our hope is in you all day long.  Amen.

Scripture Lessons: John 3:16, 17 (Page 1065) and Colossians 3:17 (Page 1184)

Sermon Message: “Give God Your Best”

What is the best thing God has ever done for you?  Perhaps our answer forms the question of, ‘Where to begin?’

There are two prominent answers to my initial inquiry. The best thing God has given us first and foremost is recorded in the scriptures of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The second answer to my inquiry is simple, sincere, and straightforward.  The best thing God has given you is LIFE.

Until there is a problem or a threat associated with our lives, we do tend to take life for granted.  Likewise, folks may seem to think of God as ‘far off’ or distantly removed from our everyday situations leastwise until trying circumstances arrive.

Lent is to be a time of introspection.  Lent may possibly be a time of transformation for any of us as well.  Lent remains our spiritual opportunity to grow in faith and in our appreciation of God in life, all of life.  This Lenten season, give God your best.

Within the earliest recordings of Holy Scripture, we learn of God striving to remain in relationship with us.  God doesn’t just create us, set us in the Garden of Eden, and leave us to ‘figure out’ the rest of our lifetime here on earth.  God continues to relate to us, then and now. Like any relationships there are times of disagreements and also of our reasoning together.  There are some painful times but also some very memorable, blessed times.  God, early on in the Garden of Eden, ‘had it out’ with us.  It seems we human beings were striving to be ‘smarter than God’ and do whatever we wanted when we wanted.  (A familiar theme still.)  Early on in the Bible we read of our getting ‘kicked out’ of the Garden of Eden, and later things became so severe and trying with us, humanity ended up getting flooded, perhaps to cleanse our outlooks as well as our souls.

When we give God our worst, there is still accountability.  Although God may see and deal with the worst part of us, He continues to send His best.

God sends not only forgiveness and redemption, He sends ‘love.’  Indicative of that love are promises from God and covenants with God.  Following that initial great flood, God gave us a symbol of His love and His promise: a rainbow.  To this very day when we see a rainbow, it makes us stop, perhaps smile, and feel the beauty of hope in the midst of life’s rains.

Remember today’s initial scripture, that memory verse we share, “For God so loved the world that He gave----."  God gives, God sends His love.  It takes many forms.  The form of His only begotten Son, the form of faith and forgiveness and of promises and covenants.

As part of your Lenten devotions and disciplines, ponder with me how God has loved you and loves you still. God, our heavenly Father, our Creator, forgives and forgets.  For us, forgiving is one thing, forgetting, well that’s another matter, or so it seems.  King David in the Bible sinned boldly at times.  He and God ‘had it out’ on numerous occasions.  Yet when David inquired of God NOT to remember the sins of his youth, God remained loving and faithful with David, even as He does with us.

Jesus teaches us that what we do for others it’s as though we are doing it for him.  Do your best to practice forgiveness.  It’s not ‘automatic’ for most of us to forgive.  Therefore, we have to be intentional about forgiving.  Spirituality influences our abilities and our degrees of forgiveness.  As David inquired of God NOT to remember the sins of his youth, give God your best by NOT hanging on to the sins in people’s past.  Be God-like.

Perhaps you are ‘giving up’ something for Lent.  Possibly you are ‘doing something more’ such as daily devotions, regular church attendance, Bible study, etc.  Think of those things as ‘covenants’ you make with God.  We’ve all learned that covenants are good for us; they benefit us so much more than we sometimes realize. Give God your best dedication, Lenten disciplines, and devotions.

Give God your love.  Tell God you love Him, each day, every day, during Lent.  Let nothing be assumed between you and the good Lord.  Make an effort, an honest and sustained effort, to live the Christian life.  Life with God, life through God, and life for God should be our greatest priority each and every day.  Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not.

Allow God ‘time’ in your day, each day, every day, during Lent and beyond.  Let God speak to you.  Remember you have to change some of your busy schedule in order for that to happen.  Recall the words of Psalm 46, “Come and see what the Lord has done.”  As you and I consider God’s hand in motion, God’s movements in life, hear your Maker’s words: “Be still and know that I am God.”  Reflect upon the First Commandment, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.”

The Ten Commandments can also be perceived as Ten Covenants.  These covenants are not simply ‘words’ to live by and rules to be obeyed.  Think of them as words, good words, and wholesome words for life, better life, and more joy-filled life.  These remain guideposts and guardrails aimed at helping us experience the goodness and beauty that God intended.  It remains God’s intent that these commandments be inscribed on our hearts, understood with our minds, and lived in our daily lives.  Words, good words for navigating life and giving God our best.

Watching the news these days and gleaning awareness from social media makes anyone unsure as to who or what is right or wrong.  What ‘acts’ constitute immorality or even illegal designation?  It seems so many ‘get away’ with so much.  What was previously firm, secure, and well-understood may now be questionable.  Trust the Ten Commandments.  They remain moral anchors for not only faith, but for life, fulfillment, truth, and living.  God gave these to us to help us live our lives towards God’s will in the midst of our deepest struggles.

Remember the first Commandment, “I AM the Lord your God.”  He is asserting not only that He is the God of all the Israelite people and beyond.  Hear God clearly assert I am YOUR God.  We are not ‘numbers’ unto God; each of us remains God’s accomplishment.  No matter ‘how’ you may ‘see’ yourself, God sees you as His accomplishment.  You may feel ‘not good enough, overweight, unattractive,’ the list might go on and on.  God still chooses you, sees you as beautiful and gifted, and loves you.  God sees not only what you’ve done and who you’ve been, but also what you can do and who you could be.  I’ve seen it happen before, plenty of times over; God decides to honor those whom others have rejected, those too, who believe they are worthless.

The Bible affirms God sees us as His children, His workmanship, and the sheep of His pasture, His beloved.  “God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

This coronavirus pandemic has swept over the world.  Amid all the dangers, difficulties, and even fears, we need to hear this first Commandment afresh: “I AM your God.”

Give God your best.  Today, your ‘best’ just might be all the faith you can ‘muster up’ for yourself, for others, for this world.

Biblical authors often times use human relationships and emotions to describe God.  They sometimes compare the love God feels for His people to the relationship between a parent and children, between two lovers, or even between husbands and wives.  God is said to be a ‘jealous God,’ who is offended when His people give their love or devotion to another ‘god.’

‘Jealousy’ the Bible speaks of, is not always wrong but quite often deeply loving, protective, and caring.  I’ve seen and known parents who were rejected by their kids.  I’ve watched the horrific hurt associated with infidelity between a husband and a wife.  Relationships can bring pain and heartbreak.  This Lenten season, remember God’s heart can also be grieved by our infidelity to Him.

God knows when we worship other ‘things’- other ‘gods’ - in our lives, this will ultimately bring us pain.  Sometimes great pain.  The Bible refers to these as being ‘false gods.’

Anything and anyone that takes the place of God in our lives is considered a ‘false god.’  That which shapes our identity, our values, and actions while serving as our source of security and hope, can quickly and easily become our ‘false god’ that we worship, pledge our allegiance to, and strive to follow.

Within this book our church is studying, “Words of Life, Jesus and the Promise of the Ten Commandments Today,” author Adam Hamilton shares his insight of knowing people who believe in God but for whom physical fitness has become their true center.  He writes of knowing people whose workouts and nutrition plans are what they eat, sleep, drink, and breathe.  They devote more money to fitness than to God and spend most of their time focusing on physical gain than on the place of God in their lives (Page 33).

While physical exercise is not wrong, easily enough we can put too much trust in this, expecting it to do what it cannot.

Nor is our ‘god’ to be our belly.  Our mind is NOT designed to only be set on earthly things.

Author Adam Hamilton uses an acronym to benefit our understanding and application of the first Commandment: EGO (Edging God Out).  He writes, in the end, the false ‘god’ we are most likely to put before the true God is the self (Page 35).

Draw near to Jesus this Lenten season.  Give the Lord your best.  When questioned as to what was the greatest of the commandments, Jesus answered this way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) These words of Jesus are key to any of us keeping the first Commandment AND to giving God our best!

Don’t be ‘bowing down’ to any false gods in your life.  Especially NOT to the ones you may have created.  Instead give God your best by looking to the image of Jesus Christ, who is the image of the invisible God.  Nor should you forget, you were created in the image of God as well.  When you love your neighbor as yourself, others can see God in you.

Giving God your best requires LOVE.  Dedicated love, covenantal love, and accountable love.

It’s one thing to ‘say’ we are a Christian.  It’s another thing altogether to prioritize God and that which God prefers we love.

Give God your best.  Amen.

Lent, A Blessing In Disguise 2/17/2021

Sermon Message For Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Prayer For Illumination: (A time of silence.)

Pastor’s Prayer: God our helper, by Your Holy Spirit open our minds, that as the scriptures are read and Your Word is proclaimed, we may be led into Your truth and be taught Your will for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Scripture Lessons:  Joel 2: 12-17 (Page 910), and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (Page 970)

Sermon Message:  “Lent, a Blessing in Disguise”

May we ‘treasure’ these words of God and store them in our hearts as ‘blessings.’

The season of Lent carries with it reminders of repentance, on our part.  It also carries with it guides for prayer, fasting, giving to the needy, and what is to be treasured. This Biblical notion of ‘Treasures in heaven’ can seem far removed from any ‘blessings’ during these next 40 days of Lent.

Within the Christian church community, we tend to speak of these next 40 days as a journey.  I’ve been privileged to share in numerous people’s ‘spiritual journey’ across the years.  Often, it is difficult for us to see past our circumstances.  In doing so, we forget that God is always up to something good, if we will just put our faith in Him.  There are many blessings in life that don’t look like blessings at first.

I well recall, some time ago, when this one elderly lady shared with me her sincere and innocent inquiry for God to be a part of her Lenten journey.  She said when she woke up on Ash Wednesday, she asked God to be involved in every part of her day.  She was about to sit down for a nice lunch with her sisters when she got a call to rush a family member to the hospital.  She then had to remain in the hospital waiting area for the better part of the day.  For some reason, when we ask God to be a part of our lives, we assume that it’s going to make things nice and pleasant all the time.  The phrase ‘blessings in disguise’ goes deeper, far deeper than things just being pleasant or nice.  Sometimes the ‘blessings’ aren’t seen or felt initially so.  That’s why we sometimes say “blessings in disguise.”  The woman’s family member was helped.  Her presence brought prayer, peace, and sustaining hope to her family.  She realized that’s where God most needed her to be that day.

This Lenten season shall provide some blessings in disguise.  It will help us to build endurance, strengthen character, and restore or renew confidence.

Tonight’s service begins the Spiritual season of Lent with ashes.  When ashes are given, these words are offered:  “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Last year’s Ash Wednesday service was nearly the last time of ‘normal’ worship we experienced prior to this Covid-19 pandemic effecting the world.  It closed in upon us all rather quickly.  Recall how we were being told it might last a few weeks, then a few months, and now it’s been over a year. Across this past year we have endured the rather daunting declaration of our dust-borne origins and dustbin destiny over and over again and in so many ways.  While Lent is a Spiritual journey, this past year has been a long pilgrimage through the coronavirus wilderness.  This evening I shall ‘impose’ ashes upon the back of your hand as a spiritual reminder.  Throughout this past year the ashes of our frail, failing mortality have been imposed on us again and again - and some of these ashes and dust are of our own making.  500,000 – half a million – dead from the pandemic in this country alone, not to mention the millions of family members and friends from whom these loved ones have been bereaved.  Thousands more whose lives have been detoured and distorted by the virus and its collateral damage have lost jobs, lost time, lost futures, and dreams.

Ashes are death because that’s what ashes are, the death of palm branches in particular.  Yet not death as we commonly think of it.  Rather the ashes associated with Ash Wednesday are placed not only as a reminder of our physical limited time upon earth, but more importantly, to serve as a firm reminder that death gives way to life.  New life, changed life.  Saved life.  Our characters are challenged, strengthened, and renewed during the season of Lent.

Jesus teaches us that we are to give to the needy.  This is sometimes referred to as ‘alms.’  The Lord assumes that all of his disciples WILL give to the needy.  Our ‘challenge’ is not so much in our duty to give, as it remains in our motive behind our giving.  Our character is strengthened and renewed by helping others, giving to the needy, supporting the ‘cause’ not for recognition but rather quietly, privately, and mainly out of obedience to God.  The church, the Food Pantry, and scores of needy individuals ‘need’ what we can give.

Prayer is a teaching and example of Christ.  Pray daily, devotionally, purposefully, and intentionally during Lent.  In as much as humans breathe so too do Christians pray.  If prayerless then graceless.  There is more need for prayer in our world than ever before.  There is sincere need for prayer in our back yard, within our church, and community.  I advise you, and I, to pray unto God more fully and completely, more purposefully and intentionally, each and every day during Lent.  Yet, I must remind us all of Jesus’ admonishments to us all regarding prayer.  Don’t be guilty of vain glory and vain repetitions.  In other words, don’t make a ‘show’ of prayer.  Nor ‘repeat’ the same prayer over and over again as though you are trying to wear God down to get your own way.  God isn’t ‘hard of hearing!’  Nor is God impressed by how we bring attention to our prayers.  This Lenten season, pray daily, pray often, pray privately, yet specifically and intentionally so.  Your Father who sees you praying in private will reward you.  Don’t keep ‘babbling.’  Trust that God hears your prayers and sees the sincerity of your heart and soul.  In our relating to others, we sometimes go on and on, even repeating ourselves because we think others don’t understand the message nor the fervor behind it.  Not so with God.  May our spiritual characters become challenged, strengthened, and renewed in and through our prayer life this Lenten season.

Remember, repenting of our sinful nature does certainly build character in our souls.  Sometimes our ‘repentance’ is as basic as changing some of the ways we have been doing things in order to obey God and please God more.  Repentance further includes confessing our sins to God, asking to be forgiven, and then promising God to lead a better life, not repeating those same sins over and over again.

Fasting, giving up something for Lent, is the humbling of the soul.  For sure, it is humbling to challenge ourselves to ‘fast’ to ‘give up’ something for Lent.  The Bible teaches us that fasting remains important.  Fasting is to be done privately.  We must guard against pride associated with bragging or displaying what we have ‘given up’ or ‘fasted from.’

Our characters are strengthened when we fast out of obedience to God, closeness to Christ and desire for further sacredness/holiness, in our lives.  Fasting is a form of covenant we make with God.  Covenants renew our character as well.  From the Bible, and specifically from the teachings of Jesus Christ, we learn that fasting has always been a spiritual guidance for followers of God.  Fasting was always meant to spiritually prepare us to see and respond to other duties and further insights.  It was never intended for us to brag about nor make us think of how ‘good’ we are.  Giving up something that we eat or something that we do, or even something we know right along is a bad habit, remains an act of self-denial and humiliation under the hand of God.  Practice forms of fasting during Lent.  I am and I will be doing the same.

This season of Lent, and beyond, Jesus Christ invites us, calls us, prescribes for us, to store up treasures in heaven.  What does that mean?  In part, it means we human beings tend to repeat a fundamental error in our lives that we are guilty of.  That ‘error’ is this; we mostly choose the world and what’s in this world for our reward instead of heaven.  Jesus makes the point that everything of this world is subject to decay, theft, and vain glory.  It’s not necessarily wrong to have ‘treasures’ here on earth.  It’s what you do with those treasures and what those treasures do to you that can make them wrong, even a hindrance, to your salvation.

500,000 people in this country alone have left behind all of their earthly treasures.  In heaven we are to store up those treasures that matter most; souls we have rescued and helped to save, care that has been given, love that has been shared, lives that have been made better, and perhaps more holy.  “On the other side treasures there have I.  Treasures that this world and all its’ wealth can never buy.”

I inquire of us all to practice these and further Lenten devotions these next 40 days.  Do read, review, and digest the daily devotionals you are receiving from this, our church ‘home.’  Read your Bible daily during Lent.  Study the Ten Commandments.  They are not the ‘ten suggestions.’

These Lenten disciplines can become ‘blessings in disguise.  “Blessings” that shall build character, challenge us, strengthen us spiritually so, and further renew our relationship to God, Jesus, heaven, the church, and others.  May we become blessed then with renewed confidence of faith and Christ-shared love.  Amen.



Patient Love 2/14/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 13, 2021 & Sunday, February 14, 2021

Prayer For Illumination: O God, your Word is more precious than fine gold, and sweeter than purest honey.  As we turn to your Scripture, send your Holy Spirit to infuse your Word with truth and grace — so that the good news of your love would shine before our eyes and delight our senses so that we cannot help but respond with wonder, faith, and trust.  Amen.

Scripture Lessons:  Matthew 17:1-13 (page 983) and 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (page 1152)

Sermon Message:  “Patient Love”

It is fitting that today’s sermon reflects a message regarding ‘love.’  After all, today IS Valentine’s Day!  Don’t forget your sweetheart!  Perhaps we all have some good memories associated with Valentine’s Day.  Hopefully we have even better memories associated with love.  Today’s sermon message begins with a story involving both Valentine’s Day and patient love.

In an elementary school the children had shared in a really fun Valentine’s Day celebration. At the end of the day a teacher was helping one of her kindergarten students put on his boots.  The little fellow asked for help, and his teacher could readily see, why. The teacher pulled, and the little fellow pushed, but those boots still wouldn’t go on.  Finally, there was ‘some’ success with the first boot.  The two of them worked up a sweat getting that second boot on.  The teacher nearly cried when the little fellow looked up at her and said, “Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet!”

She looked and sure enough, he was right.  Taking them back off was not any easier than putting them on.  Being the good teacher she was, she managed to ‘keep her cool’ as they worked together to get them on the correct feet.

But then the little fellow announced, “These aren’t my boots.”  His teacher wanted to get right in his face and scream, “Then why didn’t you say so in the first place?”  But she didn’t.  Her patience prevailed.

Together they struggled to get those ill-fitting boots back off.  Then the little guy smiles at her and says, “They’re my brother’s boots.  My mom made me wear them.”

Well by now that teacher didn’t know if she should laugh or cry!  It took everything she had left inside of her to muster up the strength to work to get them back on his feet again.  After all of that the teacher asked the little boy, “Where are your mittens?”  He said, “I stuffed them in the toes of my boots….”

There are reasons why the very first word used in the Bible to describe ‘love’ is patience. Love is patient. . .Love is kind. . .

While ‘love’ is a wonderful thing, perhaps the very best of life this side of heaven, patience is seldom an easy thing.  Patient love requires some ‘doing.’

I love what I ‘do’ as a pastor.  I sincerely do love God and the people the Lord calls me to care for.  Even so, there have been ‘trying’ times across these years of ministry.  Take for instance, at my previous church this one Sunday, we had some visitors attending worship.  They sat in the back.  They got there a bit late, so I did not have an opportunity to meet or greet them.  Throughout the service they sat in the back of the church talking, even making some sort of hand motions. I was patient.  Inside of myself I just figured when it came time for the sermon, THEN they would pay attention.  Actually, quite the opposite was true.  The more I talked the more they talked and made their hand motions.  It was so distracting I finally had to stop and ask if they needed some assistance or something else???  It was then that the one guy stood up, apologized profusely, and explained that his friend was from Romania, and he was translating for him.  I welcomed them further, made my own apology and continued on.  Plenty of my ‘regulars’ smiled at me.

Patient love requires some thinking things through.  Sometimes things aren’t what they first appear to be, so I’ve learned.

One of the most difficult areas to show patience is in our relationships with others.  But that is exactly what God’s Word calls us to have in our relationships.  Because love is patient.

