Pastor's Message

" Choices and Consequences - David" 6/2/2024

June 2, 2024, Laurie Zickgraf

1 Kings 2:1-3, Psalm 32:2-7

Last week I spoke about the age of the Judges and King Saul, the first king of the Israelites. We pick up our story when David is running for his life. King Saul, who used to love David, is now trying to kill him. While Saul and his sons are in a battle, they’re killed.

 After Saul’s death, there was a lot of turmoil in the kingdom. Some people that were loyal to Saul are now loyal to Abner who was in charge of Saul’s army. Some people are loyal to David and his army. David, as a God-fearing man, asked God for guidance and was told to go to Hebron. There he was anointed again and became King David over the house of Judah which was in the southern territory.

 Abner made Ish-bosheth (Ish bow shauth) the King over the tribes in the north So, now there are 2 kings, one in the north and one in the south.

 David tried to unite the tribes but there were too many people with their own agendas and civil war broke out. We know this was a long war because the Bible mentions that David had 6 sons born to him during this time.

 Like any good soap opera, this story has lots of intrigue, lies and double crosses. I find it  confusing but very simply – Abner, the leader of Saul’s army, tells David he will convince the northern tribes to agree to have David as their King. Joab, who is the commander of David’s army had a brother, who was killed by Abner in a previous battle. When Joab gets the chance, he kills Abner for revenge. The northern King, Ish-bosheth, is worried and wants to surrender to David but he’s murdered by his own soldiers who disagreed. You need a scorecard to keep track of all the characters and the revenge plots.

 Eventually, after a lot of drama, all the tribes agree to be subject to David and he becomes the King over all of Israel.  

 During his reign, David and his men invaded many cities, one of which was Jerusalem. Once the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem, David thought about the living arrangements. He lived in a nice house and the Ark of the Lord was in a tent. He told the prophet Nathan that he wanted to build a house for the Lord. Nathan hears from God and tells David, no, you will not build the Temple. One of your descendants will build the House of God.

 What was David’s reaction? He could have been like Saul and just did what he wanted without telling Nathan ahead of time. If he had done that, he wouldn’t even have known that God didn’t want him to build the temple. David’s reaction tells us a lot about his character. When told he shouldn’t build the house of God, David went before the Lord and thanked Him and praised Him.

 David believed that he was a servant of God. He knew that God was in charge, and he was thankful for the blessings of the Lord. We’ve seen David’s patience before. When Samuel anointed him to be the next King, he was about 12 years old. Even though David knew he was the King, he waited for instructions from the Lord and didn’t sit on the throne until he was 30 years old. He waited 18 years.

 Once on the throne, David and his soldiers continued to have great success because the Lord was with them. David’s kingdom expanded and at one point David found out that there was one survivor of Saul’s family. This boy was Jonathan’s son and was handicapped. Because David had loved Jonathan as a brother, he had the boy brought to the palace and took care of him.

 Everything seemed to be going well until one day, David did not go on a military campaign with his army like he usually did. Instead, he remained in Jerusalem. This is when he first saw Bathsheba. It’s a well-known story, David sees her bathing on the roof of her house. He has his soldiers bring her to him and he sleeps with her. When he finds out she is pregnant David comes up with a plan. Her husband is Uriah and he is one of

 David’s soldiers. David has Uriah brought home from battle. He hopes that Uriah will spend the night with his wife and no one will know that David is the father of Bathsheba’s child.

What David didn’t count on was that Uriah was an honorable man.  He doesn’t go home because he feels it would be wrong while the other soldiers and the Ark of the Covenant are in battle. David even got Uriah drunk, but he still wouldn’t go home. So, Uriah returned to the battle, and David gave him a note for his commander. The commander is to send Uriah to the front lines. David knows that he’ll be killed. Isn’t it odd how history repeats itself. In the past, Saul had sent David into battle – twice- hoping that David would be killed.  

 When Bathsheba heard her husband was killed, she is very upset, she loved her husband. When the time of mourning was over, David brought her to his house, married her, and she gave birth to their baby, a son.

 God sends the prophet, Nathan to David to tell him that what he did was evil in the sight of the Lord. There were consequences to David’s actions. The Lord said the sword will never leave his house. 1 Sam 12:11a The Lord said: “Behold, I am going to raise up evil against you from your own household”.

 David’s response was very different than Sauls would have been. David didn’t blame others, he said to Nathan; “I have sinned against the Lord”. Because David repented of his actions Nathan told him that God would not kill him but that his infant son would die.

 Eventually, David and Bathsheba had another son, and he was named Solomon and we’re told the Lord loved him. This was the son that would become King after Daivd and the man who would build the Temple for the Lord.

 Trouble came to David’s household just as the Lord promised. With multiple wives and each wife having kids, there are bound to be problems as in any large, extended family. But David’s family problems are more than you would expect. One son wanted his sister and deceived her into coming to his room. When another son, Absolom found out what had happened, he took this sister to his own house to care for her and waited for 2 years before he got revenge and killed his brother. Family fighting continued and got worse. Absalom fled and was banished from the King’s house.

 Eventually he returned to David’s house and began a quiet campaign to become King. It got so bad that David had to flee Jerusalem and many of his men went with him. When the armies of David and Absalom met, Absalom was killed. David was grief stricken. He cried and said: “if only I had died instead of you”. Absalom was David’s favorite son and even after all the trouble he caused, David still loved him.

 David was restored as the King of Israel but the evil in his household continues throughout David’s lifetime.

 David acted more like Saul when he took another man’s wife, and there were consequences. The consequences didn’t just affect the person that had sinned. They affected many people and future events. Had David asked God for guidance, he would have been given the strength to stay away from Bathsheba. His family history would have been very different.  

 David was a man who truly wanted to follow God. He was a good guy.  He had loved Saul so much that when he cut off a piece of Saul’s robe back in the cave, he felt bad for being disrespectful to his King. Saul was trying to kill him and David felt bad.

 But even good guys are human. David sinned, as we all do. But he accepted the rebuke from God’s profit Nathan, and he repented, not an insincere apology but a real heartfelt sadness that he had sinned against God. When he acknowledged his sin, he accepted the punishment for his actions because David knew that his Father was a merciful God. He had to live with the consequences and the turmoil in his family brought on by his sinful behavior. I wonder how often he sat by himself, watching the family intrigue and thought about what he had done. Was it worth it?

 Disobedience has consequences. I asked last week - Do you obey God? If God spoke to you, would you listen? If God tells you to do something, would you say, yes Father? Or would you say yes Father, but….

 Many of us don’t ask God what we should do because we think many things are little things, too small for God. Or maybe we’re afraid of the answer because we want to do it our way. There is a saying – better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission. This may work in our world, but it doesn’t work with God.

 This is the history f mankind, our history. It is a history of sinful humans unable to see God in everything we do. We are unable to focus on what comes next. This world is not the end, it’s the beginning. This world is full of people that act as though today is all that matters, but as Christians we know there’s more. We need to remember God’s promises every day.

 When you believe in God, it doesn’t mean you become infallible. It doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes and it doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want without consequences. It DOES mean we should show our faith by how we live our lives. It DOES mean that God loves you and that He will forgive those who truly repent.

 Look to God for your moral code not social media, not other people.  Teach your family about God and His love.  We tell people don’t follow the crowd. As a Christian you should know that there is one exception to that rule. If a crowd is jumping off a bridge don’t do it – but, if Jesus is descending from the clouds and a crowd of people are running to meet Him – that’s the crowd to follow.                  Amen

"Choices and Consequences - Saul" 5/25/2024

May 25/26th "Choices and Consequences - Saul"

Laurie Zickgraf

1 Samuel 8:10-18, Psalm 25:1-7

We know about the Patriarchs of the Old Testament - Abraham, Issac, Moses, and Joshua. Since Moses wasn’t allowed to enter the promised land, Joshua became the leader as they entered Canaan. But when Joshua died, there was no one to take his place. Between the death of Joshua and Saul becoming the first king, there was a period of around 300 years.

 Once the Israelites entered Canaan, they found that the native people didn’t know about Yahweh (YHWH). Instead of following God’s instructions to keep themselves separate, the Israelites became more like the Canaanites and less like the people of God.

Judges 21: 25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

 This was a continuation of how the Israelites behaved ever since God chose them to be His people. They followed their pattern of listening to God, then falling back into sin; another group would invade them, they were made slaves, and then Israel would cry out to the Lord for salvation. During the time between Joshua and King Saul, God saved His people many times by raising up good people to help when it was needed. These people were called Judges – not legal judges like we think of now but people that were wise and believed in God.

 Deborah, Gideon, Eli, and Samson were a few of these judges. Eli also served at the Temple in Shiloh. At the time, this was the main Temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Eventually this Temple was destroyed and still later, a Temple was built in Jerusalem that became the center for religious festivals.

 One day, Eli was at the Temple when he saw a woman crying. He thought she was drunk. When they spoke, he discovered she was begging God to give her a son. If God gave her a son, she would give this son to God. Eli blessed this woman, and she went home. God did bless her with a son who she named Samuel and when he was weaned, she took him to the Temple and left the boy with Eli.  Eli raised Samuel and he became a prophet and a Judge.

 After Samuel had grown up, the Israelites decided they wanted a King – like the other people had. God told the Samuel to tell the people what would happen if they got the king they were hoping for.

 

Samuel told everyone that a king was not a good idea. This king would use everyone and everything as he saw fit. Everyone would work for the king and become his slaves. Eventually they would cry out for relief, but God wouldn’t come to help them. (1 Samuel 8:10-18)

 

The people demanded a king. Finally, God said give the people what they want. He chose Saul to be the first king and told Samuel what to do.

 Samuel met Saul, took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him. Saul was the chosen king and the people rejoiced. They had a leader, someone who would fight their battles and keep them safe, someone who would lead them as God had led them through the desert for so many years.

 Unfortunately, things went wrong right from the start.

 Samuel gave Saul instructions from God. He was to take a journey and on his way the Spirit of the Lord would rush upon Saul, and he would become a changed man. Saul was to end up in the city Gilgal and wait for Samuel for 7 days.

 Saul began the journey and the Spriit of the Lord rushed upon him as promised. He ended up in Gilgal and was waiting for Samuel. While Saul was waiting, the Philistines were getting ready to fight with Israel. Saul worried that Samuel was not going to get there before the battle started so he “worked up the courage and offered the burnt

offering’ (1Sam 13:12). When Samuel showed up and saw what Saul had done, he told Saul that because he didn’t obey the Lord, Saul’s kingdom would not last.

 An important thing to notice is that Saul did not apologize for disobeying, he made excuses. The Philistines were coming, people were running away, and the burnt offering

had to be made before the battle started. Saul didn’t ask God what he should do. Instead, he did what he wanted, and he didn’t ask God for forgiveness for not listening.

 Think about this for a moment. You get a job or join a committee and on your first day you sit in the boss’s chair. Or you are in a committee meeting and see that someone is late so you step to the front of the room and take over the meeting. This is not good. There will be consequences. Getting fired on your first day would be tough but it might teach you a valuable lesson.

 When you don’t listen to God, when you think you know what you should do which is take things into your own hands and ‘help’ God along with His plan, there will be consequences. We have to remember that God’s time is not our time, and we have to be patient.

 (1 Sam 15:22-26) Samuel tells Saul that because he has disobeyed God repeatedly God had rejected him from being king. At this point, Saul does admit to sinning but adds he sinned because he feared the people and listened to their voice. He didn’t fear God, he feared the people. Unfortunately, this was not a heartfelt repentance but another excuse and Samuel didn’t want to hear excuses. Samuel left and didn’t see Saul again until the day Saul died.

 Disobedience has consequences. Saul’s sons would not be kings because the royal title would not stay with his family. Someone else would become king and Saul’s family was no longer in God’s favor.

 Saul didn’t have the faith needed to follow God. He was focused on what the people were saying. This is a common problem in todays’ world, and it has gotten worse with all the social media that is available to us. Too many of us worry about what others think and don’t worry about what God thinks. Your relationship with God should be first, always!

 So, our story continues, Saul is out of favor and God has to choose a new king. He tells Samuel to go to the house of Jesse, who has 8 sons. God will let Samuel know which son is the next king. Jesse gathered 7 of his sons and Samuel meets each one. God did not chose any of these 7 to be the next king.  Samuel asked Jesse if this was all of his sons. No, there was one more but he was in the field with the sheep. When this boy walked in, “the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is he””. (1 Sam 16:12)

When David was anointed “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that time forward”. (1Sam 16:13).  

 We are also told (1 Sam 16:14) that “the Spirit of the Lord left Saul and an evil spirit from the Lord terrified him”. Some scholars think that when the Spirit of the Lord left Saul his mental state didn’t change immediately but slowly, over time. Without the Spirit of God, Satan was able to enter Saul. Slowly, Saul became paranoid and would have fits of rage and act like a madman. 

 As Saul starts his mental and emotional decline, he asks his men to find someone who can play music to calm him down when he becomes upset. They suggest a shepherd named David and King Saul agrees. When David plays, the king feels better. Saul loves David and Saul’s son; Jonathan becomes a good friend of Davids. Later in life, this friendship will save David’s life.

 It is about this time that David faces Goliath and kills him. David goes into battle many times for Saul but one day, as they were coming home, some women started singing a song. The song said Saul killed thousands, and David killed his ten thousands. (1 Sam 18:7)

  Just like a good soap opera, that day the song drove poor Saul over the edge. The next day as David is playing the harp to calm the king, the king throws his spear at David and tries to kill him, twice.

 Soap operas usually have a dysfunctional family or two and Saul’s family fit the bill. Saul offers his oldest daughter to David if he goes to battle. Saul hopes David will get killed but when he doesn’t Saul changes his mind. Instead of giving his oldest daughter to David as promised, he gives her to someone else.  Saul is told his daughter Michal (Mick al) loves David so he offers Michal to David if he goes into battle again. Saul hopes David won’t come home this time. Well, David agrees and once again returns home. This time, Saul honors his agreement gives Michal to David and she becomes his wife.

 The attempts on David life continue and the intrigue at home becomes more intense, eventually David has to leave the king’s house or lose his life. Many things happen while David is a fugitive and Saul remains determined to kill David. At one point, Saul and men are out looking for David when Saul enters a cave, not knowing that David and his soldiers are hiding in this cave. When David sees Saul, he very quietly creeps up and gets close enough to cut off a piece of Saul’s robe. (1 Sam:24)

 After Saul leaves the cave and he and his men are leaving the area, David runs out of the cave and yells to Saul and lets him know that he could have killed him and didn’t. David tries to reassure Saul that he’s not a threat. Saul cried, said he was sorry, and took his men home.

 But as the world turns, Saul becomes enraged again and the story repeats.

Saul, the first king of the Israelites, demanded by the people, chosen by God and guided by Samuel couldn’t get his life together. Do you know anyone like that? Some people have a great family and a strong support system, but they always seem to make the wrong choices.

 Saul’s story is all about choices and consequences. He hears God through the prophet Samuel but can’t seem to do what he’s told. In the end he loses everything including his sanity.

 Do you obey God? If God spoke to you directly, would you listen? If you knew a prophet, and you knew this prophet spoke for God – would you listen to him? When the prophet says God wants you do to ‘this’ would you say - Ok but I think we should do this instead?

 As Christians, we have a moral code that should not get lost in the day’s chaos. We should not be like the Israelites who became like the pagan groups they invaded and left God behind.  Let’s not be like Saul and leave God out of our daily lives and decisions.  

 In a world where the line between good and evil gets blurred and the actions of bad actors are filled with excuses, know this - God knows what you have done, He knows your soul and He will judge you. Your actions have consequences, not only for you but for your family and others around you. The Good News is that God is a merciful God and He loves you. He wants you to know when you have sinned.

 When you are truly sorry about what you’ve said or done, decide that you will do better and then ask for forgiveness because you can’t be forgiven if you don’t ask.  God wants us to come to Him and to have a relationship with him. Look to God for answers, He’s waiting for you.            

  Amen

 

 

 

 

"Bust-Out Love" 4/21/2024

by Pastor Dean Byrom

The N.A.A.C.P. and the Anti-Defamation League are trying to pre-empt hate. The N.A.A.C.P. and the Anti-Defamation League own the domain names for offensive websites. Owning these Web sites is just one way that some are trying to fight hate across our country - a task, says one civil rights leader, that’s like “chasing cockroaches.”

 Perhaps you’ve chased cockroaches yourself! I vividly remember living for three school years in an old tumble-down fraternity house during the 1960’s. Whenever you’d flip on the light at night in the kitchen the cockroaches would scatter - clicky, ticky, clicky tick. Slipper-footed you’d scramble, try to crush them, - kill one! You would invite them into roach traps, but they would refuse. 

Cockroaches are clever and crafty. They’ve survived for millions of years, and it’s said, not even a thermo-nuclear explosion can wipe them out. 

And we have about as good a chance of eradicating hate as we do destroying cockroaches. 

Jesus urges us to try, however. Love will prevail ultimately - over hate. But hate is a here-and-now fact, Jesus indicates that the only way to put the hurt on hate is with love. 

Online, one can find thousands of Web sites constantly spewing hatred and it spills over into our cities, communities and neighborhoods. Groups like the N.A.A.C.P., the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center and others are standing between our children and the community cockroaches, between the sheep and the wolves, between us and the hate - mongers. They stand against folks like the K.K.K., the Aryan Nation and Christian Identity. 

 The church, this church, should take a back seat to no one in resisting evil. The vision of the shepherd provides a model, and the way Jesus explained it, there are two types of shepherds: those who own the sheep and those who don’t. 

The ones who don’t - the hired hands - aren’t committed. They can’t be trusted in times of danger. They aren’t invested in sheep. Hireling shepherds, at the first sign of trouble, the first glimpse of wolves, likely throw down their crooks, hitch up their robes and run lickety-split in the opposite direction, leaving the sheep utterly without protection. 

Is that the kind of shepherd you want to have standing watch over you? Is that the kind of shepherd that you want to be? Is that the kind of shepherd who Jesus is? 

What kind of church would Coraopolis Presbyterian be if you were to turn your backs on those who are weak, threatened or in danger? 

The good shepherd is committed, is invested in the sheep, has a deep sense of ownership of the little ones, and stands between the wolf and the flock with her crook raised, feet solidly planted, eyes sharp, ears listening - all body, soul and mind - at the ready. He’s ready to fight if necessary, even to die if need be, out of love for the sheep - not out of hate for the wolf.  

Today we, too, as we model the Good Shepherd - must, as part of our Christian call, be willing to stand in between the hate mongers and the powerless. We must love and sacrifice, protect the weak, the isolated, the stranger and the alien. 

Shepherding isn’t a passive job for the faithful. It takes guts and savvy, alertness and action. Maybe there aren’t any known hate mongers here in Coraopolis or in the neighborhood where you live who are defacing churches or synagogues, spouting “hate speech”. But hate is always plentiful.  

What about the local bully? Who stands up to him or her? What about the cruel teaser? The name - caller? The gossip? The human predator? The racist? liar? The verbal abuser? The violent husband or wife? The gay-basher? Who will stand up to “stand between?” 

There was no one standing between for Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the middleweight boxer in 1966, when he was wrongfully convicted of a triple murder and sentenced to three life terms. 

No doubt about it, Carter was a troubled youth bouncing in and out of jail. But in 1961, he started boxing and became known for his rapid - fire pugilistic style. 

Carter was convicted of the Paterson, New Jersey, bar slayings because of false testimony fueled by hatred, bigotry and racism.  

A few years after he was thrown into prison he wrote a book, “The 16th Round”, an autobiography which created a lot of media buzz and grabbed the attention of Bob Dylan who wrote his 1975 song “Hurricane”, a development which made Carter famous worldwide. But it wasn’t until 1988 when he was 50 that Carter won his release. 

Dylan’s song is lengthy and includes details of the case. He doesn’t mince words: 

“All of Rubin’s cards were marked in advance.

The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance.

The judge made Rubin’s witnesses drunkards from the slums.

To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum,

And to the black folks he was just a crazy n……

No one doubted that he pulled the trigger.

And though they could not produce the gun,

The D.A. said he was the one

Who did the deed

And the all-white jury agreed.” 

In the film “Hurricane” (directed by Norman Jewison), Carter is played by Denzel Washington. Near the end of the movie, Washington says to a visitor in the prison. “Hate put me in here, but love is going to bust me out.” 

“That’s the story of the Hurricane,

But it won’t be over till they clear his name

And give him back the time he’s done.

Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a-been

The champion of the world.” 

Love is a bust-out weapon. Use it, and you’ll be a champion. A winner. A Christian. The sort of stand - up shepherd that Jesus was - laying down His life for the sheep.

 

Why Fish? 4/14/2024

by Rev. Charissa Clark Howe

Psalm 4; Luke 24:36–53

 Why fish?

Psalm 4 ESV

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!

You have given me relief when I was in distress.

Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?

How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;

the Lord hears when I call to him.

Be angry, and do not sin;

ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah

Offer right sacrifices,

and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?

Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”

You have put more joy in my heart

than they have when their grain and wine abound.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;

for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Lk 24:36–49 (ESV)

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Presence is a powerful thing.

I serve as the director of chaplaincy at the Allegheny County Jail and it’s a huge operation. I have 9 staff serving with me, as well as over 100 volunteers. And one of the first things I have to explain to folks as I’m interviewing them for staff or volunteer positions is that “prison ministry” isn’t about evangelism. It’s not an outreach ministry. The last thing that the most vulnerable in our society need to hear is one more thing they got wrong or to be given one more box to check. Prison ministry is not about conversion. It’s about presence. That can and does lead to people finding Jesus - no doubt. I see it happen all the time. But it doesn’t happen - not ever in my experience - because someone came in and asked a participant if they were going to heaven or hell when they die.

Our ministry is one of sitting with the very most hurting and vulnerable people in our society and bearing witness to their pain.

We listen to the injustices of systemic racism and generational trauma.

We hear about the lack of community resources for those struggling with mental health crises and addiction.

That listening and giving space to process is far more powerful than anything any of my extremely talented staff or volunteers have to say.

We recently started facilitating a grief support group. We run into alot of grief in our work and most of it is pretty complicated.

It’s complicated because many of our folks haven’t had the simple dignity of closure. You can’t say goodbye at the bedside of a loved one or go to their funeral if you’re in jail or prison.

It’s complicated because they have bee separated from their family, friends, and other support system.

It’s complicated because for some, their grief is the cause of or caused by the circumstances that sent them to jail.

I had a woman in our grief group recently tell me:

“I don’t do crimes because I’m a criminal. I do crimes because I’m high. And I’m high because I’m just so devastated and alone.”

I was a last minute pinch hitter this morning, but if there had been more lead-in time, I would have sent in a little bio so you could know a bit more about who I am. One of the things in my bio that always gets comments after the service is that I’m a certified therapy animal handler. I have a therapy cat, who has mostly retired, a therapy dog who is actively doing visits these days, and I have a therapy dog in training. She’s a 2 year old lab, so we’ve still got work to do. She’ll get there.

Service dogs and working dogs are dogs with specific jobs like “herd the sheep” and “be this person’s eyes”. Emotional support animals are a pet that is recognized as being important to one individual’s mental health so they have some special allowances for housing and travel. Therapy animals are kind of working dogs and kind of emotional support animals. They aren’t there for one specific person. They are there to support everyone. So we go into schools to help kids who are shy about reading or anxious about finals. We go to visit staff in high stress jobs like mental health care. And most recently, my dog Pecas and I have been going to the jail for this grief support group.

I love this work. The whole reason that I was crazy enough to get a lab (all the lab owners know what I mean here) is that Pecas is 9 or 10 (he’s a rags to riches street dog, so that’s our best guess). He’s an old guy and he’s going to need to retire at some point in the next year or two. And I can’t see this work not being part of what I do regularly.

The great thing about animals is that they don’t have an agenda other than to be there and enjoy being with you. And even people who are afraid of dogs quickly realize that Pecas just wants to hang out with them and wind up petting him and making friends with him. He’s an 80# pitbull, for the record. That dog is magic the way he makes people not afraid of dogs.

It’s been so incredible watching the women respond to his presence in this grief group. My favorite comment about him being there was “This is so good. I needed this. I haven’t had dog hair on my clothes in over a year.” It was so simple and so profound. Of all the place in the world that need something as concrete and simple as the presence of a dog, the jail has to be at the top of the list. The need someone there to talk to who won’t judge them. And let me tell you. . . when they are sharing in group - they are talking to Pecas, not me or the other chaplain who is facilitating.

All that dog does is show up and enjoy being with them.

He is the definition of presence. He is that concrete thing that the women in the group need to get grounded and centered to move on with the hard work of healing.

Why does Jesus eat fish in this passage?

What could possibly be the point? Surely the resurrected Christ didn’t have to eat anything. This is such an easy detail to gloss over, but it’s so important. This fish snack that Jesus has is like Pecas’ dog hair that helped our participant open up in group.

The disciples were grieving and traumatized and confused! Can you even imagine? They had no idea what to do now. Jesus had given them warnings and hints about the future, but there was no way they could possibly have been prepared for what happened when he was murdered brutally or when his body disappeared three days later. There were reports that he had appeared to some of the female followers and then to a couple of the male disciples, but how in the world would they have been able to move forward on just the reports of some friends who were certainly as lost and confused as they were?

Even though the disciples had been told that Jesus would rise again and they were seeing him in front of them, their grief and trauma was so complex that they still weren’t sure what to do about it all.

They didn’t need Jesus to show up and give a complicated sermon explaining it all to them right away. They needed to know he was there. They needed his presence. That was the immediate need.

What better way to convince them he was truly there, really present with them than to eat something? He had a snack. He didn’t go into some deep theological or metaphysical explanation proving he was really there. He just had a snack with them. Presence.

It’s the same thing he did not long before that when he appeared to two disciples who were on the road traveling.

Just like it had been a while since my participant had dog hair on her clothes, it had been a while since Jesus had a snack with the disciples (It had actually been not super long in linear time, but it was a long few days). And that meal together was a powerful way to say, “I’m really here. You matter.”

The disciples needed that concrete, fish-eating presence of Jesus in order to start moving on to the next steps.

It’s actually a real biological complication in humans that we literally cannot appropriately process directions when we’re overwhelmed, traumatized, triggered, or in the midst of a traumatic experience. It’s one of the things we’re taught in crisis response training. Until you can help ground the person you’re interacting with and get them back into a calmer head-space, they will not be able to handle anything but the very most basic directions. You can’t give a list of stuff. It has to be things like, “Hey, let’s breathe together.” and “We’re going to go sit down and have a sandwich.” You need to get back to the simplicity of being present.