Some of you receiving this message might be thinking to yourselves, “Easy for you to say, Rev. Tom, but you don’t know what I am going through!”  Agreeably so, I don’t know what you are experiencing, but God does. Today, right now, we are here to meet with God, commune with Jesus, and present ourselves to the Lord in such a way that we are open to receive what God inspires within us.

The forty days of Lent begin this coming Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday is a day to humble ourselves before the Lord and to be reminded ‘from dust we have come and unto dust we shall return.’  We are given a lifetime to love and be loved.  We are being reminded TODAY that love is patient. Traditionally, the forty days of Lent are a time of self-sacrifice as we contemplate the sufferings of Jesus.  These days ahead are a reminder of our duty, and call as Christians, not to be complacent, but to be active and involved.  We know the sufferings of the world and within our relationships as well as our own trials and tribulations.  Lent is a spiritual time to benefit us all as we bring glory, honor, self-sacrifice, and worship to Jesus.  Our spiritual journey is not to be confined only to February and March for we shall experience sincere cares, concerns, trials, and tribulations throughout the year.  Actually, throughout our lifetimes.

Remember, today is Valentine’s Day.  Today is also Transfiguration Sunday.  We are to recall today how Jesus was ‘transfigured/transformed’ by God’s light shining upon him and God’s voice confirming him to be “His Son in whom He is well pleased.  Listen to Him!”  When Jesus’s Transfiguration occurred on top of the mountain, Peter was with him.  Jesus was transfigured by the light of God.  His physical appearance changed by the light of God, the Father upon him.  Peter was transformed by the experience.  Immediately Peter understood the presence of God was not about him, but about Jesus.  Peter knew he needed to wait.  Waiting, reminds us still, we need God, so much more than God needs us.  The human equation is not complete without the divine factor.  We are NOT at the center of the universe, nor is God at our beck and call.

Through the years our culture has taught us that we don’t need to be so very patient.  Much of modern technology precludes the need for patience.  We can easily enough ‘look up’ most anything on our phones, pay our bills, check on our homes, even order our groceries electronically.  Our need to interact, ‘relate’ to one another, is not as enormous as it once was.  Or so it seems.  Yet the drive to ‘get along’ remains for ‘love’ is still the greatest of all needs.

God says love is patient, for a reason; actually for a multitude of reasons.

Patient love shows up best in people who have been loved patiently.  It all begins, and ends, with our relationship to God.  We’ve all let God down and probably still do in some areas of our lives.  None of us are perfect.  How many times has God been patient with you when you’ve failed to acknowledge His will for your life?  Nice thing about God, He forgives.  Some of us don’t, can’t or won’t. We might extend grace once or twice, but after that, mister, you’re on your own!  No more ‘chances!’  Aren’t you glad God isn’t the same way with us as we are with others?

As we begin this journey, this season of Lent, join me in taking a look, a good hard look, at the attributes of God for life and living.  Begin with me today by taking a solid and sincere look at how God has sometimes been patient with you.  Then take a further look inside of yourself.  You can let your assessment be between you and Jesus.  I think if we are finding patient love hard to give, it may have something to do directly with how you have received or perceived God’s loving patience with you.  “Patience deeply received results in patience freely offered.”

I have a story to share with you of a woman who was transformed by patient love. Week after precious week she came to church filled with despair.  She prayed for her husband that God would bring a change into his life.  She prayed week after week for her husband.  Each week she went back home still feeling this despair.  Gradually she began to understand that she was bringing Jesus home with her.  The Lord wasn’t just ‘there’ in church.  Her husband worked constantly, drank heavily, and was emotionally hurting.  That woman wanted to run away and start over.  But she stayed, and of all things, she let God begin His work in changing her.  She stopped praying for God to fix her husband and started asking Him to change her.  She prayed for God to change her to be stronger or perhaps more understanding.  She asked the Lord to provide her with much needed insight and perhaps more loving patience.  She prayed for wisdom to see if she should stay, or if she should leave the situation.  God seemed to shelter her.  Even through the pain.  Eventually, God seemed to remove the desire for alcohol from her husband.  She says it did not happen overnight.  For her, she writes, she then needed to ‘get off the fence’ in every area of her life and turn things over to God that she had stubbornly held onto. She journeyed with God into a patient love that transformed her into a closer relationship with the Lord and eventually encompassed her husband as well. Through her patient love and encouragement, that husband accepted Christ as the guiding light of his life.  She later wrote of her feeling as though she was now married to what had become a brand-new man.

Patient love from God and through the Lord can change hearts and perhaps bring to life a dead relationship.  Their young son was overheard praying, “Thank you, Jesus, for coming into my daddy’s heart and making him nice to me and not mean.”

Not every relationship ends in ‘happily ever after.’  But we do know patient love sure goes a long way in making for God’s will to become a wholesome reality.

The approaching season of Lent is our spiritual opportunity for growth and regeneration.  Journeying with Jesus can transform us.  Something to consider during the season of Lent; not only should we show patience because God is patient with us, but we also should be patient because people never see Christ in your impatience.

The Apostle Paul tells us to be patient with everyone.  We all think that is impossible.  "To dwell above with those we love, that will be glory.  To dwell below with those we know, that is another story."

Sometimes being critical is a lot easier than being patient.  Patience isn’t an easy thing.  But God wants us to develop it, or it wouldn’t be a fruit of the Spirit.  God shows us His love and patience with us by His timing in our lives.  Don’t you think that God would love to give you your heart’s desire when you ask?  But God also knows that there are times when He must wait to answer your prayer, because if He answered it when you wanted, it would not be a good thing for you.  So, I believe, even God shows patience in answering our prayers.  In the same way, by doing that, God is developing patience in our life.  You see patience is about trust.  We must trust God that He does love us and desires what is best for us, so we must wait and be patient and wait on Him.  Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Do you think ‘having kids’ teaches you patient love?  The next time you look at your kids and wonder if they will ever grow up, remember God wonders the same thing about you.

May we commune together with our Lord reaffirming patient love.  Amen.


The Maturing Child of God 2/7/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 6 & Sunday, February 7, 2021

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION: Lord, help us to hear and receive your Word today. May your divine Word mature us we pray. Amen.

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  Psalm 32:8 (page 553) and Luke 15:13-32 (page 1048)

SERMON MESSAGE: ‘The Maturing Child of God’

The familiar narrative of the Prodigal Son enlightens us with the reality of a child who finally seemed to ‘come to his senses.’ We’ve all been around at least a few folks who needed to ‘come to their senses.’

This familiar narrative of the Prodigal Son also enlightens us with the reality of an older child who felt injustice had been done to him, along with strong jealousy, sincere anger, plus deep hurt within. Perhaps you’ve been ‘wronged’ by another who just did not ‘do right’ by you.

This familiar narrative of the Prodigal Son impresses us with insight into a father who forgives, rather quickly. Not only does Dad forgive, he celebrates his son’s return.

In accordance with standards of the world and many contemporary ‘reality’ shows, things should have been handled quite differently. That wayward boy should not have been given his inheritance early, no matter what. Grow up Son! The older brother should have been dealt a different ‘deck of cards’, not expected to ‘swallow’ injustices thrown up in his face! The ‘father’ in this story, according to the standards of the world, should attend parenting classes. Who gives away such large sums of money to their kids?

The ‘ring’ should have gone on the finger of the child who stood by his father all those years. The other son should have been made to work to clear his name, if even that might have helped. Someone should have put their arm around that father and had a ‘man to man’ talk with him. Sounds like they ALL had some growing up to do... Some maturing to achieve! That’s ‘one way’ of looking at this familiar story of the Prodigal Son. When Jesus shared this parable, He was striving to make a point regarding God’s mercy, forgiveness and compassion extended to ALL of us.

Maturing is not an easy thing. Not for anyone. It is a process. Age should have something to do with it, but we’ve all seen where that’s not necessarily true. You’d think that educated people would mature in accordance with their growth of knowledge. One aspect does not necessarily equate with the other. Perhaps we all know someone who had to ‘grow up’ rather quickly. Some say that contributes to a person’s maturity level as well. 

Throughout our lifetimes we all have the power to make choices. Good choices and bad choices come to us all. We all have the power and the resources to choose how we shall live, react, and respond. Maturity is the art of being responsible for your actions, being sensitive and considerate towards others and having the ability to change and adapt to circumstances. An emotionally mature person is always adding value to himself and those around.

The Prodigal Son, in today’s scripture lesson chose to be different than his older brother. Maybe those two brothers ‘talked’ prior to the younger of the two taking off with his inheritance. Perhaps the older brother tried gallantly so to stop his younger brother from running off and wasting his life as well as his inheritance, not to mention their relationship and long held family ties. But the younger brother simply did not yield to his older brother, nor perhaps even to his father.

For some folks it’s kind of like life is a ‘dare!’ A dare, which seems to say, “Watch me! I’ll show you” I can do whatever I want whenever I want.” Their defiance often seems unfounded however its’ source is to be found in fundamental human darkness. Some seem to prefer embracing darkness instead of light. Their defiance is actually quite fulfilling, leastwise to themselves, if only for a while.

A sure sign of maturing is contemplating the costs and seeking to perceive what might be the latter results.

I believe we would all be blessed to grow in the Biblical understanding of maturity. While the Bible speaks of wisdom and references plenty of examples of people growing through their life experiences, the deeper meaning of maturity in the Bible is a direct reference to Spiritual maturity. The Bible references progressing towards perfection or a state of full development.

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14)

The maturing child of God keeps growing, learning, listening, and quite importantly so, obeying. When we no longer have anyone above us, we begin to act as though everyone is beneath us.

Consistently I strive to point us all towards Jesus Christ as our greatest example to follow. In the Gospel of Luke 2, we learn of young Jesus spending time in the Temple listening to the learned rabbis, occasionally asking them questions. The maturing child of God realizes how much you don’t know. I continue to learn that some of the most basic lessons of life and the Bible are best repeated and reflected upon routinely. It’s troubling to hear those who proclaim, “I’ve heard that all before.” While I have attained both a Master’s and Doctorate degree in theological education I am the first to admit the Bible still surprises me. The mysteries of God remain immense. I NEED to remain a student for all of my ‘tomorrows.’

Whether we are speaking of spiritual knowledge or daily routine things don’t be a ‘know it all!’ Such souls are boring to be around. Their ‘immaturity’ reveals itself.

I come from a family that often times ‘talked over’ one another. It was hard, at times, to hear what was really being said. In school and in church I learned to listen more and NOT ‘talk over’ other’s conversations. When you and I imagine Jesus with his disciples, visiting at the homes of his friends and speaking with the crowds, we hopefully perceive a kind and patient spirit listening, loving, and providing focused attention. Some of the more favored aspects of integrity seen in people are their abilities to make each person, they are with, feel as though they’ve got the listener’s undivided attention. The maturing child of God continues to practice listening more and talking less. Looking back, has your faith and church influence helped you along in this process? Maturing is a process and a choice we make. Listen more and talk less…Perhaps a Lenten commitment for spiritual growth….

If you had a choice between being around people who are aware and considerate of others OR those who are self-absorbed, self-centered, and inconsiderate, which might you choose? Looking back, hasn’t your faith, your walk with Christ, taught you to become aware of people around you and choose to be considerate of them? Whether in a crowd or alone, whether with family, friends or strangers, the maturing child of God remains consistent in awareness and consideration of others

Here in church as well as ‘out there’ in the world we have to learn to deal with others and their sometimes rather ‘unique’ and possibly incompatible ways. Not everyone provides for us what we may be needing for the moment or for the long run. Yet we have to strive to get along. Spiritual maturity, grounded in Biblical insights, teaches us that. As a maturing child of God, I trust we’ve all learned and continue to learn not to take everything personally, not to become easily offended. We are ‘in Christ.’ That means we’ve prayed, evaluated, thought things through and aligned ourselves with faith that is confident, mature and proven. The maturing child of God does not take everything personally, does not get easily offended, nor feel a need to defend, prove or make excuses for one’s self.

Be grateful, be gracious, and don’t be complaining a lot. Marks of maturity for the child of God. Recall the Biblical account of the ten lepers who were healed. Only one returned to thank Jesus. Far too many people ‘assume’ what’s given to them. That ‘assumption’ is a mark of immaturity…Every day remains a gift. So too your life, your health, your family, and your standard of living. Yes, even this church is a gift from God.

A long time ago I was taught in church to see Christ in everyone. Sometimes in the stranger as well as my family members. In those who are offensive trust God to help deal with them. My job, and yours remains that of striving to be gracious. We shall only pass through this life once. Give it your best. Offending people don’t last. Neither do offenses. Give your problems to God. It’s the mature thing to do. God alone can make all things to work together for the good.

Easily enough any of us can quickly succumb to the temptation to complain about life, government, politics, our health, or our religion. Complaining doesn’t really ‘become’ us. God doesn’t seem to respond much to complaining Christians. He does respond to those who strive to love beyond what is called for or deserved.

A lot of maturing requires taking responsibility for your own life, health and happiness. We don’t need to overly rely upon others to ‘fix’ our circumstances. Nor should we blame others repeatedly. Move on. Let them move on also. You simply can’t ‘force’ anyone to love you.

Remember this; You ARE a child of God. According to God you have a ‘right’ to be here.

Here is a brief ‘test’ to consider if you are a maturing child of God.

Evaluate the evidence, daily, of God’s working in your life that has changed you and continues to make you a better person and a more caring soul.

Akin to Jesus’ parable regarding the Prodigal Son, I grew up in a family that really could have and sincerely should have functioned better. Let’s just say there was room for growth and more healthy realities. Just like you, I have made choices along the way to strive to be a maturing child of God. While realizing I am less than the Biblical mark of perfection, evidence stands that God has had and continues to have his hand upon me. For you see, just like you, God has worked to bring change to one soul’s life.

God has promised us this; “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you…” Psalm 32:8

Perhaps like the Prodigal we’ve all wondered off the path a time or two and perhaps have even wasted some resource, some love, we now know we should not have. Remember, like the father in today’s narrative, God still welcomes you home with open arms.

Possibly we’ve also needed to point out injustices from time to time, how life has been unfair, akin to that of the older son in today’s Biblical narrative. God will bring justice in due time. Answers shall come. The wrongs will grow to be righted. In the meantime, make room for the words and actions of love to assist and mend.

Being someone’s ‘dad’ or authority figure is no small task. Like the father in today’s story we must choose to become mature enough to reflect the care, love and forgiveness of God that reconciles, heals and brings peace to many.

As you reflect, I am sure you will see evidence, sincere evidence, of God growing you to be a maturing child of God. Amen.


Handling Discouragement 1/31/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 30, 2021 & Sunday, January 31, 2021

Prayer For Illumination: Calm us now, O Lord, into a quietness that heals and listens. Open wounded hearts to the balm of your Word. Speak to us in clear tones so that we might feel our spirits leap for joy and skip with hope as your resurrection witnesses. Amen.

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 40:28-31 (page 720) & Mark 1:21-28 (page 1002)

Sermon Message:  “Handling Discouragement”

The Bible bears witness to the fact that many souls dealt with discouragement. The fellow in today’s scripture lesson; the Gospel of Mark 1:21-28, a man possessed by an evil spirit, was so discouraged that he could not see that Jesus wanted to help him, even heal him, of his demons. Jesus told the man to be quiet and then ordered the evil spirit to come out of him. IF WE could just quiet the demons that bring discouragement to our lives that would be a marvelous way of handling things.

Sometimes ‘life’ is discouraging. At times we are discouraged with others. We’ve even experienced being discouraged with ourselves.

The month of January is nearly over. By now the best intents of New Year’s resolutions are far less thrilling and most likely a lot more challenging or possibly have become passive attempts on our parts.

Everyone deals with some form, some degree, of discouragement from time to time. Some, more than others. I think we all have found that nothing seems to take the life out of you more than discouragement. A discouraged spirit is a powerless spirit. It really is an awful feeling. It can feel as though the wind has been knocked out of your soul.

Our economy is changing. Suffering in some respects. Perhaps you also have met those poor souls who previously ‘had it made’, you know, a secure job, decent wage, and some good benefits. The business closed, or the lay offs came, possibly even compromised health was a contributing factor. Sometimes those souls will share their story of how well they ‘had’ been doing but now take on numerous jobs just to make ends meet. These same folks get so discouraged they sometimes cry themselves to sleep, wondering how much longer they can do it? There is discouragement.

A fellow approached me stating he and his wife were happily married for twenty years, or so he thought. He came home one day, and she was gone. There was a note on the kitchen table that read, “I don’t want to be married to you anymore.” It took his breath away. He can’t wrap his mind around it. The guy hasn’t slept in weeks. There is discouragement.

A little girl said she loved where they used to live. She had lots of friends and a great school. Daddy needed to find a job elsewhere. So they moved, far away. Different school, different neighborhood. Different culture. The kids made fun of her accent at school. She can’t find anyone to sit with her and eat lunch. So, she eats her lunch alone, hiding her tears as people walk by. There is discouragement.

Discouragement is an awful thing. It’s like someone or something pulls the rug right out from under you leaving you with nothing to hold onto. Confidence becomes shattered. That sense of well-being you once had is a distant memory. Motivation evaporates. Have you ever felt that way? Do you remember how you ‘got over it?’

Some just don’t.  A traumatizing event occurs, discouragement sets in and they’re never the same. Every day becomes a discouragement to them. They can’t get past it! Daily circumstances reaffirm they are a victim. Most relationships further remind them, they are a victim. Conflict affirms they are a victim. Do you know anybody like that? Discouragement is a strong force.

We’ve all been discouraged to some degree. We all know how debilitating it can become. I’ve always wondered why some folks seem to be able to ‘bounce back’ better than others? As a pastor, I know of some folks who have passed through unspeakable things several times in their lives and yet they just keep on going…never ‘missing a beat.’ I also know others who experience one small set back in life and end up living the rest of their lives in darkness.

What makes the difference in how we handle discouragement? Is it genetics? Upbringing? Culture? Mental attitude? Religion? Perhaps a ‘change’ in lifestyle? Maybe that’s it; change.

Isaiah was a prophet of God who not only saw change, he also had a spiritual wisdom to see who and what needed to change. I believe Isaiah can teach us something essential for handling discouragement. Reflect again on his words: 

 “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.”

Now you’re talking! That’s what we need- to run and not become weary, to walk and not faint! To soar like an eagle. I’ve seen eagles fly. They’re magnificent sights! They spread their huge wings, exert very little effort and the wind just carries them along higher and higher as they go! Wouldn’t it be great to live life that way? Strength, insight, and confidence with very little required effort.

The eagle is known for its strength and elegance. Isaiah combines the power of the eagle with a key insight into the power for living. Isaiah shares an eternal truth with us. This eternal truth provides an assured awareness of ‘how to handle discouragement’.…Yet this spiritual wisdom and insight remains so simple and obvious most folks trip right over it. Our unwillingness to accept this truth causes so much suffering and inability to handle discouragement. That eternal truth is this; Anyone who seeks to live by their own power will eventually break down. Isaiah put it this way; “Even youths will grow tired and weary and young men will stumble and fall.” Consider and respond to this strong insight; no matter how young you are, how self-sufficient you may be, or how independent you may feel, at any age, if you try to live life on your own power, you WILL break down. You WILL fail. You Will eventually give out. Living life on your own and by means of your own power will lead a soul into discouragement over and over again.

Do you ‘get’ what the Bible is saying, God is proclaiming and Isaiah is teaching? While we may desire to fly like an eagle we are reminded of what happens when we try to live by our own power we will grow tired and become weary. I think we ‘get’ what the Bible is saying. I think we also ‘get’ that no one wants to be told they cannot stand ‘on their own two feet!’ We don’t like being told we can’t handle life on our own. We don’t want to affirm that we are vulnerable… In life lived so far, we have been vulnerable. It’s challenging to realize we are quite vulnerable with what we are needing to handle today. Most just don’t want to hear about handling discouragements into the future. Some say avoid the subject and perhaps it will go away. Say your prayers and possibly all future discouragements will be avoided. But don’t we know, ‘life’ doesn’t work that way. Not our life on our own nor even our life with God. We all recall times in our lives when we felt ‘like a rock!’ When nothing much ‘got to us.’ We didn’t NEED anyone. Leastwise, that’s what we thought. We want to think we shall be able to handle discouragement if we just ‘buckle up,’ ‘put our minds to it,’ and ‘go it alone.’  We want to be strong. Yet God’s eternal truth remains…Anyone who strives to live by their own power will eventually break down. The prophet Isaiah informs us; “Even youths will grow tired and weary and young men will stumble and fall.”  Isaiah, an insightful and wise prophet of God reflects upon that which God has shown him…Isaiah tells us that God gives power not to those who think they are strong, not to those who think they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, get ‘through this alone,’ not to those who are proud of their fragile self-sufficiency. Isaiah says God gives power to those who are weak, the vulnerable, the open, the powerless, the willing, those who are yielding to him.        

Our worst problems and our greatest endeavors fail when we try to overcome by sheer will power. Recall all of those diet attempts. Remember the discouraging results of one’s strong-willed nature.

Isaiah directs us to hope in the Lord or ‘wait for the Lord.’ Some call this ‘faith.’ Please know, ‘faith’ is not a means to an end. It is a way of life. Faith is not crossing our fingers to God and hoping that things just turn out the way we want. Handling discouragement in its many forms occurs best when we stop rushing ahead of God and running from others who can help sustain us, guide us, rescue, and love us through it… Sometimes when we read and study verses in the Bible perhaps one key word sticks out! In verse 31 of today’s scripture lesson that key word is ‘renew.’ “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”  Within this portion of the Bible, written originally in Hebrew, the word ‘renew’ literally means ‘exchange.’ To exchange one thing for another. To hand God one thing and receive something else from him, to let go of one thing and receive something different, perhaps more helpful and insightful then we thought of on our won. According to Isaiah, God’s strength comes only when we do this ‘renewing’ this ‘exchanging’ of something from us, within us, a part of us, for something new, different, and special from God.….

When you or I are handling discouragement what in the world do you think we would have to give up in order to gain God’s strength? Can’t we just get God’s strength? Would you believe there are obstacles in our lives that hinder our ability to receive God’s strength? Would you believe there are things that clutter up our souls so much that there is no room for God’s strength? For some it is pride. For others it is control. Still, for some, it is a sinful habit which diminishes them but they can’t seem to let it go.

Some of the ‘basics’ for handling discouragement include ‘taking it to the Lord in prayer, “Don’t worry about anything but pray about everything.” Let go and let God. Ask, seek, and find. Have faith but also reach out and receive others who can assist. Depend upon others. Depend upon God. Remember to become more like Isaiah and strive to ‘see’ the bigger picture. Remember there are ‘demons’ out there and ‘demons’ within. Commit your discouragements to the Lord through faith, abiding and trusting faith.

Remember this, you are not alone. God is the wind beneath your wings. Amen.



Pressing Perceptions 1/23/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 23, 2021 & Sunday, 24, 2021

Prayer For Illumination: Prepare our hearts, O God, to accept your Word. Silence in us any voices but your own, so that we may hear your Word and also do it; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Scripture Lesson:  Jonah 3: 1-5, 10 (Page 926)

Sermon Message: ‘Pressing Perceptions’

Perceptions change over time. For instance, if you’ve ever gone back to your childhood home, things undoubtedly look ‘different!’ The physical world we remembered does not now seem quite so large and perhaps overbearing. Actually, lots of things change our perceptions during our lifetimes. Where we live, how we interact with one another, our health, our level of income even our degree of education. Quite importantly, our ‘beliefs’ change our perceptions.

Today we read of a prophet from God who believed that God had sent him to warn the Assyrian people of their need to change. There is more to be shared regarding Jonah. But first, let’s ponder some of the spiritual perceptions taking place back in the time Jonah lived, around the 8th century BC.

Prior to the prophet, Jonah, God had called Moses to lead the people of God; Israel, out of slavery, in Egypt, and into the Promised Land of Canaan. You may recall the Sinai covenant these rescued people had with God. This covenant is more commonly known as the Ten Commandments.

Time and time again the people of God would ‘drift away’ from their perceptions regarding the 10 Commandments. Perceptions of those 10 commandments would become watered down, minimalized, explained away, ignored and sometimes blatantly disobeyed. In turn this led to severe unrest and hurting behaviors among the people. Things would get ‘bad’ as they sometimes do. When things first ‘get bad’ there is unrest, rivalry and conflict that eventually grows over time. In the history of the Bible and in the history of the world, sometimes things become so ‘pressing’ that intervention is warranted.

During our lifetimes we have experienced the goodness associated with living our lives in accordance with the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus Christ. We have also experienced times in our world’s history and in our own lives, when enmity has been so severe intervention has been required. Some of our ancestors survived the Great Depression or times of war. Our nation has a history of contentiousness, demonstrations, and quickness to ascertain that one group is superior or sees things ‘better’ than another.

Religion, in general, is supposed to help unite people’s beliefs in their higher power. The Christian religion has long been a full measure of secure beliefs and foundational truths. Don’t we know though, not all followers of God share the same perceptions?

Back in Jonah’s time varying perceptions became so oppositional that divine intervention was being called for.

The Book of Jonah is one of 66 books which compose the Bible. The Bible is full of indicatives, stories, and narratives. It is also a book of imperatives; commands to repent and to follow and change behaviors. The prophet, Jonah, was called by God to go to Nineveh and command the Assyrian nation to repent. Throughout spiritual history the ‘call’ to repent due to extreme hurt, sin and wrong in the world AND the petitioning for Divine intervention, came to be known as the “day of the Lord.”

Spiritually speaking, the “day of the Lord” is a day of reckoning. Prophets are sometimes sent by God to warn people of this impending “Day of the Lord.”

The prophet, Jonah, didn’t want to go where God called him to go. Perhaps you recall Jonah’s story. At first Jonah ran away from the Lord when he experienced God’s call and directive to go and preach to the people in the great city of Nineveh. He ran to a seaport where he bought a ticket for a ship going to a different port altogether. However, while at sea the Biblical account informs us that God sent a great wind and a violent storm culminating in Jonah being tossed overboard and being swallowed up by a whale. While Jonah was in the belly of the fish he prayed to the Lord. The Lord answered his prayers, the fish expelled Jonah from its’ mouth, and he landed on dry ground.

A second time the word of the Lord came to Jonah and this time his perceptions were different, perhaps more ‘pressing!’

Sometimes our perceptions also become more ‘pressing’ when we’ve been through something great and perhaps tragic. The ‘day of the Lord’ may come upon us at any time and during any season.

There are some further lessons to be learned from Jonah and some spiritual insights to be gained.

Jonah was by most accounts a good man. He was close to God. So close that God called him to go to the city of Nineveh and warn the Assyrian people that unless they change and repent of their wickedness, they would face destruction. God knew Jonah and Jonah knew God. Jonah was less than perfect, as are we in some respects. Truth is Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh and inquire of the Assyrian people to repent not because he feared their destruction. Nor was Jonah fearful of going. He knew and well understood how merciful God really was and Jonah did not want the Assyrian people to be blessed by God’s mercy. Jonah saw them all as being a ‘hopeless case’ and thought they should ‘get what’s coming to them!’ Jonah wanted to keep his closeness to God to himself. He simply did not want to share God with ‘those people!’

Sometimes our most ‘pressing perceptions’ need to be addressed by God. Jonah did not have a ‘corner on the market’ so to speak with God. Surely there are people in our lives, effecting our world, that we would much rather not deal with. Worst still would be our seeking to ‘hold back’ God’s care and message to them as Jonah first endeavored to do.

Our newly elected president has inquired of us to work towards unity. The theme of unity is not something new to this or any other president nor ruler. Unity is a Biblical calling and a spiritual reality.

The Bible is clear; “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” -Psalm 133:1

‘Unity’ is more, so much more than saying or affirming; “I like you. I will tolerate you, or I will at least TRY to get along with you.” Unity, from the Bible, starts with confronting our pressing perceptions that we somehow ‘know God best.” Or the perception that we may THINK God loves us more.

Turn towards the heart of God and perceive. It is not God’s desire to destroy the Assyrians in Jonah’s time nor any people nor groupings of people in our time. Rather, it remains God’s will and design to bring people, all people, and all nations of the world into a larger family of peoples who are returning to their Creator in worship and submission and the recovery of full human joy.

Yes, God still intervenes in life, our lives and in the life of the world. This Biblical theme of ‘the day of the Lord’ is hoped by some to be a time whereby ‘all Hell breaks loose’ and sets things straight…The “day of the Lord” is no less than re-creation itself. Sure, it might take direct intervention of God into human history to bring it about. But when it happens things will be set right. All things. Everything.  God may call upon any of us to help His ‘cause.’ We love the Lord, and the Lord loves us. Yet, we must remember, we do not hold a ‘corner on the market’ so to speak of knowing and loving the Lord. Along with God calling others into repentance, even entire nations, God shall gain our attention as well as He calls each of us into repentance.

Some of our pressing perceptions now need to change. Life, recent life has well taught us that. The world and each of us are still learning how our most pressing perceptions need to change. We have been stricken down by a virus that continues to scare us, overwhelm us, convict us, even humble us. Our previous perceptions regarding ‘who’ is our neighbor, around the world or around the corner are constantly changing, for the better. Our nation’s political environment has changed and today we are being afforded a further opportunity to change, to repent from our past and pray for Divine guidance into our future with our Creator is now before us.

Spirituality teaches us, from a Biblical perspective re-creation begins with repentance. When repentance comes it can be a devastating thing.

For many years a consumer mentality has gripped our society.  It’s kind of like we’ve been drugged into believing that we are okay on our own, that we have all the means and resources necessary to see us through any ‘jam’ in life’s river. However, in a culture guided by consumption we’re not really going anywhere. We have been led to instead believe we do not need to repent. Leastwise according to modern psychology, but only to obtain. We have been led to believe in our society that we do not need to change our ways, only our strategies. Our pressing perception had been that we do not need some outside power to help us, only to encourage us. For far too long we’ve allowed ourselves to believe in ourselves mainly and adhere to the pressing perception that we are okay on our own. Thank you!

It’s not that our faith has failed us but that we have somehow failed our faith. Our pressing perceptions had been to escape religion and anything at all that might require something more of ‘our’ precious time and further commitment.

As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu put it “the longest journey begins with the first step.” We’ve known for the better part of a year that we need to heal our world, not just our land, from the devastations associated with this COVID-19 pandemic. Deep inside we’ve always known that some of our most pressing perceptions, as incorrect as they may have been and possibly still are, needed addressed then changed.

Clearly the Bible affirms Jesus Christ came to the Jews and the Gentiles, meaning to ALL people. Jonah was guided, somewhat, by his pressing perceptions that he did not want God to be merciful to those Assyrians, just in case they did repent. Jonah was guilty of a do-it-yourself religion. Grace has no place in the self-satisfaction of a do-it-yourself religion. Jesus himself said he did not come to gather the so-called righteous. That is the ones who are satisfied with who they are and where they are at. Jesus did instead say he came to call sinners to repentance.

Repentance leads to re-creation of a soul, a life, a family, a nation, even a world. A re-created life is a healed life.

Maybe you are not guilty of the worst of sins. Jonah was called by God a second time. God’s making use of us is some of the best evidence of his being at peace with us.

May our most pressing perceptions become our prayer that God can and will use us, perhaps even address us, or at least change us, as needed to cause light, God’s light to shine in dark regions.

God perceives us and yet he understands. Amen.



The Rock of My Salvation 1/17/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 16, 2021 and Sunday, January 17, 2021

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, as we turn to your Word for us, may the Spirit of God rest upon us. Help us to be steadfast in our hearing, in our speaking, in our believing, and in our living. Amen

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 71:1-8 (Page 577) & Romans 8:18, 22, 26-28 (Page 1133)

Sermon Message: The Rock of My Salvation”

  They tell me the older you get the more ‘reflective’ you become…Leastwise that’s how ‘they’ say it’s supposed to be. That way of thinking rings true throughout the Bible. David wrote psalm 71 in his ‘older’ years. Wisdom comes with age. Spiritual wisdom comes at any age. While we may not like to hear it, our struggles can serve to produce spiritual wisdom within.

  The Apostle Paul struggled greatly in his life. He struggled in his faith and he further struggled with how he could better relate to, even help, others. In his declining years Paul writes to the people of the church in Rome with what may be termed ‘summary insights.’ After years of struggle and multiple hardships plus persecutions abounding, Paul summarizes and shares his insightful spiritual wisdom. He inquires of his readers to “consider their sufferings, for they are not worth comparing to the glory to be revealed to us.” He shares with us his maturing awareness that all of creation has been groaning to understand, to relate and to adapt. Paul then directs us to know and reference the Holy Spirit in our lives, especially so, in our weakness.

  David and Paul share something in common. Both communicate a confident faith. In our world right now, ‘confident faith’ seems to be in short supply.

  Some fearful realities are taking place right now associated with this worldwide pandemic. Fear of contacting the virus. Fear of passing on the virus. Fear that far too many are not taking serious the virus. Fear of not only contagiousness but also of possible suffering, limited understanding and too many unprecedented deaths. Is the vaccine safe? Will it prove effective? Are there short term or long-term side effects? Will enough people receive it to promote ‘herd immunity?’ What might happen to us if we don’t take the vaccine? How long will we be required to wear masks and limit our activities? Can we count on a return to ‘normal? What might the ‘new normal’ look like? Do lots of folks get ‘better?’ What is the length of your immunity after experiencing Covid-19?

  Such questioning can erode away at confidence. Even one’s spiritual confidence. We need a ‘word from God.’ Surely we can benefit from sincere quality spiritual insight.

 I find it confusing, at times, to listen to both ‘sides’ of the political atmosphere in our land. For I can see good and bad in both ‘sides.’ Like so many I am saddened by such severe political unrest that has evolved into police and military intervention. Even today, God’s Sabbath, is threatened with demonstrations that could possibly lead to more deaths, further hurt and deeply felt divisions. Fear rules our land and crushes our spirit. Faith must answer problems we never felt would need addressed.

  Within Psalm 71 David makes no apology for taking refuge in God. He writes; “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame.” Not only did David struggle inside of himself, spiritually so, he was further being challenged by family, close friends his dear constituents as well as his enemies. David is here declaring, “I am not ashamed of my faith. I am not ashamed of my reliance upon God. I make no argument and take no offence at those who challenge my sincere dependence upon God.”

  We may not be kings or rulers but we do have grave concerns that are affecting our families, friends, church, our nation, our world and us. Depend upon God. Do not be ashamed of your spirit crying out to God amidst all of the trials and grave concerns you feel. Don’t be ashamed of your faith nor of your dependence, your reliance upon God. Notice, take quality notice, in today’s scriptures of what David did when he was overwhelmed, confused and fearful; He prayed. His prayer begins with this affirmation of faith; “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame…”Then David shows us something else… He references the righteousness of God to rescue and deliver him. GOD is the standard for righteousness. The foundation for truth and divine help in the most challenging of times. David prays for God to be his Rock.

  Throughout human history ‘rocks’ have proven to be among the most lasting elements commonly perceived. In Israel there remains a huge rock formation known as Massada. Some of the ancient Israelites lived on the top of this rock formation within a strong fortress they had constructed. Here in the United States I learn of a large rock formation in Yosemite National Park known as El Capitan. This huge granite monolith is about 3000 feet from base to summit and remains a popular objective for rock climbers.

  Our forefathers and foremothers surely must have felt a kinship to the Rock of our Salvation when they constructed this huge stone faced church in the late 1920’s. On a personal note, I was honored to have driven a skid steer machine on the front sidewalk of our church, many years ago, carrying a large slab of granite that literally hundreds have sat on to ponder, pray, meditate and relax. Hopefully, that granite bench shall remain for many more years to come. On the Fifth Avenue entrance to our beloved church there rests a large triangular shaped piece of granite depicting Christ in prayer. On the corner of Fifth and Broadway, the bulletin board used to advertise our church activities is also constructed of hewn quarry stone that shall outlast our lifetimes.

  ‘Rocks’ symbolize things that are ‘lasting,’ ‘secure,’ and reliable. Thus, when the Bible speaks of God as being the “Rock of our Salvation” or the ‘Rock of our Refuge” this is a direct reference to ultimate security, reliability, and foundational truth.

  David ‘prays’ to the Rock of his refuge, his rock and fortress, the one to which he can always go…Hear his prayer; “Deliver me…” Concise words yet meaningful and heart felt words… “Deliver me.” I ask you to turn now to God, call upon our ‘Rock,” our fortress to deliver us not only from evil, in general, but specifically from the contentiousness and fears associated with these days we now live in. Pray, as did David to further be delivered from the hand of the wicked and the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.

  Then combine this prayer with your history of trust in God. David affirms his faith; “For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.”

  Faith has a history. Count upon your history of faith with God, in God and through God. Therein you shall discover or perhaps rediscover the strength and reliability of God our Rock and Jesus Christ our Savior.

  David’s spiritual yet factual reminder; we have relied upon God since birth. It was God who brought us forth from our mother’s womb. Prior even to our awareness we have a strong and confident history of faith with God and through God.

  Further follow David’s example, his prayer and affirmation of faith…Praise God. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him for His guidance, forgiveness, past provisions, and history of love.

 May your life with God, especially now, become a sign to many. An example that others can and will follow. It’s what you do when God is present in your life…

  You are a child of God through the best of times and throughout the worst of times. You remain a child of God all day long. Become a ‘rock’ for others in your life that well illustrates God.

  The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit writes; “In life and in death we belong to God.” –Romans 14:8. As an affirmation of faith Paul declares, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

  Better days ARE coming. We WILL get through this. Every part of life and even our ultimate earthly death we will get through. These are days of what the Bible references as “present sufferings.”

  Since the beginning of creation, since the time of our creation, there has been groaning, sometimes even as severely as in the pains of childbirth. As the Bible declares, “right up to this present time.”

  Have you ever felt so badly that you just didn’t know ‘what’ to pray, or ‘how’ to pray? Those times happen in every soul’s life. Some of those times are happening right now.

 When I preach and further teach you to turn to the Rock of your Salvation, this is not ONLY a call to faith and reliance upon God. This is also a turning to God in trust that you will be prayed for, not only through the prayers of others and your very own prayers. The Spirit is right now praying for, you and me, the Bible assures us. This is especially true when we are in the midst of our weakness.

 The Holy Spirit IS praying for us even when we don’t know ‘what’ to pray or ‘how’ to pray. The Lord searches our hearts, knows our souls and experiences with us our concerns, sufferings and even confusions. Trust these next scriptures; “The Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

  There will be further infections, sufferings and in some cases deaths associated with Covid-19. This affliction in our world is not over yet. We need to do our parts with daily prayer, care, and following well spelled out guidelines for prevention, treatment and future addressing of this virus.