Jesus could not prepare the disciples with the instructions for the next steps without helping ground them in his presence with them. They were literally biologically incapable of moving on without that.

It’s after he shows them that he is really truly present with them - snack eating, sitting down in the flesh and blood present with them - that he’s able to start talking to them about what’s next.

They needed his real presence to be able to process what had happened and to move forward with building the community - the church - the Kingdom.

It wasn’t until they felt and understood and recognized his presence that they were able to understand the scriptures and start to live into their work.

If churches want to make a real difference in the world, we need to get dog hair on people.

Often, we get too wrapped up in our programming and work that we forget how important simple and concrete reminders of Jesus’ presence are. We don’t stop and slow down and just sit with Jesus. Even in worship we’re too worried about if everything is going exactly according to plan or if the worship committee and pastor took our advice or not or if the organ and choir are in tune or what the words to the next thing are or if we’re going to get out on time for some secular worldly event out there like a sports game or brunch. We struggle to just center ourselves in the presence of Jesus.

But that’s what worship is for!

We don’t gather here because it’s in the rules.

We don’t get together on Sunday mornings because we’re a good person who’s going to heaven if we do.

We gather here to ground ourselves and to be reminded of the presence of Jesus in the world.

We gather here because this simple and concrete demonstration of Jesus’ presence in the world through our presence with one another another.

We are supposed to let go of all that other stuff when we gather together to worship.

In a world that is so hurting and broken, with so much complicated grief and trauma - especially in the aftermath of the pandemic that physically separated us from one another and the harmful and disgusting political climate of our country that seeks to divide and separate people instead of bringing them together - In this hurting and broken world, what people need is not fancy apologetics designed to convince them of anything. What people need is presence.

My friends.

I know this is hard.

I know that the human reaction to the tenuous situation our churches are in these days is to pour all of our energy into making it bigger, better, more appealing, shinier, more relevant, and all the buzzwords that are out there.

But that won’t save anyone around you and it won’t save the church.

The only thing that will save anyone is the presence of Jesus as experienced through concrete and simple connection. Through finding ways to listen to the stories of complicated grief and trauma in our community - giving people a safe place to let their voices be heard - allowing people to cry out to God like the Psalmists. Through enjoying the presence in this place on Sunday mornings regardless of how many people are here or how much goes right or wrong or your way or someone else’s way in the service.

Now. . . soon will be Ascension Day where we celebrate Jesus’ ascension back out of this plane of existence. We recognize that Jesus is no longer walking around eating snacks with us. Which is why we were given the gift of the eucharist - communion. We will gather at this table today to celebrate Jesus’ presence.

We are given an opportunity to stop and ground ourselves in his presence today at this table in order to prepare ourselves for the work God has set out for us next.

So remember that as we gather around this table now.




Gone Fishing 4/6/2024

"Gone Fishing"

by Reverend Marlaena Cochran

This morning is the Second Sunday of Easter. Many are surprised to learn that Easter is a season in the church calendar. Easter is not only a great feast day, Easter Sunday, but a season of fifty days extending the celebration of Easter through the Day of Pentecost (May 19th this year). 

It’s a good thing Easter is a season and not just a day because some resurrections take time. Like the coming of spring, some resurrections happen gradually; they are not overnight sensations. And yet somehow, we need to experience these as miracles too. Fortunately, the Easter season (fifty days, eight Sundays, seven weeks - however you want to look at it) is longer than Lent because there are some areas of our lives where resurrection takes longer than dying. (Ruth Haley Barton) 

The Easter season invites us to pause and reflect on where we have been, where we are going, and where we are in this very moment. Where are we in the rhythm of death and life? And how are we experiencing the miracle of resurrection? 

As we come to our Scripture text for this morning, reflect on where the disciples have been:

·      The disciples are coming from three years with Jesus and all that they have seen and heard along the way (healing, miracles, challenges, and confrontations).

·      The disciples are coming from the events of Holy Week, and the suffering and death of Jesus. They are also facing their failures and the death of their hopes and dreams.

·      The disciples are coming from the resurrection stories, surprising encounters with Jesus at the garden tomb and behind locked doors while hiding in fear and doubt.  

As you hear these words, invite you to imagine the scene. 

Read John 21:1-14 

I have been steeping in this Scripture off and on over the years and appreciate the thoughts of theological scholar Dale Bruner in his commentary on John. Bruner highlights four words of Jesus from this passage, giving each a contemporary paraphrase. These four words will form an outline of our reflection together this morning.  

Jesus’ First Word: How are you doing? 

v. 5 - Jesus called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. 

Jesus is interested in how the disciples are doing. 

The disciples have gone fishing. They have gone back to the familiar, to what they know. They needed some time and space to assimilate all that they had experienced. This is a natural human response.  

In our contemporary lingo, the phrase “gone fishing” can also mean checking out temporarily from reality, dropping the duties of daily life and doing something else. 

The experience of sensory and emotional overload can overwhelm the human spirit, and many people will in such times seek comfort, almost mindlessly, in a variety of familiar activities. Some find refuge outdoors, planting in the garden or long walks in woods. Others may go shopping. Some escape by losing themselves in television or late nights at the office. 

For whatever reason we have “gone fishing,” Jesus appears, wherever we are, and asks, “How are you doing?”  

For me personally, living in the “both/and of life”

Where are you this morning? How are you doing? What word or phrase would you use? 

Jesus’ Second Word: I’ve Got an Idea!  

v. 6 – Jesus said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” 

Jesus offers a suggestion in response to their response. Note that Jesus’ suggestion is an “other side” response, an invitation to do or consider something different. (A commentator on this text also notes that the disciples never catch a fish in any of the Gospels without the help of Jesus.) In this season of resurrection, are we open and receptive to something new? 

One of my personal “classic” books is "When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions" by Sue Monk Kidd. The book is her autobiographical account of her spiritual journey and God's work of soul-making during life's passages, especially the mid-life years. 

Sue writes about the diapause – a state of dormancy or delay; and she says the spiritual diapause is a state of clinging, of grasping for what we know. She writes, "It seems that at the moment of our greatest possibility, a desperate clinging rises up in us. We make a valiant attempt to save our old life. This clinging creates a shrinking within the soul, a shrinking of possibility and growth. When we're caught in the diapause, we're desperate to shrink away from change and we end up shrinking ourselves." 

In this season of resurrection, what do we need to let go of? And what do we need to take hold of? Are we willing to cast our nets on the other side? 

Jesus’ Third Word: I’d Like to Use What You Have! 

v. 10 - Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 

Jesus is interested in what we do and not only wants to see what we have to offer; Jesus wants to use our offerings in his work in our world.  

Early in my ministry, I helped people discover their natural abilities, spiritual gifts, personality type and strengths. I was initially surprised by how many believed they had little to offer in service to the church and world. And then I lived a little more of life and experienced how many of us have seasons where we ask the question – what do I have to offer to Jesus, others and the world?  

In this season of resurrection, how might we encourage and call out each other’s gifts and abilities, and the truth of who God has created us to be.  

Who are we? A few years ago, I had a lengthy interaction with my community of faith at the time, especially the women in our community, around a short poem/prayer. I had read this prayer while on a silent retreat. 

O God, help me, to believe, the truth about myself, no matter, how . . . . beautiful it is. (From Seasons of the Soul by Macrina Wiederkehr) 

When I first read the prayer, the last line took me aback, for those were not the words I was expecting to read. There are other words that I most likely would use, words that were not so kind, and I reflected on why that is. What words would you use? What words might the disciples who had “gone fishing” use? 

In this season of resurrection, I am grateful for words that call out our beauty and our giftedness, words that speak life and not death. 

Jesus’ Fourth Word: Let’s Have a Meal Together 

v. 12 - Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” 

Something personal and intimate about this invitation from Jesus – sharing a meal together. And yet not only something personal and intimate, also something miraculous and mysterious. It is a meal of overflowing abundance and echoes of the Eucharist.  

This early morning meal on the seashore reminds us that the Last Supper was NOT the final meal Jesus ate with his disciples. The risen Jesus continues to share in the meal we celebrate in his name, in the table fellowship of the church. Jesus continues to supply the strength and nurture we need for our lives and work. 

When we gather around the table, we not only experience communion with God through Jesus Christ, but we also experience communion with all who are in the body of Christ – all those who are gathering today, and all those who have come before us and who will come after us. In the great mystery of the Holy Spirit binding together the church, we are all one. We are all interconnected and we all come wherever we are in the rhythm of death and life. 

In this season of resurrection, maybe other gatherings around a table are also coming to mind. Gatherings that call us into community with one another in the way of Jesus. Gatherings which may include conversations about everyday life, family, the weather . . . gatherings where when someone asks how we are doing, and our answer is more truthful and honest than our usual “fine.”  

“It is the Lord” 

The disciple’s response to these four words of Jesus is “It is the Lord!” 

Bruner suggests that revelation is the theme of this Scripture story; a revelation, or showing, of Jesus through Word and Sacrament. And the response to this revelation is a recognition of God’s presence with us, in the risen one, Jesus Christ. “It is the Lord!” 

In this season of resurrection, where are you seeing the presence of Jesus? Where are you saying, “It is the Lord!”  

And how can we help each other respond? In our text, John is the one who first recognized Jesus, and Peter is the first to come to him. Peter needed John’s awareness and John needed Peter’s action.  

As we walk further into this season of resurrection, how can we help each other be aware of and act upon these words of Jesus: 

How are you doing?

I’ve Got an Idea!

I’d Like to Use What You Have!

Let’s Have a Meal Together 

My prayer is that we all are able to respond – It is the Lord!

 


Beyond Bunnies, Jellybeans, and Marshmallow Chicks 3/31/2024

 Beyond Bunnies, Jellybeans, and Marshmallow Chicks

 by Kathleen Howells

Scripture Lesson: John 20:1-18 

When I was young Easter of course was a day, we went to church. But that’s not what got me excited as Easter approached. No, I looked forward to new spring dresses, white patent leather shoes, lunch at my grandmothers with all my cousins, Easter egg hunts, and my very favorite- black-licorice jellybeans. Anybody else like black jellybeans?  

My daughter loves them too. And when she was four years old, I attempted to explain the true meaning of Easter to her. This was not an easy task as I struggled to get through to four-year old Erin. It went something like this: 

"Mommy, will the Easter bunny bring me jellybeans?" 

I’m sure he will bring you jellybeans, Erin. But remember, Easter isn't about the bunny. It's about Jesus. 

"But will they be black?" 

Yes, honey, I am sure there will be some black ones in there. Honey, the important thing about Easter isn't the bunny or jellybeans. Easter is about how much Jesus loves you and me and the whole world. 

"Mommy, how many black jellybeans will the Easter Bunny bring me?" 

Erin, I think he will probably bring plenty of black jellybeans. Do you know how much Jesus loves you? 

"Mommy..." 

Yes Erin? 

"Will he bring me marshmallow chicks too?" 

You see, for a four-year old, bunnies, jellybeans and marshmallow chicks are just way more interesting than Jesus, and they are enough to make Easter fun.  And fun is, for a four old, enough!  And sometimes, I must admit, it’s the same for us adults.  We may also become distracted at this time of year by lilies, new clothes, family visits and Easter dinner preparations. Showing up at worship on Easter Sunday for some of us is just part of the chaos, and we come expecting little more than candy-coated clichés.  

But my guess is that, unless you're four, you're looking for something beyond candy-coated clichés added to the assortment of jellybeans we consume. I have to believe that is why you’re here today. Because we all want to know something of what I was trying to get through to four-year-old Erin. 

You see, I knew that Erin wouldn’t always be four, and sooner or later Erin, and all of God’s children, would encounter the dark night of heart wrenching grief, devastating disappointment or smothering guilt, and when she did, she would need MORE than bunnies, jellybeans, and marshmallow chicks. 

Now, of course I didn’t know when that need for more would be for Erin. 

Would it be when she's bullied at school and feels like there's no one to turn to?

Would it be when she's betrayed by a so-called "best friend" or has her heart broken by the person around whom she's built her whole life?

Or perhaps one day she'll realize and admit to herself that she has been the bully or the betrayer and know she can never undo the damage she's done.

Maybe she'll be on a mission trip and meet people who own none of the things that make her happy, yet they possess a joy she has never known, and she will feel the darkness of an empty soul.

Maybe it will be the day she's told by the doctor it's not just a cold after all.

Maybe she will be spoon-feeding her frail mommy who once fed her and whose strong body once gave her piggyback rides, and a sense of powerlessness will overtake her.

Or will it be the day when her life's work ends with a memo and a deadline for cleaning out her office?

Or will it be when she's looking into the eyes of her own child and realizes she doesn’t know how to help him? 

You and I know, perhaps all too well, those days happen.  And as Mary Chapin Carpenter's lyrics describe: “It seems so black outside that you can't remember light ever shone on you or the ones you love in this or another lifetime.” And this is when we really need to know what Easter is truly about. 

And that might have been how Mary Magdalene felt that first Easter morning. It was just so dark outside; violence and fear hung like a dark cloud over her once adventurous life of following and learning from this meek but authoritative teacher around whom she had reoriented all of her days. The light that had once shone on her had been extinguished on a Roman cross.  

And not only was it dark in the world that morning, but it was dark in her soul.  Where there had once been a glimmer of hope, there was only despair now. So, while it was dark, she came to the tomb.  

There in the darkness of her life, she was surprised by the Light of Easter and her story has become the Christian story.  And it’s the story we remember and celebrate today.  It is the single most reason we get together any Sunday of the year or any day of the week.  Because it’s the heartbeat of any Christian community.  It’s the hope to which we cling and the promise upon which we stand. It is the very essence of our Christian faith. And it’s so much more than cliché. 

So, what exactly is Easter about? Well, in the final analysis, it’s about life!

Now scientists have studied the mineral and chemical composition of the human body and broken it into percentages of elements.  And if we took all those elements and sold them on the common market, it would be worth less than $1. Now our skin is our most valuable physical asset; so, it's worth about $3.50. So, adding it all up, we’re actually worth less than $5! 

But now, take a moment to place your hand on your wrist or on your lower neck; go ahead. Let's all be quiet and still together for a moment. What do you feel? 

You feel your pulse. You feel the mystery of biological life beating through your $5 worth of chemicals and minerals. How is it that $5 worth of chemicals and minerals adds up to You?  Or the person sitting next to you? 

As I said earlier, Easter is about the power of life! The power that makes $5 worth of elements priceless. Easter is the power that gave you that pulse, calling you by name and promising you that long after your pulse stops beating, that power will go on.  And it's called eternal life.  

But eternal life doesn't start after our pulse stops. For Easter assures us that eternal, abundant life is available to us here and now.  And that is what the resurrection is all about, because we all know that having a pulse does not guarantee a full life.  And having biological life, does not mean we have the Spirit of God pulsing through our body.  

You see, we all know that we are worth more than $5. We know we are worth far more than the sum of our biological parts, and that "more" is what Easter is all about. 

Easter addresses that universal human longing to tap into that more. You might call it meaning, you might call it peace, or you might call it purpose. And all of us are seeking it in one way or another. We want to know the more. As Easter People, Easter is the answer to that longing. It is knowing that death is not the end, and a pulse alone is not living. But if you are not sure exactly what that means, if you feel in the dark about that, you are in good company today. 

You see, Mary came to the tomb thinking that death was the end for Jesus. So, she goes in the dark, presumably to prepare Jesus' $5 worth of minerals and chemicals for burial. She is resigned to the finality of death. She is grieving. So at first she doesn’t even recognize new life right when it’s in front of her. But when the Risen Christ speaks her name, she knows.  

Maybe you can relate to Mary?  Maybe today you’re resigned to the futility of life and the awful pain of death, the finality of death, perhaps death of a beloved friend or family member, perhaps the death that pervades our culture, tragic deaths that come as a result of war and terrorism or random violence, perhaps the death of a life-sustaining relationship or business.  

And perhaps one or more of these things has convinced you that not much makes sense in this life.  And although you are breathing, and your heart is beating, it’s also breaking. There's been so much loss and sorrow in your life that you showed up here today not looking for life but expecting to find more of the same...Easter bunnies, jelly beans, marshmallow chicks...and some other candy-coated clichés that do not touch the real questions of your life or bring comfort to your deep grief. 

Now maybe you can relate to the men who came to the tomb after Mary's announcement that the tomb was empty. You have followed others to church and looked into this whole Community of Faith thing, and you just don't understand. You just don't see the proof for such claims. 

Well here's the great thing about the Gospel story. The ones who come to the tomb don't see Jesus either; they don't get any proof. They just go back home and continue to hang out together until one day Jesus appears in the midst of their dark night.  

And when Jesus appears to the disciples, what he does first is show them his scars—"touch my wounds,” he says. “See here the evidence of the lowest point of my human life. The time in my life when I was defeated and overcome and when I had been beaten down and I too questioned why would God forsake me!” This is what his scars point to, not his triumph but his tragedy, not his victory but a time when he was vilified, a time of pain and struggle

Think about how else this story could have gone. He could have said, “look friends, it is I--completely healed. Nothing they did to me has any lasting effect. I am perfect again." But he says, "hey I am scarred and wounded, but these wounds will not keep the energy and life of God from moving through me to you!  And guess what!  Just as God has sent me into the world, so I send you, not to cover up your scars, not to deny your wounds, but to show people that the same power that raised me from the dead is alive in you." 

Know this my friends, Easter is not a promise that your business or your family or the church or the world will be "like it used to be" or even that your pulse will go on beating forever.  But it is a promise that the power that gave you your pulse will never- ever abandon you.  

And the power that raised Jesus from the dead can raise you from despair, and that same power is calling you by name and is still at work doing new things in you and in the church and in the world!  Easter is the promise that nothing in your past, present or future has the ultimate power to define you. For you are not defined by the world, but by the energy, the light of God that flows through you and that flows through all creation making all things new! 

This power that gives life, is what John wants us to know. That we might have life.  For this is where we find the meaning of Easter, the more of life, the light to shine in our darkness, not in the tomb of "proof" but in God’s promise of eternal life, and in the here and now.  Because proof won't satisfy our longing for life anyway. In the final analysis, "proofs" amount to little more than a hill of jellybeans because: 

You don't prove love; you embrace it.

You don't prove power; you experience it.

You don't prove life; you live it!

You don't prove new life; you receive it!

This new life is calling us, and it’s the way of resurrection

Put your hand again on your pulse. Just as surely as blood is pulsing through your veins right now, the Love of Christ--the life that cannot die--is pulsing through creation making all things new!  At our baptism we are called by name to receive this new life and share it with the world

And that, my friends, is better news than bunnies, jellybeans or marshmallow chicks.  Because it is the reason for all our alleluias! 

AMEN! ALLELUIA!

Icky Feet, Really? Yes, Really. 3/28/2024

Maundy Thursday

Icky Feet, Really? Yes, Really.

Scripture Lessons: John 13: 1-17, 31b-35 

by Kathleen Howells 

So, I must admit that when I was young and my grandmother dragged me to the Maundy Thursday service at our church, I never really got it. Oh, I understood the significance of Good Friday and looked forward to Easter Sunday when we could once again say and sing the Alleluias, but I just never got the significance of Maundy Thursday. And that’s probably because the act of foot washing was never emphasized.  

Then well into my adulthood, when I was on staff as a Christian Ed. Director, it was tradition in the congregation I was serving, for those in their first Holy Communion class to  participate  in the “foot washing” planned for the Maundy Thursday service. And it didn’t take long until I realized, “Oh no, I’m also expected to participate. Uh! I don’t want the pastor touching my feet. I guess I better make sure I get a pedicure and spray my shoes with Febreze beforehand.”  

As I sat watching the kids readily watch and anticipate this act, I thought to myself “Kathy, here you are- worrying about the “ickiness” and embarrassment of this act when the kids are truly excited about it.” I also wondered just why they were so excited.  

But as I approached the chair where the pastor was doing the foot washing, the Spirit opened my mind to the absolute beauty of this act, and I was no longer self-conscience about my feet anymore. As the pastor spoke Jessus’ words and began to dry my feet with a towel I was moved to tears.  

Now the word for the day is love. It’s explained in the Last Supper, the washing of feet, and the New Commandment. They are all about love, which is so enlightening as we are now on the threshold of the three days that will bring us as close as we can- to the mystery of what love truly is.  

For in the meal Jesus explains that his “hour” has arrived and how exactly, they are to remember the love this act will entail. And again, as Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and commands them to pass on this loving service to others when he says, “You also should do as I have done to you.” Then he also passes on to his disciples what he has first received from God when he says: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” 

And so, Jesus does not just command servant love, nor does he merely exemplify it. But through his death and resurrection, he enables the disciples and us to love one another. Jesus’ example of servant love in washing his disciples’ feet literally grounds us for all that is to come and all we are are called to do.  

These potent images help us interpret Jesus’ giving of himself in death, and it undergirds the community of loving service formed in him. Just as Peter discovers when he says, “You will never wash my feet.”  And Jesus answers him, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” This means, we are called to follow him in giving ourselves away-not just for the sake of serving, but also for the sake of being in a relationship with Jesus.   

And then through this relationship, we are drawn into the community of others, where we receive- and hand on Christ’s gift of servant love. Tonight is the threshold of the three days that will bring us as close as we can get to the mystery of what love really is. And as we witness this power of love we will be changed.  

So, as I reflect on this passage from John and on my own experience of foot washing, I want to share some insights. 

1. Foot washing is an act of humility.

Just like me, I’ve often heard people explain that Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in this account was just (icky) because feet were so dirty in those times, due to the prevalence of walking with sandaled feet.  

And I’m amused by this explanation because I also hear plenty of people today say they could never participate in foot washing because it’s similarly “icky,” or they just have a “thing” about feet.  But in thinking this, we’re missing the true point of this act because here Jesus provides us an example of what it means to put someone else above ourselves for a moment. It also lends us to disciplining our self in the face of a vision of what the world would be like if we all served each other.  

It's also important to note that none of us can humble ourselves and wash another’s feet if we cannot first learn to humble ourselves, in order to have our own feet washed, because we must all serve and be served.   

2. Foot washing is an act of intimacy.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit what many people are thinking: washing the feet of a stranger, or even a friend is… intimate. Yes, it is. Not only do we frequently cover our feet in public for their own protection, but we also know our feet are stinky and sweaty. But imagine for a second, the act of someone gently touching your feet—washing them with water and rubbing them with a drying towel. This act is so unusual that the thought of it likely makes people feel uncomfortable.  And yet, the beauty of this act, of someone seeing our sweaty, stinky feet—and touching us anyway, is transformative.  For a true act of service means that we are willing to touch each other, and be willing to be touched, just as we are. 

 3. Foot washing can transform society. 

There is a dominant narrative in our society that who we are as individuals is more important than who we are together. But Jesus and the church, offers a counter-narrative to this assumption. You see, foot washing proclaims the power of finding cleansing, or perhaps redemption, together. Because I cannot wash my own feet; I must wait for someone else to do it for me. And there is something in this act that bonds us together so that I am no longer an individual seeking clean feet, but we only become clean together by serving one another and opening ourselves up to be served. 

 Jesus said to his disciples: “For I have set you an example.”  And here’s the nudge for readers and listeners alike that we are to follow Jesus' example. As Jesus humbled himself and washed the feet of those in the room, we are to do the same. Yes, we should do so metaphorically, but there is also real power in the ritual as well because it demands not just our mind’s agreement, but our body’s’ participation.  

Now, each denomination and congregation lands on the act of foot washing differently, but my hope this Maundy Thursday is that the power of this story shines as another example and gift of love Jesus left us with. Amen.

The HOSANNA Urge 3/24/2024

by Reverend Dr. Daniel Merry

"The HOSANNA Urge...."

Scripture Lesson: Mark 11:1-11

There is something within us that longs to shout,         

   “Hosanna! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”

There’s something within us that longs to line streets and wave palm branches.

Unfortunately, we’ve become somewhat inhibited by our middle-class Presbyterian worship.

After all, we’re educated people.

We’re sophisticated people.

We aren’t just common riff-raff.

Yet there’s that longing even in our cynical hearts to believe in somebody or something enough to shout,

   “Hooray! That’s it! This is what I’ve been waiting for.” 

Dr. C. Ward Crampton devised a five-point program for the purpose of enriching people’s lives.

His fifth point is: “Praise God.” 

“Praise God!” … what a great final point.

That’s why we’re gathered here.

Christian fellowship is important.

Christian education is critical.

Christian nurture is vital.

But there’s something within all of us that needs to simply PRAISE GOD. 

If we could unleash the “hosanna urge” within us, we would come into this sanctuary each Sunday morning filled with an excitement that literally bubbles over. 

It’s the same excitement that displays itself so noisily in the stands of a football/basketball/hockey or baseball game.

The Lord probably wonders how some of us can be so animated - yelling, cheering, waving our arms, twirling a “terrible towel”, stomping our feet, slapping our neighbors on the back - on Saturday afternoon and so listless and apathetic on Sunday morning.

Somewhere along the line we’ve killed the “hosanna urge.”

Perhaps that’s why so many persons in our society are on golf courses, out on lakes, working in gardens, or taking pleasure trips on Sunday morning. 

The Hosanna urge - the need to PRAISE GOD.

Those early believers had none of the inhibitions that deter us.

“Hosanna!” they shouted.

“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

For Jesus, though, this day we commemorate as Palm Sunday was a day certainly filled with mixed emotions.

Jesus knew crowds are fickle.

Jesus knew there were those who would today welcome the opportunity to crown Him King, who would later in the week cry for His crucifixion.

Jesus knew the sinfulness and selfishness of Jerusalem.

It was Palm Sunday when Jesus wept over Jerusalem.

In our joyful expressions on this Palm Sunday we need to be reminded of that aspect of this week … that is why I personally invite you to attend Maundy Thursday Worship at either 2:00 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. 

The celebration of Palm Sunday is the celebration of the whole Christ event.

As someone has written, “A key word for this day besides ‘celebration’ should be ‘anticipation.’”

Palm Sunday points toward the cross and the empty tomb.

The Last Supper, Peter’s denial, the appearance before Pilate, the mob’s choice of Barabbas over Jesus, the lonely trek up Calvary’s hill; all of these are the consequence of Jesus’ “triumphant” entry into Jerusalem.  

A mature faith doesn’t shout a wimpy “Hosanna!”

A mature faith understands that there must be a cross before there can be an empty tomb. 

Twenty-first century Christians cannot afford wimpy ‘Hosannas!”

Christian joy is best expressed in the old spiritual:

   “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,

    Nobody knows but Jesus;

    Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,

    Glory, Hallelujah!” 

“Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” 

This then is how we must always understand Palm Sunday - in light of the cross. 

A young father once wrote this story for Guidepost magazine.