  This week will be long remembered in our nations’ history. Even today there may be rioting, protesting, but also affirmations and possibly blessings. Before this week is over in human history leadership in our nation will transition. Yet there may well be suffering, contention, confusion even further lives lost.

   Pray this scripture; “for we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” –Romans 8:28

  When life hurts and fear or confusion abounds do as our ancestors did. Turn to the Rock of our Salvation.

  God is our refuge and strength a very present help in times of trouble. Amen.



Lasting Covenants 1/10/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 9, 2021 & Sunday, January 10, 2021

Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, create in us a new openness to hearing, receiving and living Your Word, through Jesus Christ our Savior we ask and pray.  Amen.

Scripture Lessons:  Exodus 20: 1-17 (Page 75) & Matthew 19:16-26 (Page 986)

Sermon Message: “Lasting Covenants”

  Covenants are very important. They are the basis for creating integrity, truth, accountability, and faith in God, in us and with each other.

  Covenants may be of a spiritual nature and found within the Bible. Covenants are also something we understand intrinsically so.

  For instance we all intrinsically know that we have a covenant with someone else that we shall always be somebody’s child.

 You and I have parents. They may be living or dead. Close at heart or seemingly quite far away. Yet we shall always know someone helped God to co-create us. In essence, we belong.

  ‘Belonging’ is part of everyone’s covenant and communion with God and others…

  Another ‘intrinsic’ part of our covenants and us is our love. Each and every one of us chooses each and every day to love. Some are much better at love then others. The point is, we all love. Love is a covenant we make with another. We choose how we love, whom we love and quite importantly, what we expect from others in how they love us.

  Love is a part, an intrinsic and vital part of covenants and communion.

  Covenants remind a lot of us of promises. We all know how that goes! Promises made, promises broken. Far too many promises, like far too many covenants are made out of convenience or with temporary commitment behind them.

  I firmly believe the human soul longs for lasting covenants. The Bible declares, “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” -Ecclesiastes 3:11.

 Just like the man in today’s scripture lesson we continue to ask; “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

   We long for what is lasting both in this world and beyond. ‘Belonging’ that is lasting is quite fulfilling. Love that is lasting is ultimate fulfillment.

  Most, if not many, reach a similar point to that of the ‘rich’ described in today’s scripture lesson. We estimate ourselves as being ‘good’ and ‘doing good’ because WE don’t murder anyone. WE are not committing adultery. WE don’t steal. WE don’t lie; give false testimony (gossip) about others. WE have honored our father and our mother and have done our level best to love our neighbor as ourselves.

  But then Jesus speaks to us too, challenging us, informing us, even instructing us, that there is more, perhaps lots more involved in both our covenants as well as our communion. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Who wants to hear that?

 Or Jesus’ further inquiry; “Come and follow me.” ‘Follow’ means more, so much more than simply saying ‘I believe in Jesus Christ.’

  For as long as people have existed and far longer than our existence, people compromise what they believe in, how they keep their commitments and covenants. Our common philosophy for living seems to be the phrase, “Nothing lasts forever.” Yet God affirms, some things do! It is recorded in God’s Word; “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” -2 Corinthians 6:16.

   Have you ever taken notice of ‘how’ the Ten Commandments start out in the Bible? In the Book of Exodus, Chapter 20 they begin with these words; “I am the Lord your God, who brought you OUT OF Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

  I’ve never been to Egypt. Came close once back in the mid 1980’s when I journeyed to Israel. So God hasn’t brought me out of Egypt. But it surely can be said of you and I that God has brought us out of slavery (to sin). Sin exiles us from God and the Promised Land God has created for us to live in. As God spoke to the ancients the Almighty continues to speak to us; “I am the Lord your God.”

   Yes indeed, we do belong to God. ‘Belonging’ is part of covenants and communion.

 Another strong covenant and communion God has with us, a very ‘lasting covenant’ is this; “God so LOVED us that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16.

  Love is quite fulfilling. Love is foundational to Covenants and Communion.

  Consider some of God’s further teachings on covenants and perhaps even ponder ‘why’ the Almighty has given us these covenants…

  “You shall have no other gods before me.” I was given an awareness of this ‘word of God’ at differing times in my life. When I was just a boy my parents would sometimes admonish me with the words; “I am your mother!” OR “I am your Father!” There was strength behind those words. Strength of ‘belonging’ and strength of love. Eventually we all grow and ‘leave the nest’ so to speak. Yet we never stop ‘belonging.’ We never stop being ‘loved.’ As I made my own way through life, or so I thought, I ‘fell in love.’ I well recall something from the Bible spoken at my wedding… “A three fold cord is not easily broken.” -Ecclesiastes 4:12, The ‘three-fold cord’ may be understood to mean my spouse, the Lord and myself. It can also be understood to mean; faith, hope and love. Either way, this is an expression of a lasting covenant and communion. 

 God reminds us He gave us life. From dust we have come and unto dust we shall return. Therefore, let’s be clear, we belong to God and as such He who created us can and does expect the integrity of obedience to Him and sincere response to His love.

  The first four commandments; “No other gods, no graven images, no misusing of God’s name, remember the Sabbath; keep it holy,…” These spell out our duty to God. The first four commandments are covenants for our communion with God. Covenants are very important. They are the basis for creating integrity, truth, accountability and faith in God, in us and with each other.

  Your money, your body, your intelligence, your looks, your home, where you live, nor even your standard of living is most important. Nothing is your God. You and I belong to God. We are loved by God. There is integrity in knowing this standard. This is unquestionable truth. This holds each and every one of us accountable. Faith is in God and shared, blessed in us and with each other. You belong to God…

  If we cannot ‘keep’ these four commandments as covenants, lasting covenants and live them out as communion between God and us then we surely cannot be expected that we can be true to others if we are false with God…

  God is God and we are not. God is to be worshipped as God, unfathomable, unmanaged by us, never completely understood, sometimes mysterious, always affirmed by faith. Do NOT strive to reduce God to ‘how’ we estimate or imagine Him to be. God remains beyond our imaginations. Our imaginations contribute to our understanding and awareness of God, but certainly do not limit nor dictate God for the world or ourselves.

 Those that keep God’s commandments, affirm their covenants and commune with the Lord will receive grace, blessing, peace and love.

  The commandments are given to us for a reason. Actually for multiple reasons. While we may ‘say’ we know the Ten Commandments and follow the teachings of God, truth is, we all compromise ourselves from time to time. It serves us well to be reminded, to renew our covenants and commune with the Lord. 

  We have a lasting covenant. God promises to bless His people and be their God if they obey. Covenants are the backbone of the storyline of the Bible. The Bible isn’t a random collection of laws, moral principles and stories. It is a story that goes somewhere. It is the story of redemption and God’s kingdom. God promises to forgive sin and give universal knowledge of the Lord.

  Please join me in the honor, the privilege and the integrity of renewing our covenants, lasting covenants with God in Holy Communion….Amen.


Time To Move On 1/3/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday; January 2, 2021 & Sunday; January 3, 2021

Prayer for Illumination- Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.

Scripture Lessons: John 8:1-11 Page 1072, Philippians 3:12-14 Page 1180

Sermon Title:                          ‘Time To Move On’

  The New Year typically signals a time for us to move on. We’ve all needed to ‘move on’ at one time or another in our lives. How do you know when it is time to move on? Is it after you’ve felt something pretty strongly, as in today’s first scripture lesson? OR, is ‘time to move on’ more of a self-determination as it seems to appear in the second scripture lesson where Paul speaks of ‘pressing on toward the goal to win the prize?

  Faith formulates our time to move on. Lots of folks, probably too many folks, equate faith with ‘feeling.’ That’s really not a healthy way to appreciate the working of faith in our lives. In today’s scriptures the woman caught in adultery ‘gave into’ her feelings. Those teachers of the law and Pharisees had their very strong ‘feelings’ about what was right, wrong and their prescribed punishment for sins. The Apostle Paul seems to want to ‘determine’ his feelings as part of his overall goal.

  2021 is a time available for us all to move on. Right now, I am sure there are lots of folks who firmly believe the calendar year changing from 2020 to 2021 will somehow constitute the world being reset. Yet we all know life is a continuum.

 2020 had an abundance of negativity associated with it. Presidential impeachment, a world-wide pandemic, contentious election process and results, severe unemployment, multiple business closures, food insecurities plus associated fears and restrictions for us all. Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today. It’s time to move in faith, to new beginnings. I am not at all saying the problems we lived through in 2020 have somehow gone away. God has a way of providing new beginnings from the past happenings.

  Today’s scriptural account within the Gospel of John points out some possible insights for moving on. A woman is caught in the act, the sin, of adultery. Her accusers are addressed, her actions are condemned then she is forgiven and told to move on from her life of sin. Some very authoritative and righteous people strive to hold her accountable and punish her for her sins. Jesus calls their prejudice and judgment into question when he inquires of them to go and throw the first stone IF they are without sin. Slowly they walk away. That is, they move on.

  ‘Yesterday’ reminds us of our sins and our sufferings. Yesterday calls to question our pride, our judgmentalism and persecution of others. It’s time to move on from these and other sins which consumes us.

  I am sorry there were so many negatives last year. But now it’s time for us to join Jesus in standing up, straightening our backs and looking life in the eyes. Forgive the sin, Jesus Christ does not want you nor I to live a compromised life. The Lord has a plan, you are part of His time and God’s purpose. It’s time to move on.

Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today…

  Sometimes God closes doors because it’s time to MOVE forward. He knows you sometimes won’t move unless your circumstances force you.

    That woman caught in adultery would not have moved on in her life nor would her faith become nurtured, blessed and inspiring unless she was forced to deal with it.

   The teachers of the law and those Pharisees would have simply gone on and on judging, condemning and punishing people unless God closed the door of their ill felt freedom to do so. Jesus Christ did come. He has confronted those who are harmful and hurting in our world too. The Apostle Paul was quite the persecutor of Christians and of Jesus Christ. The ‘door’ God used for closing so much that was wrong in Paul’s life was actually a blinding light and an inspirational voice of accountability mingled with great love.

  While God IS a God of new beginnings please remain keenly aware of this; you can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.

  God has wisdom and provides insight for our lives in 2021. Consider a few key Biblical figures whose lives changed and blossomed as a result of moving on with God.

  Moses was called by God to lead His people; Israel, out of slavery and into the Promised land. Along the way the Lord God Almighty called Moses to the top of the Mountain and there gave to him the Ten Commandments which we reference and follow unto this very day. Yet when called, Moses hesitated moving on declaring that he was slow of speech. God spoke through Moses when it was time to move on.

  David was just a boy with a sling shot. While others made fun of him God called him and used him to bring down the mighty Giant; Goliath. David was just a shepherd boy yet when it was time to move on David submitted to the Lord in his life.

 Young Mary, whose life we recently applauded, was humble and inquired of God’s angel regarding her giving birth to God’s son; “How can this be?” Yet when confronted by her greatest fears and her society’s heaviest judgments, Mary realized it was time to move on.

  Even Jesus Christ spoke to those nearest to him at his resurrection appearance saying; “Do not touch me but go now to the others and tell them I must ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

  Moving on is not always easy nor is it usually convenient. Moving on, as Paul teaches us, is so much more than a feeling. It remains a goal. A spiritual goal we ascertain from abiding spiritual discernment.

    Five key elements of anyone’s spiritual discernment process; 1) Scripture, 2) Prayer, 3) Experience, 4) Tradition, and 5) Reason.

  Whatever the subject or scenario in one’s life consult the Scriptures for guidance. Pray about it. Consider what experience has shown you. Give heed to the traditions we affirm. Put all this together and seek to further reason it through. Following this spiritual discernment process has enabled generations of believers to move on.

  Let me apply this spiritual discernment process to a typical ‘church’ topic; attending worship.

   First, let’s look at the Scriptures. Hebrews 10:25; “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Matthew 18:20; “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”  Acts 2:42; “The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

   Pray about going to church. God is in the business of answering prayers.

   Consider your church experiences. Some are good. Some, perhaps not so good. Along the way I’ve met scores of people who will NOT come to church because of some person, some church or some clergy from the past. Scores of people tell me of a bad experience they once had with God, church or religion. I wish to say to each of those folks I am sorry that happened to you. God sends Jesus to wrap his arms around us, love us, forgive us, prompt us and even bless us. But we just can’t keep on playing that same old broken record over and over again inside of us. It’s time to move on.

  Traditions change. Even within families and entire societies. ‘Going to church’ WAS a former social tradition in our world. Not as much any more. Yet traditions existed for substantial reasons. The ‘tradition’ associated with coming to church remains an open ended invitation. Our beloved church offers two types of worship, a Saturday evening 30 minute casual worship experience plus our Sunday morning traditional worship. A ‘tradition’ becomes such through routine and repetition. I invite and encourage your church attendance to become a welcomed and stable tradition within. Pass it along to your family, neighbors and friends. Church attendance does not hurt but many say it does help.

  God blessed you with the ability to reason. Blend reasoning with your spiritual discernment process. Faith is not reduced to reason but faith with no component of reason is amiss.

 Scripture, prayer, experience, tradition and reason helps us to move on in our relating to God and others beyond just our feelings.

  Living your life as a Christian in 2021 will have its share of blessings but also it’s components of trials and sufferings. A Christian I admire and respect said; “I don’t know why I keep trying. It would be so much easier to give up and live like my neighbors. But I know one bright and shinning morning, I am going to wake up on the other side of eternity and God is going to tell me, “good and faithful servant you have finished the race” and that will mean everything to me.”

  Whether it’s moving on from a past relationship, past disappointments, or past sin, remember God has a plan for you. His plan for you is not in the past it’s in the future. Christians are a new creation through Christ. Your old life is gone. Now it’s time to move forward. Imagine if Noah, Moses, David, Paul, and more never moved on from their past. They would not have gone on to do great things for the Lord.

  Hear again these words of Jesus; “Go now.” Recall the commitment of the Apostle Paul to move on; “One thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Amen.  


Growing Godly 12/27/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020 & Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020


Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, in you are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Open our eyes that we may see the wonders of your Word; and give us grace that we may clearly understand and freely choose the way of your wisdom; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Scripture Lesson: Luke 2:22-40 (Page 1027)

Sermon Message: “Growing Godly”

  Senior citizens; those two! Simeon and Anna are both senior citizens who grew Godly through the years the Lord gave them.

  There is no known record of Simeon’s exact age. All we really have are today’s scriptures that affirm he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

  Anna, the scriptures inform us, was 84 years old.

  Clearly God has a sincere need for seniors in affirming the life of Jesus Christ.

  Simeon and Anna are among the most intriguing and perhaps least mentioned, figures in Luke’s nativity story. They are the only two persons in the Christmas stories who receive Jesus without divine intervention. No angels come to them, they are already in the temple, worshipping God, and alert to the ways God may appear.

  Simeon and Anna remind me a lot of you and of people just like you who are faithful about coming to church. I have the greatest respect for those who come to church on a regular basis. I believe Simeon and Anna found what you and scores of others have found, being in the temple, coming to church regularly helps a soul to grow Godly.

  I do so enjoy our growing Godly together. Simeon and Anna’s lives well illustrate to us that one of the ways we grow Godly together is through regular participation in worship within the temple, God’s beloved church.

  Just a few days ago we shared in divine worship reflecting God’s Christmas. It’s still all right to celebrate, to coast on the glow of the Holy Day. And you’ll be in good company, all of creation, all kinds of people, all kinds of animals, even the weather and the mountains and hills praise the Lord.

  The birth of Jesus Christ was such good news. We received good news, of another sort this month. In the fight against COVID 19 two companies have produced and begun distribution of a vaccine to halt this pandemic virus.

  Prior to the introduction of this COVID 19 virus in our world, traditionally these days following Christmas are anything but energetic and far less enthusiastic. We’ve referred to this last week in December as a sort of ‘let-down.’   Pastors have generally referred to the Sunday following Christmas and Easter as ‘Low Sunday.’

  After nine months of public health measures to help slow the spread of the virus, many Americans are suffering from COVID fatigue. While the number of cases is higher than it was during the first wave of infections, many people are ignoring the urging of public health professionals to continue physical distancing, mask wearing and frequent hand sanitizing. Contrary to the consensus of public health officials, many families gathered over Thanksgiving, giving rise to a “spike on top of a surge” in COVID cases. The story may become even bleaker in the wake of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

  As the vaccines roll out there is heated discussion about who should be vaccinated first. “Front line” workers, especially those who work in health care, are to be the first in line per CDC guidance, followed by residents in skilled nursing and long term care facilities. The death rate from COVID-19 in homes for the elderly has been staggering. It is estimated that while only 1% of the US population lives in long term care, the residents and the staff who work there, account for 6% of COVID-19 cases and 40% of the deaths.” 

  At long last our predominantly youth-oriented culture has transitioned to honoring and caring for the elderly, first, who are so easily victimized by COVID 19. Godly wisdom is not to be associated only with the elderly.

  Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said his greatest fear is that people will not get vaccinated. His words afford a certain wisdom to us all.

  Vice-President Mike Pence led by example when he was vaccinated Friday, December 18. The President meanwhile has been out of the public eye since the electors in the 50 states and the District of Columbia cast their ballots in the presidential election.

  Old people don’t usually get much attention at Christmas time, especially compared to children. In today’s Gospel lesson it is the old people who are at center stage. There is a special joy that seniors express when they recognize that the world can and will continue without them. When I have walked through the congregation with a newly baptized infant, it’s most often the older people who glow the brightest and reach to the little one’s toes with the greatest enthusiasm. Studies indicate that grandparents tend to worry more about their grandchildren’s spiritual lives than their children’s. This may be for the mundane reason that grandparents may not get to take part in the day-to-day activities of raising their grandchildren. There is likely another reason — grandparents have lived long enough to know what is truly important and significant in living a meaningful, fulfilling life. However, our own children may have benefitted from our helping them to grow in Godly wisdom, our beloved grandchildren give us another ‘shot’ at nurturing faith in those we love.

  Simeon and Anna demonstrate a patient faith and wisdom that we hear in Luke’s story they have been amassing for decades, waiting for the fulfillment of God’s plans. Other people of similar age have their own forms of wisdom.

 Seniors teach us with their words, their examples and lifestyle the truest meaning of growing godly.

  Today’s scriptures begin with some directives for growing godly as well.

  Mary and Joseph took their 40-day-old son to the temple for customary purification rites. This was further a prescribed time to consecrate their child to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with the religious customs of the time. In somewhat similar methods for helping our children to grow Godly we bring them to church for worship, we establish, with the pastor, a time for baptism to occur. Later there are opportunities for further Christian education, confirmation, membership and growing to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

  Every generation needs to help the children in our midst to grow Godly. Pastors continue to ask for your help with this spiritual endeavor.

  Scriptures declare; “Train up, start out a child in the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). Quite possibly that’s why you and I are here in church today. Someone started us out in growing Godly and we remain dedicated to the ‘faith.’

  There are some fundamentals we all should know, understand and practice as we endeavor to grow Godly.

  The Ten Commandments. Know where to find them in the Bible; Exodus Chapter 20. Memorize and ‘say’ the Lord’s Prayer daily. A common memory verse for us all is John 3:16; “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

 Grow to know the difference between the Old and New Testament portions of the Bible. Study some portion of scripture daily. Don’t just read scriptures, hear me again as I say, “STUDY” scriptures. Grown to know where to find scriptures for most any subject and occasion.

  Pray daily. Pray WITH and FOR others too…

  Follow the example of Simeon and Anna; be in the church routinely. Be a part. Serve the Lord, experience Jesus Christ. Share the faith.

  Growing Godly is certainly not reserved only to memory verses, rituals and worship attendance. God has a way of growing us that actually transforms us.

  Sometimes folks grow to be quite ‘rigid’ even in the attitude and lifestyle associated with their faith.

  I recall a woman who experienced a sincere transformation in her process of growing Godly. She was a very ‘literal’ soul. A place for everything and everything in its’ place. Life’s experiences and her job as a journalist had hardened her heart. Leastwise, until she grew a bit older. Previously, she had lived her life selfishly. Oh, there were ‘hit and miss’ examples of kindness and good deeds, but certainly not her lifestyle. Perhaps like Simeon and Anna of old we too eventually reach an age of change perhaps because we wake up to the fact that our years on the planet are numbered. We begin to ‘mellow.’ They say God moves in mysterious ways. This woman came upon a colony of stray cats near her home. They were starving, neglected and sick. She had long favored cats so she could not turn away and started to help. That act of caring for God’s neglected animals began to soften her heart. Something inside of her began to ‘see’ things differently. Then, of all things, her granddaughter was born and the transformation was complete. Every movement of that grandchild’s little hand, every verbal utterance, seemed sacred. Growing Godly for her became a spiritual process and direction reminding her that the iron doors of her heart could never again be closed.

  We shall gain Godly Wisdom from this worldwide pandemic. In general, all of us have been humbled to realize we are NOT quite as entitled as we once believed we had a ‘right’ to be.

  Simeon reminds us all of another far-reaching Godly wisdom. Those and those only, can with courage see death, and look it in the face without terror, that have had by faith a sight of Christ.

  Simeon took Christ in his arms and embraced him. Anna spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel.

  Within this portion of Luke’s Nativity story, we have Godly wisdom from the examples of two who nurtured faith all of their lives.

  Simeon embraced the Christ. Anna never stopped talking about this child, this Messiah.

  Where has Godly wisdom lead you? The New Year is now before us. May we approach it in Godly wisdom even as we seek to embrace Jesus and share with others, our most precious faith. Amen.


Making Our Way Home 12/24/2020

Sermon Message for Christmas Eve 2020

Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God - you have made this night holy by the gift of your son, born of the Holy Spirit and of Mary. Upon him rested all your grace, through him has come all your mercy. Let his light shine within our hearts tonight even more brightly than it shines from the candles in this place. Help us to hear your word and to celebrate your everlasting love through him. Amen.      

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 9:2-7 (page 687) &  Luke 2:1-7 (page 1026)

Sermon Message: “Making Our Way Home”

  Our traditional Christmas Eve scriptures point out that Jesus’ first ‘home’ was a manger in a stable reserved for the animals. The scriptures declare that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. His parents returned to their ‘home’ in Nazareth so Jesus grew to be known as “Jesus of Nazareth.’ I’ve wondered through my years of researching and preaching on this portion of Holy Scripture IF someone were to ask Jesus; “Where you from?” he’d most likely have answered; “From Nazareth.”  That’s where Jesus grew up. “Home’, initially so for Jesus, was a stable, a manger in Bethlehem of Judea. “Home’ was not the physical place of his birth. It was where his family was.

   Some say there is a ‘homing instinct’ inside of us all. Within the natural world around us we see that ‘homing’ instinct in birds, in migrating salmon and certain other species. Somehow, Christmas seems to trigger the ‘homing instinct’ more vigorously inside of us. Of all the times and seasons of the year, the Christmas season seems to be the most important time for people to be “home.” Perhaps you recall with me that musical selection of this season; “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”

  The world likes to move “home” at Christmas time. Yet, Jesus wasn’t “home” for that very first Christmas. Isn’t it ironic that a holiday which draws us home had its start with the story of a family far from home? Joseph and Mary were away from their home in Nazareth, on a restless trip to the far south of Palestine. The little Lord Jesus was born in a stable that he would probably never see again in his life. The shepherds left their hillside shacks to make a midnight trek to Bethlehem. The Wise men traveled far from home to bring Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Bethlehem’s boy found “home” to mean being with the people you love.

  “Home” is where we find hope, peace, joy and love. “Home” helps us to feel “in-touch” included, accepted, and appreciated for who we are. Home is a place of safety and security. Our “Home’ is our sanctuary. Like you I’ve known times of feeling ‘alone’ or away from home even in the midst of a crowd. Perhaps a sadness comes over us, a feeling of loneliness, a sense of distance from what’s ‘going on,’ in the world near us.

  In the year 2020 many a soul has experienced a need and desire to make our way “home.” Some media declarations affirm 2020 as the year we decided to stay home. Christmas, this year is widely anticipated by many. For those who cannot get together with family, with friends, and attend social events due to the COVID-19 19 virus, for those afflicted by illness, even death due to COVID-19 19, 2020 has been a disaster. Yet for those who cannot wait for Christmas to come because it affirms the end of 2020 and for hope associated with a vaccine to stop COVID-19 19, Christmas remains a blessing. We need Christmas this year. More importantly we need ‘God’s Christmas!’

  God has a way of helping us to see things differently, better, more hopeful and with a full measure of peace. His kind of peace…

  Long will the world remember 2020. I must tell you one ‘unique’ Christmas gift I am getting. While I sincerely appreciate this Christmas gift, I hope and pray I never ever get another one like it. I am receiving an ornament for my Christmas tree at home. Yes indeed, tomorrow morning I will open this gift and have full disclosure, well in advance of what it is. My new, one and only Christmas tree ornament is made of ceramic. There are two Santa faces on this ornament resting upon the letters 2020. What’s so ‘unique about this particular ornament for this ‘special’ year is this; those two Santa Claus faces have my name and my beloved’s name written on them. Those two Santa Claus’s have a red tassel cap and white beards. Those two Santa Claus faces are covered by….a mask! Those numbers I mentioned underneath the Santa Claus face; 2020; the first number ‘2’ is red, the ‘0’ is green, the second number ‘2’ is red, the second ‘0’ is not really a ‘O’. Rather it is a roll of toilet paper, partially unraveled. At the end of the unravel is a small bottle of ‘push lever’ hand sanitizer…Never seen anything like it. Hoping I never see one again.

  Some say 2020 was a disaster we need to eventually ‘come home’ from. Others see blessings.

  This time last year our Christmas Eve service was well attended. This year, we had to open up our adjoining Chapel to make room for; “Social Distancing.” It’s a blessing to see our Chapel opened once again on Christmas Eve. Last year we had both a chancel choir and a bell choir. There has been no chancel choir in this church since last March or early April due to our need for proper social distancing. Tonight, we appreciate the ringing of the bells and musical selections from a deeper set of values inside us all.

  Last year we came to church, sang Silent Night by Candlelight, and put everything away for another year. When we dug out the candles for tonight’s Christmas Eve service we did so with hope, anticipation, and thanksgiving unto God. Last year I was fully honored to preach the Christmas Eve message, publish a few copies of my manuscript and rest assured I had done my best. Since early April, each and every week, including tonight’s Christmas Eve worship service, the weekly sermon is preached, video-taped, sent out by US mail, via email, through You Tube and hand delivered, allowing God’s message to reach more people than ever before. I for one am so very grateful for that.

  I like ‘coming home’ to God. They say, “Home is where the heart is.” Our faith ‘home’ has well carried us through the dire challenges of 2020. Tonight, it just feels ‘right’ to make our way ‘home’ to God’s church, to the Holy Family, to the trust we invest in God’s provisions and future answers to our most enormous questions, fears, and doubts.

  2020 has been described by some as a year of darkness. Hear afresh tonight’s scriptures; “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. God has enlarged the nation and increased our joy.” (Isaiah 9:2,3)

  The Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke could be viewed from one angle as a disaster but from another angle it seems to be a blessing. Imagine with me tonight, what it might have been like for Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary starting out on an eighty-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. What a difficult trip it must have been. Every step was another movement AWAY from ‘home’ in Nazareth. Once they arrive in Bethlehem there is seemingly no place to call ‘home’ at the local inns. So, they do their best to make ‘home’ a stall with the animals out back. Surely, Mary must have yearned to be back ‘home’ with her family for the delivery. Even her surroundings were now quite unfamiliar. There they were, Mary and Joseph far from home, alone, not knowing a single person and their precious little son, this child whom the angel Gabriel assured Mary would rule his kingdom in such a manner that it would never ever end, her precious longed-for child was born in less than hygienic and comfortable surroundings….Oh, by the way, they did have some ‘visitors’. Cattle, oxen, and a few rough looking smelly shepherds came down from the hillside. No dignitaries. No parents, relatives, or dear family friends. No mid wife nor familiar physician.

  Consider more deeply some ‘good news’ associated with this far away from home birth…To this day it symbolizes and speaks to us that God shares His good news, ‘speaks’ His good news, ‘calls’ His good news in a special way to the poor, despised, and outcasts of society, even to lowly shepherds tending their sheep on lonely hilltops.

  You were not alone either during 2020 when the familiar, the normal, all that we had previously known as ‘home’ was called into question, compromised, and sometimes even feared.

  Now we are making our way home. Part of our job, our Christian responsibility in doing so, is to learn from Joseph and Mary’s example, trust those prophetic words of Holy Scripture from the Book of Isaiah and allow God Almighty to lead us.

  The world was humbled when Jesus Christ was born. I do declare, this COVID-19___0 19 disaster, this world-wide pandemic has further humbled us all. For many, if not most ‘home’ just might be considered a return to normal… leastwise what we felt ‘normal’ was.

  Like Mary and Joseph of old, even when we return to some semblance of ‘home’ it shall be different. We are now forever changed.

  Viewing people from masks has made a mark on us. Those of us who wear glasses have grown in that lousy awareness that they ‘steam up’ when you breathe through your mask. Oh, but now we no longer just ‘assume’ who we see each day. Not our families, friends, health care workers nor even strangers among us. We have grown to be aware in a more appreciative way.

  Out of necessity we value life more and appreciate ‘getting through’ ill health, especially that attributable to COVID-19.

  God has well shown us through the years that ‘appreciation’ is an attribute, a necessity for making our way home. There is now a new and fresher ‘light’ shining in the world’s darkness. Even beyond our own darkness.

  At first it felt like such a disaster when we could no longer do ‘what we wanted to’ nor ‘when we wanted to’ nor ‘with who we wanted to,’ for COVID-19 19 required shutdowns, restrictions and scores of protective measures. Now we live in a world that is far less ‘entitled’ and far more humbling.

  This Christmas:  God’s Christmas is about making our way home. Go home tonight and be close to those you love. Sleep in humble, heavenly peace. Trust now, with hope, that God will see us through. Know that your life will never be the same, but it can become better, more Godly, far more loving.

   God alone has a way of making disasters blessings. Joseph and Mary did not understand that at first, but they grew into it as they made their way back home. So, will you. So, shall I.

  God’s Holy Word teaches us on this Holy Night that our true home is with Him in heaven. Many a good soul we have known and loved are right now with God experiencing the best Christmas ever. Sometimes you sort of get a ‘feel’ for that home of ours in heaven when you pause, light a candle, and sing Silent Night. God comes to us tonight asking for the gift of our hearts. Guiding us by His Holy light to be, to further become a ‘home’ for those others who are making their way home.

  With the angels let us sing…Amen


Heaven Is Calling 12/20/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, December 19, 2020 & Sunday, December 20, 2020

Prayer For Illumination: O Lord, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, and strength to follow on the path you set before us; through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Scripture Lessons:  Luke 1:26-38 (Page 1025) & 1 John 4:7-12 (Page 1230)

Sermon Message: “Heaven is Calling”

It’s nearly Christmas!  Don’t you just love this time of year?  Songs of angels and stories about heaven coming down to earth.  Children, grandchildren, and lots of adults gaining in excitement and wondrous anticipation of Christmas.  Our gifts reflect our love and our welcoming of Jesus Christ in our lives, our homes, and His church.

Love comes down from heaven.  God sent his angel, Gabriel, from heaven, to call upon a young Jewish girl by the name of Mary.  I’m not sure if you are interested in the meaning of people’s names or not.  The ancients placed importance upon the naming of their children knowing their ‘name’ represented their dreams, hopes, and perhaps inspired awareness for their children’s lives.

The name ‘Mary’ signifies exalted. Recall from our religious education that Mary was a humble young woman. ‘Life’, back then, caused folks to remain humble.  People were keenly aware that life was brief, all sorts of illnesses and horrific diseases, such as leprosy, could easily afflict anybody.  Death was a common visitor.  Mary was also likely aware of folks who exalt themselves; filled with pride and self-centeredness.  Religion was strongly about appearances instead of an indication of sincere faith and heart-felt actions.  Many looked at their ‘lot in life’ and appealed to their government, their religion, their leaders for more provision as well as further protection. Far too few looked beyond ‘self’ to the ‘greater picture’ the larger ‘view’ and ‘calling from heaven’ to see, hear, listen for the wisdom, the greater vision and awareness of the will of God and the Almighty’s guidance for life and love benefitting generations to come.

Mary did not ‘see’ herself as some ‘pure and righteous’ soul.  In her humble nature Mary wondered and sometimes pondered how strange it is that God should love impure dust and ashes.  We too should affirm and humble our spirits to heaven’s call that we are also to remember ‘from dust we have come and unto dust we shall return.’

Mary knew something special in her ‘expanding faith’ that we would do well to affirm and incorporate within our hearts and souls.  It was this basic knowledge, this spiritual revelation, heaven’s call upon our spirits: God loved us FIRST.

I’ve listened to people speak of love for one another and to one another.  I hear husbands and wives, and parents and children sometimes say, “I love you!”  Quickly the other responds, “I love you more!” Another ‘love statement’ is, “I love you to the Moon and back!”  Folks, that’s awesome and meaningful love!  Hear again God’s good news.  Receive it into your heart.  Perhaps it shall even ‘humble’ your soul into such a ‘state’ as was Mary. God’s declaration to us all, right here, right now, and for all of our ‘tomorrows’ and that of our children and our children’s children is this message from the Almighty, “I loved you first.”  The psalmist declares, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well.” -Psalm 139:13,14.

Heaven is calling to remind us of not only where we hope to be going, but also quite importantly, where we have come from.  God gave us life.  God gave life to this world in a new and special way when He sent the angel Gabriel from heaven to announce unto Mary that she was being called from heaven to carry life, a LIFE that would change the world.  Heaven is still calling us to God’s design, plan, and purpose for our lives.

Angels, unlike pizza delivery drivers, don’t ring doorbells or knock before entering.  That seems to be the general policy throughout scripture, and it is probably for the best.

Think about it. . . if Mary had one of those fancy video doorbells, do you think she would have opened the door?  Imagine waking up late at night and spotting an angel at your front door.  The angel would not even have the chance to utter his famous opening line: “Do not be afraid.”  If Gabriel had knocked, he may have received the same treatment any of us might give to the sales rep pedaling vinyl windows.

But Gabriel is not God’s direct marketing agent.  He does not appear to be offering an investment opportunity or selling cleaning products or vinyl windows.  In fact, Gabriel is not selling anything.  Confused and bewildered, Mary’s only question is about logistics.  “How can this be?” she asks.  Mary had good reason to ‘ponder.’

There are questions we may be ‘pondering’ as well.  Far reaching questions. Just this week we see on the news and hear further reports that people are rolling up their sleeves and being injected with a vaccine against a disease no one even knew existed last December.  Millions do not trust in the vaccine, which has received emergency approval from the FDA.  There are good reasons why trust has not been earned among some groups.  Like Mary, many are pondering.

Luke’s story reminds us that Gabriel is not sent to recruit Mary.  Instead, she is summoned to believe in the impossible, and called to trust a message far more complex than anything we can imagine.  Her trust must go beyond trusting that the coronavirus vaccine is safe.  It must go beyond trusting that the government’s intentions are honorable.  This isn’t about accepting election results; it is about accepting her election by God.  Mary’s consent must go beyond our innate illusions of invulnerability.

Mary is called to trust in the old, old story of God’s steadfast covenant.  She is called to trust in the inscrutable way God works in the world.  It is the way that God worked through her soon to be husband’s ancestor David.  Closer to home, it is the same way her cousin Elizabeth was called to trust.

This Advent, angels will not be knocking on our doors.  But when they show up, they will bring God’s message.  Like Mary, we too might be pondering today: how can this be?

Mostly when we consider Mary’s response, we might equate her inquiry with being a form of doubt, disbelief, and at minimum, some form of confusion.  Mary was a soul that pondered.  I inquire of you to ponder in your soul today Mary’s response “How can this be?” perhaps NOT the language of distrust but of a desire to be further instructed?  Friends, it’s OK to wonder.  It’s solid that we too should ponder our faith as well as our faith responses to heaven’s call.

 ‘Trust’ is huge!  An endeavor for every generation of people with God, one another and sometimes even with those whom we love the most. Trust becomes a part of every ‘love.’  Trust is foundational for love to come, to exist and to continue.  Yet trust is not easily earned.  Even during a global pandemic.

Millions of doses of the corona virus vaccine are making their way across our country and into the arms of many fellow citizens.  I believe the government refers to this as “Project Warp Speed.” Eventually, distribution efforts associated with the vaccine may become more complex than Santa Claus’ annual trek across the globe.  Already we are learning of reports regarding the mixed trust from the public regarding these vaccines.

Like Mary of old, many are pondering and wondering.  Some are even doubting and skeptical.

Angels may not be knocking at our doors this Advent.  But they may show up as healthcare workers prepared to inject us with hope.  When it is ‘our turn’ the message may seem startling to us as well.  We also may be pondering and inquiring “How can this be?” 

Is our response to any of heaven’s calling the language of distrust or our desire to be further instructed?

Do remember that just a year ago, way before stay at home orders, face masks and social distancing were on our radars, Dr. Anthony Fauci made it clear that effective vaccines are imperative to public health. In December of 2019 Fauci wrote, “Misinformation is threatening to erode the public’s trust in vaccines.”

Admittedly trust issues remain a grave concern in a time of despairing bipartisan politics, increasing negative Corona virus afflictions plus deaths, generations of racial injustice issues and a fearful changing economy.  Increasing numbers suffer from ‘Food insecurity.”  These concerns need to continually be addressed.  A new administration and a hopeful vaccine will not ‘clear up’ everything.  Nor did the angel Gabriel’s visit set everything right for now or forever.

Mary came to realize that which we too realize; heaven is calling but we must believe.

Beyond statistics and beyond fears and ponderings we must choose anew to invest in love.  For love came down from heaven in the form of a baby, tiny, innocent, and wrapped in hope for one, for all, forever.

Is God ‘so loving us’ now that He is sending us hope? 

God loved us FIRST, and God loves us STILL.  Love is natural and essential to the divine Majesty.  For GOD IS LOVE.

Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, and we are born of God and know God.

Heaven is calling us to love in deeper and more meaningful ways then perhaps we previously needed to.  Others need the love of our help and the help from our love.

Pray to the God who loves you.  Speak with the people who share God’s love with you.  Seek discernment for trust regarding vaccines, care of others, praying for our government, supporting our beloved church, and perhaps being an angel as well as an agent of trust.

Amen.

  



Joy In Your Soul 12/13/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, December 12, 2020 & Sunday, December 13, 2020

Prayer For Illumination: Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today.  Amen.

Scripture Lessons:  Luke 1: 46-55 (Page 1025) & 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (Page 1189)

Sermon Message: ‘Joy in Your Soul’

  Last week I shared with you in the sermon message some scriptures I have memorized. I affirm they are written on my heart.  Those scriptures were the Apostle Paul’s inspired words to the Philippians. Chapter 4, verses 4-7. “Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again, rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Don’t worry about anything, but instead pray about everything. And the peace of God that passes all understanding will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.”