It begins like this:

“I left five children at home with my mother-in-law the evening I went to the hospital with Mary.

This would be our sixth child.

When I returned, I woke our eldest girl to tell her that she had a new brother.

And then, before her happiness became too great, I told her that her mother had died from complications during the delivery.”

“I held her close while she cried quietly.

Then I went to bed to wait for the morning and the day I wished would never come.

There were still four more children to tell, then my family, Mary’s family, our friends.” 

Don Fay goes on to tell about the difficult adjustment he had to make being a father and mother to six children including one brand-new baby.

He tells about the love and helpfulness of neighbors.

He tells about the importance of faith in keeping the family together.

And then toward the end of the story he writes:

“Then one day, months after Mary died, I stopped and looked around me.

I saw all that God had done.

There hadn’t been any earth-shaking miracles.

God’s wisdom had come to me in the still small voice of God’s word and in the loving concern of God’s people.”

Let the PARTY begin..... 3/17/2024

by Reverend Dr. Daniel Merry

“Let the Party begin …”

 Scripture Lesson: Luke 15:11-32

 Let me ask you a question, and I want you to raise your hand if it applies to you.

How many of you are the oldest child in your family?

O.K., thanks!

Now, how many of you are the youngest child in your family?

O.K., great!

Now, for those in the first group -- the oldest children, how many of you felt like the youngest child in your family got away with things you never could have gotten away with?

Would you raise your hand, please?

 

Most parents are protective and demanding with their first child.

It’s only natural.

This is their first attempt at being a parent.

They want to do it right.

They sterilize everything a first child comes in contact with.

They use flash cards to help the first child be a whiz kid in school.

They have high expectations!

 

Parents tend to relax a little with second, third, and fourth children.

They learn kids are tough.

“Oh, that fell on the floor?

 Go ahead and put it back in your mouth, it’s not going to hurt you.”

“Want to watch television a little longer rather than doing your homework?

 No big deal.”

Parents tend to become a bit more lenient the more children they have.

And it’s generally true that the baby of the family has more freedoms!

As a consequence, researchers tell us oldest children, as a rule, get special pleasure out of pleasing our parents ... while the babies of families tend to be more … “free spirits”.

 

Now we come to the most famous sibling story in all of literature - the parable of the prodigal son.

A father has two sons.

There’s the older boy who wants to please Dad.

He stays at home, works hard on the farm, does all the things that he has been taught to do.

Those of us who are oldest children, we understand.

He wants to make Dad proud.

 

The younger brother is a little spoiled.

He hasn’t had the strict discipline his older brother had.

Nor has he had all the attention that the older boy got during the critical first years of his life.

The younger boy wants to try out his wings.

It’s not that he wants to hurt his Dad.

He just doesn’t feel that overwhelming need to please his father that motivates his older brother.

 

So ... one day the younger brother comes to his Dad and he says point blank:

“Dad, I want my inheritance.”

In other words, “Dad, I don’t want to wait until you’re dead to start enjoying myself. Let me have what’s coming to me now.”

The father was surely tempted to give him what was coming to him, all right, but his father knew his son’s heart.

For truly this story is not the parable of the prodigal son as much as it is the parable of the waiting father.

 

In verse eleven we read that “a father had two sons.”

The father cares about both his boys, but the father knows that they have different needs.

This brings me to the first thing I want to say this morning:

GOD LOVES US ALL THE SAME, BUT IN DIFFERENT WAYS.

 

The younger boy wants to leave.

He wants to live his life on his own terms.

He wants to make his own mistakes.

His father is wise enough to realize that the only way this boy is going to learn - is the hard way.

And so the father agrees to his son’s demand.

It isn’t a matter of simply caving in.

IT’S A MATTER OF SEEING THE BOY’S DEEPEST NEEDS AND RESPONDING TO THOSE NEEDS.

Loving parents know that children are different.

It’s impossible to treat children exactly the same, because each child is unique.

That makes child-rearing the most complex of all human tasks.

 

This father with two sons knew that the younger boy would only grow more rebellious if he were made to stay at home, so he gave him the money and let him go.

You know the story.

The boy went to a far country and wasted his inheritance on parties and prostitutes.

Soon all the money was gone.

He was living among pigs and wishing that he was eating as well as the pigs.

But finally he came to himself and started home.

And his father saw him from a distance and raced down the driveway to welcome him home.

It’s hard for a middle-aged man in a robe and sandals to look very graceful running.

But, it made no difference ... his youngest son was home.

 

But what about the older boy?

What was his reaction to his brother’s return?

You already know.

He was irate.

How many of you parents have heard your children say,

    “It isn’t fair! You treat him/her better than me.”

It’s the most human of all responses.

 

“You never killed a fatted calf for me,” said the older brother.

He felt betrayed.

He had stayed at home.

He had worked all his life so that Dad would be proud of him.

Is this the reward he received - to be forced to attend a party honoring his worthless, good for nothing younger brother?

He’s furious.

He refuses to go to the party.

 

Two sons - one who has wasted his inheritance on a wild and destructive lifestyle, and the other who can’t welcome his brother back.

Here’s what I hope you’ll take from this sermon:

BOTH BOYS WERE IN THE WRONG.

The younger boy turned his back on his father, the older boy turned his back on his brother, and both were wrong.

And one was just as wrong as the other.

 

I wonder if the elder brother ever realized that he was just as guilty in his disdain, as his brother was in his reckless living?

The elder brother would never stoop to the pig-pens of life - he would never carouse with prostitutes or waste his resources in riotous living, and that’s good - but his inability to forgive and love his brother was just as offensive to Jesus as the sins of his young sibling.

 

He had no idea what caused his brother to leave him like he did, and he has no idea of the sincerity of his brother’s repentance.

He’s in no place to pass judgment.

 

God treats God’s children differently, though God loves us all the same.

We’re still sinners whether we’ve turned our back on God or whether we’ve turned our back on our brothers or our sisters.

None of us has the right to judge another.

But there’s one final thing we need to understand today:

WE’RE ALL INVITED TO THE PARTY.

 

Some of you know what it is to be the prodigal.

There are things in your life you deeply regret - times where you’ve let your parents down, times you’ve let your siblings down, times when you’ve let your children down, times when you’ve let yourself down, times you’ve let God down.

Even now you worry that the consequences of your actions will one day catch up with you.

There’s a place for you at God’s table, though.

You are still God’s child regardless of where your feet have roamed.

 

There are others of us who know what it is to be the elder brother.

We’ve passed judgment.

We’ve looked down on and even despised those whose lives haven’t measured up to ours.

We’re not as Christ-like as we try to pretend.

But, listen, there’s room at the table for us as well.

 

Todd Weber of Jacksonville, Florida, tells of being in a bus station one night.

There was an older woman who was going from person to person asking,

 “Have you seen my daughter?

  She’s supposed to be on one of these buses.”

The woman came up to Todd and asked him her question.

Todd hadn’t seen the woman’s daughter but he told her to check the desk.

She checked and they told her to take a seat.

She waited and waited.

Finally another bus pulled in.

People began filing through the gate.

Across the terminal the woman spotted her daughter.

She began calling her name.

She also began running across the terminal, arms extended before her.

Todd thought about how foolish she looked.

They met and embraced in the middle of the terminal.

As Todd watched, he remembered the story:

 “A father had two sons ... while the boy was still a long way off the father ran out to greet him.”

And Todd thought about the God who runs out to greet us - whether we’re coming back from a far country or whether we’re coming in from the garden where we’ve been shunning our brother.

The greeting is the same.

 “Welcome home, son!

  Welcome home, daughter!”

Let the party begin ...

Do We Prefer the Darkness? 3/10/2024

by Pastor Dean Byrom

Our guide for the Endless Caverns in Virginia, when I was a young boy, did a great job. He lead us down the cold, hard steps into the great chasm that Mother Nature had carved out of the earth. He showed us the huge underground rock formations with their startling colors, the deep pools of water, the slow-forming stalactites reaching for the ground. All in all, it was a fascinating journey.

Then, for one last experience, he took us to the deepest part of the cave, and suddenly, with the flick of a finger, turned out all of the lights, surrounding us with the complete absence of any light. It lasted for only a few seconds, but it was the darkest darkness I have ever known. 

The Gospel according to John sees spiritual darkness hanging over our whole world. Just as our tour group couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces in the dark cave, so the spiritual darkness keeps us from seeing what we ought to see. We don’t see ourselves as we are; we don’t recognize the truth; we can’t know God fully. Between us and the truth is darkness.

Darkness is frightening and confusing. If our tour group had experienced a real power failure instead of a prankish joke, we would have been terrified, stumbling around, ever knowing whether we were going in the right direction.

If the darkness in the cavern had been for more than a moment, we would have been desperate for any light, no matter how tiny. If someone had offered us the smallest penlight, we would have sent up a collective shout of joy. We would have wanted anything that could save us from the darkness! 

We may find a dark cave scary, but “John” says that we actually may prefer the spiritual darkness. Something in us seems to want it, choose it, even love it. We want to hang back, to stay in the dark. We’re used to this kind of darkness; we’ve adjusted to it.

We may prefer the darkness because even though it obscures God, it makes a great place to hide. The darkness (we hope!) hides our sins, our mean thoughts, our secret prejudices, the things we do that we want no one to see, our self-pity, the delicious hatred that we won’t let go of. 

And the dark hides more than just our individual sins. Racism, poverty and a host of other evils crouch there behind the rocks. If the light shines on those things, everyone will see them, so it’s best to find a nook of the cave to keep them in. Spiritual darkness can come in handy.

Even though we have our uses for the dark, Christ Jesus has been sent as the light in the spiritual darkness of the world. In this Lenten season we rejoice that He has come to shine light on our doubt and confusion. 

We can’t stand the total darkness of the cave - no light to see anything. There we are helpless and lost. We do not want to be totally engulfed by the darkness.

We’re not sure, though, that we want the light to shine in all the dark nooks where we have hidden our sins from everyone. We want all that to remain in the shadows.

We want the light (yes!), but we want it to be a beacon to see with, not a searchlight that won’t let us hide. We don’t want the light to expose the sins we have stashed in the shadows.

What is in the shadows is more than just our sins. The darkness can also hide some of the painful things that life has done to us. The traumas, scars and bruises that the world has left on our souls is in the darkness as well as our sins.

“John” says that we love the darkness. We don’t love the pain of our past, but we can be reluctant to leave it behind. We may want to leave that darkness and step into the light, but something holds us back. Even our dark pain can somehow become comfortable.

We want to step into the light, but we’re afraid to move our feet. We’ve hurt for so long, we’re not sure what it would be like to stop hurting.

If our sins and our pain remain in the shadows, we will never be rid of them.

We can choose the shadows, the dark nooks, if we wish, but then we will never truly see. We will catch only a glimpse of God every now and then. We will not see God in the full light. 

Just as we open a window to let in light and air into a musty room to freshen it up, so the light that exposes our sins can also burn them away. That light, as it burns away our sins and the darkness of our past, can begin to pierce our doubt, our confusion and our fear as well.

Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus, who through God’s Holy Spirit and through His amazing grace gives us the choice to let His Light shine in us and through us this day.

Let Him Hear 3/4/2024

by Elder Laurie Zickgraf

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear”

In the past, God spoke to His people through Abraham, Moses and other prophets. The people would listen for a while but then fell back into their old habits.   I used to wonder why the people kept turning away from God until I read that the people of Abraham’s time were pagans and worshipped many idols as gods.  They did not yet believe in one God. If you have ever tried to break a habit or a routine, you know first hand how hard it is. You can imagine how hard it would have been for these people to change their whole way of thinking, their whole culture.   

But God kept talking to them, trying to guide them, but time and again, the people wouldn’t or couldn’t obey– a phrase used in the Old Testament to describe the Israelites was ‘a stiffed necked people’.  The old habits were hard to break, and when the people are stubborn, it’s even harder.  

Between the Old Testament and the New Testament is a span of about 400 years known as the years of silence. We don’t know if God spoke to anyone during those years because we don’t have any scriptures from that time. The next time we hear about God communicating with His people was when an Angel of the Lord spoke to Mary. This is the beginning of the New Testament. The Son of God came to Earth! God’s people now had someone, a person that they could see and talk to; someone they could have a relationship with and ask questions. 

When Jesus started His ministry, He began by gathering together some men who would learn from Him and go on to teach others after He was gone. He built a community. These disciples and others followed and lived with Jesus, they listened to Him, they asked questions and learned the Good News that Jesus had come to share. By His words and actions Jesus showed us about God’s nature. Jesus showed us that God cares about us. 

Jesus was also building a relationship with His followers. He was showing them that belief in God is not just about following a list of rules. Belief in God would unite people together in this new community.  These believers would help each other, and they would grow in their faith together. When one slipped, another would hold out their hand and help the person back into the community of believers. They would teach repentance and forgiveness. No human is perfect. When we understand that, when we accept that, we will truly understand that God loves us as we are, and we can learn to forgive ourselves and others.

Jesus was teaching His followers how to be a community of believers by His words and His actions. When He was teaching, Jesus often used parables or stories to teach a spiritual lesson.  Stories can capture our imaginations and our hearts, and they stick with us. 

One time, Jesus told the parable about seeds being planted on different types of ground. Some of the seeds fell on a path or on poor soil and didn’t grow. But some fell into good soil, and the seeds took root and grew strong. Jesus ended this teaching with the words: “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” 

Later, when Jesus and the disciples were alone, they asked Jesus: why do you speak in parables? It’s confusing, and the people don’t understand, we don’t understand. Jesus answered:  

Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” (Matthew 13:11) 

This answer is confusing, but Jesus is referring to Isaiah chapter 6. God was sending Isaiah out to share a message with the people, and God knew they wouldn’t listen to him. God told Isaiah that people will see and hear His message, but they wouldn’t understand it.

In Isaiah when God Said,  “Go and tell these people:“ ‘Listen continually, but don’t understand. Look continually, but don’t perceive.’  

God is not telling Isaiah to make sure the people don’t understand the message. God is telling Isaiah what the people will do.  When Jesus references this scripture, He is telling us that history is repeating itself. Many people will hear Jesus but will not accept what He has to say. Jesus knows that when He speaks spiritual truth, some people will accept it and grow in their faith. Others will reject the message and refuse to hear more. 

This happens today in our world. Have you ever tried to share some information or some knowledge that you have with another person? You believe you have experience that they can learn from, but they don’t listen. They reject your advice and go do their own thing.  

When does this happen? Let’s talk about teenagers. I think most of us have gone through the terrible teenage years, but we may not remember it like our parents did. It’s not until you’re older that you have a very different perspective on these years. I thought that as a teenager, I was a joy to be with, that is until I was the mother of a teenager, and my mother would laugh and say “It’s your turn now”. 

We guide our children; we teach them our truths. We try to prepare them for the future when they will be out on their own, but they don’t always listen. The teen years is a time in a person’s life that is full of hormones, fear, excitement, and rebellion. They are unable to understand what we are telling them. They are unable to take our advice, because they have to learn from their own mistakes.   

God is our Heavenly Father, and He has been guiding us – His children - for centuries. If we could accept that God loves us and wants the best for us, we might be able to accept His truth. The only way we can accept the Word of God is to have a relationship with God.  

When Jesus told parables, He was encouraging us to ask questions. The message is not always clear. Those who heard the truth asked what the story meant; they wanted to know more.  Those who didn’t accept the truth turned away in confusion and sometimes anger. The people who reject the message don’t have a chance to build a relationship with Jesus.  

There are at least 25 parables in the synoptic Gospels – the first three books of the New Testament. In the fourth Gospel, the book of John, we see a difference in how Jesus communicated.  In John, Jesus used I AM statements. 

He says: I AM The bread of life, I AM the light of the world, the resurrection and the life. I AM the good shepherd, the way, the truth and the life, and I AM the true vine. 

While the parables can be hard to understand, the I AM statements were very clear to the leaders of His day. With these statements Jesus is telling them that He is the “I AM”.  

Now the phrase I AM is a link to the Old Testament. There are many places in the Old Testament where an I AM statement is found. One we may all know is in the story of Moses being sent by God to ask the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Moses tried to get out of having to do this and even asked God, "what do I say if they ask me who sent me? God told Moses:  you tell them that 14b ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:10-14).  

Also in Isaiah (44:6b) God says:  I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. 

In the book of Revelation (1:8) we read “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

When you read these statements, there should be no doubt in your mind that The Lord is the great I AM.  

When Jesus uses the I AM statements in the New Testament, He links the words to the Old Testament or to something He does.  An example: one day Jesus is teaching and he notices that a great crowd has gathered.  It’s getting late and He asked the disciples where can we buy some bread to feed everyone. The disciples are worried and say, we don’t have enough money to feed all these people so they find 5 loaves of bread, two fish. Jesus gives thanks for the food and then they hand it out and the crowd eats until they are full.  This is the feeding of the 5,000. Later when the disciples are talking with Jesus, He tells them: I AM the bread of life”. (John 6) 

Another time Jesus told people: “I am the light of the world!  The one who follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Not long after that (John 9) Jesus gives sight to a man who was born blind.  

When we read that Jesus said: I AM the good shepherd, we are reminded of Psalm 23 – “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….” 

By using I AM – Jesus is using the title that God used for Himself in the Old Testament. The Jewish leaders knew that Jesus was telling His followers that He was God incarnate. He is God in human form. They believed that this was blasphemy, and the leaders plotted to capture Jesus and kill Him for saying such things. 

He Who Has Ears, Let Him Hear! -  If the leaders had understood what Jesus was saying, they would have known that He had spoken the truth, and they would have bowed down and given thanks. But sadly, they didn’t believe, and they killed Him.  

Jesus came to earth to begin a new relationship with God’s chosen people. He came so that we might believe in Him and have eternal life. He came so that we could call on Jesus for help – ask and you shall receive. 

We are in the season of Lent which began with Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter.  Lent is a time of spiritual preparation. It is a time to reflect on Jesus Christ and to think about His life, His teachings, His death on the cross, and most importantly, His resurrection.  

During this Lenten season, let’s work on our relationship with Jesus. That also means working on our relationship with the community of believers. A relationship, a real relationship, is more than coming to church once a week and listening to God’s word. A relationship means accepting people as they are and still being there for them. It means helping each other and loving each other. It means offering forgiveness when someone hurts you. But it also means that we need to look at ourselves and see our own sins and how we hurt others. We must learn to be humble and be able to ask for forgiveness from those we hurt.  

Jesus wants us to know Him and His father. He wants us to ask questions. Jesus wants to have a relationship with us because by doing so, we will find love, mercy, and salvation in His words. 

Let’s use this Lenten season to become better acquainted with Our Lord and Savior. Make the decision to listen to what Jesus has to say. When you close your mind and your heart to the Word of God, you are accepting a lie that God is not real and you will begin to serve things created by man. Instead decide today to serve our Living God and find salvation and a peace that is beyond our understanding.  

AMEN

Promises, Promises 2/24/2024

The written sermon is not available.

The Main Thing 2/19/2024

The written sermon is not available.


Is There Any Hope? 2/11/2024

by Reverend Dr. Daniel Merry

During World War II a submarine sank in the Atlantic Ocean. A team of divers went down to see if any of the crew was still alive. When the divers finally located the submarine, they listened for any signs of life from inside.

At first there was nothing, but then suddenly they detected a faint tapping … a tapping which grew stronger and stronger, until the divers recognized it for what is was … Morse Code. The trapped men were sending a message, and the message they sent came in the form of a question:

“Is … there … any HOPE?”

“Is there any HOPE?”       

This is a question that all of us have dealt with or are dealing with in our lives. In fact, you might say this is humankind’s question today, and I think this attitude is understandable.

If we really thought that things were as bad as some people have been portraying them, we, too, might give up HOPE.

If we really thought that very soon the Third World War was going to start, we might alter our behavior.

If we really thought that the end of the world was going to come at 3:00 p.m. today, we might think twice about mowing the lawn.

It wouldn’t make much difference.

But our scripture lesson this morning is saying to us that, “you’ve got to have HOPE”, HOPE and PATIENCE. 

This HOPE is not the same as any easy optimism.

Some people go through life with a shallow “I don’t care” attitude, and so no matter what happens, they are always optimistic, because “they don’t care.”

We Christians, though, do care what happens in life.

Even though Christians are most concerned about things eternal, we are also concerned about things earthly.

We worship a God who was so concerned about earthly matters that God even joined us on this planet and lived as one of us.

Christians are a concerned people, a caring people. 

The HOPE that we have is not part of us because we have been argued into it.

Christian HOPE is not an argument.

Recently I read a story about a man who was despairing about life, and so he climbed on the Brooklyn Bridge and was about to leap into the river when a policeman laid an arresting hand upon him and drew him back.

The man protested to the policeman, saying, “You just don’t understand how miserable I am and how HOPELESS my life and the whole world is. Please let me go.” 

The kindhearted officer talked with him and finally said, “Look, I’ll make you a proposition.

You take five minutes and give your reasons why life is not worth living, and then I’ll take five minutes and give you my reasons why I think life is worth living, both for you and for me.

If, at the end of the ten minutes, you still feel like jumping from the bridge, I won’t stop you.” 

The man agreed, then took his five minutes, and the officer took his five minutes.

The surprising result was that at the end of the ten minutes, they joined hands and both leaped from the bridge.

If you can be argued into having HOPE, you can be argued out of having it also.

This is not what Christian HOPE is all about.

You are not argued into it, or argued out of it.

And yet, oddly enough, we have HOPE.

In an unredeemed world we have HOPE.

We HOPE for what we do not yet see.

One of Arthur Miller’s characters says it well: “With all this darkness, the truth is that every morning when I awake, I’m full of HOPE.”

And he wonders why.

And we wonder why, too, don’t we.

Why do we keep on HOPING? 

Perhaps it’s because all around us there are signs, hints of what the world should be.

The flowers bloom, if only for a moment, and skies turn blue.

And once in a while, you catch sight of a little child dancing in a sunbeam; or watch a man and woman, having argued, reach out to hold hands; or see a soldier shielding a war orphan in his jacket against the rain of bombs. 

There are signs around that point to what the world should be: a brighter earth, a loving people and the sweetness of peace.

Signs that in the midst of death and chaos, seem to say, “Look, look here, this is what the world should be.”

Perhaps that is why we are filled with HOPE, new every morning, filled with HOPE for a world redeemed.

As a matter of fact, HOPE is a Christian virtue.

Paul wrote that we should have “faith, HOPE and love” and the author of Hebrews says, “to have faith is to be sure of the things we HOPE for …” 

But coupled with this exciting HOPE is another virtue.

Paul wrote, “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” 

I think that most of us would agree that PATIENCE is a real virtue, because most of us don’t have it.

In fact, my mother has always said the Merry family flower should be the Impatiens.

It’s sort of like the man who in his evening prayers prayed to God, “O Lord, give me PATIENCE and give it to me right now.” 

God doesn’t do everything “right now”, ever notice that?

God is on God’s own time schedule.

God is going to get done what God wants done when God is good and ready, and it may even happen after we have left this earth. 

Unfortunately, PATIENCE has too often been viewed as a passive attribute … sitting around in our rocking chairs waiting for something to happen.

A Biblical PATIENCE, however, is active, an active mixture of mind and heart.

It is an athletic virtue, without which HOPE can’t endure.

Think of the PATIENCE it takes to run a marathon.

In fact, Hebrews says, “Let us run with PATIENCE the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.”  

But here is the tension.

The more you HOPE, the more important you become.

The more we make plans for the future, the more we want to see them fulfilled.

The more you trust, the less you feel like waiting.

Once you see what the world should be - a world where rivers dance and birds fly free, where skies are unpolluted, where people love each other and serve each other, where prejudice is past and war is a word unspoken - once you see and begin to HOPE and dream about what the world should be, it’s hard to put up with the way it is.  

How long must we wait for the world’s redemption, how long?

The world ought to be a safe place for all of God’s children to live.

How long, O Lord?

We groan with impatience, longing for a world that isn’t yet.

The trouble with HOPE is that the more you do it, the more impatient you become. 

In the meantime, in-between time, how do we live with our HOPE and impatience?

We live on our tiptoes, that’s how we live.

Leaning forward, expectantly on our tiptoes, not in rocking chairs.

For we know that God is working God’s purpose out, doing great things in God’s world in God’s time, on God’s time schedule.

So on our tiptoes, like a bright-eyed child watching for the rising of the sun and the glory of God, we wait and HOPE.

A Fresh Start: The Gift of Baptism in the Gospel According to Luke 1/28/2024

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 27, 2024 & Sunday, January 28, 2024 

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 42:5-9 & Luke 3:1-6, 21-22 

Sermon Message: "A Fresh Start: The Gift of Baptism in the Gospel According to Luke" 

by Reverend Rebecca M. Cartus

Snowbirds . . . a cute nickname for the flocks of sun seekers who migrate south about this time of year. They usually perk up their ears and sniff the air once the holidays pass and Old Man Winter bellows his way across their northern neighborhoods. Soon they’re off . . . following the compass to all points subtropic. They roll down the windows and wave goodbye to the dark days of the frozen season, promising to return when spring does. 

And then they blow up our phones, don’t they? A Facebook post of their reef snorkeling in Belize . . . A snap chat of a Tampa Bay sunset after 18 holes on the Florida links . . . an Instagram of splashing dolphins from the Padre Islands in Texas. Palm tree emojis from Honolulu . . . Mariachi band GIFs, complete with kittens in charro suits, from Tijuana, Mexico. Hard to look at all that fun in the sun, especially when we are left up here to slog through the winter of our discontent. Oh to be a snowbird in January. 

But, if we can tear ourselves away from our personal screens long enough and put our green-with-envy feelings aside for a while, we just may be able to feel the slightest of axial shifts in our spot on the far northern hemisphere. The temp climbs above freezing and refuses to dip below zero. The snowpack melts . . . the freezing rain stops . . . and, if we are lucky, the sun comes out. And it lingers a millisecond longer every day before dropping into the evening’s darkness.  

Such fresh quickening tickles our senses. The bright green of daffodil stems poking up along the driveway. The pure smell of sweet water tumbling in the park creek. The quick and sharp trill of the house-hunting robin. A sensual delight as the earth pulls out of sterile hibernation and opens up to the new season ahead. Sure, the calendar still reads winter but spring starts to send out its save-the-dates this time of year. We feel it in our bones, don’t we? Maybe not as thrilling as tacking in a snowbird sailboat but a lovely sensation nonetheless. 

Snowbird getaways - a pipe dream for the Hebrews of the prophet Isaiah’s day. And the nitty gritty of their dark days travels far beyond salt-encrusted cars and cindered snow piles. The Judeans of the latter half of the 6th century BCE suffer the blowback from invading marauders who stomp out every vestige of Hebrew identity as they spread the bitterness of defeat all over the promised land.  