  “Rejoice in the Lord always,” sounds quite similar to today’s scriptural reference to “Rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

  When I woke up this morning, placed my feet on the floor, and looked outside, I WAS able to say, “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it!” (Exclamation point at the end of my sentence). However, just a few days ago I awoke, and my leg was giving me pain, the day looked cold, dull, and dreary.  There was ice forming and freezing rain turning to snow, coming down.  That day I found myself saying “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it?” (Question mark at the end of my sentence.)

  I don't know that I've ever met anyone who was genuinely able to be joyful always; to pray continually; and to give thanks in all circumstances. It just doesn't sound human, although it does sound saintly. Perhaps those who are so close to God that the Almighty fills their inner being, really are able to be joyful always; to pray continually; and to give thanks in all circumstances. The rest of us are bound to have ‘off days’ once in a while. And according to our personalities, some of us will be "off" more often than others.

  In the Bible, Mary ‘sings’ of a joy felt in the depths of her being “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”

  Perhaps if we find ourselves to be in a more ‘humble state’ we shall experience some degree of this ‘joy’ which Mary and the Apostle Paul testify to. Those two, I must say, had ‘joy in their souls!’ I’d like you to have that too. I certainly wouldn’t mind receiving more joy as a nurturing spiritual present this Advent season. Let’s try considering some degrees of joy, some sincere elements of joy we have or may still experience.

  Young Mary found herself to be pregnant, but not in the usual way. She was conceived by the Holy Spirit while engaged to be married to Joseph. Becoming pregnant to anyone but your beloved spouse back then was unacceptable. Social standards disapproved. Spiritual laws condemned. Women who became pregnant beyond the acceptable means could be stoned to death.

  Our standards today are extremely ‘relaxed’ in comparison to those effecting Mary in her world. Upon initial awareness and review Mary surely must have felt extremely challenged to ‘rejoice.’

  This past week 16 Pastoral letters were sent out to various families of our church. I compose such ‘Blue Christmas’ letters and mail them to families who have lost loved ones over the course of the past year. I offer, care, prayer, support and some practical guidance as well as spiritual care and comfort. Upon our first awareness of sad and perhaps dire circumstances, it’s extremely challenging to rejoice when it’s your first Christmas without a special loved one.

  Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel and shown, that God was with her. Gabriel informed Mary that she would be blessed, remembered and give birth to the Son of God.

  While it is a ‘Blue Christmas’ for more than 16 families acquainted with our church there remains divine intervention to bring hope, to extend God’s peace, and to afford Christian joy. God the Father in heaven sent us His Son on Christmas day in the form of a baby in a manger. Pure innocent love came down from heaven to us. Trust that our loved ones in heaven are now with Jesus experiencing pure innocent love, perfect health and peace like none other. Further pray for those you may know who are ‘blue’ this time of year. Covid-19 has caused anxiety and promoted depression in many a good souls.  Many have felt the effects of this ongoing pandemic.  When Jesus Christ was born the political environment was self serving instead of people oriented.  This ongoing pandemic, political unrest, and loss, calls to question the spiritual directive placed upon our souls to “Rejoice always.”

  A visit from God, divine intervention in Mary’s life, did bring hope, extended peace and promoted a resounding joy. Mary couldn’t contain herself. She went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. They did not set down together for a cup of coffee or tea…Nor did they share a small glass of wine as might be customary in the day. Mary could only SING! Today’s words of Holy Scripture located in Luke 1:46-55 are known as the “Magnificat.”  They were a song of joy from the heart of Mary!

  Have YOU ever experienced something sacred that caused you to sing? Some scholars affirm that Mary could hear music and the words just blended.

  Every now and then in a believer’s life we can hear music sent from above and perhaps felt within. Those moments and occasions are special.  Some more notable than others.  One week ago Friday, just prior to folks arriving for our Living Nativity a few of us paused and pondered. The respectful knowledge of fifty years that our church has been sharing in the Living Nativity was moving within, to say the least. More importantly though, I found myself and others just quietly respecting, some even swaying a bit as we too felt cradled by God’s presence. I cannot suggest that others ‘heard music’ or not during those quiet pre-carillon moments but I sure did. It’s a common music that floods my soul and brings deep felt joy to my being during other sacred times as well.  Softly and gently I felt it. My soul heard it, reverberating within; “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

  Sometimes I ‘hear’ that music when I look out at this worshipping congregation, when I bow at the funeral home or cemetery to commit a loved one’s soul back to heaven.  Oh there have been those precious moments when I held my sleeping child and now my grandchildren. Even when I witness my beloved wife breathing in peaceful deep sleep. Countless are the times when music floods my soul following a time of counseling with a troubled soul. Blessed do I feel when I hear God’s music as I step down from this pulpit or stand behind our sacred communion table to administer the Sacrament. When I place the waters of baptism on the head of a child or even an adult, desiring to be known, loved, protected and saved by Christ, something inside of me sings. I pray you keep your spirit open and receptive to the presence of the sacred even during the most challenging of times.

  We continue to learn a lot from Mary, from the joy in her soul. Review again and study Mary’s song found in today’s Holy Scripture lesson. Like Mary, when God visits us in His myriad of ways, we too tend to have low thoughts of our merits and high thoughts of God’s favours.

  Mary went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth.  She went to have her faith confirmed. That’s something we do by coming together for ‘church,’ for worship each week. God nurtures us during worship, we confirm faith with one another. This weekly gathering brings joy to the soul.

  Advent means coming. Jesus is coming still. God’s Christmas is now just a few weeks away. Christmas is not complete without Easter nor is Easter complete without Christmas. Each year I encourage us all to decorate our trees with at least one cross, reminding us of the fact, that deep spiritual knowledge, Jesus Christ was born, He lived, He died, He rose again from the dead. The grave did not hold him. Nor does the darkest and most trying challenges quench our salvation nor extinguish the joy in our soul altogether.

  Mary affirmed in song; “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”

  Soon my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, soon, there shall come further joy in our soul. Soon there shall come music that many will hear from heaven. God has been mindful of the humble state of our world, our nation, this church, community and our spirits regarding all that has challenged and restricted us this past year. If anything will bring change to this world-wide pandemic and contentious political environment it shall be a true state of humility. God calls upon the world to be humble. Readily any soul might contribute their thoughts regarding how humbling it has been to wear masks, practice social distancing and bear with this pandemic for nearly a year. The Lord seeks to hear from us, not so much what we may feel entitled to but more so what we shall reverently call upon Him to complete in this His world. We must pray for God’s guidance upon our government and our leaders. God historically has dealt with kings, rogue rulers and dictators. As found within Mary’s song; “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. We have also felt joy in our souls when leaders have served the people instead of mainly themselves.

  What is it that your soul hungers and thirsts for? Peace? Justice? Salvation? Hope? Goodness.  Hear again Mary’s song; “He has filled the hungry with good things. He has helped His servant, remembering to be merciful, just as he promised our ancestors.”

  If we ‘present’ ourselves to God rest assured God will send ‘presents’ much needed ‘presents’ into our world that shall bring joy to our soul.

  Mary ‘pondered’ things in her heart. In closing I wish to share with you something I’ve pondered in my heart for over 30 years. I shall also share with you the related joy in my soul.  My kid is in her mid thirties.  When she was growing up her babysitter; Alice, attended a fundamentalist church. Each summer Alice inquired if it would be OK for Bonnie to go to their Vacation Bible School. Initially this was a lot of fun for Bonnie. I remember the first time my little girl came home and told me “Daddy I was saved tonight. I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart and soul!” The second night Bonnie came home and said the same thing. Every night that week she came home and was ‘re-saved.’ The following year Bonnie was invited to attend the same Vacation Bible School and she again came home being ‘saved’ each night. At one point she said to me, “Dad, you are a minister. Do I have to get ‘saved’ every night? Am I really that bad of a soul?” We had a nice long talk and Bonnie ‘progressed’ away from that Vacation Bible School. HOWEVER, there did come a time a while later, maybe a year or two later when Bonnie approached me about her salvation and knowing Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. This was neither a coerced nor youthful process on her part. My child changed forever. Now here is the joy in my soul; I know to this very moment that this beautiful person, whom I perceived with amazement when she was born, knows Jesus Christ and always shall. Should I die tomorrow my child’s soul shall live faithfully now and into eternity. There is no greater joy in one’s soul than the joy of salvation.

  Mary and the Apostle Paul teach us well how to have ‘joy in our soul.’ Strive to rejoice always and do pray continually. Give thanks to God for in all circumstances we can rest assured God is working together for the good of our soul. Amen.



Communion & Peace 12/5/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, December 5, 2020 & Sunday, December 6, 2020

Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, in you are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Open our eyes that we may see the wonders of your Word; and give us grace that we may clearly understand and freely choose the way of your wisdom; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Scripture Lessons:  Isaiah 40:1-11 (Page 718) and Mark 1:1-8 (Page 1001)

Sermon Message: “Communion & Peace”

  The first scripture lesson from Isaiah 40 begins with the words; “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” Within our approaching and unveiling Christmas season one might draw comparison to a song of the season; “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Specifically, to the chorus; “O Tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.”

  The second scripture lesson from Mark 1 reaffirms that God will send a messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way AND prepare the way for the Lord. The word “messenger” in the Bible could mean a prophet, a specific person or group of people, OR it could also mean an angel. Messengers sent from God might remind us of some familiar Christmas music such as “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

  Comfort and angels are appreciated. Both call us towards closer communion with God. Both enjoin us to know peace.

   Throughout history God has sent messengers to communicate His wisdom, His will, His comfort, joy, peace and protection, as well as His love.

   While I am no angel, I do remain one of God’s messengers. Perhaps the good Lord has also called upon you to ‘message’ another with something from God…

  This reminds me of a story I once read regarding a fellow who was sent by God to ‘message’ another. The one he was sent to ‘message’ was a very belligerent fellow. I don’t know if the good Lord has ever enlisted your help or not to deal with someone who is belligerent but listen briefly to this story and see if it just might make you ‘think!’ Gaylord Kambarami, the general secretary of the Bible Society in Zimbabwe, tried to give a New Testament to a very belligerent man. The man insisted he would roll the pages and use them to make cigarettes. Mr. Kambarami said, “I understand that, but at least promise to read the page of the New Testament before you smoke it.” The man agreed, and the two went their separate ways.

Fifteen years later, the two men met at a convention in Zimbabwe. The Scripture-smoking pagan had been saved and was now a full-time evangelist. He told the audience, “I smoked Matthew, and I smoked Mark, and I smoked Luke. But when I got to John 3:16, I couldn’t smoke anymore. My life was changed from that moment.”

God’s book is more than just words on paper. Its truth will stand forever.

  There is communion, comfort, and peace to be found in God’s Word, the Bible.

  One of the many things I encourage and ‘message’ folks to do is memorize scriptures. Easily enough these days we can ‘call up’ a daily devotion on our phones and computers. When seeking an appropriate scripture verse for whatever subject might be needing our attention and response we can simply “google” the subject and corresponding scripture verse.  I’ve even seen some folks have scriptural references tattooed on their bodies.

  But it wasn’t always that way. Long before the technology of today, prior to mass production of texts, well before the advent of paper, people wrote on papyrus. It was a pithy water plant used for making rope, sandals, boats and also for either painting on or writing upon. The ancients often wore a strip of folded papyrus that had a prayer or a scripture written on it. These were meant to protect or to heal the individual wearing them. Kind of like a charm to protect from evil and injury. Also known as ‘amulets.’ 

  Somewhere in the late third or early fourth century an amulet recorded these words; “Read ‘The beginning of the Good News’ and See!” This was followed by the words of the first two verses of the Gospel of Mark. “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,” as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.,”—a voice of one calling in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”

 During the time of Jesus’ birth and life here on earth he wore swaddling clothes and a white robe. At the same time, his cousin; John the Baptist wore clothing made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. Folks of the third and fourth century often wore folded strips of papyrus with guiding words of scripture imprinted. These ‘amulets’ were believed to be worn around a person’s wrist and palm of their hand. You and I wear Christian jewelry such as Cross necklaces, Cross earrings and some even bear Christian tattoos. All of these items symbolize the spiritual call and communion with Christ to ‘prepare the way.’

  Today, as never before, we need our way prepared for us. Tomorrow, more than ever, we need to prepare the way of the Lord. We need communion and we need peace.

  ‘Communion’ may be thought of as the bread and wine combined with spirituality we share through Jesus Christ. “Communion’ further means spiritual fellowship, sharing faith and Christian bonds.

  “Peace” may be thought of as the absence of war, an agreement to end hostilities, freedom from fighting and disagreeing, but also calm, serenity and what we term ‘peace of mind.’ The Bible speaks of Peace With God and the Peace OF God. ‘Peace’ in the Bible refers, in part, to a mental attitude of tranquility based on a relationship with God in the Christian way of life. There is a personal peace with God which comes when a person accepts Jesus Christ as Savior. There is the peace OF God which is available on a daily basis as the believer participates in the Christian way of life according to the plan of God.

  In the Christian Way of life, peace comes through fellowship with God and daily growth, advancement in spiritual things which brings stability, a relaxed mental attitude, orientation to the plan of God, occupation with Christ, and the ability to employ faith-rest principles in all areas of life.

 Consider one aspect of God’s ‘faith-rest principles’ we all can apply to our lives for communion, comfort and peace. Holy Scripture. The apostle Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious (do not worry) about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7) Personally speaking, I have these very words imprinted on my heart, committed to memory and etched on my soul.

  The blessed apostle goes on to say; “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. “Philippians 4: 8-9)

  Have you perceived in your communion with the Lord, God sends blessings and God also sends peace? More often we seek the blessings which we believe will lead us towards peace. In the spiritual way of communion God most often leads a heart, a mind, a soul towards peace first. That takes place so the believer can appreciate the blessings, the communion which follows.

  Lack of peace or loss of peace requires an adjustment to the plan of God. As the Bible points out foundationally that includes repentance for the forgiveness of sins and baptism into a new and changed life. Peace begins with confession of our sins and also confession of Jesus Christ as being our Lord and Savior. When we commune with Jesus in these ways and in sacramental ways we shall experience faith-rest, a relaxed mental attitude, and spiritual peace in the new situation.

   Love was not placed in your heart to stay but to be given away, to be shared. Peace stems from spiritual communion. We all know, communion was always meant to be reproduced and shared with many.

  Today’s sacrament of Communion prepares the way for the believer to be drawn closer to Jesus Christ. It begins, per usual, with an invitation to prepare for peace to be found, restored and experienced. We are invited to repent of our sins and become further baptized into a new way of life with God through Jesus and Christian teachings.

  Isaiah cried out, “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people. Speak tenderly….” This reminds me of still another Christian hymn; “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling.” Come home now to communion. Come home this Advent/Christmas season to peace.  Amen.


What Are We Hoping For? 11/29/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 28, 2020 & Sunday, November 29, 2020

Prayer For Illumination: Guiding God, without the presence of your Holy Spirit, we are hopelessly lost on this Advent journey.  Come to us in this place as we gather to hear your Word.  Open our hearts to receive your Word and our minds to understand it. Amen.

Scripture Lessons:  Mark 13:24-37, Page 1018; Hebrews 10:23-25, Page 1211

Sermon Message: “What Are We Hoping For?”

  God wants us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” God further inspires us to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.”

  Are you ‘hoping’ for a white Christmas? I am hoping for Covid-19 vaccines to start becoming available in the next few weeks. I am hoping that the numbers of cases and the numbers of deaths will go down sooner then that. I am hoping for the hand of God to move in this current Presidential transition occurring in our land. I am hoping, and praying, that God will use even the most challenging of people and circumstances to bring about His kind of reform inside of our world, our nation and within each of us.

  I am hoping that you, and me, will perceive the reign of God in 2021. I am hoping for our anchors to come, to strengthen, to guide us, to save us from further hurt, pain and suffering.

  A prevailing attribute of the reign of God, an anchor for our soul is the characteristic of humility. If 2020 has taught us anything then we should be hoping for a true and sincere spirit of humility to come. Jesus Christ is the most humble person we know. May we pray to be more like Him but also to learn to depend upon Him, perhaps more then ever in our lifetimes. Scriptures remain clear; “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10). Easily enough as the answers come for Covid-19, for Presidential elections and as we anticipate Christmas gifts, any of us can begin slipping backwards into feelings and attitudes of pride and entitlement. Thanksgiving Day may be over but the season of giving thanks remains year round. God expects gratitude, humble gratitude, coupled with humble and sincere actions on our part. Let’s hope to remain humble and where needed to become humble. This is both a faith anchor and a life anchor.

  I am hoping that people will be more kind. The reign of God in this world, inside of each of us, ‘shows up’ in humility, kindness, healing, feeding, tending, visiting and justice.

  The Bible teaches us how to live not only good lives and moral lives but also spiritual lives in close association with God Almighty. “Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (I John 4:7).

  It’s not wrong to hope for more love to be ushered in through more kindness. Be kind for sometimes, the Good Book declares, we are “entertaining angels unaware.” (Hebrews 13: 2)

  Lots of pain and suffering occurred in diverse forms during 2020. We who are Christians have an on-going responsibility to bring hope into people’s lives. Another way we can do that is to bring healing. Denial, apathy and anger heals no one and nothing. You say a prayer asking God to show you how you might do your part to help others, even our nation and oh so many Covid-19 victims, and I promise you God will answer your prayers.

  There remains a lot of hungry people in the world who are hoping to be fed, someway, somehow. Their quest for nourishment is not just for food and water, clothing and shelter, but also for peace and trust following a year of fear. You who are spiritual feed others with the hope that stems from faith. God knows you can do it if you try.

  Jesus is known as the Good Shepherd. He once said; “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17) “Feeding God’s sheep, those who need God the most but seem to lack an ability to come close and relate to God, need some ‘tending.’ Recall when you were needing and benefitted from being ‘tended to.’ ‘Tending’ is a spiritual quality that brings hope.

  In these days of social distancing and government guidelines plus advisories to limit our gatherings, there has been a steady and sadly hurtful rise in loneliness and just simply missing others. Visit one another. Neither by breaking the rules nor by ignoring the guidelines, but again I say, you pray about God providing creative ways for you to visit someone who just might benefit or even truly need a visit and God will certainly answer your prayers.

  What ARE we hoping for? God’s Word teaches us “the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Holy Spirit intercedes with God on our behalf.” (Romans 8:26,27). Prayer leads to hope and hope calls us to prayer.

  Sometimes in a believer’s life you just ‘feel’ as though something is wrong. Something is just not right. Perhaps you cannot exactly ‘put your finger on it’ yet you know, something or someone needs to be prayed for, prayed about. We need the anchor of prayer when and where justice isn’t being conducted. It is good to hope for justice. Our ‘hope’ can begin with prayer, should begin with prayer, then conversing with others, seeking the Lord’s wisdom, turning to our shared faith, reading, reviewing and reflecting on God’s Word and taking a well discerned course of action.

  What is it that we are hoping for? Though we speak of His Second Coming and anticipate celebrating His birth once again this year at Christmas, we are currently living within the reign of the Risen Christ. The reign of God remains an anchor for our greatest and even for our gravest of hopes.