The banshee devils chase the Hebrew populace through the ruined streets of Jerusalem and throw them, hogtied, into the back of the chariot, carting them off to Babylon, the wild and crazy funhouse city on the banks of the Euphrates River. Lots of sun in the hotspot of the Mediterranean. Economic opportunities, sure. Cultural enrichment, a given. But for the Hebrew captives, shackled to an empire that demands total obedience and slavish servitude, not so fun. 

The Hebrews wake up to a dizzying vertigo in the SpinOut of exile as the center of their lives falls away - the royal court, the established priesthood, the chosen status - and they are left, dangling by their fingernails, in a foreign city with strange gods and vicious overlords. Sounds like a Carnival Cruise from hell. 

The Old Testament scholars divide the book of Isaiah into two parts - Isaiah 1-39 and Isaiah 40-66. And they claim that each boasts a different author. The Old Testament reading for today, Isaiah 42:5-9, comes from the second part of Isaiah, Deutero-Isaiah.  

The author, a Prophet of the Exile, writes from a boots-on-the-ground perspective, a next door neighbor who understands the physical, emotional, and spiritual losses of his country and his clan. And the spiritual vacuum upsets him the most. His section of Isaiah charts the soul health of the Hebrew community and marks the effects of living in relation to the customs and beliefs of the Babylonian hosts. The Jews find themselves at a threshold that calls for a rigorous scrutiny of ancestral traditions within an alien society. And as a typical Hebrew prophet Deutero Isaiah sets the their welfare and destiny firmly in the muck of current affairs. 

But he doesn’t let them wallow there. A firm believer in the world stage as a backdrop for the acts of God, the prophet of consolation draws the shattered nation back to its core, as a people of a loving God who remains true to a universal plan of justice and peace. 

The verses of today’s scripture, verses 5-9 from chapter 42 read as an addendum to the opening verses of the chapter which describe the Servant of God - a delight of Yahweh, a holy choice filled with the Divine Spirit and equipped to bring forth justice, in the gentlest of ways, to all the earth. From coast to coast, in fact.  

Our passage fills in the details:  The invitation issues from God, the Lord, a special delivery with an embossed seal, and reaffirms the authority of the heavenly host - who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it. The designations to the Servant read clear: I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations. The directions spell out the specifics: to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. And the future rings bright: See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them. Poised in the doorway of a different world and a re-configured world view, the prophet urges his people to step out and into their new destiny. 

But winter still rages on in the hearts and homes of the Babylonian exiles. Yet, just like the early morning songbird who sings out Louise on the bare branch of winter, a barely discernible verse opens up a glimmer of spring. Isaiah 42:6 - I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you. Held . . . Kept . . . and Led by the Lord Almighty. Bet the Hebrews felt that in their bones too. 

The gospel writer, Luke, directs his narrative, The Gospel According to Luke, to the burgeoning Christians of the day. The newly blossoming faith of the Followers of the Way busts out all over the Mediterranean region - loud in their robust passion, proud in their religious zeal. But their rookie status shows in the stats of their game plan. And the competition plays fierce - cursing Pharisee leaders and hostile Jewish neighbors and lethal Roman authorities. Take a listen as Luke reels off the powerhouse names of the opposing teams at the start of today’s New Testament passage, Luke 3:1-6 and 21-22. Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Annas and Caiaphas. World Series contenders all. The listeners of Luke’s good news wonder just how to get their new religion on the scoreboard let alone hit one out of the park. 

But Coach Luke sketches out a play book based on the teachings of Jesus. He chalks in a bold and sharp line of forward movement that focuses on spiritual maturation. And he invites the players to sign up for a Boys in the Boat training regime that challenges them to speak boldly, to stay grounded and to spread compassion. To prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight. To fill in every valley and to level every mountain, to straighten out and smooth over the way so all flesh shall see the salvation of God.  

And then Luke sends the Christian rookies off on a great adventure of the Spirit - to go out and to spread the good news of Christianity to the world. 

Luke knows full well that a come-from-behind start may sound easy but proves anything but. And so he gives them a pep talk, couched in the familiar words of the baptism of Jesus. Now all the people were baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. 

Now where have we heard those words before? 

Matthew pours on the blessing of baptism with such words. Mark calls down the power of baptism in a different voice. John testifies to the energy of baptism in hushed and holy tones.  

And Luke, Luke wraps them all up in departing gift that sends the early Christians and us, the PCC ones, on our way . . . You are my people . . . my Beloved ones . . . with whom I am well pleased.  

And, promises in hand, we can wait, in hope, for spring and the snowbirds to return. Amen.

A Head Start: The Witness of Baptism in the Gospel According to John 1/21/2024

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 20, 2024 & Sunday, January 21, 2024 

Scripture Lessons: Exodus 12:1-6 & John 1:29-34

A Head Start: The Witness of Baptism in the Gospel According to John

by Reverend Rebecca M. Cartus

The stars come out at night . . . the saying goes for sparkly phenomena that shine most brightly in the black sky as well as along the red carpet. The luminous residents of the Milky Way simmer, incognito, during the day. But when dusk settles into dark and if the clouds allow, the heavenly orbs wink and twinkle at us from their respective spots in the firmament. 

Just like the other stars - movie and television, rock and reality - who pulse and stir and radiate their own special energy among the heavenly hills of Hollywood. They, too, move through their individual days, covered up and dressed down, hoping to take care of business unnoticed. 

Of course if we could afford to hang out in the Los Angeles sunshine, we may catch a glimpse of Ellen Pompeo, Dr. Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy, grabbing a quick lunch with her daughter during a shopping trip. Or Shawn Mendes, a hot pop singer, standing in line for a croissant and cafe au lait at a cool French bakery. But such glimmers of everyday stardom come few and far between. Most of the time, like the stellar orbs of heat and light overhead, the Hollywood celebrities wrap their brilliance up in a hoodie and sweats and lie low until the sun goes down. 

And the red carpet rolls out. Remember Monday’s 75th Anniversary Emmy Awards Show? Watch the well-known rustle and twitter down the walk of fame to the Peacock Theater in Los Angeles. Not only do the stars come out, they dress up.  

And, boy, do they shimmer - streaming from every direction and sporting every kind of look. Louis Vuitton embroidered suits and Oscar de la Renta frocks. Evening gowns by Gucci. Tuxedos by Dior. And everything in between. Aubrey Plaza, a star from the series, The White Lotus, models an elegant ensemble with what looks like a knitting needle pinned to the bodice. A knitting needle. Who said yes to that dress? 

And, thanks to the marvel of electronic magic, we watch it all - the glitz, the glamour, the razzle-dazzle. Who are these lustrous folks? And why in the world would anyone wear a dress with a knitting needle sewn into it? 

People ask the very same questions about Jesus the Christ in the Gospel According to John. Not about a knitting needle dress, of course. But about the Messiah in their midst, as elusive and as mysterious as any famous person in Hollywood. 

John, the apostle and the author of the Johannine story, sets his good news in Ephesus, a major seaport and fourth largest metropolis in the Greco-Roman Empire. Such a cool city . . . on the coast with sandy beaches full of grubby beatniks and meditative gurus and on thriving streets, downtown, chock-a-block with businesses suits and company CEOs. And don’t forget the out-of-the-way bistros stuffed with international chefs and exotic flavors. So cosmopolitan . . . So very cool. 

Location . . . location . . . location . . .  

John, the gospel writer, follows every realtor’s mantra as well as the relocation advice of the new religion's blue book icons. Word has it that Mary, Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, the first apostle, and Paul, the letter-writer, all lived in Ephesus. John follows his head and his heart and moves house to the dreamy city on the sea. He exits Jerusalem stage right, and right before the Temple destruction trauma hits, and enters Ephesus with its open borders and progressive politics and laid-back vibe.  

Once there he builds on the faith community of early Christians who thrive on rich, new age teachings, separate from Judaism and who work out their beliefs on the interactive Pelaton of a universal paradigm. 

You see, Christianity changes things up - breaks down the monochromatic structure of tribal deities and redesigns a more colorful course of action that preaches unity and that celebrates complexity and that practices compassion for everyone under the rainbow. And riding the synergy that sparks between the gospel of John and the city of Ephesus, Christianity heads out to encompass the ancient world and move down through the centuries to the post-modern one. Quite a work out. 

And the star of the latest show up on the marquee? Why Jesus Christ, of course. Introduced in the Prologue of the gospel as a shadowy cosmic figure who conjoins that which exists outside of time to the reality of life within time into an eternal package of unity, Jesus the Christ floats into human consciousness like a wavering moonbeam reflecting off the lake. 

But John will not allow his audience to dismiss such a numinous being as otherworldly and out of touch Instead he brings Jesus onto the stage and allows us to see his supernatural star quality. . . but only through the eyes of a witness . . . another John . . . John the Baptist.  

The New Testament scripture for today, John 1:29-34, records the transcript of the Baptizer’s eyewitness account of the appearance of Jesus. The reporters sharpen their pencils and pull out their notebooks as John takes note of his first glimpse of Jesus in verse 29. The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him . . . And then, with a clear voice and an honest demeanor, the Baptist fills in the report with meticulous detail. This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me. John readily admits that he doesn’t know Jesus from Adam - I myself did not know him. But John authenticates Jesus anyway . . . I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel. The recording secretary jots it all down. 

A rather run-of-the-mill testimony. But notice the hot mike moment right at the start of the recitation. Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Newsflash! A megastar sighting! Phone cameras click in response. 

Wait a minute . . . The divinity-infused Christ as a small, vulnerable, sacrificial lamb. How can that be? 

The Old Testament reading, Exodus 12:1-6, lays out the very strict rules for choosing and preparing, sacrificing and eating such a paschal offering. Lambs serve as the number one choice of sacrifice for the ancient Hebrews. Especially for Passover. 

Now talk about details - The when - on the 10th of the first month of the year. The what - a year-old male lamb, without blemish, one for each family, each household, The how reads a bit messy - smear the doorposts with the blood of the slaughtered animal. But the why explains the gore. - Hebrews whose homes display the blood of the lamb will escape a visit from the angel of death who passes over such marked residences. Thus the name, Passover. The court stenographer types furiously. 

And then John takes a breath, points the camera to the heavens, and hands the mike over to the Divine. John the Baptist allows the Holy One to validate his testimony of the Christ. And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from the heaven like a dove and it remained on him . . . the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. 

A paschal lamb who takes away the sin of the world. A divine savior whose blood protects the vulnerable . . . The Lamb of God . . . The Son of God. John the Baptist swears to it. God in heaven authenticates it. And filled with the Holy Spirit Jesus goes out to live and move with a holy authority, an unfailing power, a royal status . . . John claims, And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God. No star in the heavens or in Hollywood shines as bright. 

John, the gospel writer, presents Jesus to his listeners and gives them a head start in experiencing the Christ for themselves. And he gifts us with the same opportunity - To embrace the mystery of such a cosmic being and to live out the dynamic of his life, death, and resurrection. And then to follow the holy instruction to get our gear on and get on the road . . . . to dress up and dance down the red carpet of the Spirit-filled life. And then, to watch the stars come out.

A New Start: The Power of Baptism in the Gospel According to Mark 1/15/2024

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 13, 2024 & Sunday, January 14, 2024 

Scripture Readings: Psalm 2:1-11, Mark 1:1-11 

A Jump Start: The Power of Baptism in the Gospel According to Mark

by Rev. Rebecca Mahr Cartus

Psalm 2:1-11 - Mark 1:1-11 

         Ember . . . Finn . . . and Gerri - Spelled with a G, E, two (2) R’s and an I . . . Such a list of baby-faced names reads like a gender-reveal party favor. For a girl pretty in pink - Ember sounds lovely. For little boy blue? Finn seems just right. And Gerri . . . G E double R I . . . fits a child born under any color of the rainbow. The monikers list as angelic names for future cherubs. Ember . . . Finn . . . and Gerri with a G. Cuddly and snuggle-soft. What’s not to like?         

Naming babies. Quite a warm and fuzzy way to start out a new year. If only the weather around here would cooperate. Would be nice to enjoy January in the same sunny and sweet way. Nice but no cigar. No sooner do the celebration peals of 2024 die down than the winter storms ramp up. Wave after wave after wave after blustery wave marches across the country and right up to our doorstep.          

The month begins with a front that blows onto the West Coast and spreads its ire all over the place. Snow to the north . . . rain to the south. And then, in a second, the next weather system organizes itself and slams into several states, raining down precipitation in all forms - wet, frozen, slushy. It spawns windstorms and waterspouts and tornadoes along the way. Tornadoes! Yikes!         

Still not done. A third wave of nastiness barrels down from the western mountains and stomps across the Great Plains, reaches down into the deep South, and clocks its way east. Blizzards and Gales and Thunder Snow, oh my. As the Furies steam ahead to the Great Lakes, their fierceness rolls right up the Ohio River Valley. That’s where we live, folks.          

Now somebody at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration decides to name the ferocious patterns of winter weather. And we can only guess the chubby-cheeked choices for January. Here’s a clue . . . Winter Storm Ember starts, Winter Storm Finn follows, and Winter Storm Gerri with a G brings up the rear. Not so warm and fuzzy now, are they?         

No storm breathes lovable, but a winter event is doubly treacherous. Highway whiteouts and zero visibility runways . . . Snow caved roofs and flooded basements . . . Downed trees and ripped up buildings. And no power. A live storm chaser cam records our boy, Finn, as he blows down one million power outages. One of the hardest hit states? PA. That’s us, again, folks.         

Losing power. Probably the worst fear in the world. No heat to warm up the house and dry out the basement. No energy to make the soup and toast the bread. No lights to see anything. Powerless in the face of overwhelming and oppressive destructive forces. Possibly the worst place to be. 

The New Testament Book of the Bible, The Gospel According to Mark, comes to life in the ancient center of power, the city of Rome. The Los Angeles of the Mediterranean world, Rome attracts power brokers and rain makers, movie stars and media influencers of the early first century CE. And of its two million residents, 40,00o people register as Jews.         

Surely such a small percentage of the population lives under the radar of the empire builders, right? Wrong. The Roman Jews exist on a seesaw of upheaval and contention . One minute, living up high on state-sanctioned peace. The next, enmeshed in a political bugaboo and bumped back down to earth and out the door only to return and climb onto the ride all over again.          

Meanwhile Peter and Paul introduce the Messianic Jews into the mix, those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Of course, the two strands of Judaism clash more than they confer.         

The whole show comes to a head when Nero plants the crown of the Roman Empire firmly on his own head. And fire erupts in the city of Rome. Whom can he blame? Why these new Jews, of course. In trying to save their own hides, the traditional Jews whisper in Nero’s ear. Check out those Christ followers . . . they stir up lots of trouble.          

Say no more, Nero assures them. As so begins a horrific genocide of early Christians as the Roman authorities go door to door and drag off whole families of Christ believers to a gruesome and bloody execution. The torture and slaughter of such brave souls stains the stones of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.          

Isolation . . . loneliness . . . pain . . . shame . . . abandonment . . . death . . . The Roman Christians live cheek to cheek with such despair. And then, they hear the step on the porch . . . the knock at the door. And the icy grip of terror zings down their spines and grabs a hold of their hearts and squeezes their guts like a vice. Just like the traveling motorists driving icy highways during Winter Storm Ember. Just like the tornado watchers cowering in the closet when Winter Storm Finn rolls in. Just like the flood victims stranded on the roof when Winter Storm Gerri has her way. Powerless in the face of destructive power. The worst possible place to be.         

The Roman Christians, a whole community of Dead Men Walking, make up the listeners of Mark’s Gospel, a short and sparse narrative that delivers the barest outline of the story of the Christ. The writer embodies his simple, direct, and tough core message in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. If anyone understands the death sentence under which his followers live, Jesus does. And he stands under there with them.         

Now here come the storms.         

The New Testament lesson for today, Mark 1:1-11, starts out rather oddly considering the living conditions of the audience. Mark’s headline rolls hot off the presses. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God. What beginning? Whose good news? Jesus Christ, son of whom? The listeners scratch their heads. The message behind the typeset sits askew.         

But Mark continues. He digs up his roots in the Mosaic tradition and introduces John the Baptist, a wilderness nomad who looks like a restless nomad and who eats like a bird. And the gospel writer puts the words of the ancient prophets in his mouth. Prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight.         

You see, Mark trains the spotlight on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, by standing him up beside John the Baptizer, the voice crying in the wilderness. And he has John draw up the comparison. The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me - I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.          

OK . . . Mark’s Christians understand the power of some people. And dealing with a desert dweller’s sandals proves a nasty job if there ever was one. Not much good news yet.         

But Mark rings in the prize . . . I have baptized you with water, he says, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.         

And, as if to prove his point, Mark has Jesus of Nazareth - the star of the show - pull up to the river and go down into the water. What happens next raises goosebumps on our arms. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. A visual manifestation of holy energy. An audiogram of royal power.         

Anointing one with royal power from a divine source - no one does it better than the ancient Hebrews. The recent installation of the reigning King Charles III pales in comparison. And Psalm 2, the Old Testament reading for today, tracks the manner in which God’s chosen ascends the throne of power. Now reading the verses of the psalm, we may think that it’s all fun and games. The rulers connive and the Lord laughs.          

But then the hammer comes down full force. Then he will speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in his fury saying, “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill. Notice how the Mighty One enthrones HIS anointed. With a BOOM and a BANG. England’s royal family, take note.         

And the mark of such power? The voice of the Divine. You are my son; today I have begotten you. Psalm 2 verse 7.         

Sounds very much like the voice that came from heaven in Mark, chapter 1 and verse 11. You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.          

Folks we have a winner.          

Sure, we may pull the lowest numbers on the scale. And yes we may live, bent over in the face of strong and terrifying forces that roll over us again and again and again like the winter storms of January 2024. Sickness and disease, discord and despair, violence in our homes, terror on our streets, darkness that hangs over our future. Look out, Winter Storm Heather comes to town soon.          

But take hope. Mark’s Jesus, anointed by God’s own self and filled with a powerful Spirit, comes to stand with us as the issues of life try to mow us down. And he promises to baptize us with a power that comes straight from heaven. Powerless no more we live out the gospel promise even in the face of the most damaging winds the world can blow at us. And that, my friends, is good news indeed. 

Amen.

A New Start: The Blessing of Baptism in the Gospel According to Matthew 1/7/2024

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 6, 2024 & Sunday, January 7, 2024 

Scripture Readings: Genesis 8:6-12 & Matthew 3:1-6, 13-17 

Sermon Message: “A New Start: The Blessing of Baptism in the Gospel According to Matthew”

By Reverend Rebecca Mahr Cartus 

Banging pots and pans . . . filling our pantries with food and our wallets with cash . . . cleaning our houses . . . or not . . . The things we do to ring in the new year. According to tradition the cookware noise serves to scare away the bad vibes. And the provisions ensure satisfied bellies in ourselves and our cars. But when it comes to washing or not on New Year’s Day . . . the directive seems less than clear. On one hand we sweep out the dust bunnies from under the bed to make way for a clean start. On the other we leave the cobwebs in the corners to make sure we don’t toss the out the good luck with the scrub water. And, as one very concerned about the state of her house and her future, such a set of opposites stumps me. To clean or not to clean on New Year’s Day . . . Who knows? 

Silly, huh?  Hard to believe that, as post-modern, fully enlightened and completely rational people, we subscribe to such superstitions in the hopes of a coming year filled with health, happiness, and good fortune. Could be worse . . . we could live in Ireland and smash a loaf of stale soda bread on the wall to kick things off. Or in Greece, and crush pomegranates all over the front stoop on New Year’s Day. Dust bunnies and cobwebs aside, at least our traditions don’t require a clean up on aisle three (3). 

Sure, we can talk ourselves out of such foolishness. But, interestingly enough, few of us ever do. Instead, we enact the same crazy rituals, at this time every year. Maybe, deep down and despite our sophistication, we want to be more safe than sorry. 

Truth be told if following instructions, as goofy as they sound, helps to ensure a healthy, happy, and prosperous life most of us lean in . . . no matter how ridiculous the details. Because even though the blank slate presented to us every January reinvigorates us for the year ahead, our life experiences remind us that smashing pomegranates and banging pots can only go so far in controlling our future. 

The fear of the future, especially the parts beyond our control, embeds itself in the human psyche from the beginning of time. Such jitteriness presents not so evident in the hazy creation myths of primal lore. But, in the flood stories . . . look out. Across the board, the threat to existence jumps right off the page and into the lap of lived reality especially in the reports of cataclysmic waters gone wild. Despite the cultural differences, the accounts all sound the same universal alarm across ancient Mesopotamia - Humankind is to be destroyed for whatever reason. But an individual is to be saved, if anything, to tell the tale.  

The flood narrative in the Old Testament’s Book of Genesis stays true to form with its description of the calamity that rained down on the world back in the day. The juicy bits about God’s judgement and divine intervention fill page after page of the disaster script. 

But the storyteller goes oddly silent about the flood itself - the lowered skies and rising waters wring not a peep from the folks locked in or out of the ark.No agonized cry. No death scream. Not even a frantic scratching at the ark door. The narrator simply says:        And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred and fifty days. Quite a simple fact for an earth shattering event. I find it rather strange. 

The Old Testament passage for today, Genesis 8:6-12, comes after the ark bumps to a stop on the mountains of Ararat. The cabin-fevered passengers look at each other . . . What was that? Not much else they can do but wonder at this point. 

But in Genesis 8:6, Noah acts. Shrugging on his lab coat, Oppenheimer-style, he lays out a three phase experiment. He opens the window and sends out a bird, three separate times, to test the waters.  

As with most R&D, the first probe yields disappointing results - the feathered friend returns with nothing. The second inquiry shows more promise - the dove flies back carrying a sign - a fresh, newly grown olive branch, not some slimy and black waterlogged stick. 

And, of course, the answer comes after the third and final investigation, when the released dove flies off for good. Empirical evidence on the wings of a dove - the audience learns that the worst is over. More importantly, Noah learns too. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth (Genesis 8:11). He marks down the date and snaps the lab book shut. 

Stuck on a mountain with only faith in a solo bird to bring them hope sums up the new start of the ancient flood’s soggy survivors in Genesis. The hearers of the Gospel According to Matthew find themselves in a similar if less damp predicament. They live in Antioch, an up and coming exurb of Jerusalem with an ever-expanding Jewish population, high and dry on the cusp of a new beginning. 

But, like the ark-bound ancients, the Antiochian Jews sit surrounded by devastation. The Temple, a rock-solid institution that houses both Jewish culture and religion, lays in ashes at their feet. And the butchered bodies of their slaughtered religious leaders stain the Temple Mount with their blood.  

Like any people shocked into desperation, the stranded Jews send out calls for connection and pleas for direction. And even without the help of Instagram, they find a place to slot in. 

Like with the Chicken Little’s who run around as if the sky has fallen for good. And the newly elevated but rarely trusted spiritual gurus who blame the whole shebang on disobedient and non-observant Jews. Pharisees and Sadducees, I’m looking at you. Then there’s the majority of shell-shocked Jews who don’t know what to believe. They seem as confused as I am about a clean house on New Year’s Day.  

But now here come the Jesus people . . . the Jews who faintly recall the rumors about a teacher named Jesus and who firmly believe that he is the messiah come to earth.  

What a mixed bag of listeners. And Matthew, in his gospel, speaks to them all. 

All speakers, from preachers to comedians, must learn the golden rule of communication. Know the audience. And boy, does Matthew know his. We hear how he ticks the boxes most eloquently in his telling of the baptism of Jesus recorded in today’s New Testament lesson, Matthew 3:1-6 and 13-17. The savvy orator sets the ritual washing event on the very bank of the Jordan River where the ancient Israelites crossed over into the promised land. Check. 

He chooses John the Baptist who calls to mind the memory of the popular prophet, Isaiah and who baptizes old school . . . reminding the listeners of their own traditional mikva. Another check.

He sends out the dove, a universal symbol of new creation, in a throwback to the flood account and he cracks open the heavens in a shivery display of grandeur.

 Check . . . check . . . and double check.

 And Matthew brings down the house as he closes the curtain on a revolutionary baptism event at the start of his gospel. Does Matthew know his audience . . . You bet your boots he does. 

Matthew works the crowd in such a way to introduce them to the person of Jesus and to the message of his messiahship. Jesus, a Bethlehem born, Egyptian raised, witness-protected Galilean, strides into the waters of John’s river font and presents himself for baptism . . . just like everyone else. Even John’s protests do little to deter Jesus. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? 

Jesus brushes away the baptizer’s concerns. Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness. With a barely discernible nod to the authorities, Jesus insists that he, too, must do things by the book. Sounds like Jesus knows his audience pretty well, too. 

Just like God knows us. God recognizes the facts of life that threaten to overwhelm us and to rob us of our blessing. God watches us quake before the uncertainties of the new year. 

And God calls us to act . . . like Noah who opens the window of the ark . . . like Jesus who strides into the swirl of the Jordan. God invites us to enter the waters of spiritual baptism, weak in the knees, maybe, but resolute of heart, and dip down into the past and reemerge, refreshed, reinvigorated, and ready to face the new year.  

And then, God promises, watch the heavens open and see the Spirit descend and hear the very voice of the Divine - You are my people . . . my beloved . . . with whom I am well pleased. 

  A blessing of baptism indeed.

 Amen.

Endings & Beginnings 12/31/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, December 30, 2023 & Sunday, December 31, 2023 

Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 6:4-9, John 6:35-40, John 14:1-3, & Matthew 28:18-20 

Sermon Message: “Endings and Beginnings”

By Elder Laurie Zickgraf 

Happy New Year’s Eve! 

Has anyone made their New Year’s Resolution yet?  Many people do make resolutions, but I don’t think I have ever met anyone that kept their resolution for more than a few weeks.  I’m sure someone – somewhere - kept their resolution for a whole month or longer, but I think the odds are against you.  We get caught up in life and revert to old habits once things get busy.  

I don’t remember resolutions being a part of my family’s tradition at the end of the year, so I don’t remember ever making one.  Dec. 31st was just another day, the day we turned the calendar over and started a new month.  But we turn the calendar over 12 times a year.  So why is the end of December any different?  

I do remember one time when Dec. 31st was different!  Who here remembers Y2K? The world was going to end at midnight on Dec. 31, 1999.  A lot of people were really scared and started to prepare for the world to go berserk.  They took cash out of the bank and stocked up on essentials from Walmart.  

Why were they so worried?  The experts told us that all the computers were going to melt down at midnight when the internal calendar flipped from Dec. 1999 to Jan. 1, 2000, because they had programed the computers to use 2 digits for the year instead of 4 digits.  So, instead of seeing 1999 internally, the computer saw it as 99.  When the computer went to 2000 it would revert back to 1900.  Many people thought that the banks would fail and stores would close when all the computers went down.  

Millions of dollars were spent trying to solve the problem, so the world’s computers didn’t stop working.  A lot of people put their time, energy, and money into making sure the computers didn’t crash.  Now most people are told they did a good job because of what happens – the outcome of all their work - but the people that worked on Y2K were rewarded because NOTHING HAPPENED.  The world kept turning and the computers kept working.  

Our lives are filled with endings and beginnings.  The stages of our lives have many beginnings and endings.  Birth, then childhood, the teen years, and young adulthood. Some people can’t wait for the next phase of life because it’s going to be better.  As a teenager, we want to be an adult so we can do what we want.  No one will make up rules we have to follow.  Sadly, when we become an adult, we see that someone is always making up rules for us to follow.  

Some people think the years past are the best.  The good old days!  I had a girlfriend who loved high school.  I didn’t understand that, because I hated high school and couldn’t wait to get out.  About 10 years after we graduated, we ran into each other and went to lunch.  She told me she missed high school and wished she could go back to those carefree days.  I thought it was a bit sad that she felt her best years were behind her.  

Some people look backwards while other people look forward.  Either way, the end of the year seems to be the perfect time for reflection.  

That word – reflection – it’s not a word we use often.  It means serious thinking or careful consideration.  How often do we really sit and reflect on things in our lives?  We’re more likely to bounce from thing to thing looking for something new, something exciting, or just to forget about our problems.  We read in the Bible that people pondered about things they saw or were told. The people in the Bible didn’t have TV’s or cell phones or the internet.  They had time to think!  The Israelites had a tradition of looking back.  Their oral history was handed down from generation to generation so their history would not be lost.  

The Book of Deuteronomy is a record of what Moses told the Israelites as he was preparing to die.  You might remember that God had told Moses that he was not allowed to enter the promised land, so Moses took this time to teach and remind the people of their history.  He reminded them to teach their children so that their history wouldn’t be forgotten.  

Moses told everyone to remember to Love the Lord with all their heart and soul and strength.  He tells them to teach their children about God’s commandments when they sit or walk along the road; when they lie down or when they get up.   

Moses is telling the people to look back – at all that God did for them and then look forward as they teach the next generation so their history is not lost forever.  

Deu 6:4-9 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. 

Many families no longer offer religious training at home.  We allow the schools and churches to do the hard work and assume our kids are getting a good education.  Maybe we should reflect on what we, as a society, are teaching our children and what the next generation is learning.  

We look backwards at our history.  We know we need to teach our children so they don’t forget where they came from.  But we have to do more than that.  We have to teach them to look forward – toward the light, toward truth and toward hope! 

We have the promises of God in the Old Testament, and we have Jesus in the New Testament who tells us that His Father is calling us to Him. God is reminding us, through Jesus, that we can rely on the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

Jesus tells us in the book of John that He is the bread of life.  All those who come to Him will be raised on “at the last day”.  Jesus promises that it is His Father’s will that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life. 

That’s an amazing promise!  Jesus says, “I have come down from heaven not to do My will but to do the will of Him who sent me!”  Jesus shows us God’s perfect love – Jesus came to earth to save us knowing that He would be persecuted, laughed at, taunted, and killed!  

John 6:35-40 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” 

Jesus also told us that He is preparing a place for us.  ‘My Father’s house has many rooms. If I go and prepare a place for you I will come back and take you to be with Me.’  

John 14:1-3 14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” 

In Matthew, the final command from Jesus to His disciples, what we call the Great Commission, reaches backwards and forwards.  Jesus tells us – look backwards and tell everyone about our history, about the One True God and about how His son was sent to us to save us.  Then we need to look forward and teach all nations about the promises of God.  Teach them to obey the commandments that God gave to Moses.  If we do this, Jesus assures us that He will be with us “to the end of the age”. 

Matt28:18-20 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 

There will be more endings and beginnings in our lives.  It is the way the world works.  We need to enjoy the good times and lean on God during the hard times.  We need to ask God for guidance all the time, in big things and in little things. 

Every month, we turn the page of the calendar over and see a new month before us.  One where anything can happen.  We can do things differently – or at least try to do things differently. The end of the old and a new beginning! But Dec. 31st is different.  It’s the BIG ending and the BIG beginning.  Time to get a new day planner or a new calendar.  Time to get organized.   

Maybe December 31st is bigger because Christmas is a time of family.  Some of us spend more time with family during the holidays, and some of us feel the emptiness of being alone more profoundly.  We may see others celebrating and look at our lives more closely.  It’s a time of reflection.  A time to think about where you are in your journey and decide if it’s time to make a course correction. There’s something about the end of each month that makes us think a little more about what we want to do next month.  But the end of the year is a perfect time to remember the past.  Your past and the past shown to us in the Bible.  

Life is full of endings and beginnings! Some seasons are wonderful and full of promise.  Some seasons are difficult, and we feel the weight of the world on our shoulders.  It is during these times that I remember what my mom told me.  She said – when you’re young and things are bad, you think that life will always be this way.  But things change – they always do.  As I got older, I understood what she was saying.  Things don’t stay the same.  

During the tough times I look at a piece of paper sitting beside my desk at home.  It says –“Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass; it’s about learning how to dance in the rain!” 

I am getting better at dancing.  I learned a new step this year when we lost our dear friend, Reverend Tom.  

During the good and the bad, remember, Jesus ended His life with God to begin His ministry here on earth.  He ended His time on earth in a horrific way, through crucifixion – to begin His life as our risen Savior. He promised us that He will return, and when He does, our life as we know it will end, and we will have a new beginning and a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father that will last an eternity! 

Our future is full of love and hope.  In this new year, share this hope with others.  Help each other through the storms and turn to God every day!  Take time to reflect and ask yourself if now is the time to make a change in your life.  If it is, your heavenly Father will lead you on a new path.  Listen to Him, listen to the One who loves you! 

God bless you all!

 Amen.

Christmas Eve Sermon: "Christmas in Canaan" 12/25/2023

Sermon Message for Christmas Eve

December 24, 2023 

Scripture Readings: Psalm 96 & Luke 2:1-20 

Sermon Message: “Christmas In Canaan”

By Pastor Dean Byrom 

A story by John Sumwalt 

Once upon a time on Christmas Eve, just before the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century, somewhere on the trail between St. Louis and the Oklahoma Territory, a child was born in a dugout barn with the help of a blind midwife and a messenger of the Lord. 

Silas and Millie Kittleson were on their way from Indiana to Oklahoma where they intended to homestead and raise their family. Millie was expecting their first child. She had celebrated her seventeenth birthday on the day that they passed through St. Louis. 

Silas was a seasoned young man of twenty-three, an experienced horseman and veteran trailblazer. He had made the trip several times before and was confident that they would arrive safely in Nickerson, Kansas, before the baby was due. There they would spend the winter with relatives before going on to Oklahoma in the spring.  

It was risky to cross the plains with mules and wagon any time in winter. But it had been a mild December, with little snow and wind. The towns were frequent, and the dirt roads well-worn and marked, so they had just kept pushing on day after day. Nickerson was only about twenty miles away. They would make it in time for Christmas. Silas’ aunt and uncle would be delighted! 

It was about three o’clock in the afternoon that December 24th when Millie felt the first contractions. Silas had just guided the mules across a small stream. When they pulled up on the bank, they saw what appeared to be farm buildings low on the horizon about a mile and a half in the distance. Perhaps they could get some help and find shelter for the night.  

But as they drew near, they could see that what once had been a prairie homestead was now abandoned and very much in disrepair. There was a small house with a sod roof which had collapsed on one end. About thirty yards from the house was a dugout barn that was still pretty much intact. It was a combination log-and-sod construction and considerably larger than the house. There was hay in the loft, and the faint odor of horses and cattle could still be detected in the stalls below. 

Silas unharnessed the mules, moved them into the stalls and fed them some of the old, musty hay. The mules’ body heat would help to warm them through the night. Millie made a bed for herself with blankets and hay in the empty stall across from the mules. The contractions were more frequent now. 

She called out to Silas, “Come here and hold me. I’m scared.” 

Silas held her close, trying not to let on how frightened he was feeling himself. Together they prayed to God for the safe delivery of their child. 

About an hour later there was a loud banging on the barn door and then a voice, “I heard you folks might be in need of some help.”  

When they opened the door, there was an old woman, hunched over and leaning on a cane. She appeared to be in her eighties. 

“I’m a midwife”, she said, “I deliver the babies around here. I’ve delivered most all the babies born in Rush County, Kansas, for over sixty years. They call me Old Katherine. (They don’t think I hear ‘em). You can call me Kate. That’s what my mother called me.” 

“I don’t see too well anymore. You’ll have to lead me around a bit. But I know about birthing babies. I’ve delivered over a hundred in my time, and never lost a mother or a baby.”  

The child was born within the hour. It came breach. Old Katherine said that it was a good thing she got there when she did. 

And then the neighbors began to come, farmers and ranchers with their wives and children. They brought gifts. The children offered toys:  wooden rattles, tops, cornhusk dolls, whistles carved from willow twigs. The women brought more practical things:  pillows, blankets, cotton rags, baby clothes, and enough food to feed a threshing crew. One of the men had fashioned a cradle out of a feed trough. 

It wasn’t until everyone started to leave that Silas thought to ask how it was that they had heard about them.  

“Didn’t you send her?” It was Old Katherine who spoke first. “She said you needed me, and then she rode with me across the prairie. I could never have made it by myself. She was a young woman - about twenty years old.”  

Everyone else said that they had seen the same woman. “She said - come quickly, that a baby was being born out at Canaan.” 

And then they all knew who it was. There was a moment of utter astonishment and wonder as people exchanged bewildered glances and nods. 

Old Katherine turned to Silas and Millie and said out loud what everyone was thinking, “There was only one person who ever called this place Canaan. Liza Campbell. Liza and Jed Campbell came here to homestead about twenty years ago. They built the house and barn, and when they were finished, Liza said, “We will call it Canaan. It’s our very own promised land. They put a sign right out there by the well. ‘Welcome to Canaan’ it said. 

“What became of them?” Millie asked. Again, it was Old Katherine who spoke.  “Liza died in childbirth about a year after they settled here. They sent for me, but she died before I could get here. Jed was heartbroken, went back East. We never heard from him again.” 

There was a long silence as everyone pondered this strange and marvelous occurrence. Could it have been Liza? Who else could it have been? But why, and how? 

Suddenly their pondering was interrupted by the crying of the newborn child. 

They called him Elmer, Elmer Milton, after Millie’s father. And for as long as they lived, they never ceased giving thanks to God for the mysterious messenger who had announced his birth. 

Miraculous things happen at Christmas time. May the miracle of God’s coming to us in the Baby Jesus grace and bless you this holy day!

Christmas Trouble 12/24/2023

Sermon Message for Sunday, December 24, 2023

4th Sunday of Advent 

Scripture Readings: Romans 16:25-27 & Luke 1:26-38 

Sermon Message: “Christmas Trouble”

By Pastor Dean Byrom 

A story by John Sumwalt 

One December evening a group of college students was gathered in the living room of a tiny apartment where their advisor lived, drinking hot chocolate, and basking in the afterglow of a caroling experience they had shared at a local nursing home. It was the campus Christian fellowship group led by Professor Joshua Josephson. The students called him Professor Josh for short. He taught physics and chemistry, and because the college was too small to have a chaplain or a chapel, he had started a Bible study group which met every Friday night in the basement of one of the dormitories. 

Every year Professor Josh took the group caroling, and afterwards he invited them back to his apartment for hot chocolate and giant popcorn balls made from a family recipe which he claimed had been handed down for several generations. This year, as it usually did, the conversation got around to the meaning of Christmas. Stories were told of Christmases past, of presents given and presents received, of family gatherings and candlelight services. Everyone had something to tell about the Christmas pageant in his/her home church and the parts they had played as children. 

After a while, Professor Josh broke into the conversation and said, “I have a Christmas story that I would like to share with all of you.” 

“In the little country church where I grew up,” he began, “we had a tradition of Christmas caroling in the homes of all the older persons who were unable to come to church. The tradition was started when Miss Bower and Miss Dickenson were our pastors. I never knew their first names. People always referred to them as Miss Bower and Miss Dickenson. They were a tandem. For some reason the bishop always appointed them to serve together, and that’s the way people always spoke of them. It was impossible to think of one without the other. They shared all of the pastoral duties. One preached one Sunday, the other the next. One was in charge of the Sunday School and the Youth Fellowship; the other met with the Women’s Group and the Men’s Brotherhood. They used to say that Miss Bower was the best dart ball player the Brotherhood ever had.” 

“It was Miss Dickenson who organized the caroling expeditions. Miss Bower stayed behind to prepare cookies and hot beverages for the party they always had afterwards at the parsonage.  

“The incident I’m going to tell you about occurred before I was born. In those days most of the farmers in that part of the country still farmed with horses. When it came time for caroling, they would get out the bobsleds and sleighs which had been stored away all year in the backs of machine sheds and barns. They would pack about a dozen people into each sled, about half as many into each sleigh, and cover everyone with lap robes and horse blankets. Then they would bring out heated soap stones and tuck them down into the straw in the bottom of the rigs to keep their feet warm.” 

“There’s nothing like a sleigh ride in the country with bells ringing and snow glistening on a moonlit night. Sometimes they would pull right up to the windows and sing without getting unbundled. At other places, people would insist that everyone come inside so they could see their faces and feed them cookies while they warmed themselves around the stove. The old people looked forward to their coming. For some who couldn’t get out at all and who had no family to come to them, it was the only taste of Christmas they would get. There were always a lot of tears and hugs as the last of “Silent Night” was sung and the last “Merry Christmas” was said”. 

“There was one place where the carolers never received a warm welcome. Old Mrs. Higgens lived all alone in a big farmhouse at the end of Wheat Hollow. It was the farthest place out on the carolers’ route, almost six miles from the church. Mrs. Higgens had been a widow for years. Her children and grandchildren all lived in distant cities, so she rarely saw them. In fact, she rarely saw anyone. She hired one of the neighbors to do her shopping and, as far as anyone knew, he was the only one who ever spoke to her. Every year when the carolers turned up the long lane which led to her house, they would see lights in her kitchen window, but by the time they pulled into the yard, the house would be dark. Miss Dickenson always insisted that they sing a few carols anyway, but every year there was no response. The house always remained dark.” 

“One year just before caroling time, Miss Dickenson went out to see Mrs. Higgens. Mrs. Higgens must have known who she was. Perhaps she had been expecting her? For whatever reason, she let her in. She took her directly into the parlor, invited her to sit on the davenport, sat herself down on the matching chair, folded her hands in her lap and said, ‘Reverend, I’m so glad you’ve come. I’ve been wanting to ask you to pray for me.’ 

“ ‘Oh,’ said Miss Dickenson, ‘what would you like me to pray about?’ 

“ ‘Well,’ said Mrs. Higgens, ‘I would like you to ask God to forgive me. I can’t find the words to say it myself.’ 

“ ‘For what do you need to be forgiven?’ asked Miss Dickenson. 

“At this point Mrs. Higgens broke down, and the tears flowed for quite a while. ‘It’s a long story,’ she said. ‘Years ago before we moved here and before my husband and I were married, we found out that I was expecting. We were engaged to be married, but we were waiting for him to graduate from high school and get a job so he could support us. When we learned about the baby, we were beside ourselves. We didn’t know what to do. Well, before we could do anything or tell anyone, we were in an accident. We went caroling with a group of kids from the church. One of the horses bolted. The sleigh in which we were riding over-turned, and everyone was thrown into the ditch. No one was seriously injured, but it was quite a jolt, and that night I lost the baby. Somehow, I don’t know how, we managed to keep it from our folks. They never found out. The next year Frank and I were married as planned, and we moved here to this community partly to get away from the memory of all that. We figured it would be a fresh start for both of us. When you started to bring the carolers around at Christmas time, it brought back all those memories. And with Frank gone and me here with no one to talk to, it has become more than I can bear.’ 

“ ‘I understand,’ Miss Dickenson said. Then she invited Mrs. Higgens to kneel down with her and they prayed together.” 

“Not long after that, late one Sunday evening, Miss Bower and Miss Dickenson heard a knock on the parsonage door. When they opened the door, they were surprised to see that it was a girl named Mary from the Youth Fellowship. She said she had to talk to someone. Miss Dickenson took her into the study, and before she could take her coat or offer her a chair, Mary blurted out that she was pregnant. She said she knew better, and they hadn’t intended for it to happen, but it had happened, and now what was she going to do? She said she was afraid to tell her folks, and she didn’t know if her boyfriend would marry her. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to get married. She had almost a year of school left and where would they live? How could they afford to take care of a baby?” 

“Miss Dickenson listened, and when Mary was finished, she said the usual things that pastors say to young girls who come to them in that kind of trouble. But Mary was not to be comforted. It was as if she hadn’t heard a word Miss Dickenson said. Finally, almost in desperation, Miss Dickenson told her, ‘You must tell your folks. I’ll go with you if you like. But before you tell them, I want you to pay a visit to old Mrs. Higgens.’ 

“If she hadn’t had Mary’s attention before, she had it now. ‘Old Mrs. Higgens?’ she asked. ‘Why in the world would you want me to go and see her? Besides, she won’t see me; she won’t see anyone.’ 

“ ‘Yes she will,’ Miss Dickenson said, ‘I’ll arrange it.’ 

“The next day after school, Mary drove up Wheat Hollow to see old Mrs. Higgens. She didn’t know why she was going, but she had told Miss Dickenson she would go; so, she went. When she got to the door, Mrs. Higgens was waiting for her. She said, ‘Hello, Mary’ and then she ushered her directly into the parlor. She sat her down on the davenport, sat herself down beside her, and before Mary could say a word, she poured out her whole story just the way she had told it to Miss Dickenson. And then she added one more thing. She looked Mary straight in the eye and said, ‘My baby would have been sixty-two years old this year.’ 

“By this time, of course, Mary was crying. Through her tears she thanked Mrs. Higgens and told her she knew now what she had to do.” 

“That year when the Christmas carolers drove up Wheat Hollow to Mrs. Higgens’ place, she left the lights on. And when they got to the door, she invited them in and insisted that they stay for hot chocolate and cookies.” 

And then Professor Josh paused for a moment before he said, “Mary Josephson is my mother. She never married my father, but she loved me and raised me as if I were God’s own beloved son.” 

Who Are You? 12/17/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, December 16, 2023 & Sunday, December 17, 2023 

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28 

Sermon Message: “Who Are You?”

By Kathleen Howells, Lay Minister 

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus who is the one coming.  Amen. 

“Rejoice always,” begins the reading from 1 Thessalonians. Isaiah and the psalmist make clear that God is turning our mourning into laughter and shouts of joy where “All God’s children got a robe,” And this robe is not so much a formal- gold-lined- stately robe, as it is a set of party clothes. Clothes we are happy to wear. We receive this robe at our baptism and wear it each time we receive Holy Communion as this sacrament truly is a foretaste of God’s party. 

Have you ever been called on the carpet by anyone?  Someone who had authority over you to explain some actions, or something that you did or said? 

Well John the Baptist is called on the carpet by the religious leaders in Mark’s gospel today. They ask him, “Who are you?” Who do you think you are preaching out in the wilderness, this baptism of repentance”? “What gives you the right to be doing this kind of preaching”? 

Now, just picture this: Here is John, this guy who wears camel hair robes, lives in the wilderness, and eats locust and wild honey. He truly wasn’t much to look at among these religious rulers with their crafted-flowing robes as they ask, “Who are you? Give us an answer.”  So, John calmly and coolly tells them all he is doing is preaching about The One who is coming. 

Here John is, giving witness to the ONE who is coming.  Bearing witness to Jesus. He stood his ground, he talked about what he saw as his mission, he talked about the coming of Jesus’ public ministry. From his very birth, John was called to be a voice of God in this world, he was called to prepare people for Jesus.  

But they couldn’t understand where he got the authority, power, or who’s permission to do this kind of preaching, because John didn’t fit the mold of someone with such authority.  

Let’s face it, John wasn’t what you call the typical religious ruler of his day. But he was faithful to his calling, he was faithful because he knew he was called by God for this mission. And he knew God would give him the strength to carry on. 

You see, John came not to show how great he was; he came to show others another- who was greater than he was. John came to bear witness to the light of the world. John was being used, not as the center of attraction, but as the light pointing to someone else. 

Now, there are beautiful stained-glass windows in this church. The workmanship of these windows are beautiful, and the pictures they display are superb. But without light, without sunlight, they can’t show their true beauty and the stories they display. And this is because the windows are a human creation. Their glory comes not from humans nor of themselves alone, but from the light that steams through them. John the Baptist was a creation of God, but without the light of Christ, he was nothing. His function was to let the light of Christ shine through him pointing the way to Jesus.   

And just like the windows in this church are used to point the way to Christ. Without light, without the message of Christ, these windows would be ineffective. But because the creative sunlight of God lights them, and because they point beyond themselves to Christ, they are a beautiful work of art. 

When I was first approached about doing lay ministry, I came up with every excuse not to do it. “Why me? I don’t have anything special to offer. This is crazy!” Yet, I still felt this tug that if the person who suggested I do this believed I should, maybe they saw something I didn’t. So, I went through the training. It was there I discovered it wasn’t about me, it was about God. And more so, that God doesn’t call the equipped, but equips the called.  

And I promise you, if it were only me standing before you, I would look like a bumbling fool. Do I make mistakes with the liturgy sometimes? Of course! Do I stumble over my words from time to time? Absolutely! But I know, without a doubt, it’s the Holy Spirit who will guide me through because it’s not about me. It’s about God’s love for his people and the gospel of Jesus Christ. If it were about me, I would have been thrown out of the first church I ever led worship in.  

So instead of asking myself, “Who are You that dare speak with such authority?” 

I move forward knowing that through my baptism, I am called to a special purpose just as each one of you are as well.  

Each day we are all called to bear witness to Christ and his work of salvation. Maybe it is by example, maybe it is by a gentle touch as someone is feeling the brokenness of this world. There are as many ways for us to bear witness to Christ as there are stars in the sky. And no one way is right! But what is right- is that you and I have to find a way to bear witness just as John did in the wilderness. 

On this third week of Advent, God wants us to give hope to this world. He wants us to be people of hope. He wants us to be people who see beyond the brokenness of this world to His promise of Grace brought to this world as the baby born in a manger. 

In late 18th century Poland, the Kaiser’s forces were burning all the Jewish villages. One village had been burned and nothing was left standing. As the sun came up the next morning an old Jewish gentlemen pounded a few boards together, made a seller’s stall and opened it up for business. 

A young man walked past, stared in disbelief, and asked, "What are you selling among these ruins. The man smiled and said, "I am selling hope. You can sell water on a dry desert, so the place to sell hope is on the ash heap of destruction." Hope is what advent is all about. The hope the baby in the manger brought to the world and the hope of his coming again to bring all people to him.  

So, just as John the Baptist gave himself to God and the mission he was called to do, God ask us to surrender ourselves so that he might use us for the mission he created us to do. We must be the voice crying in the wilderness of this world, a voice crying so that people might not see us, but see the Christ, see the babe, see the precious gift of life God has given to all people. 

For the Lord has done great things for us, and we must not quench the Spirit within us, but Rejoice Always and give thanks in every circumstance.  

I’ve always loved this beautiful Christmas poem because it speaks to just how we are “Unlikely Witnesses” bringing unexpected hope to others in need, sometimes without even knowing it.   

An old cobbler named Conrad had a dream that the Lord was coming to visit him. So, he washed the walls of his small shop and his shelves until they shined. He decorated his shop with holly and fir. He put milk and honey on his table to offer to his special guest. He sat down and waited. 

As he was waiting, he saw a poor barefoot beggar walking in the rain outside his door. He felt sorry for the man and invited him in and gave him a pair of shoes. His clean floor was now dirty from the rain and mud. 

As he was about to clean it up, he noticed an old lady who was bent over carrying a heavy load of firewood. He invited her in to sit and rest, shared some of his food with her and walked with her, helping carry some of the wood. 

When he returned to his shop, he thought of all that needed to be done. He began to clean again and hoped he had time to find more food. Just then a knock at the door. He answered hurriedly and it was a small child crying lost and cold. He picked up the child, dried her tears, gave her a cup of milk to drink, then walked her to her home down the street and around the corner. 

He hurried back to the shop. He was too tired now to clean or find more food, but he still waited. Evening came and he began to wonder if the Lord had forgotten him. 

Then he heard a soft voice break the silence in that shop, ’Lift up your heart, for I kept my word. Three times I came to your friendly door; Three times my shadow was on your floor. For I was the beggar with bruised feet; I was the woman you gave to eat, I was the lost child on that homeless street." 

Conrad smiled to himself, put his feet up on the table and settled back in his chair to pray and talk with the Savior so fair.

Amen.

It's So Hard To Wait 12/9/2023

The written sermon is not available at this time. Please refer to the sermon video. Thank you!

Keep Awake, For God's New World Is Coming 12/3/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, December 2, 2023 & Sunday, December 3, 2023 

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37 

Sermon Message: “Keep Awake, For God’s New World Is Coming”

By Kathleen Howells, Lay Minister 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Well, the last of the leaves have fallen from the trees, and any still holding on look dry and dead. Our Thanksgiving celebrations are over, the kids have all gone home, and we even saw snow flurries this week.  

And now we begin a new church year which is the first Sunday of the Advent of our Lord. The season we await the arrival of God-made-flesh while simultaneously preparing for His coming again and the fulfillment of what has been promised.  

Stir up your power and come! This psalmist plea has become a familiar prayer in the season of Advent. And in our first reading Isaiah wants God to rip the heavens open and come near. Both readings cry out for an apparently distant, angry God to show up, to save, and restore. And then we hear Jesus describing the coming of the Son of Man in Mark’s gospel with stars falling from heaven, it sounds apocalyptic, not like anything we would ever hope for. But when we really look at the suffering people all around who God loves, it’s then, we can share the hope that God would tear open the heavens and come.  

Now the promise of Advent is that God is always at work in the world, bringing new beginnings and a new creation to people and powers who are bent on destruction. Yet, because we live in between the “already” of Christ’s resurrection and the “not yet” of God’s full restoration of the creation, we cannot know when that final day will arrive.  

And so often we may think, “Since the time of Jesus’ second coming cannot be known, I don’t want to think much about it especially at the time of year when our minds are busy with endless Christmas to-do list.  I just want to prepare for Jesus’ birth and focus on that.”  After all, it could be hundreds, or thousands, or millions of years from now.” But, as Jesus said, “what if it’s this evening, or at midnight, or at dawn?” 