  Today is the first week in the church season of Advent. Some of the themes or topics we will be reflecting upon these next four weeks include hope, peace, love and joy. Each week, as worship begins, we will light another candle in the Advent wreath. The candle of hope, the candle of peace, the candle of love, the candle of joy and on Christmas Eve, the center Christ candle. This is a familiar tradition we tend to follow. Lots of folks are ‘hoping’ for traditions to take place once again this year. However, with Covid-19 advisories and restrictions our coveted traditions are somewhat compromised. Let’s be a bit more ‘real’ here; the season of Advent is rather strange in the year 2020.

  Last year at this time we were not so concerned with wearing masks, social distancing and frequent washing of our hands. This year I think you and I can confidently expect a spike in Covid-19 infections starting about ten days from now. Allegheny County is currently experiencing a spike however; the ‘news’ reports there are still hospital beds available in Intensive Care Units.

  Here in our church we shall continue practicing social distancing, wearing of masks and frequent washing/disinfecting of hands. Did you know we even have to be careful with the proper use of the “candle lighter thingies?”

  Society seems to be hoping for our President to accept reality and for Covid-19 vaccines to become widely available.

  God informs us, in His Word, to be hoping for Jesus to come and to hold on to the ‘hope’ we profess in our shared Christian faith.

  The world had been ‘hoping’ for a Messiah to come, to help them, to make things better and perhaps ‘right’ years prior to the birth of Jesus Christ.

  We share a somewhat similar ‘hope’ for our Messiah to come, for Jesus Christ to help us, to make things better and perhaps right.

  This season of Advent is a countdown to Christmas. But have you noticed that even our countdown of shopping days until Christmas is compromised this year? Traditionally the malls would be occupied to overflowing. On-line purchasing prevails this Christmas season.

  Advent and what makes Christmas ‘Christmas’ will be different this year. We are indeed hoping and longing for something, anything that can lead us to “peace on earth, goodwill to all.” Our typical insights and epiphanies of “The Reason for the Season” may be in short supply.

  In this long season of Covid-19 we are indeed hoping for successful vaccines to become available right up to the time of God’s Christmas and beyond. The 2020 Presidential election turned out to be quite a long deliberation. Many are now becoming ‘hopeful’ for a smooth transition between all those who govern. While we need this kind of hope more importantly we need that kind of hope that comes into our world as an infant. Hope that grows and spreads and feeds us even in our despair and confusion. We need the hope of Christ’s coming in the here and now.

  May our hopes become our prayers this Advent season. Pray that our Congress will pass some further sort of economic relief package. Many folk’s unemployment benefits are scheduled to run out right after Christmas.

  Jesus Christ was born a baby in a manger. Innocent love has always brought hope to anyone’s soul. Search for that love in the midst of this Advent/Christmas season. Seek the Lord’s presence in every area of your life through prayer. Pray daily. Pray sincerely. Pray specifically. Then listen. Listen well. Listen attentively. God will come.

  Since Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, we have been waiting for His Second Coming. Today’s scripture lessons are a pointed reminder and directive to hope for the Lord’s return. In accordance with the first recording of those scriptural affirmations people back then really believed Jesus Christ would return to earth again within their life times. Generations have come and gone and still Christ has not returned in a glorious Second coming. Gradually we have needed to accept that His Second Coming may not occur within our life times either. Each generation of people, similar to us, sees catastrophic events, experiences dire circumstances and issues forth declarations that ‘now’ would be a good time for Jesus Christ to return to earth. Those who suffer the most perhaps pray the hardest for that event to occur.

  Advent is a season of hoping, waiting and anticipating. Advent marks the beginning of the Church Year. The word ‘Advent’ means, “coming;” but what is it exactly that we are hoping and waiting for?

  Many are simply hoping for 2020 to be over. I don’t think anyone could count the numbers of Facebook posts and ironic observations about the year 2020. Remember, we experienced the first worldwide pandemic in more than 100 years. We’ve had a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, unprecedented wildfires in the American West, a rough recession, stock market upheavals and quite awkward elections.

  The comfort and joy many are hoping for may be in imagining that when we turn the calendar from 2020 some kind of ‘reset’ will occur within the universe. I am kind of hoping for a time when we will no longer need to speak of terms like “lock down,” “quarantine,” “social distancing” and the news of the day being a blur.

  Throughout human kind’s history with God we’ve seen and well appreciated the hand of God upon us, the Spirit of the Lord among us and the love and faith of the Savior inside of us. God has been good about sending signs, messages and answers to provide us with much needed hope. That hope showed up in Biblical accounts of prophets sent to communicate God’s answers and guidance to our heaviest situations. The presence of prophets is still among us. Leastwise we see, through the eyes of our hearts, God’s wisdom for living, trusting and hoping. Praise God for “HOPE!” Amen.

ThanksGiving/ThanksLiving 11/22/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 21, 2020 & Sunday, November 22, 2020

Thanksgiving & Christ the King Emphasis

Prayer For Illumination: God, source of all light, by your Word, you give light to the soul.  Pour out on us the spirit of wisdom and understanding, that our hearts and minds may be opened to know your truth and your way.  Amen.

Scripture Lessons: Matthew 25:31-46, page 994 and Ephesians 1:15-23, page 1173.

Sermon Message: “ThanksGiving/ThanksLiving”

 The apostle Paul writes; “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” “Seeing” with and through the ‘eyes of our heart’ will give us the best Thanksgiving ever. For through faith, ‘thanksgiving is thanks living.’

  Thanksgiving is something all of the world can see and experience. Thanks Living comes from faith affirmed and put into action…

   Today is Christ the King Sunday, in the Christian Church. Today is the Sunday just prior to Thanksgiving throughout the land. Common to us all is the heritage, the history, the memories we associate with our National holiday.

  I remember in my growing up years doing some similar things that I see our Day Care children doing here in our church. Perhaps you recall drawing an outline around your spread-out fingers to form the shape of a turkey on colored paper…Those paper turkeys would be colored with crayons, eyes and beaks added to them, and perhaps even our names written on them.

  Possibly you also recall learning of those early Pilgrims having a thanksgiving meal with the Native American Indians they befriended. Thank God for helpers then and now. President Abraham Lincoln instituted Thanksgiving as a national holiday when our country was going through its greatest adversity with the Civil War. Speaking of wars, the hymn; ‘Now Thank We All Our God’ was written by Martin Rinkhart while he was serving as pastor in Germany during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), in a city that was besieged a couple of times, struck by plague, etc. At times that pastor had to perform up to 50 funerals a day!

  Jesus’ parable concerning the sheep and the goats has often times been used as a proverbial ‘club’ over people’s souls to condemn them while reminding them of their guilt associated with NOT doing as they should. Yet a further understanding and awareness of this teaching parable of Jesus Christ is the insight from the Lord that to whom much is given, much is required.

  The Church season of Advent starts next week. The word, ‘Advent’ means ‘coming.’ Throughout this approaching Advent season, we shall spiritually reflect upon the ‘advent’ the ‘coming’ of Christ as the Incarnation. Today’s scriptural reading from the Gospel of Matthew may well be perceived as an admonishment. I inquire of us to further ‘perceive’ these scriptures through the eyes of your heart.  Hopefully you will become spiritually aware of simple love the Lord is inviting you to participate in. ‘Seeing’ where there is a need, a ‘hunger’ and giving what’s helpful and essential to fulfill, to strengthen, and to complete.  Quenching the thirst of those who crave the basics.  Helping beyond ourselves and our own, aiding the strangers with the simple gifts of food, clothing, and shelter. During this time our world is at an all-time ‘height’ of awareness concerning sick, possibly sick, and dying, the Lord calls upon us to be praying for others, helping others, providing for others, walking with others, sharing with others. Jesus’ parable reminds us that HE is in others and as you help, as you provide simple love in these ways, you are not only ‘thanking’ Him but your faith efforts become real life examples of thankful living. Jesus Christ is ‘incarnate’ within you.

  The approaching season of Advent shall re-inform us of the incarnation of God in life. Our lives... Yes, the United States of America IS a blessed nation. We are right on the edge of at least two vaccines being readied to treat the Corona Virus. Our nation may be in the midst of political instability but soon, very soon, we shall transcend our greatest differences even as our greatest ‘causes’ prevail. God Almighty has always used the worst of circumstances and the more challenging persons to transform not only themselves but also their world around them. I guide us all to be thankful for this spiritual process of God. Trust God this Thanksgiving season and beyond. REMEMBER you; I, our culture and our nation did not become excelling overnight. While many still affirm rugged individualism, the truth is we are all ‘products’ of benefitting from one another, needing one another and our LONG history of seeing God’s providence at work.

  When I think of Thanksgiving and thanks living, I recall an American hero of sorts. One who overcame great ‘odds’ yet through it all gained superior ‘sight.’

  Today’s scriptures coupled with this American hero’s ‘sight’ from the ‘eyes of her heart’ re-informs us that we really aren’t ‘rugged individualists’ triumphing over every obstacle on our own.

  Helen Keller was born both deaf and blind. She writes, "I had once believed that we were all masters of our fate -- that we could mold our lives into any form we pleased. I had overcome deafness and blindness sufficiently to be happy, and I supposed that anyone could come out victorious if he threw himself valiantly into life's struggle.  But as I went more and more about the country, I learned that I had spoken with assurance on a subject I knew little about. I learned that the power to rise in the world is not within the reach of everyone."

  Jesus Christ has been ‘incarnate’ in us throughout our lifetimes. As the Lord proclaimed, ‘I was hungry, I was thirsty, a stranger, in need of clothing, sick and restrained.’ Surely, we have all experienced these things. Some, more than others. May I remind us all as we set around our tables to ‘give thanks’ there are still those experiencing these things. Jesus’ parable calls us to account for the blessings we have. To whom much is given, much is required. Because Jesus Christ is ‘incarnate’ within us, we grow to know the blessings we have received are not to be used simply for ourselves but for others.

  The ‘eyes of my heart’ have well lead me to see, we are blessed to be a blessing.

   Another word for thanksgiving is gratitude. The ancient Greek philosopher, Cicero, affirmed that gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but is the parent of all others.

   Jesus’ words, his parable regarding the sheep and the goats helps us to ‘see’ with the eyes of our hearts, the Lord’s expressions of gratitude for feeding the hungry, providing drink to the thirsty, comfort to the stranger, help for the sick and kindness to the imprisoned and restrained. Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father Almighty, King of kings and Lord of lords expressed gratitude for those who cared for Him.

  This same Jesus reminds us that we who are His followers should not think it enough to simply have warm affections. Jesus prays for us to be enlightened, to have clear understanding of ‘why’ we are thankful, to ‘whom’ we are thankful, and the actions, the ‘thanks living’ of our faith.

  This Thanksgiving will be more challenging than most.  We are restricted in both our travels and our gatherings. Even families must remain separated to some extent.  It’s a huge challenge to feel, let alone express ‘gratitude’ for this Corona Virus pandemic as we set around our thanksgiving tables. There remains a great challenge to accept the huge differences resulting from our more recent presidential elections.

  We who affirm and trust in the providence of God can rest assured this Thursday that we remain ‘in His hands.’ We need to focus not only on sickness and elections but also on life, love, memories, and happy insights.

  I have something ‘light and lively’ I wish to teach you and offer you to share with those you will be eating turkey with.  It’s regarding our president….Not our current president nor even our president elect, but something regarding one of our former presidents. If you decide to eat a turkey leg this week perhaps my little illustration will come to mind.

  In George Washington's day, there were no cameras. One's image was either sculpted or painted. Some paintings of George Washington showed him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back while others showed both legs and both arms. Prices charged by painters were not based on how many people were to be painted but by how many limbs were to be painted, as these were more difficult to put on canvas than faces. Arms and legs are "limbs," therefore painting them would cost the buyer more. Hence the expression, "Okay, but it'll cost you an arm and a leg."

   Our salvation has cost Jesus more, so much more than an arm and a leg. Thanks Living can also be quite costly. As we gather around our tables, we may have just a bit more insight into this Covid-19 pandemic and hopeful outcomes with promising vaccines. At our table gatherings we may also share in some further insights regarding our nation’s presidential elections. In addition to these subjects may we further recall our loved ones and our health. Smile at some precious memories you share and perhaps ponder in your heart of hearts.

  ‘See’ Thanksgiving this year, as the Bible declares, through the eyes of your heart.

  The world may be full of drudgery and fear right now yet I ask you to trust in God, come home to Jesus, invite the Lord to be at your table, with your family and in your meal. In addition to this week being Thanksgiving’ today is Christ the King Sunday.

  When things aren’t going ‘our way,’ and life is unsure it’s so good to have an anchor.  Consider some markers of the reign of God we see with the eyes of our hearts….Humility, kindness, feeding, tending, visiting and justice.

   Thanksgiving is about ‘giving thanks’ family gatherings and eating way too much food. Thanksgiving beyond the meal and the day is about thanks living all year long.

  We display harvest items here in church as part of our Thanksgiving. Pumpkins and Fall leaves, sometimes corn stalks and ears of corn. All these things symbolic of the harvest God has provided. God continues to fill us with good things. We shall see an end to this pandemic. Vaccines are coming. Presidential election results will soon be firmed up. The Almighty is still in the process of transforming us as a nation and ‘we’ as a people.

  Typically at Thanksgiving time, we take complacent pride in thinking the harvest is for us; but in God's view, we are the harvest. That certainly changes our perspective, doesn't it?

  Jesus Christ died for us in order that we might live…Perhaps the two greatest blessings of thanksgiving; love and life.  Amen.



A Call To Prayer - by Elder Laurie Zickgraf 11/15/2020

A CALL TO PRAYER

Several months ago, when it was really hot, I was watching some old movies. One of my favorites is Yankee Doodle Dandy, a movie that was released in 1942 with Jimmy Cagney as the song and dance man George M. Cohan. If you’ve ever seen Jimmy Cagney as a gangster, you should watch this movie - even if you just watch James Cagney floating down the stairs in the White House – it’s amazing. The man can dance.

Yankee Doodle Dandy is a not completely accurate story but it’s a great movie to watch if you like the old patriotic songs. We celebrated Veterans Day this past week and I started thinking about what was happening while they were making this movie. It was 1941/1942 and Germany was working toward their ‘final solution’ by taking over the world one country at a time. America was trying to stay out of the war but when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Sunday December 7th,1941, that all changed.

I enjoy reading and watching movies about WWII. One reason is because I am in awe of what the Allied Forces did during that time.  It was a time of horrific tragedy and incredible heroism. It was also a time that many people and countries came together to fight for a common cause.  It was a time when Americans were proud of our country.

It was also a time when faith in God was celebrated. Church was somewhere many people went every Sunday. I remember growing up and going to church – we then stopped at the local store to buy Islay’s Chipped Chopped Ham for lunch. We had to go straight to the store from church because they were only opened for a few hours – it was Sunday and almost everything was closed. Back then stores were closed because of the “Blue Laws”. These laws started in Pennsylvania in 1682 when a prohibition was passed that prevented people from working or having fun on “The LORDS Day”.

At some point Pennsylvania even allowed churches to put chains across highways so traffic would not be near the church on Sunday. I wonder what would happen if we got some chains and blocked off 5th Ave next Sunday. We might make the evening news.

Sunday was a day for church, family, quiet relaxation and prayer. In the 70s the Blue Laws were found to be unconstitutional and a way of life changed forever.

But back in the early 40s this is how people thought and lived. They respected God and church and believed in Judeo – Christian ethics. We were a country that “was endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” These were not just words but deeply felt beliefs that were shared by many.

When men and women went to war, they went to protect this country and to protect our way of life.  Their faith was born in them and strengthened throughout their lives. Without this foundation the outcome of WWII would have been very different.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes. A good example of this might be the Miracle of Dunkirk.

In May and early June of 1940, the German army was advancing on the Allied troops in Dunkirk, France. The troops were stuck on the beach with the sea at their back. I bet every soldier on that beach was praying for divine intervention. The Germans were marching toward victory against the allied troops when miraculously they suddenly halted their advance. For three days the Germans consolidated their troops and supplies. They spent three days getting organized. This gave the Allies time to organize an evacuation. Hundreds of naval and civilian ships and boats crossed the English Channel and rescued many soldiers from the beach at Dunkirk. They were able to save more than 330,000 Allied troops. Without this miracle England would have not been able to continue to fight and hold out against the Germans. Is this an example of Answered Prayers? You bet it is.

But now, all that has changed. No longer is it clear who is the bad guys. We are no longer facing a common enemy. We don’t even know who the enemy is sometimes.  Our lives in this country changed when China announced a new virus. Many of us didn’t think much about it at first but then the Coronavirus spread around the globe with amazing speed. Countries like Italy went on lock down to limit their exposure. Too many people lost loved ones and hospitals in many areas around the world were overwhelmed by the number of sick and dying. Many people have been unable to be with sick relatives because the hospitals won’t allow visitors for fear of spreading the disease, nursing homes went into lock down to protect their patients. People have lost their jobs due to stay in place orders and the closing of ‘non-essential’ workplaces. These events have led to fear, anger, isolation, unstable home situations, money worries and depression.

On top of all this, a tragedy happened on May 25, 2020 when a gentleman by the name of Mr. George Floyd was killed by policemen. This horrific event started protests and riots that haven’t been seen in this country since the 60’s and 70’s. I listen to the talking heads as they all try to tell their side of what is happening in this country and why. Everyone blames the other side and the violence, the destruction, and the killing go on. Too many people have been hurt.

Maybe this is the time when we should look at our world; really look at the changes in this country in the last 60 or 70 years. Fear has caused people to say we are in the ‘end times’ as predicted in the book of Revelation. I remember reading that many people thought WWI and WWII were the beginning of the ‘end times’. At some point they’ll be right but are they right this time? Is this the beginning of the end? I don’t think it is.

Throughout history - tragedies, both natural disasters and man-made events have made us think of the end times and wonder. When you read Revelation, you can name almost any point in history and say – it fits, we are in the end times.

I wonder if there’s not a simpler explanation. As a country we have forgotten many things. We don’t pray in public anymore and many don’t know how to talk to God on a daily basis. As Christians we’re different. We know that God has given us instructions on how to live. He has given us a book to read, to study, and to use every day. God has asked us to pray, to talk to Him every day and lean on Him for guidance and support.

There is a spiritual war going on around us as well as a physical battle for morality and basic human rights.  Make no mistake, this battle has already been won by God. God won the war when Jesus died on the cross for us. When we are in heaven with our Father, we will see that God is in charge. But for now, we must wait for God’s plan to come to fruition. Until that day, we must remember to pray and listen to God through His Holy Word.


Think about what is going on in this country and then read Ephesians 4: 31-32. 


31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  


Watch the news and re-read these verses. Then do it again.


This is a wakeup call to all of us. Now is the time to put on the Armor of God, not to be wrapped up in fear. Now is the time for hope, not depression and despair. Now is the time to remember that we are Christians. Now is the time to pray. Pray for our country, our leaders, our families, our neighbors, our church, and ourselves. Pray for strength and perhaps most importantly say the  Lord’s Prayer that reminds us that we should ask for “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Don’t try to figure out God’s plan. Trust that there is a plan, and everything is in God’s hands.


In 1941, on the evening of ‘D-Day’, President Roosevelt wrote a special message for the American people. This message was distributed ahead of time so that people could read along with the president when he read the message on the radio.

What is so amazing is that the President of the United States wrote a message in which the second paragraph reads: “And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer”:

I would like to read to you the last paragraph of this prayer.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

It is amazing how well this prayer fits what is happening in our world today. As we go about our business this week let’s not listen to those who tell us faith and God are old ideas. Let’s not listen to those who spread fear and hatred. Let’s listen to our Father in heaven who loves us enough to send His Son to us so that we might be saved. Let’s listen to Jesus as He teaches us to love one another. Let’s build up a strong foundation of faith and love for God that no man can tear down.