So, instead of becoming preoccupied with the end times, Jesus counsels us to live our lives in a state of preparedness- trusting that our home is God’s home, and that God is coming once again to dwell with us. Just as he did when he sent baby Jesus. 1 Corinthians tells us, this trust is the strength that sustains us as we “wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

In my training at Gettysburg, we often ended the evenings with compline, an evening prayer service which included a closing prayer: Keep watch, dear Lord with those who work or watch or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, give rest to the weary, bless the dying, sooth the suffering, comfort the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.  

Now, compline by design, is a service of completion where you reflect on the day that has passed and entrust yourself to God’s keeping as you prepare to enter into sleep. But compline also holds space for those who are not preparing for sleep, “those who work or watch or weep.” For blessed are those who rest, and blessed are those who keep awake.  

“Keep awake,” Jesus says in our gospel reading, for God’s new world is coming. And this call comes to us during a season of rapidly shortening days and early-falling nights. As we approach the winter solstice, and our bodies crave more and deeper rest, the call to keep awake can feel impractical or ironic. But of course, Jesus is not speaking literally about our sleep hygiene.  (Rather, he is speaking about attentiveness and vigilance, about being spiritually prepared for the arrival of God’s eternal reign when it breaks into the world.)  

So, many years ago, I was the third shift receptionist at a state hospital. While the rest of my family slept comfortably at home in their beds, 30 miles away, I held vigil over the switchboard and everyone who came in and out of the facility.  As the night got longer and there were fewer calls, I found ways to keep awake. Often my mind kept returning to thoughts of people elsewhere who also remained awake: to those upstairs working the floors to be with the vulnerable patients there, and those keeping watch at the bedsides of dying loved ones, mothers tending to their babies, ICU nurses and first responders, other night-shift workers like me, those suffering from insomnia or night terrors, night owls finally moving toward rest, and early risers already on the move.  

I considered each of them as they kept vigil in their own way and remained attentive to their needs as well as the needs of others.  I imagined how they remained watchful, encountering each mysterious movement of the night.  

It was then, I considered how the practice of keeping vigil is not merely a nighttime exercise. For we can watch and wait and anticipate God’s future and encounter divine beauty at any time of day or night, in joy or in sorrow. Because the wakefulness that Jesus ask of us is nothing other than the spiritual practice of paying attention.  

In her book, “An Altar in the World” by Barbara Brown Taylor is a chapter called, “The Practice of Paying Attention.” In it she speaks to the art of reverence, of paying attention to the world and encountering all that is sacred, holy, and beautiful. She writes, “Regarded properly, anything can become a sacrament, by which I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual connection.” She goes on saying, “To regard something properly is to engage in the practice of paying attention, which is as simple as looking twice at people and things you might just as easily ignore…It is one way into a different way of life, full of treasure for those who are willing to pay attention to exactly where they are.” 

It's true, for many, life in this world isn’t very pleasant. We see and experience these people every day. But even those fortunate to have a life filled with joy and blessing should not be satisfied to the point of complacency because there’s more! There is better! And it’s the church’s mission to continue the work Jesus began and endure until all is accomplished. By reaching out in love to those less fortunate and in need, and bringing them hope in Jesus’ name, we are preparing God’s Kingdom here on earth. Because hope does not disappoint, and salvation is a reality.  

Now we get no explanation why there is suffering before Jesus returns, but we do get a promise: when all is said and done, we will have a happy ending and it will never end. Mark tells us today that this is the faith that must permeate our daily lives.  

Today, Jesus urges us to keep awake, and remain prepared for the full and final in-breaking of God’s reign when it comes. And when we commit to the spiritual practice of staying awake, we find that we can catch glimpses of this reign each and every day in the here and now. 

Because God’s reign is found in the dancing of a candle flame, lighted in prayer at the end of the day. It’s in the deep questions that only come to us when we are frustratingly unable to stay asleep at night, in the wonder of the stars that rise at night. It is embodied by the weary ones, dozing in hospital recliners, beside loved ones who are sick or dying. And it can even be found in the twitching of a cat’s ears. For God’s reign is present in the holy gift of keeping alert for his endless and bountiful grace which brings us hope and allows us look forward to his coming again.  

Each day, Jesus again whispers this directive into our hearts: Stay awake. God’s kingdom will come, and we will be ready to welcome it if we have already been paying attention by holding vigil for this world.  Amen. 

A Wounded Soldier for Christ Jesus 11/25/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 25, 2023 & Sunday, November 26, 2023 

Scripture Readings: Psalm 100 & Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 

Sermon Message: “A Wounded Soldier for Christ Jesus”

By Pastor Dean Byrom 

I recently read a quotation from Leon Bloy on the purpose of suffering. Let me share it with you: “Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them he enters suffering, in order that they may have existence.” 

The pain, the anguish, the anxiety of suffering are, without question, a problem for us. How many times have we felt like shaking our fists at God because we, His people, are suffering and dying just the same as, if not worse than, people who don’t give a hoot about God? 

It just isn’t fair we feel - deep down within us. “Why me, Lord?” is our cry. “I’ve tried to be good.” Or why the suffering of an innocent child? It just isn’t right! 

Indeed, in the Scripture which we read a few moments ago, God promises through the prophet Ezekiel:  “I myself will search for My sheep…..I will rescue them ….I will bring them out….I will feed them…I will seek the lost….I will bring back the strayed…I will bind up the injured….I will strengthen the weak….I will feed them with justice.” 

The God of the Bible is the God who hears a cry and responds. God sends a man, a man who comes as a good shepherd - to heal the sick, bind up the injured, and lead home the wanderers. The God of the Church is the God who cares about what happens to God’s people. 

“I will seek out My sheep. I will rescue them from all of the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” 

So God does not even wait for us to blindly search Him out, but searches for us to rescue us, especially at the worst times in our lives. If we could but believe God’s promises that He will be with us, maybe we could bear the pain, endure the hours of anguish. 

Or do we want more than the assurance of God’s strength and presence? I think often we do. We have in our minds the unspoken agreement with God that, if we are faithful to Him, God will make sure that we have no pain, no worry, no trouble. And when God doesn’t come through on His half of the bargain, we get angry or bitter.  

The writer of 1 Peter was very aware of this attitude as he wrote, for he pointed out that there are two kinds of suffering:  1) the kind that we deserve because of our own wrongdoing; or 2) undeserved suffering. 

Few of us have problems with the first - if we deserve it, o.k. But not when we don’t! That’s not fair. It’s at this point that we want to know why. 

But the writer of 1 Peter has the audacity to say that to this kind of suffering you were called, because Christ Jesus suffered on your behalf, and thereby left you an example. It is for you and me to follow in His steps. 

Who had a better reason to be angry at God? He did no wrong, committed no sin, was convicted of no falsehood. When He was abused, He did not retort with abuse; when He suffered, He uttered no threats. 

Yet God allowed Him to be physically abused by the people He grew up with; God allowed Him to be betrayed and abandoned by His closest disciples and friends; God allowed Him to feel absolutely forsaken and alone; God allowed Him to die - a death of horrible pain and misery. 

God did not promise His own Son a life free of pain - He sent Him as the suffering servant. So He would send us! 

It doesn’t add up, or does it? What possible good will it do for me to hurt, for you to writhe in pain?  

I would offer to you for your meditation the testimonies of three persons on the value of suffering. 

In the bombardment of World War I, Cardinal Mercier saw his home torn by shells, his cathedral made a heap of debris, his priceless books burned, and his students killed. After that devastating experience Mercier said: “Suffering accepted and vanquished…will give you a serenity which may prove the most exquisite fruit of your life.” 

Oberlin, an illustrious French pastor, in comforting an afflicted lady used the following illustration:  “Dear madam, I have before me two precious stones, alike in color, of the same water, clean, pure, and clear. Yet there is a marked difference - one has a dazzling brilliance; the other is quite dull. Why? Because one has received eighty cuts and the other only eight. The stone that has suffered much is brilliant; that one that has suffered little is dim and lusterless.” 

And thirdly, Dr. Edward Judson made a beautiful point in an address at Judson Memorial Church in New York City:  “Suffering and success go together. IF you are succeeding without suffering, it is because others before you have suffered; if you are suffering without succeeding, it is that others after you may succeed.”  

Suffering is not meaningless, then - it can be a doorway to new depths of meaning in our lives. 

All this brings us back again to Jesus - who He was and is, and what He did and does. In the Gospel according to John He tells us simply:  “I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I know My sheep and My sheep know Me….and I lay down My life for the sheep.” 

If you are in Christ today, you know and you can feel that in the throes of your greatest fear, Jesus is with you. You can feel that when death rips someone from you, Jesus helps to heal your gaping wound. In the midst of the destructive corrosion of guilt, you can feel forgiven. Yes, in a sense, we are called to suffer for Christ Jesus, with Christ Jesus - for only then do we know the fullness of communion with Him. 

It seems, perhaps, that some of us have been called to a life of suffering. In one of his 3-minute plays, Thornton Wilder tells of an infirm doctor who stood one day by the pool of Bethesda waiting for the water to be troubled that he might be made whole again.  

The angel who troubled the water came to him and said:  “Stand back. Healing is not for you. Without your wound where would your power be that sends your low voice trembling into the hearts of men? We ourselves, the very angels of God in heaven, cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children of earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In love’s service only wounded soldiers will do.” 

Could it be that this may be our calling - at least some of us - to be a wounded soldier for Christ Jesus? 

Perhaps you are feeling called by Jesus today. You have suffered too long alone. Maybe that load of guilt and pain threatens to crush you. Could it be that you’re ready to accept God’s help, God’s presence in Christ Jesus? 

I wonder if God is trying to tell you something through your pain. I know that I need to listen for Him. So, perhaps, do you. 

Then we can go from this place - wounded soldiers for Christ Jesus, our Shepherd, and our King.

What Unites Us? Thanksgiving!! 11/19/2023

The written sermon is not available at this time. Please refer to the sermon video. Thank you!


Carol Canceling? 11/12/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 11, 2023 & Sunday, November 12, 2023 

Scripture Readings:

John 3:1-21 

Sermon Message: “Carol Canceling”

By Reverend Barry Pintar

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.[a]”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[d]

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.[e14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”[g]

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Attn: Madison’s Vocal Group…something off. 

1.    What do carols say? Hark lyrics

John 3:3

a.     Hot button words, but God’s words

b.    That says, “unless” not “well, one way is”

 

2.    Why don’t they like Him? God Rest Lyrics

John 3:19-21

a.     Those who choose darkenss over light WON’T like these lyrics

b.    Influenced by Satan.

 

3.    What should we do? Joy lyrics

John 3: 16-17

a.     Be the messenger to the who so ever

b.    Don’t condemn (like Jesus), save!

 

Conclusion

Charles Wesley – one of 18 children, wrote thousands of hymns, yet this one of 18 impacted billions.

Be the one!

Hark! The herald angels sing

"Glory to the new-born king

Peace on earth and mercy mild

God and sinners reconciled"

Joyful all ye nations rise

Join the triumph of the skies

With angelic host proclaim

"Christ is born in Bethlehem"

Hark! The herald angels sing

"Glory to the new-born king"

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings

Risen with healing in His wings

Mild He lays His glory by

Born that man no more may die

Born to raise the sons of earth

Born to give them second birth

Hark! The herald angels sing

"Glory to the new-born king"

God rest ye merry, gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

Remember, Christ, our Saviour

Was born on Christmas day

To save us all from Satan's power

When we were gone astray

O tidings of comfort and joy

Comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King!

Let every heart prepare Him room,

and heav'n and nature sing,

and heav'n and nature sing,

and heav'n, and heav'n and nature sing.


Forgiveness Doesn't Count 11/5/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 4, 2023 & Sunday, November 5, 2023 

Scripture Readings:

Genesis 50:15-22 & Matthew 18:21-35 

Sermon Message: “Forgiveness Doesn’t Count”

By Kathleen Howells, Lay Minister 

Peace to you from God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today’s gospel is a harsh parable about forgiveness.  And I must admit, the Spirit tugged at my heart as I penned this sermon, for God’s WORD on this subject is something I truly needed to hear as I struggle with forgiveness in my own life.  

Forgiveness is not an easy thing to give because again and again, we fall back on our limited human understandings of what is “fair.” Looking at the story of Joseph and his brothers, it’s easy for us to say that his brothers really didn’t deserve forgiveness. For even their plea for forgiveness is dishonest and manipulative—so have they really repented?  But Joseph takes the wider view and realizes that it isn’t his brothers’ intentions that matter, but God’s. For God’s forgiveness is much greater than what is fair or what we deserve. 

The writer Alexander Pope was sabotaged professionally many times. Rather than embrace bitterness, he penned “An Essay on Criticism,” contending in part: “To err is human, / to forgive, divine.”.  This phrase became a part of the English lexicon, and he had far more influence and stature than any of his contemporaries would have predicted. Perhaps, as with Joseph, what others intended for ill, God intended for good. 

Now, I’m going to tell you something which might make you ask: “WHAT?” And what I say is:  “Forgiveness doesn’t count.” Oh, don’t get me wrong! I don’t mean that it doesn’t matter or that it’s not important. By no means. No, forgiveness counts for a lot in that respect. In fact, it’s everything. We’d certainly be lost without forgiveness. But when I say, “Forgiveness doesn’t count,” I mean it doesn’t count in the way that Jesus teaches it, which is to say, “forgiveness doesn’t keep score.”  Forgiveness doesn’t count. It doesn’t keep score or keep track of how many times it must forgive or how much sin it must have mercy on. Because that’s the way it is with God toward us, and that’s the way it must be with us toward one another. God forgives us, freely, fully, completely. Therefore, we are to forgive one another in the same way: freely, fully, completely, not counting or keeping score or keeping track. That’s the connection Jesus draws for us today in The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. 

Now, Jesus tells this parable as Peter comes to Him with a question. Now, earlier in Matthew, Jesus had been teaching his disciples about life in the church that he’s going to establish, and specifically how we are to deal with a brother or sister who sins against us, and how ultimately, we are to seek to gain that brother or sister back. And this prompts Peter’s question: “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 

But you see, Peter is trying to quantify forgiveness. He wants to keep score. He may think he’s sounding generous and magnanimous, suggesting what seems to him like a lot of times to have to show forgiveness.  

But Jesus ups the ante: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Whoa, whip out your notepad, Peter! Seventy times seven! “Really Jesus! That’s a lot of forgiving for someone whose done me wrong! That’s a lot! I’m gonna need a bigger scorecard. But if I keep a careful record, and I keep track of every infraction, then I guess that on the 491st time someone does me wrong, then I don’t have to forgive him! If only I can hold out that long!” 

Well, no, that’s not how it goes, Peter. It’s not like: “488, forgive; 489, forgive; 490, forgive, but that’s it. . . . Ah, 491, now I can finally get my revenge!” Of course, we understand what Jesus is saying. By picking such a ridiculously high number, Jesus is saying, in effect, “Don’t keep score at all!” Not seventy times seven, not seventy-seven, not even seven. Don’t keep track of how often you forgive. Just forgive, whether it’s the first time or the 491st., therefore, forgiveness doesn’t count. 

And to drive home the point, Jesus goes on to tell The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. A king is going to foreclose on his servant and call in his debt. So, the servant is hauled in, called on the carpet before the king, and told, “Pay up!” Well, the guy is shaking in his boots, because he knows he has no means whatsoever to pay off this enormous debt, and he knows what the king could do to him. 

But this king doesn’t do what he could do to the servant. He doesn’t toss the guy in jail and throw away the key, leaving him to rot in debtors’ prison. No. He could have done that, but he chooses not to. Instead, he has pity on him.  Imagine this: The master has mercy on his servant and forgives him his huge debt.  

So now the servant is free and has learned a powerful lesson about mercy and forgiveness. Or has he? For the first thing he does with his freedom is to go out and find a fellow servant who owes him a little bit of money. It’s an extremely small amount, in comparison to what he owed the king. But this servant, who had been forgiven much by his master, will not show even a small fraction of that mercy toward his fellow servant.

 He grabs him and starts to choke the poor fella. “Pay me what you owe me!” he demands. He shows no pity toward the man who owes him a measly few bucks, and has the guy thrown in prison. The unmerciful servant has obviously not learned how forgiveness works in this kingdom. He shows that he really does not want to operate on the basis of mercy but on the old way of accounting and scorekeeping and payback and revenge. Sadly, he has rejected the ways of his king. 

When the King finds out, he says to the man: “If that’s how it’s going to be with you, so be it. I’m turning you over to be tortured until you can pay your debt.” It’s then Jesus puts the punch-line warning on the parable when He says to us: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” 

Now, the meaning of this parable is plain and clear: Forgiveness is the way it works in the kingdom of heaven. And if you want to operate on some other basis, if you’re intent on scorekeeping and payback, you’ll be in a heap of trouble. For that’s not how your heavenly Father has dealt with you.  

So why do we act that way toward our brothers and sisters? God has forgiven that other person, just as he has forgiven us. Then why do we act as though we are greater than God? To not forgive is really setting ourselves above God. God forgave that person, but we think we don’t have to. Who do we think we are, to not forgive someone whom God has already forgiven? Who are we, fellow sinners, to not forgive someone else, when we ourselves have had all our sins forgiven by God? You see, unforgiveness is a matter of self-preservation and ingratitude. And it rejects the ways of God’s kingdom. 

Now, this parable may make the act of forgiveness sound easy and it’s not. Forgiveness takes practice. Many times, it’s the hardest thing to do, but the key is learning how to do it completely with the same grace and mercy God shows us. 

Now, Jesus teaches us the importance of forgiveness many times throughout the gospels. It obviously is an important matter in his sight, and he must realize how slow of heart we are to “get it.” Mercy toward sinners, love toward one another–these are major themes in Jesus’ teachings to his disciples.

 

And this matter is so important, Jesus even puts it into the prayer he has us pray every day. For in the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” You see, every time we ask for God’s forgiveness–and we sin daily–we’re reminded to extend that forgiveness toward those who do us wrong also. I’m not the only person God has forgiven. Christ died for that other person, too. 

So, see now we’re getting at it. Forgiveness has everything to do–with the death of Jesus Christ for sinners. He not only died for me and you, but he also died for that brother or sister who sinned against us, that person you don’t like because they did you wrong. But then sometimes I’m the jerk who does wrong to somebody else. Now magnify that offense by bazillions and bazillions, and you might begin to come close to measuring the offenses you and I have committed toward God, thumbing our nose at the ONE who created us and loves us immeasurably.  

Now take heart here, because we’re all in the same boat here. For we’d all be up a creek without a paddle, if it were not for the unfathomable mercy our king and master has shown toward every one of us. Forgiveness is the way of God’s kingdom. Therefore, there is no other way for those who believe in Him. 

Whether in a congregation or in a household, we need forgiveness in order to live together as a family. Because the more time we spend together, the closer we are, the more opportunities there are to hurt one another. So, we need to be able to forgive one another and live in harmony.  

Well, this would all be just moral lecturing, if it were not for the inexhaustible mercy God has shown us in Christ. If we are to forgive our brothers and sisters in the church or in your family at home or work, then we must look to the cross.  Because this is where we see the great mercy God has shown all of us, sending his only Son to take all of our sins–all of them, the whole enormous debt–and to die for them, in our place, paying the unpayable debt we owed. It’s then we understand that holy blood, shed for us, is of infinite value.  

In Holy Baptism, God washed away all our sins and made us his child, to reflect his character. In Holy Absolution, time and time again, God continues to forgive us. And in Holy Communion, we receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.  

Forgiveness is at the very heart of the gospel. It’s standard operating procedure in the kingdom of God. And with this forgiveness, we also receive what it leads to, namely, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” 

Dear ones, God doesn’t count our debts against us. Because forgiveness doesn’t count. It doesn’t count or keep score or keep track. It doesn’t measure how big the debt is that we’re forgiving. Forgiveness just . . . forgives.  That’s how it goes in God’s kingdom. Forgiveness doesn’t count, but it is everything! AMEN.

Relationships 101 10/28/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 28, 2023 & Sunday, October 29, 2023 

Scripture Readings:

Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18; Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46 

Sermon Message: “Relationships 101”

By Kathleen Howells, Lay Minister 

“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Amen.

So, more than 500 years ago Martin Luther presented his 95 Theses about the church, and its need to reform. Now as Christians, our faith began with the followers of Jesus. But the beginning of our Christian faith and the Church we know today began with the Reformation. And it was Luther who helped us understand and acknowledge that the institution of the Church is not equal to God. And with today’s scripture readings, we’ll reflect on how our relationships help us bring forward the reforms of the past and how they can strengthen us and future generations for the next 500 years of ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  

“Give it to me in a nutshell”—we’ve all heard this saying — it means, Tell me what I need to know, but keep it short. Don’t bother me with unnecessary details or bore me with a long, technical explanation. Just get to the bottom line. I’m going to try and do that for you this morning with the lessons from Matthew’s gospel about our most important relationships.   

The story begins when a lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Now, this man was not a lawyer as we know lawyers today—he was a religious scholar. And the law was Jewish Torah law. In fact, there were 613 such laws. We’re all familiar with at least ten of them, those within the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. 

And Matthew tells us that this lawyer asked Jesus this question to test him.  You see, if he can get Jesus to pronounce the one law, he thinks is most important, this lawyer is sure that he can then discredit him. That was the lawyer’s intent. But Jesus knows what’s going here. He understands what this man is trying to do. And He understands how important his answer must be.

So, with some verbal gymnastics Jesus sums up the greatest commandment by bundling two together as He answered:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

This is the greatest and first and great commandment. And a second like it:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Good answer, Jesus! 

Now most of us have heard this story before, and knew what Jesus was going to say. Love God! Love your neighbor, as yourself! What a great answer! How could anyone argue with that? But the other question is, How can anyone do that—love God—love our neighbor as ourselves?  

Now, loving God usually is not a problem! At least it is not a problem when things are going well. During those times of our lives when we are healthy, wealthy, and wise, it is easy to love God, is it not? Thank you, God, for my good life! Thank you, God, for my family —my health—my job! Thank you, God, for all my stuff! Although sometimes all our “stuff” becomes more important than God. And when we get so involved with all our “stuff,” it becomes more important than our relationship with God.

And what about when things go really bad in our lives? Those times when life brings us to our knees. In those turbulent times of life, we can get mad at God, (and that’s okay, God can take it) But when we’re angry at God, we can’t feel his presence, love. and comfort when we really need it the most. Rather, it’s in these times we must pray. Use this personal relationship with the One who created you to lay your fears, frustrations, and even anger upon. Then, pray for healing and peace. Pray for the Spirits presence of comfort and wisdom as you find your way through the affliction.  

So then, Jesus throws this second and just as important commandment in as he answers the lawyer’s question. Love your neighbor as yourself! Now we get to the hard part. Depending on who our neighbor happens to be. Is it the neighbor who is always helpful and cheerful when we see them? Or is it the noisy neighbor who complains about everything you do? We’ve all had both types of these neighbors, haven’t we?

Or what about neighbors on airplanes! Did you ever find yourself seated beside an unruly child? Not much fun, is it! How about our neighbors within our faith family, the ones at work- people whom we really don’t like- but with whom we serve on the same committees?

Now, it’s easy enough to love a neighbor who is kind and stays out of our business, but what about the neighbor who is not? How can we love the neighbors who grate on our every nerve? The ones we have nothing in common with? The ones who we don’t agree with politically? 

Well, the truth is, we can’t—at least not on our own. Now I can tell myself every day not to hate my neighbor, only to end up hating myself for hating my neighbor. And I can try really hard not to engage in grudge bearing, but it probably isn’t going to work. No, if I’m going to love my neighbor, I must first love God— and then be willing to let God help me love my neighbor. 

So, remember, the lawyer asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, but Jesus gave him two—love God— love your neighbor as yourself. Because the two go hand in hand. Each leans on the other and helps to support it. This is how our Godly relationship is fulfilled. 

Now it might help to know that the love toward our neighbor Jesus speaks about isn’t the warm fuzzy feeling that we think of as love. And the explanation on just how to love our neighbor is found in the 19th chapter of Leviticus. It says that if we love our neighbor:

•       We won’t render an unjust judgment.

•       We won’t let a person’s money—or lack of it—affect our relationship.

•       We won’t engage in slander.

•       We won’t profit by the blood of our neighbors.

•       We won’t hate.

•       We won’t take vengeance or bear a grudge.

·       But we will judge our neighbor with justice.

So note there isn’t anything in there about warm fuzzy feelings. There is nothing about enjoying the neighbor’s company. For love, in this context, is more about how we act than how we feel.  You see, with God, all things are possible. And it is possible to love our neighbors if we first love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. And He not only tells us to love our neighbor—He re-shapes our hearts to make it possible.

Today Jesus makes it clear: love of God and love of neighbor go together.  because we can’t really love our neighbor unless we first love God, and we can’t really demonstrate our love for God without our neighbor.

And we all struggle with relationships, you would think love should be an easy thing, but it takes work and effort to love God, love others, and even love ourselves. Psalm 1 uses the image of trees planted by streams of water to describe people who “delight in the law of the Lord.” These ae not weak or dying trees; they are strong trees that prosper. And our faith in the God who calls us his own plants us, nourishes us, and strengthens us to love.

So, on this Reformation Sunday may we pray to remain open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our heart, mind, and soul. Because our response to God’s grace for us- in Jesus Christ, reveals our gratefulness through our words and actions toward others.

And may we continue to be reformed by God’s Word to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” Because how we fulfill Christ’s greatest commandments to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves makes all the difference in bringing God’s Kingdom to the here and now. Amen.

Caesar or God? 10/22/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 21, 2023 & Sunday, October 22, 2023 

Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:15-22 

Sermon Message: “Caesar or God?”

By Reverand Ronald L. Church 

I normally use the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, but since your pew Bibles are the New International Version, I wrote this sermon using the New International Version. 

This sermon involves a Roman coin called a denarius. The plural form is denarii. I wanted to include some information about the coin, but I don’t want to muddy up the more substantive conversation about the issue with details about the coin. So, I’ll talk about the coin first. Since most of us have never seen a denarius, I brought some with me. I have a reproduction Roman coin purse containing reproduction Denarii coins I would like to have a volunteer show these around so everyone can get a look at them. 

Denarii coins were struck and circulated in Rome over a period of about 500 years. People always ask how much a denarius was worth. I have seen estimates from $50.00 to $100.00, but to answer that question with integrity, you would have to ask when, where, and in relation to what? It’s like asking how much a dollar is worth. It depends on the economy, the exchange rate, and other factors. I can remember when a dollar was worth a lot more than it is now. 

Can you guess which emperor’s portrait and inscription were most likely on the coin that was handed to Jesus? Since this event probably occurred about 30AD, it would have been either Augustus or Tiberius. Tiberius was the reigning emperor, but there would still have been lots of Augustus’ coins in circulation. 

Many people have tried to use today’s reading to talk about the separation of church and state, but that is not what this reading is about. It doesn’t give us enough information to be used for that purpose. This reading is about ownership. 

People call this a parable, but it is not. This reading is a conversation between Jesus and a group of people who were trying to trap him. This reading is related to the two previous parables because all three of them made fools of the Pharisees. The first of the three was the parable of the Wicked Tenants. The last two verses of that parable are chapter 21, verses 45 and 46. 

Matthew 21:45-46   45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus' parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet. 

The second is the parable of the Wedding Banquet. The last verse of that parable is chapter 22, verse 15.

Matthew 22:15   15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 

Today’s reading starts with the very next verse. The Pharisees were angry with Jesus because he kept making fools of them. But they made it so easy. In a battle of wits with Jesus, they were unarmed. So, they decided to set a trap for him. They would ask him a trick question and use his own words to condemn him. 

The group that went to trap Jesus was a combination of Pharisees and Herodians. This is significant in itself because these two groups hated each other. Jesus was probably the only person who could make Pharisees and Herodians work together. The Pharisees were lay religious leaders who insisted on strict adherence to the Jewish Law. They did everything they could to enforce strict adherence to the law on other people. That is why Jesus called them hypocrites. 

The Herodians were supporters of the descendants of Herod the Great. They believed that the Herods protected them against direct Roman rule. When Harod the Great died, his kingdom was divided among his three surviving sons. Herod Philip the territory north and east of the Lake of Galilee.  Herod Antipas governed Galilee itself. 

Herod Archelaus was originally given Judea and Samaria, but he proved to be so cruel and so violent that he was deposed by Rome and banished to Gaul. After Archelaus was deposed, his territory was governed by Roman procurators. The third procurator of Judea was Pontius Pilate. 

Herod Archelaus was one reason why Jesus grew up in Nazareth. Matthew tells us that when Jesus’ family returned to Judea from Egypt, Joseph was afraid to stop in Judea when he heard that Herod Archelaus was governing there, so they went to Galilee and settled in Nazareth. 

To get back to our lesson, the Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus if it was right for Jews to pay taxes to Rome. If he answered yes, the Pharisees could condemn him as a traitor to the Jewish people. If he answered no, the Herodians could condemn him as a traitor to Rome. 

As soon as Jesus saw these two groups together, he knew that something evil was in the works. When they asked their question, he denounced them for their hypocrisy. Then he decided to overturn the trap that they had set for him. He asked them to show him one of the coins used to pay the tax. They handed him a Roman denarius coin. Jesus dismantled their trap by asking whose portrait and whose inscription were on the coin. 

When they said it was Caesar’s, he said, “Matthew 22:21  Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.”

Our reading says that when they heard that, they marveled, they left him, and they went away. Every version of the Bible that I checked said the same thing, so it’s ok as translations go. 

But if I were translating this text, I would have said that they marveled, they gave up, and they went away. The Greek word, aphiemi means to quit, to give up, or to let go. That may be implied in left him, but I think that gave up would be more descriptive. However, every Bible translator in history disagrees with me, so what do I know? 

Jesus asked whose portrait and inscription were on the coin. The Greek word for portrait is eikon, which means image. If you use a computer these days, you are familiar with icons. What Jesus was telling us in this conversation is that placing your image on something implies that you own it. Since Ceasar’s image is on your money, then if he asks for it, you have to give it to him. It doesn’t matter whether you want to give it or not. It is his because it bears his image. 

Humans, on the other hand, bear the image of God, therefore, we belong to God.  When we give ourselves to God, we are only giving him what is already his. But how do we know that we bear the image of God? We are told in Genesis chapter 1 verse 27; Genesis 1:27  27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 

The Hebrew Bible is not very helpful here, but the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, uses that same word, eikon for image that we found in the Greek version of our reading from Matthew. We bear God’s image because we are God’s image. So, we owe to the emperor the things that bear his image, and we owe to God the things that bear his image. Of course, the only things that bear God’s image are we ourselves. We are the image of God. 

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

My Loyal Companion 10/14/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 14, 2023 & Sunday, October 15, 2023 

Scripture Readings: Exodus 32:1-14, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14 

Sermon Message: “My Loyal Companion”

By Reverand Ronald L. Church 

I know that you don’t know anything about me. I look like just an old guy. I am just an old guy. Like most old guys, I have a past. I have a history. In my history, I have been a warrior, a poet, a computer technician, an exhibition gunfighter, a Civil War reenactor, and a living history interpreter. All of those things blended together make me who I am.  

As a preacher, I have no charisma, I’m not a people person, and I can’t sing. I can do one thing. I can teach. Ministers are classified as teaching elders. So, I teach. A long time ago, I heard Presbyterians described as Christians who don’t know the Bible very well. So, I made it my mission to use the pulpit to teach the Bible to anyone who will listen. 

Philippians is the book of the Bible that I know best. It was our study test for my second semester Greek class. We were not allowed to bring our English Bibles to class. Our Greek Bibles and our notebooks were all we were allowed. Over the course of that semester, we diagrammed every sentence, we conjugated every verb, and we declined every noun. Then we had to write our own translation. If you think that diagramming sentences in English is a pain, you should try it in Greek. 

The Epistle to the Philippians was written by Paul during his first imprisonment in Rome. I have tried to put together a rough timeline of Paul’s imprisonments in Rome because it was never really clear to me. Paul was imprisoned in Rome in 60AD. Paul had been condemned to death by a Jewish court in Jerusalem, but he had exercised his right as a Roman citizen to have his case reviewed by the emperor in Rome. 

So, his first imprisonment in Rome was not punishment, it was detention while he waited for his case to come up on Emperor Nero’s calendar. Paul was allowed to rent his own apartment, entertain visitors, and send and receive correspondence. His only restriction was that he could not leave, and a member of the Praetorian Guard had to be with him at all times. We believe that it was during this detention that Paul wrote the letters of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. 

In the Book of Acts, Luke said that Paul’s detention in Rome lasted for two years. That tells us that Paul was released in 62AD. Paul was a Roman citizen who had not committed a crime against Rome, so the case against him was dismissed. Luke didn’t mention Paul’s second arrest and imprisonment in Rome.  That tells us that the Book of Acts ended during the time between his imprisonments.  

In 64AD, a fire burned a large portion of the city of Rome. Emperor Nero blamed the Christians in order to deflect suspicion away from himself. As a leader of the Christians, Paul was arrested and convicted of hating humanity. Paul’s second imprisonment was very different from his first. Paul was imprisoned in the Mamertine Prison which was often referred to as Mamertine Dungeon. 

Mamertine Prison consisted of an upper chamber at the street level. In the floor of the upper chamber was a hole through which prisoners were lowered by rope into the lower chamber or dungeon. In the dungeon there was a spring of water, but there were no windows or doors, so there was no light or ventilation. 

Therefore, it was a cold, dark, damp, stinking place. We believe that Paul wrote the letter of 2nd Timothy from Mamertine Prison. Sometime before Nero’s death in 68AD, Paul was taken from Mamertine Prison and executed by beheading. It was by virtue of his Roman citizenship that Paul was given the relative honor of beheading. Other Christians were crucified, killed by animals in the arena, or used as human torches to light Nero’s garden parties. 

I know that seems like a long introduction, but I wanted to establish the historic context within which the Book of Philippians was written. Even during his first detention in Rome, Paul sensed that the end was not far away. He wanted to ensure that the churches would continue after he was gone. 

Our reading from Philippians mentions two women, Euodia and Syntyche. I can remember a time when the leaders of the church were mostly men who tended to dismiss the contributions of women to roles of leadership in the church. That was especially true of the evangelical church of which I was a member at the time. I can remember preachers talking about this text saying, “Well, a couple of church ladies were having a fuss and Paul wanted one of the men to step in and settle things down.” 

No! Absolutely not!  That is not what is happening here. Nowhere in this text does Paul indicate that there is any conflict or division in the Philippian Church. These are not just two women having a cat fight. Paul said of them in verse 3, “… they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers …” I think that establishes that these two women were leaders of the church. 

As I said, Paul sensed that the end was near, and he worried that conflict and division would tear the churches apart once he was not there to keep them going. Since there are two leaders, there is the potential for division, but he did not say that there was any division at the time. He is urging them to be diligent about not creating any division. Also, he asked his loyal companion to help them avoid division. It is usually advisable for leaders to have impartial advisors to help them stay the course. 

By the way, who was this loyal companion Paul was addressing in verse 3? There has been much debate down through the ages about who this mysterious “companion” of Paul’s might have been and why Paul didn’t call him by name. Paul named Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement, so why not name his companion.  I think this is much ado about nothing. 

First of all, Paul did not say, “My loyal companion.” That is a translation and not the only possible translation. Paul said, “se, gnh,sie su,zuge.” A literal translation would be my true yokefellow. The word yokefellow refers to a team of oxen. 

An ox team consists of two oxen held together by a large, wooden yoke. Ox teams were used to pull plows and to haul freight wagons. Ox teams are not about companionship, they are about teamwork. It takes four years to train a pair of oxen. They are specifically trained for their position in the yoke, left ox or right ox. If you take a trained ox team and switch the oxen left and right, they will be so disoriented that they won’t know what to do. And if you have to replace one of the oxen, they have to be trained all over again. 

I want to make an observation about this text, and then I will explain why. In verse 3, Paul said, “… help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel …” What do oxen in a team do? They struggle beside each other in their work of pulling a plow or a wagon. Paul is playing off of the word “yokefellow” in his comments. Paul was a highly skilled writer, and this is one example. 

As to the question, why didn’t Paul name his companion, maybe he did. It is possible there was a man there whose name was Syzygos and Paul was having some fun with his name. He did the same thing in the Book of Philemon. Paul wrote to Philemon about a runaway slave named Onesimus who had been staying with him in his prison apartment. The word, Onesimus, means useful. 

Paul wrote in verse 10-11 of Philemon, “10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me.” Do you see how he used the meaning of the name, Onesimus, to make a point in the text? It is possible that he is doing the same with the meaning of the name, Syzygos, although the grammatical context in the sentence does not support this opinion. 

Paul also mentioned someone named Clement. We don’t know who this was, but the reference has been linked to the later Clement I, an early bishop of Rome. Some refer to him as Pope Clement I, but the office of Pope had not been established at that time. 

Paul wrote this letter because he was concerned about division in the church. He was afraid that division would destroy the church. The church did eventually divide. 

The church divided many times over the centuries. The church continues to divide even today. The church has been divided, but it has not been destroyed. 

There are those who say that the time may be right for a reawakening of Christianity in America. When times are good, people don’t think they need God because their faith is in themselves, but in times of chaos, they turn to God for strength and comfort. So, as our society collapses around us, we might see a rebirth of interest in the Church.  Until then, my true yokefellows, let us plod on, shoulder to shoulder in the work of the Gospel. 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Open Our Eyes Lord 10/7/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 7, 2023 & Sunday, October 8, 2023 

Scripture Readings: John 9:5-11 & Matthew 7:15-16 

Sermon Message: “Open Our Eyes Lord”

By Elder Laurie Zickgraf 

Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind - John 9:5-11

5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  6After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7“Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”).  So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. 8His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some claimed that he was.  Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”  But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”  10“How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.  11He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes.  He told me to go to Siloam and wash.  So I went and washed, and then I could see.” 

True and False Prophets - Matthew 7:15-16a

15“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them.


I was online the other day looking at some funny stories.  One story was talking about influencers.  This website was showing some of the idiotic things people are doing to get attention.  The ‘influencer’ does something, and someone is filming the event so they can post it online.  One example is a young woman who is trying to get a close-up picture of a wild bear.  The first picture shows that instead of using the zoom function on her camera to get a close up, she walks up to the bear and is only about 5 feet way.  The second picture shows her running away as the bear chases her.  I thought it was funny, because she didn’t get hurt, but it’s just so stupid. 

With the internet, not only can we connect with family and friends easily, we can also see just how bizarre the world has become.  One young woman was filmed throwing a chair off a 20-story building. Before she threw the chair they used the camera to pan over the ledge and show where the chair was going to land.  There was a 4-lane highway below them! This woman throws the chair over the railing, and they followed it with the camera.  Luckily the chair landed on the side of the road and didn’t cause an accident.  

But who does this?! Who decides that it’s a good idea to throw a chair off of a building?  Who looks down, sees a 4-lane highway and thinks… this will be sooo cool! These people have no common sense, no comprehension that they could kill someone!  Their eyes are closed to the dangers.  They are so self-absorbed that they only see the end game… the attention they’ll get by doing something crazy.   

About two weeks ago the 2nd presidential debate was shown on TV. I DVR’d it so I could watch it after work.  I was amazed – this was not a debate; this was a group of people throwing out one liners, talking points, and yelling over each other like a bunch of school kids. 

I was hoping that we would see a real debate.  A discussion between intelligent people who want to run this country.  Before the debate started, I was ready to follow St. Thomas Aquinas’ advice when he said:  

We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, He said both sides are looking for truth and helping us to find truth as well.  (for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.”) 

Great advice, but I don’t think it applies anymore.  Is anybody looking for the truth?  We see people willing to do almost anything for attention and money.  Not seeing or caring who is hurt or what damage is done - as long as they get what they want.

I see many of the people in our government acting like these young kids.  They don’t seem to have the moral compass that we saw in the past.  Their goal is to win no matter what; consequences be damned! 

When I sit down to read my Bible, I read the stories that Jesus used as examples in His teaching.  It amazes me that many of these stories still apply.  Jesus is reaching out to us today and continuing to teach us about God’s plan. 

One of our scripture readings this morning told of a blind man who Jesus healed.  Jesus and His disciples were walking along the road, and they saw a blind man.  Jesus takes the time to teach the disciples, and in the process, He gives the man his sight.  Now the people that are local to this area have seen this poor man begging all his life.  He’s blind, so he relies on the kindness of others to live.  But when he is healed, when he can see – they don’t believe what they saw, and some of them question what really happened.  

The healing part of the story is not the interesting part.  It’s what happens next.  The Pharisees were told of a man who was given his sight, and they try to find out exactly what happened, so they ask the man how he gained his sight.  This man has a very simple answer.  “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see!” 

The Pharisees don’t believe this is the same man who was born blind.  Now they also have seen this man begging in the streets all his life, but they don’t believe it’s the same person.  They don’t see the miracle that’s right in front of them, and they continue to investigate.  The Pharisees call in the man’s parents and ask – Is this your son?  The one who was born blind? 

The parents are afraid of what would happen if they admitted that Jesus had healed their son.  The Jewish leaders had said if anyone believed that Jesus was the Messiah, they would be thrown out of the Temple. Because of their fear they said, well, yes, he’s our son, and yes, he was born blind, but that’s all we know.  They suggested the leaders talk to their son. 

So the Pharisees call the son back and ask him again what happened.  This man gave the best answer - he said, “I don’t know who this man is.  One thing I do know.  I was blind but now I see!” 

Jesus showed us that the Pharisees, who were teachers of the Torah – the men who are waiting for the Messiah, who are the leaders of the Jewish faith, were blind to the truth.  The man who was born blind and had been begging all his life was healed, and with the faith of a child said:  I was blind but now I see!  This man accepted Jesus as the Son of God while the Pharisees were looking for a way to prove that Jesus was not the Messiah - they could not see what was right in front of them.  

So, what are we not seeing?  We live in an age where information comes at us at a frightening speed.  If you aren’t online and on social media, you’re told you are being left behind.  There are people who want you to believe what they believe.  This isn’t new; it’s how the world in sin has always worked. Nowadays if you don’t agree with them, they can’t throw you out of the Temple like the Pharisees did.  But they can call you names and tell others that you’re the enemy.  We refer to it as cancel culture.  Now, I don’t think anyone in this room has to worry about being canceled.  Over the last few years, we have seen rich and famous people get canceled, but it hasn’t affected our lives directly.  Instead of ignoring things like this, we should look to God’s word in order to understand some of what is going on in our world today.  

In Matthew 7:15 – 16a Jesus warns us of false prophets. 

“Watch out for false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them.” 

When I read this scripture, I always think of religious leaders.  Prophets in the sense like what we see in the Bible.  But a wolf in sheep’s clothing can be anyone, anywhere!  These wolves will lead us away from what really matters. 

So, the big question becomes how we identify the wolves.  How can we see if a person is telling us the truth or not?  One way is to look at scripture and see if we can use Jesus’ teachings as a guide.  

Tim Costello, a man who has worked as a lawyer, a Baptist minister, and CEO of one of Australia’s largest charitable agencies – World Vision, Australia, once described Jesus as “a carpenter from Nazareth who died without any money, no estate, and only the clothes on his back.  Teachers of the truth are committed to the gospel of peace – loving God and loving others.  Leaders who follow Christ have lives that are marked by humility, selflessness, commitment to Jesus, and commitment to serve others.  These are the unmistakable qualities of the spiritual gift of leadership.” 

Using this description as a starting point, let’s think about some other scriptures that many of us have heard all our lives.  The first sentence is how many people describe Jesus.  They make a point of telling us that Jesus didn’t need money.  There are a few other scriptures that appear to reinforce this idea. 

Think about the sermon on the mount.  In Matthew 6:19-24 Jesus tells us: 

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, (where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.) 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  

Also in Matthew:  “No one can serve two masters.  You cannot serve both God and money.” 

These two guidelines can easily be misunderstood.  It looks like we shouldn’t want things or money, and if we do, then we aren’t good Christians, but that isn’t what Jesus is saying here.  

Things and money are not good or bad.  It depends on how you think about them and what you’re willing to do to get them.  Lying, stealing, using people to get ahead – if this is how you gain your treasure, you could be in trouble. When you are in a group of people, do you think these people should do what you want them to do because you know better, or are you willing to be part of the group and work together as a team and do what’s best for the entire group? 

These scriptures are NOT about money and things.  Haven’t we all seen good Christians who are poor?  But haven’t you also seen good Christians who have lots of money.  These scriptures are telling us to see where the heart is.  It’s how you look at things and people and this world.  

When you recognize that money and things are not an indication of how good a person is, you realize what Jesus meant when He told us that we would recognize a false prophet by their fruits.  He is talking about the fruits of the Spirit which include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.  These are the characteristics that you will see in people who love God. 

Jesus had all of these gifts along with many others.  If you look at the life of Jesus and then look at some of our leaders – political and corporate – you’ll see a lot of differences.  Many of our leaders seem to thrive on controversies, power, and their ability to put others down so they feel superior to you.  

Jesus is teaching us that we need to follow Him with open eyes.  We need to listen, but we also need to see how these people live.  Are they kind, caring, and forgiving, or are they greedy, self-important, and power hungry? 

When we look at an individual and open our eyes to see what their priorities are, we should take a look at ourselves as well.  Are we focused on ourselves and this world, or are we focused on others and eternal life?  Do we focus on how to get more stuff, or do we look to God as our moral compass?  

Let’s open our eyes to our own behavior, and let’s open our eyes to the people around us.  Be willing to turn to God, pray for discernment and guidance.  Look at the fruits of the person’s labor.  Is it good fruit or bad?  It is all about them, or are they helping others?  When you look at others, what do you see?  Greed or love?  Does the person want to be served, or are they willing to serve others?  

When you find somebody who is trying to live a Godly life, support them and become their friend.  Allow God to use good people in your life to guide you along your journey of faith. 

Remember Jesus’ teachings.  They are as current now as they were in His time.  Keep your eyes open to God’s truth!  Amen.

Why Is the New So Much Better? 10/1/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 30, 2023 & Sunday, October 1, 2023 

Scripture Lessons: Philippians 2:1-13 & Matthew 21:23-32 

Sermon Message: “Why Is the New So Much Better?”

By Pastor Dean Byrom 

Tell me, what’s so great about the new? Sometimes the last thing any of us needs in our complicated lives is another change or adjustment. Most of us, given the choice, would opt for the settled and familiar. We all have trouble dealing with the new. 

Jesus was not exactly what they expected in a Messiah - born in Bethlehem of all places, born to parents without any credentials to speak of, and calling as His first followers people who had no resumés of real importance. 

He healed on their sacred day which broke all the rules. He touched lepers and was even seen in public with women (some with terrible reputations). 

Instead of just reading the Torah, He told stories that were downright earthy and seemed to have no spiritual value at all. He talked about new commandments, a new covenant - as if there were anything wrong with the old. He spoke of new wine when everyone knew that the old wine was best. He spun stories about new treasures and new cloth, and talked about a new community and how anybody, even the most unlikely ones, could be born anew. 

If that were not enough, He rode into town on a donkey, and the people went wild. He threw the money-changers out of the Temple, and the coins and doves flew everywhere. They knew He could not be who He said He was - no Messiah would stir up the dust or die on a cross. 

In the final analysis the religious rulers of Jesus’ day asked over and over, “Why’s the new so much better?” The old ways and the old words had served them all their years. Thus, they turned their backs on the finest revelation God would ever send.  

Perhaps we Christians have made the same mistake as those who stood there with folded arms and pursed lips. Church history tells us again and again that the church has and must always struggle with the hard challenge of new revelation.  

We, too, have always been skittish when it comes to the new. Do you remember the first day of school, or the day you took the training wheels off your bike? Or when you got your driver’s license and drove alone for the first time?  

Life is a continuing series of encounters with the new - new marriage, new job, new town, new baby, new church, new preacher. We all know the strangeness of some wilderness. None of these experiences happened without hurt and pain and enormous anxiety. Every step forward means saying goodbye to something old and saying hello to something new.  

Today’s Gospel lesson leaves us with a question on this World Communion Sunday. Will we make the same mistake as the chief priests and the elders who stood before Jesus?  

How could they not welcome Jesus when He came? 

Nineteen Sundays have passed since we all celebrated the wind and fire of Pentecost. Yet we need to remember that the Holy Spirit still operates today, and still leads us into new ways for a new time. 

Perhaps “Matthew” left his words as a warning. Don’t be like the religious leaders who hid behind the unrolled Torah scroll and shook their heads. They could not adjust their vision, so they missed the great wonder of the Word made flesh.

Forgiving, Judging, and Condeming 9/24/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, Sept. 22, 2023 & Sunday, Sept. 23, 2023 

Scripture Lesson: Luke 17:1-10 

Sermon Message: “Forgiving, Judging, and Condemning”

By Reverend Barry Pintar 

New International Version 

In light of our new beginning, God commands that in return, we forgive others and extend grace as we have been shown grace. It can be one of the hardest things we face in life! The pain and hurt others cause us is real and great. But, the pain of living with bitterness and unforgiveness can poison your soul and destroy you. When we forgive others, we are not saying what they did was OK, but we are releasing them to God and letting go of it's hold on us. Forgiveness does not forget, but it does set free from bitterness and grudges.

Luke 6:37

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 

Matthew 6:14-15 

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. 

Luke 17:3-4

So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.

Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”


Who Am I And Why Am I Here? 9/16/2023

Who Am I and Why Am I Here?

by Reverend Barry Pintar

Scripture Lesson: Rom 12:1-13

A Living Sacrifice

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Humble Service in the Body of Christ

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For 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, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love in Action

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

1. Who Am I?

a. Christian

b. Not Christian

2. Why Am I Here?

a. Worship God

b. Serve

3. Gifts of the spirit specifically prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and mercy.

 

 

Where Do We Go From Here? 9/10/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023 & Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023 

Scripture Lesson: John 6:60-71 

Sermon Message: “Where Do We Go From Here?”

By Reverend Brian Wallace 

Introduction

-     The phrase “picking up the pieces” will be a familiar one to many of you. 

-     It denotes a situation after something major and usually destructive (in some sense of the word) has happened. 

-     It can be literal - after something has literally broken or fallen apart - or figurative - “He left me, and I was left to pick up the pieces of my life.”

-     Many of us have been in situations where we need to pick up the pieces - to take the scattered remains of something and find a way forward, even as tough as it seems. 

-     Today, we will talk a little about picking up the pieces.  

Background

-     To understand this passage, we must look back a few verses to see how we got here. 

-     The beginning of Chapter 6 begins with one of Jesus’ big miracles - the feeding of the 5,000. 

-     Now, even if you don’t know the story - here’s the short version:  Jesus fed a ton of people, way more than 5,000 actually, with just five loaves and two fishes.

-     And when you do that - when you feed people - they tend to keep coming back. 

-     And sure enough, they do. Jesus can get away for a little while, but the crowds eventually track him down. 

-     So, Jesus decides to push the envelope a little bit - he starts challenging them, questioning their motives for following him, and debating with them - and finally pushing them further than they could take by making claims such as “I am the bread of life” and “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.”

-     Now, while we’ve come to understand what Jesus meant in light of communion, in the first century, they just heard this:  Eat me. 

-     To no one’s surprise, people are offended. Not confused, mind you - there’s a different word for that - but offended. 

-     And, so, people left. They had had enough - everyone ghosts Jesus, and that’s it. 

-     Except for his closest disciples - whom he confronts and asks if they will leave too.  

Point 1:  No One Can Really Be Blamed Here

-     In hindsight, I don’t think we can blame the crowds for ditching out on these Jesus things. 

-     Admittedly, even reading the passage in contemporary language, it’s still weird. 

-     And oddly assertive. 

-     And while we know what Jesus was doing - trying to filter out those who just wanted a handout rather than those who were committed to following him - it’s still pretty harsh, and frankly, most of the people who left probably just assumed he was some sort of traveling whacko who managed to pull off a miracle the day before. 

-     It’s easy to give up when things get tough, isn’t it?

-     Sure. We all know that. The desire to quit - to walk away - stands there as a looming, ever-present temptation for us all. 

-     I pretend to be a runner these days. A few years back, I was a real runner - I did some races along the way - but these days, I’m lucky to get in a two-mile, running a couple of times per week. 

-     The greatest temptation I face is to quit. To decide that I don’t have time, or that I don’t feel up to, or something like that. In those moments when it's hard, it's easy to quit.  

Point 2: There’s Nowhere Else To Go Though

-     Going back to the story, I love to imagine what the disciples were thinking as this whole thing was going on. 

-     As he’s debating, arguing, and provoking this mass of his followers and telling them weird stuff, I can only imagine some of them getting awkwardly nervous and perhaps even eye-rolling a little. I know reading it - even now - makes me uncomfortable - sort of wishing that Jesus would dial it back and tone it down. 