Thank You.

 *****

Ephesians 4:17-32 17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Psalm 145:18

18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.


Ephesians 6:10-18  

The Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

The D-Day speech by FDR can be heard at: https://www.historyplace.com/speeches/fdr-prayer.htm

My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt - June 6, 1944


We Belong To God 11/8/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 7, 2020 & Sunday, November 8, 2020

Holy Communion

Prayer For Illumination: Guide us, O God, by your Word, and Holy Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover peace; through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Scripture Lessons:  Joshua 24: 15 Page 237, Matthew 25: 1-13 Page 993

Sermon Message: “We Belong to God”

In life and in death we belong to God. We belong to God in the joys of wedding celebrations but also in those disappointing times when we ‘lost out.’ Kind of like the wise and foolish virgins. We belong to God when we make good decisions to follow Him, but we also belong to God when we make poor decisions regarding our following Him. We still belong to God even when we make NO decision whatsoever.

In a somewhat similar analogy, right now, you and I remain American citizens. We belonged to America when we voted. You remain American citizens regardless of how you may have voted. We still are American citizens even if we decided NOT to vote at all.

Assuredly some folks may feel like the bridegroom who celebrates his good news and abundant joy. Those who perceive this presidential election as a victory may well be feeling as though they deserve to be invited into the banquet, the victory celebrations. Yet we recall, there were those who were shut out, not allowed in. Those whose preparations, or lack thereof, just weren’t sufficient to ‘win the day.’

God has always called forth and set aside people, to communicate the Word of God and the worthy relationships we must have with God during all times and throughout every season of life.

Regardless of your overview of this past election, in truth and in reality, you, I and candidates from both ‘sides’ still belong to God. Today the Lord Jesus Christ invites us into further ‘communion’ with him.

Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins is perhaps familiar to many. This parable may be seen, in part, as a metaphor for being prepared to receive Jesus into our lives when he comes. We need to be ready for the Lord’s movement, presence, call, or return at any time. This same parable teaches a fundamental lesson that lack of preparation, for whatever might come, can result in severe disappointment. ‘Lessons’ come to us all from the Lord throughout our lifetimes to teach us and prepare us how to relate to God, self, others, and things… God’s lessons further teach us how to deal with things that are ‘challenging’ to say the least.

Today, Jesus Christ offers us his presence in a holy and sacred manner we describe as ‘Communion.’ Within communion, sacredness is present. Oh of course you can minimize communion by saying it’s just a little wafer of bread and a tiny sip of grape juice found in what looks like a K-cup. You can say it doesn’t really matter much rather you ‘have communion’ or not. Similar to the parable Jesus employed in the Gospel of Matthew; know that you have been invited to the banquet. The Lord’s Table has been set and is prepared. Are you prepared to participate in this sacred event? Have you confessed your sins and humbled your heart? Or is your mind somewhere else altogether, still focusing on what bothers you the most?

Consider with me a bit of the spiritual significance associated with Jesus’ parable today. It was at a wedding in Cana of Galilee where Jesus shared his first miracle, changing water into wine. Miracles still occur. What might the Lord Jesus ‘change’ within you today? Perhaps as you attend his banquet called ‘Holy Communion.’ The wedding Jesus drew analogy to was an acknowledgement of the kingdom of heaven in their midst. Some could see it because they were prepared. Still others could not for they had failed to prepare. Yet they felt entitled to the same benefits as those who had worked to earn blessings bestowed. The wedding banquet can further be seen as a metaphor for spiritual peace and tranquility even in the midst of great trial and disappointment.

Long before the time of Christ walking the face of this earth God set aside a man by the name of Joshua to communicate the Word of God and the worthy relationships we must have with God throughout all times and every season of life. Joshua realized something you and I well realize from living our lives. We still have to choose whom we relate to and ‘how’ we relate to one another. Especially, ‘how’ we relate to God.

Joshua made it easy. He ‘spelled it out’ directly….You might choose to relate to this, that, something else or even another ‘god’ of some sort, but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.

‘Serving the Lord’ is required of us whether we are in the banquet hall celebrating or feeling left outside in the cold perhaps because we just don’t understand what happened. Whether we are experiencing great joy or huge disappointment God still must be served.

Serving God is not some terrible burdensome chore Christians must bear. Serving God is simply fundamental to understanding the banquets and the disappointments and everything in between.

Through it all, we belong to God.

Not all ‘wedding banquets’ end up in happily ever after situations. Some would say once the party is over the hard work of relating to one another begins. Marriage takes work. All meaningful relationships require work. We do belong to God. We are not mere ‘possessions’ but children of the Almighty. Not only did our Creator ‘make us’ but also the good Lord loves us.

God loves us so much that He helps us to ‘see’ beyond the best and the worst this life has to offer.

Speaking of weddings and wedding banquets, I knew a man and his wife who had a successful and fulfilling marriage. They loved each other to the end…I was ‘there’ for their 25th wedding anniversary and again for their 50th wedding anniversary. Oh don’t get me wrong, sometimes they’d fight like cats and dogs but they didn’t just ‘survive’ they actually thrived! When I’d visit with them typically, they would interrupt each other and both would end up speaking to me at the same time. A few minutes into ‘refereeing’ them things would calm down and the conversations would increasingly become not only peaceful but meaningful, reflective and most times ‘teaching moments’ for the three of us. I drank it in. Those two taught me to be prepared for things, especially for whatever might come in a relationship. More importantly though they taught me to see the meaning of God in something as simple and sincere as how they related to one another even in the midst of some very real challenges. They had their share of marital bliss but also an abundance of strong-willed head-butting stubborn scenarios. Thinking back, I now know and understand, as a seasoned pastor, that no amount of pre-marital counseling could have prepared those two for all the ‘stuff’ I saw them go through. Heart attacks and heartaches. Kids, grandchildren, deaths, divorces, lay-offs, but also trips abroad together, marvelous vacations, family gatherings blessed by memorable times shared with loved ones who in turn helped them create very fulfilling memories. Their main ingredient, the ‘glue’ that got them through was their deep seeded belief that they belonged to God. Each one grew to know no matter how the next ‘challenge’ might turn out somehow it was just going to be ok because they belonged to God. They trusted that God would hear their particular need, hear their particular disappointments, perhaps with the other, yet God would ‘sort it all out’ and not only bring them together but keep them together.

The more important ‘lesson’ I learned from watching and interacting with that couple as well as with all of you is this; because we belong to God, like Joshua of old, we choose to love and serve the Lord. Our highest celebrations and our gravest disappointments just don’t hold a candle to the communion we have with choosing to serve God. Because we belong to God we work hard, strongly and intentionally at getting our relationships and understandings of those relationships ‘right.’

In life we ‘grow to know’ God will sort things out in the end. We simply don’t need to be ‘in control’ of everything nor everybody. Even when our sincerest relationships push us into grave challenges and deep disappointments, we rely upon the Lord to see us through, establish his justice and change us, perhaps even reform us to become better people for his presence, leading and guidance.

Joshua’s call to choose whom we will serve makes us humble before God while opening us afresh to listen and hear that still small voice of God genuinely guiding our lives.

We who belong to God are not prideful owners of distinction and entitlement. Rather, we are people who choose to humble ourselves before the Lord. We have come, honorably so, to commune with Him and others. First and foremost, we are dedicated to God and strive, in our daily lives to serve Him.

Because we belong to God, we adhere to God’s teachings that we really are to love one another and must sincerely choose to strive to ‘get along’ with others, perhaps even when the ‘other’ rubs us the wrong way. We are God’s people. His children. Now and forever.

We belong to God not our possessions. That’s why Christians find it not just OK to share and contribute to God’s ministries and Christ’s missions, but as we mature in our faith we simply and sincerely find such giving of our time, talents, prayers, work and finances, to be actually enjoyable, freeing and rewarding in ways not well understood by our non-Christian friends and family.

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Be glad for we still belong to God. Amen.


Pandemic Reflections 10/25/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 24, 2020 & Sunday, October 25, 2020

Reformation Sunday and Covid-19 Pandemic Reflections

Prayer For Illumination: O Lord, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, and strength to follow on the path you set before us; through Jesus Christ, Amen.

Scripture Lessons:

Psalm 91 (Page 593), 2 Timothy 4:7 (Page 1199), I Corinthians 15:50-58 (Page 1155)

Sermon Message: “Pandemic Reflections”

   Covid-19 is not the first pandemic in the history of our world. While plagues and pandemics are mentioned throughout portions of the Bible there are more ‘current’ pandemics. Back in 1918 the world experienced the Spanish flu pandemic. It lasted from February 1918-April 1920. The Spanish flu infected 500 million people, about a third of the world’s population at the time. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. Mainly, it was a non-pharmaceutical pandemic, meaning there were no ‘medicines’ readily available for treating the Spanish flu. Some scholars reflect that it was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history. 

 Today, I wish to share with you, on this Reformation Sunday, portions of a sermon message from a pastor who lived through that pandemic. I believe his sermon discourse may help to ‘reform’ us spiritually as we deal with our on-going Covid-19 pandemic.

  Presbyterian Pastor; Francis J Grimke, was born in 1850 and lived on this earth until 1937. He lived to be 87 years old. A ripe old age back then. His sermon message was delivered in the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church, Washington D.C.; Sunday, November 3, 1918.

  As I share with you significant portions of this 1918 sermon, simply substitute references to the Spanish flu with the words; Covid-19.

  Pastor Grimke began his sermon in this way; “We know now, perhaps, as we have never known before the meaning of the terms pestilence, plague, epidemic, since we have been passing through this terrible scourge of Spanish Flu with its’ enormous death rate and its’ consequent wretchedness and misery. Every part of the land has felt its’ deadly touch—North, South, East and West—in the Army, the Navy, among civilians, among all classes and conditions, rich and poor, white and black. Over the whole land it has thrown a gloom, and has stricken down such large numbers it has been difficult to care for them properly. Our own beautiful city of Washington D.C. has suffered terribly from it. As a precautionary measure it became necessary to close schools, theaters, churches and to forbid all public gatherings. At last the scourge has been stayed and we are permitted again to resume the public worship of God.

  I have been thinking and asking myself some questions…What is the meaning of it all? What ought it mean to us? Is it to come and go and we be no wiser or none better for it? Surely, God had a purpose in it, and it is our duty to find out, as far as we may, what that purpose is, and try to profit by it.

 Pastor Grimke goes on to say he was severely moved by the ease with which large portions of the population might be afflicted, even wiped out despite all the resources of science. Although every available nurse and physician have been at work day and night thousands have died. The death toll continued. How easy it would be, writes Pastor Grimke, for God to wipe out the whole human race if so desired.

 Pastors strive to get folks to think about their faith and discernment of God’s ways. He further observed and inquired why it was that some who were afflicted by the disease recovered and others did not. Pastor Grimke, in his sermon then referenced Psalm 91. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. He is my refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust. He will deliver me…He will cover me….Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror by night nor the arrow that flies by day., nor the pestilence that walks in darkness….”

 Pastor Grimke was honest in his preaching. An admirable quality. He readily affirmed he did not know nor understand why these verses of Psalm 91 seemed to imply immunity yet, they failed to…Faith is never ‘all-knowing’ yet remains recommitting one’s self to trusting our Higher Power…

  Within his 1918 sermon message this pastor well observed that extraordinary exercises of power were resorted to for the public’s interest…

The power was granted and submitted to for closing up theaters, schools, churches, in forbidding gatherings of any large size in private and public places, effecting even the numbers who could attend funerals. But then Pastor Grimke affirmed something strong and deeply faith related in his sermon message. He preached the message that good is coming. God will help in the end. All the churches, as well as the community at large are going to be stronger and better for this season of distress through which we have been passing.

  The pastor noted the foolishness of even considering there being any difference between the white person and the black person. There was no advantage during the pandemic of 1918-1919 of one’s color of skin. If anything, Pastor Grimke affirmed, perhaps God was striving to beat some sense into the white man’s head regarding racial equality among all! The greater lesson he felt God was teaching was this; the inspired word of God where Jesus declares; “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows after me will not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.” Pastor Grimke referenced the folly of stupid color prejudice. He went on to say in his sermon message this colorphobia has brought so much evil, so much sufferings and so much heart burnings to those who are victimized by it… That pastor preached the firm Biblical truth that ‘love’ according to Jesus Christ, is the first and greatest commandment of God. And the second is like it; ‘Love thy neighbor as yourself!’  It will be better for us here and it will be better for us in the hereafter to learn this lesson and learn it well.

  Pastor Grimke noted in his 1918 sermon how moved he was to see the high estimation of the Christian church by the people. Large numbers of people regretted the closing of the churches. Everyone in the community ought to have a church home, and ought to be found in their church home Sabbath after Sabbath.

 The pastor addressed the very real and present topic of death. He noted that while the pandemic lasted people’s thoughts of death and eternity were constantly before them. Day after day the newspapers reported the numbers afflicted as well as the latest numbers of deaths that had occurred. Remember, it is through death that the gates of eternity swing open. We don’t in general think much about either death or eternity. But now we are forced to. Death and eternity remain subjects of vital importance, involving the most momentous of consequences. After death comes judgment. The books will be opened. God shall summon us and we must render up our account. God has been reminding us of this account which we must render. He is prompting us to think about eternity.

 We are accountable for our sins. God gives each soul free will. Our fate is in our own hands. Repent of your sins. The wages of sin is death. Choose life over death. Choose faith and Christian living. Choose love, God’s kind of love for all…

   Remember, you have come out of this pandemic alive while thousands have perished. Are you going to spend the rest of your life in service to sin and Satan or in the service of God? You know what you ought to do. Therefore, do the right thing!

  Pastor Grimke concluded with his other thought that came to him in connection with this epidemic. That being the blessedness of religion! There remains a prevailing sense of security with a true, living working faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—in the midst of life’s perils. There comes a secure sense of being anchored in God and in His precious promises. While the plague was raging, while thousands were dying, what a comfort it was to feel that we were in the hands of a loving Father who was looking out for us, who had given us the assurance that all things shall work together for our good. We knew that come what may whether we be smitten or not by the pandemic we knew it was going to be alright... Even if death came, we knew it would be alright. Faith affirmed in the Apostle’ Paul’s writings; “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge will award me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”      –II Timothy 4:7,8.

  It is a good time for those of us who are Christians to examine our hearts and see the extent to which our religion has been helping us to spiritually see our lives. We now need to see whether our faith is resting upon Christ, the solid rock, or not.

  Our spiritual review will reveal our spiritual condition. We may ‘run down’ but we need not, should not, ‘run out.’

 We ought to come out of this pandemic more determined then ever to run with patience the race that is set before us, more determined then ever to make heaven our home. I trust this purpose. Let us all draw near to God in simple faith. Let us reconsecrate ourselves, all of us, to Him, let us all make up our minds to be better Christians. –

Pastor Francis J. Grimke

Washington D.C.

November 3, 1918.


God and Country 10/18/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, Oct. 17 & Sunday, October 18, 2020

Prayer For Illumination: Send the light of your Spirit upon us that we may see clearly who we are called to be, who we say we are, and who we truly are. Open our eyes that we may see how to make these one. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:

Psalm 99:1-3, 9                                             page 596

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10                              page 1186

Matthew 22:15-22                                       page 990

Sermon Message: “God and Country”

It seems as though Jesus was being forced to make a choice between God and country. Leastwise he was being ‘pushed’, confrontationally so, to speak his thoughts on the subject. When asked about whether or not it was right to pay taxes Jesus found himself trapped right in the midst of one of those ‘religion and politics’ discussions. Lots of folks want to avoid the subjects of religion and politics altogether. After all, these two subjects do tend to ‘polarize’ people.

Currently, our nation IS polarized in responding to this Covid-19 pandemic and getting ready for an election. Where do we ‘draw the line’ between Caesar and God, Church and State?

Many of us have lived long enough to know some American Christians who have fought in wars and others who have been conscientious objectors. Some American Christians demonstrate against police violence, others faithfully assert the duty of faithful Christians to support all police officers.      

Different people have different opinions regarding what is appropriate behavior and beliefs for Christians and for Americans. The story is an old one even though the pandemic and the election are relatively new.

Challenging discussions regarding God and Country and Christian’s ‘appropriateness’ is as old as the faith.

Protesting is not something new. I recall the protests of the 60’s and the 70’s. Protests against the Vietnam War. Protests for civil rights, equal opportunities, equal pay, and equal voting privileges for all Americans.

Seminaries teach and train their students for the ‘field of ministry’ in local churches and beyond. Pittsburgh Theological Seminary taught myself and scores of others to become, as the Bible declares, similar to the disciple John; a “voice crying out in the wilderness; prepare the way of the Lord!” (Mark 1:1-8). The ‘way of the Lord’ is not a national way nor an ethnic way, nor even a regional ‘way’ they taught us. We were thus taught there is to be a distinction between God and Country. Religion and politics are not the same. Nor is faith and patriotism. Some of my fellow seminarians took this teaching a bit farther. Within the local churches where they were called to serve they removed the American Flag. Some giggled as they reminisced that many in their congregation never even missed the American flag when it was gone. While ‘they’ thought they were making a statement that God, faith, and the Christian religion, is distinctly separate from the nation, politics and patriotism, what they mostly discovered was apathy…

Somebody from this church told me when I first started here that this church building was constructed from building plans of another church exactly like this, but much older, in Germany. I never researched the authenticity of this. When I was told that, I thought, wouldn’t it be something to conduct a pulpit exchange between a church built exactly like this one somewhere in Germany and this church, here in the United States of America? I further realized that IF I were to participate in a pulpit exchange in Germany they might be proudly displaying a German Flag where our American flag is displayed.

 As pastor, my only ‘disappointment’ with both the American Flag and the Christian Flags in our church is their hiddenness. Draped on stands, as they are, we don’t get the full benefits of the Stars and Stripes nor the Christian Cross and related symbolism on our Christian Flag. I choose to remain patriotic and seek to blend God and Country into my mind, my heart and soul.

Jesus did NOT instruct his followers nor his enemies to turn their backs on Caesar but instead to give God that which is God’s and give Caesar, that which is Caesar’s.

There’s a part of me that will certainly be glad when the election has arrived. Finally, we will have an outcome and all of the contentiousness will reach some conclusion for our country. There is a sincere part of me, and I am sure, of you as well, that will be glad, rejoice and praise God Almighty when this Covid-19 pandemic finally ends.

I believe we are setting our clocks ‘back’ on November 1st. I think we’d do well to set them forward. Six months seems about right for me…                    

Surely Jesus experienced a sense of despair as people tried their best to ‘test him’ regarding his sense of ‘God and Country.’ Perhaps we who are followers of Jesus Christ are also being ‘tested.’ Yet, this is NOT a time for Christians to despair. While many may feel as though Christianity doesn’t matter much to most, I remind you the world is watching how Christians act and react to God and Country these days. People are keenly observing how our faith helps us deal with Covid-19 and associated fears we may be experiencing. Are we sincere examples of Christianity? Our faith further teaches us that we are not to impose our views. Instead God reminds us to set an example of what faith can do, what faith looks like, how faith feels.

As the Apostle Paul long ago wrote to the Thessalonian Church, may we in the Coraopolis Presbyterian church, and beyond, hear, learn, digest and demonstrate as well the role of faith in our lives and in our participation, even now, with God and country…Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit inquires us to remember your work produced by faith. Your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus was being judged when questioned, in a des