-     But, Jesus doesn’t - and slowly but surely, the crowds who were so eager to find him when they wanted something like food - begin to walk away - to desert Jesus. 

-     But, they stay. They could have walked away too - but they don’t. Despite the challenging and offensive language Jesus is using, they stick around. 

-     And why? Well, Peter tells us why - “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are God’s holy one.”

-     In essence, Peter’s answer is this - “Well, we can’t really go anywhere else.”

-     This response is both profound and practical - and we would be foolish to neglect either here. 

-     The truth is that these guys had already been through the wringer with Jesus - they had answered the call and followed him around and around - and at this point, they were in too deep to turn back. 

-     But in that - they had discovered that he - that Jesus - had something no one else had - he was unique, special, and not like other rabbis they had known. 

-     For he was, in their words, the holy one of God. 

-     And so, they stay - they keep following Jesus, imperfectly, but they keep at it.

-     When everyone else has gone, and it’s just them - and they’re left to pick up the pieces and keep going, they do. 

Point 3:  The Only Way Out is Through

-     A few years back, our family was dealing with a massive challenge that was dumped solely on us through unfortunate circumstances. But it involved spending an entire summer cleaning out not one, but two houses - and this was not how my kids, at that point having just finished 5th and 6th grade - wanted to spend their summer. 

-     The truth is, none of us loved the work. 

-     In the midst of one especially hot, challenging day - surrounded by the mess and weighed down by the enormity of the situation, my wife looked at the three of us and said, “Look, the only way out is through.”

-     This quote, often credited to the poet, Robert Frost, is both simple and profound, isn’t it?

-     In the most challenging situations of our lives, quitting often isn’t an option - or it’s a really really bad one. We can procrastinate, whine, and go round and round in circles - but at the end of the day, the only way out is through. 

-     In my role, I often have the role of preaching on one of the first Sundays following a Pastor’s departure - whether it be to take another call - or for retirement. 

-     And what I have come to realize is that the pastor of a church leaving is never an ordinary thing. Whether the circumstances of the pastor’s departure were good and wonderful - or difficult and challenging - it never becomes ordinary. 

-     For you all here, you are facing that reality compounded by the grief-inducing manner in which Reverend Tom’s time here came to an end. 

-     What you have experienced and are experiencing here is not ordinary - even for something that is never ordinary - the circumstances you find yourselves in is highly unusual. 

-     Having done this job for over seven years, I now have a sermon I regularly use for the first Sunday after a pastor’s departure - but I knew that sermon wasn’t going to work for today - for here. 

-     On the one hand, things are normal, right? The organ is still playing, worship is still happening, and the picnic is going to happen. Those are all good things - signs of life within the congregation going on, even without Reverend Tom. 

-     And yet, at the same time, it’s not the same - and it never will be the same. 

-     For many of you, you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, let alone thank you - to Reverend Tom. 

-     And that can feel jarring and unsettling. And in some cases, it can feel paralyzing. 

-     For me, a situation like this would feel exactly that - paralyzing - what now - given the situation and circumstance - what now? 

-     To echo the words of Robert Frost - the only way out is through - and the words of Peter - to where else shall we go? 

-     The truth is - the gospel of Jesus Christ - the good news - the Jesus story - speaks to all of life’s circumstances. 

-     In moments of joy and in moments of tragic loss - Jesus remains the one in whom we can trust. 

-     Nineteen years ago last month, I preached one of my most memorable sermons. 

-     I was scheduled to preach at my home church before returning for my second year of seminary - an ordinary assignment that I was eagerly awaiting. 

-     But, along the way, something happened - our former pastor, who had only left a few years prior - lost his son, David, tragically. 

-     And I was scheduled to preach that next Sunday. 

-     This was not what I bargained for. What exactly does one say to a congregation who is grieving the death of a young person whom they had seen grow up in their midst? 

-     While I was not particularly close to David, I was friends with his brother and was still close to my former Pastor. 

-     Before Sunday came, I had to get through the calling hours and visitation. As I waited in line to greet the family, I was trying to figure out what to say. “Sorry for your loss” just didn’t seem to cut it, given my status as an aspiring theologian and pastor. 

-     And so, I fretted and frowned - trying to figure out what to say. 

-     And then, as I approached my former pastor to embrace him, the words came out of my mouth:  “The tomb is still empty.” To this day, tears well up in me as I repeat that phrase. “The tomb is still empty”. 

-     The Christian faith is built on - finds its foundation - in a person and, specifically, in that person’s resurrection. 

-     You see, without the resurrection - Jesus is nothing more than a traveling rabbi who sometimes said some weird stuff, ticked off the authorities, and got himself executed.  End of story. 

-     But we believe it’s not the end of the story - we believe that out of death and destruction - God brings hope and new life. 

-     While it’s true often in life that there is no way out but through - we must remind ourselves that as disciples of Jesus, we’re never truly alone - never truly left to pick up the pieces by ourselves. 

-     For we worship a God who brings life from death - hope from hopelessness - joy from ashes and sorrow. In fact, that’s sort of the Triune God’s specialty.  

Closing

-     These last few weeks will be a significant part of the story you’ll tell when you tell the story of the Presbyterian Church of Coraopolis. 

-     And there are surely some who feel abandoned and lost - wondering what comes next - what to do. 

-     I would only share with you the words of Peter:  In the midst of loss, where else shall we go? Jesus alone is the holy one of God. 

-     One of the most basic fundamental truths we teach young children in church is this:  God is always with me.

-     That is simple - and yet profound. 

-     And those are words I hope you keep near and dear to your heart in the days and weeks to come as you begin to pick up the pieces and discover what our God has next for the Presbyterian Church of Coraopolis. 

-     Remember, our God is a hope-giving, joy-giving, bringing-life-from-death God. That’s the God who stands behind you, before you, and comforting you in sorrow while opening the door to a new season of ministry as God’s people. 

-     Amen and Amen.  

Perspective 9/2/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 2, 2023 & Sunday, September 3, 2023 

Prayer For Illumination: Lord, Thank You for allowing us to gather today to praise You and to be in Your presence. Give us open hearts and open minds that our faith might deepen as we grow spiritually from Your word. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: John 14:1-6 (page 1081) & Isaiah 65:17-19 (page 748)  

Sermon Message: “Perspective” 

by Elder Laurie Zickgraf

Years ago I read a story about two actors some of you may have heard of:  Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.  Spencer is in California, and Kate is in New York City. He calls her and asks how the weather is.  Kate says it’s wonderful, and the conversation moves on from there. After this call, Spencer calls a friend who is also in New York City and says, How’s the weather?  This friend goes on for 5 minutes about how bad the weather is.  They are having a blizzard.  Snow is drifting in the streets and on the sidewalks.  The wind is howling, and it is freezing cold.  Traffic is backed up, and the trains are all running two hours late.  Well, Spencer is listening to this, and he’s surprised.  When he finishes talking to his friend, he calls Kate back.  He says, How’s the weather?  Kate replies, Wonderful! Spencer then tells Kate about the other call and his friend’s report on the weather.  Kate says, oh yeah, snow blowing you can’t see the road.  The wind is wild, and the temperature has dropped into the frigid zone.  Yes – It’s wonderful!  Same storm - different perspectives.  

A perspective is a point of view – it’s how we see things.  Ten people can look at something and interpret it differently even though they see the same thing. 

Think about a family picnic or a party.  You and your family have a great time getting to see relatives that you don’t see that often, and you catch up on all the news. The next day you are talking to a cousin who tells you about the fight between Uncle Joe and Uncle Sam.  They were really mad at each other.  You’re thinking, I saw Uncle Joe and Uncle Sam together all night.  They never had a fight. Your cousin goes on to tell you that Grandmother is really upset about Becky’s new boyfriend.  Wait a minute you say.  Grandmother told me that the new boyfriend is great.  A high school football star, a great athlete, and a really nice guy. So … who’s right? Both of you?  Neither of you? 

Chances are you are both right – to a point.  Your cousin and you might have seen different things, or you saw the same things and interpreted them differently. So much of our interpretation comes from our experiences but also our mood at the time of the event.  If your cousin had just had a fight with her boyfriend, her current mood may change how she interpreted things she saw and heard. 

Well, many years ago there were four men.  Their names were Luke, Matthew, John, and Mark.  

Matthew was a tax collector, and John was the brother of another disciple – James.  According to some traditions, Jesus’ mother had a sister who had two boys - James and John.  If this is true, Jesus would have been their cousin. Mark was a companion of Peter, and Luke was a physician and a companion of Paul.  He tells us in his gospel that he wanted to make sure the information we had was accurate.  

To paraphrase, many people were writing about the events around Jesus.  So Luke took the information from eyewitnesses and followers and carefully investigated everything so he could write an orderly account. 

Luke 1:1-3:  “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.” 

Because of these four men, we are now blessed to have a written record of what happened so many centuries ago.  The best part is that we don’t have one book but four books.  We get to see Jesus through the perspective of these four men. 

Even with these books we still can’t fully understand everything that happened for several reasons. 

First, we weren’t there.  If we had been there, we might have seen things that the others didn’t see.  I don’t think these four men were inseparable – they were not around each other or Jesus all the time.  This means that some of Jesus’ stories and conversations were not heard by all four men.  

Second, our understanding is limited because we aren’t members of that society.  We don’t know all the customs and the nuances of daily life in Jesus’ time.  Some people wouldn’t know what I mean if I said:  ‘redd up the room, get worshed up and let’s go dahntahn’. You have to understand what the words meant to the people at the time. 

Third, we bring our experiences, our education, our prejudices to the reading of these stories.  These things color our interpretation of the events we read about without us even being aware of it.  

Imagine for a minute: 4 or 5 people write a book from a national perspective about the events in this country over the past few years.  If they started with January 20, 2017 - President Trump taking the oath of office - they could include two severe hurricanes that hit the US in 2018 and record-breaking wildfires that hit Northern California.  They would need to include the outbreak of COVID-19 which we started to hear about at the end of 2019 and became a new way of life in early 2020. If they ended their book with events throughout last year, they would have had a lot of interesting events to include.

The pandemic, Jan 6th events at the Capitol building, the economy and climate change, crime, and government scandals.  These writers would come from different places – different perspectives and write, not only what they saw and heard, but what they thought they saw and heard. If someone reads this book 100 years later, would they be able to appreciate what this time in history was like?  I am going to say NO.  Just as a person reading about the wild and wonderful 60’s couldn’t really appreciate what the mood of the country was during free love, Vietnam protests, Woodstock, and the age of Aquarius.  

Years ago, I made my daughter, Kira, watch the movie Hair for about 15 minutes.  She looked at the movie, back to me, and asked:  ‘was everyone on drugs back then?’ I told her you had to be there! 

The writers of our imaginary book have a problem that the Gospel writers didn’t have.  They wrote from their own perspective how the recent events affected them – or didn’t affect them.  Someone in Kansas would have a very different perspective on a hurricane in Florida.  Our group of writers shared their story.  The Gospel writers, however, had INSPIRATION from God.  The Holy Spirit directed the writing of the four men that were alive in Jesus’ time so that we would have the true Word of God.  They were writing God’s story, not their own.  

Our Gospel writers were also writing after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  They had more information, they understood so much more than they did when Jesus started His ministry. 

But now, Jesus had come back from the dead and He was alive!  They looked at the Old Testament in a new way.  They saw that Jesus was the Holy One of God - the fulfillment of prophecies made by the prophets so long ago.  They had a new perspective! 

In our world, we sometimes need to stand back and see the events from a different perspective.  It’s hard, but it can be really helpful.  Next time you are with a group of people, try to take a step back – literally – and see what is happening from a different point of view, maybe from an outsiders’ viewpoint.  We have trouble seeing what’s really happening when we are too close to the situation.  

We also need to try to see things from a heavenly point of view, not just from an earthly perspective.  See things in the light of God’s word.  I don’t think “What Would Jesus Do?”  I don’t presume to know what Jesus would do, but I can ask myself, what did Jesus do in different situations?  I can look back at the Gospels to see if Jesus said anything that might apply or might speak to my heart.  

We recently lost our beloved Reverend Tom.  When someone is fighting cancer or has prolonged illness, we cry for the pain our friend is going through.  We cry because we are helpless to do anything to stop it.  We cry because our heart is breaking, our friend is leaving us, and we’ll miss them.  This pain is still too close to our hearts, and it’s too raw. But as time moves on, we may begin to see our loss in a different light.  

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room, praying, and sobbing.  I was overcome with grief knowing I was losing someone I loved.  Then something changed, and I suddenly felt differently.  I stopped crying, and I thanked God for the privilege of knowing this person.  I was thankful for everything I learned from this man and everything he meant to me over the years.  I was suddenly able to look at the situation from another perspective.  I saw that while I wouldn’t see my friend for a while, he was moving to the next part of his journey in life. He was going to a place where there was no pain, no fear, no human body that was unable to sustain him any longer.  When God calls someone home, that person is going to peace.  

Revelation 21:4 tells us:  And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain:  for the former things are passed away. 

When we grieve, we need to remember to see things in this world from the perspective of God’s plan and His will.  We need to see beyond today and tomorrow and remember that there is something more.  That something more is so glorious that we can’t even imagine it. God’s plan is so full of love and joy that we would weep if we could see it. This plan is much greater than we are.  This plan will bring us back to where we are supposed to be - back into the presence of the Great I AM!  

When you think of Reverend Tom or other loved ones who have passed away, remember, from our perspective we have lost someone dear.  But let me say something very clearly….Reverend Tom and all of our loved ones ARE NOT LOST.  They are in God’s loving arms.  From God’s perspective they are experiencing the fulfillment of a promise that God made a long time ago.  When we are called home, God will welcome each one of us has HE has done since time began.  

AMEN.

Peer Pressure 8/27/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 26, 2023 & Sunday, August 27, 2023 

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 124 & Romans 12:1-8

Sermon Message: "Peer Pressure"

by Pastor Dean Byrom

Roy had made two important decisions before completing his three years in prison. In addition to his good behavior which had led to his early release, he asked Christ Jesus to come into his life, in order that he would be able to change the direction of his living.  

He also resolved that, upon his release, he would devote major time to influencing young people in his old neighborhood to try and steer them in the right direction. 

Roy was an African American, raised in an area of the city where drugs and crime were the main activities.  When he returned there upon his release, it was not the same old neighborhood he had known.  It was much worse. 

Where could he start in his determination to influence the youth of the area?  

When he stopped in to visit one of the local Baptist pastors, he was greeted with some considerable reservations.  Was Roy, the ex-con, right out of prison, for real when he asked the pastor how he could help the youth of the community? 

After recovering from his initial shock, the pastor made several suggestions, one of which was to contact the local chapter of Big Brothers.  The people there at the agency knew of Roy and of his reputation for getting into trouble, but they were willing to risk assigning a “little brother” to him.   

Roy’s “little brother” was 12 year-old Evan, the oldest of six children of a single mother. 

Roy wasn’t quite sure how to begin his relationship with Evan, but he decided to suggest that they spend a bit of time shooting hoops at a decrepit court in the neighborhood.  After a half-hour of trying to get his shooting eye back and playing one-on-one with Evan, Roy suggested that they get a Coke. 

“My momma told me you just got out of prison,” Evan said tentatively as they were drinking their Cokes. 

“You got that right,” Roy replied, “and I’m sure you know that’s one bad place to be.  I don’t want any more of that.”  

“Tell me, what’s going on with you?” 

Evan paused before answering softly, “they want me to join a gang.”

“Who wants you to ?” asked Roy. 

“Oh, just a bunch of guys - some are members and some are thinking about joining.  They want me to come along.” 

“Well, let’s talk about this whole gang thing for a while,” Roy suggested.  Roy went on to tell him his own experience with gangs and the near guarantee that a gang would get Evan into trouble sooner or later. 

“The problem is, members of the gang so often want you to do things that get you into trouble.  That’s how I landed in prison.” 

“It’s hard to not join, “ Evan said quietly. “All the guys in the hood say they want us to join.” 

“I know it’s hard,” Roy agreed.  “But let’s look at some other things you can do that are better choices.” 

“Like what?”  Evan wanted to know. 

“Stick with me, for one thing,” Roy suggested.  “I’ll spend as much time with you as you want.  And maybe we can help turn some of the other guys’ minds around, too.  Should we give it a shot?”   

Evan looked up at his new Big Brother and said, “Let’s give it a shot!  C’mon, I’ll beat you in a game of one-on-one!” 

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God…”

 


Our Jewish Messiah 8/18/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 19, 2023 & Sunday, August 20, 2023 

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 133 and Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 

Sermon Message: "Our Jewish Messiah"

by Pastor Dean Byrom  

Today, on this beautiful August Sunday, we must talk about sin, the sin of anti-Semitism, the sin of Anti-Judaism. We must talk as Christians. 

First, we must admit to our beloved church’s complicity in the long, terrible history of persecution of the Jews. 

Every Holy Week, when we read our scriptures that say “the Jews” did this, “the Jews” did that to Jesus, a shudder ought to go down our spines.  Holy Week has historically been an occasion for persecution of the Jews.  Jesus, and all His first followers, were Jews, products of the faith of Israel. 

Alas, these acts did not end in our time. The Anti-Defamation League has recorded a growing number of anti-Jewish incidents in our country during recent years.  Especially has this been the case since the horrible massacre took place at the Tree of Life/Dor Hadash Synagogue in Pittsburgh. 

The question of our relationship to the Jews is an old one. In today’s scripture, Paul writes to the church at Rome of his great sorrow at the growing separation between his people, the Jews, and the developing congregations of Gentiles and Jews, the first-century church. Evidently, someone in the church at Rome had asked, “Has God rejected His people?” 

Has God now, in Jesus, rejected the Jews?  “By no means!” asserts Paul, the grateful Jew.  When God makes a promise, God keeps that promise.  In Abraham, in Moses and all the prophets, God has promised, again and again to preserve Israel as a light to the nations, a sign of the faithfulness of God.  If God did not keep God’s promises to Israel, then God’s promises to us, the Gentiles, would be nullified. 

My sermon today, arising from Paul’s words to the Romans, has three points.   

First, we as Christians need the Jews, for the promises of God to the Jews are the basis on which our faith in Jesus rests.  We are related to Judaism in a way that differs from our relationship to any other faith.

There is no way to understand Jesus without understanding the faith of Israel.  That’s one reason why we often read from the Old Testament, the scripture of the Jews, in our worship services.  The Old Testament is not a meaningless collection of irrelevant ancient writing.  The Old Testament is also our good news.  The good news embodied in Jesus is the good news that we hear preached in the Old Testament, namely, that God is determined to have a people.   

Second, although we need the Jews, it is quite understandable why many Jews may not want us.  It is painful for us to realize that many Jews view our beloved church with great pain and even some bitterness.

The cross, the symbol of our faith, was horribly twisted and transformed - in our sin of anti-Judaism - into a sign of torture against God’s very own people.  When Jews look at the cross, no wonder that some of them view it with bitterness.  (In fact, it has amazed me that over my ministerial career, how I, and confirmation classes that I have taken to Rodef Shalom, have always been welcomed and received with gracious hospitality.)

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits, when asked a few years ago what Jews would like from Christians, replied, “All we want of Christians is that they keep their hands off us and our children”. 

These words are painful to hear, but they are words that we must hear for our own good.  The Jews remind us of a sad, terrible history of Christian wrongs against the Jews, and we do not like to be reminded of our sin.

It is painful to be reminded that some of the same hateful feelings and actions that led the Gentile Romans to crucify the Jew, Jesus, have led fellow Christians to persecute Jesus’ people, the Jews.  Rather than deny that history, we ought to repent and ask God to forgive us our sins against God’s people. 

Third, I think that we Christians must admit that we have tragically, by our sin against the Jews, forfeited our responsibility, our right, to try to convert the Jews.  

If the Jews are to come to believe that Jesus is their redeemer, then it will have to be from people other than those of us who have so betrayed our redeemer through 2,000 years of persecution, indifference, and complicity in violence against the Jews.  

If we want to do anything for our sisters and brothers in Christ, the Jewish people, then we might urge them to be faithful to the religion of Israel, rather than to attempt to convert them out of that faith. 

If we are converted to Christ Jesus, if we are “saved” by Him, then that means that we are converted into the promises of God to Israel.  The best way to think of ourselves, in relationship to Jews, is that we are “honorary Jews”.  We have been adopted into a family that was not originally ours. 

That was the great miracle that so astounded Paul.  He had no doubt that God’s promises had been made to Israel.  The amazing revelation that so amazed Paul was that, in Jesus, God’s gracious salvation had been extended even to the Gentiles, us Gentiles. 

Let us, in our celebration of that adoption, in our attempt to respond faithfully to the salvation that has come to us in Jesus, never in any way think or act in a way that denigrates God’s people, the Jews. 

The good news is that, despite our sin, God has not rejected God’s people.  Despite the centuries of horrible, unparalleled injustice toward the Jews, the Jews continue.  That means that the promises of God endure and are trustworthy. 

Thanks be to God.  Amen. 


 


On the Brink 8/13/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 12, 2023 & Sunday, August 13, 2023 

Scripture Lesson: Romans 10:5-15 

Sermon Message: "On the Brink"

by Pastor Dean Byrom 

“For Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim Him? And how are they to proclaim Him unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!' ” 

(A Merle Franke story) 

The Evangelism Committee was ready to begin its monthly meeting when Eric tentatively looked into the room. 

“Hey, Eric, are you joining our committee?” the chairman asked with enthusiasm. Typical of the situation in so many congregations, this Evangelism Committee was woefully small and always looking for additional people to serve. 

“Well, I think I am,” Eric replied without much emotion. “I played racquetball with the pastor a few days ago, and he kind of talked me into it. Maybe that’s what I get for beating him three games straight,” he laughed. 

There were only four people in the room, and Eric wondered if this was the total membership of the committee. The chairman answered his unspoken query, “You just became the fifth member of our committee. It’s like pulling teeth to get anyone to serve.” 

“What do you do anyway?” Eric asked. “I don’t even know what the word ‘evangelism’ means”. 

“Basically, it means telling people about Jesus,” one member offered. 

“I’m leaving”, Eric joked as he pretended to push his chair back to leave.  

“Wait a minute. Don’t leave,” the chairman pleaded, “at least wait to hear more about what we do.” 

“I’ll tell you what,” Eric answered, “I’ll stay for the meeting tonight and hear what this is all about, but I also need to tell you that I’m not going to be like those folks who go door to door to ask if you’re saved, or whatever they do. That just turns most people off.” 

“Well, that’s not the way we operate,” the chairman replied. He and the others talked for quite some time about how to approach people who were either unchurched or who had become disenchanted with the church. 

Finally the chairman asked Eric, “Didn’t you recently come back after being away from the church for some time?” 

“Yeah, I got turned off by people bugging me about whether or not I was saved,” he joked, “but seriously, we used to have these wild-haired fanatics who would appear in the commons on campus and condemn us all to hell if we didn’t repent right then and there.” 

“No wonder you didn’t want to serve on the committee,” someone commented. 

“You know,” the chairman said, “I don’t agree with the tactics of those wild-haired fanatics, as you called them, but evangelism is about telling the Good News.” 

“Which is?” Eric broke in. 

“Which is, basically, about Jesus and our faith in Him,” the chairman continued. “We need people like you to help with the telling. It’s not really as difficult as it first appears. The thing that convinced me to serve on this committee a few years ago, and the reason I’m still on it, is something the pastor said in his sermon, and it’s stuck with me ever since.” 

“I’m waiting.” Eric said. 

The chairman answered, “He said that Christianity is always just one generation away from extinction. If we don’t tell the news to the next generation, it’s gone. History. That was enough to convince me.” 

If we don’t tell the Good News to the next generation, Christianity is gone. 

A Ghastly Appetizer; a Heavenly Meal 8/4/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 5, 2023 & Sunday, August 6, 2023 

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 17:1-7, 15 & Matthew 14:9-21 

Sermon Message: "A Ghastly Appetizer; a Heavenly Meal"

by Pastor Dean Byrom

According to Matthew’s order of events, this well-known miracle of the feeding of the thousands follows immediately upon Jesus’ learning of the murder (by Herod’s order) of His cousin John the Baptist. 

Recall the story of John’s death and burial - Herod Antipas, marries his brother Phillip’s wife - whose daughter, Salome, on her mother’s insistence asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. ( a ghastly appetizer! )  

Jesus wanted so much to get away from it all. Why? 

A.  Was He regretting that He had not been able to save John?

B.   Was He upset because He wasn’t even present at John’s burial?

C.   Whatever the reason, He needed at this point to commune with His Heavenly Father. 

So He goes by boat - it’s hard to follow a boat - unless the boat never leaves the sight of the people on the shore! (And Jesus never lost sight of them!) 

Jesus may have needed to be alone, but the people of the towns had another agenda - they wanted their sick to be cured. 

So when Jesus’ boat is beached, He is met by a great multitude of needy people and their loved ones: the critically ill, the deformed from birth, little children crying from pain, the blind and the deaf. And Jesus had compassion for them and cured their sick. 

It must have taken hours - Jesus moving through the crowd - talking with them, touching them, comforting them, raising them up. Can you see the disciples following after Him - lifting up some to walk, rejoicing with parents of healed children, talking with those who wanted to know more about this wonder-working rabbi, and once in a while, glancing at the setting sun as the shadows got longer and longer? There they were - miles from any town - what about dinner? 

Then there follows a well-known series of events that we’re going to pass over in the main. All except to note that we can find in them definite and dramatic comparisons to the Lord’s Supper (as probably practiced in Matthew’s church in the days when he wrote his account of the Gospel). 

In fact, the practices of the Lord’s Supper (which incidentally, we will celebrate next weekend) are probably derived not just from the Last Supper of Holy Week on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, but also from many meals together, common as well as noteworthy (like today’s reading). 

But please note: 

1. Loaves of bread (probably barley bread - the fare of the poor) and fish (smoked or pickled) - a delicacy often eaten as a relish for the bread. A wafer of bread is what we eat in our Communion service. The figure of a fish drawn in the dust or on a page was an early secret symbol for followers of Jesus.

2  Jesus looked up to heaven - that is He gave thanks to God (just as He did at the Last Supper and before every meal).

3. He blessed and broke the loaves - as He would do later at the Last Supper, and as the elder in charge would do in Matthew’s faith community.

4. He gave the broken loaves to the disciples - and crowds - just as the elder’s assistants, the deacons, would do every Lord’s Day as Matthew’s church remembered their Lord. 

This story is filled with images of the heavenly meal - Holy Communion. 

I’ve told you all this to get to one striking point:  it is in verse 21: “And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” The focus words are “besides women and children”. When Jesus fed the hungry thousands, He didn’t just feed the men. He also fed the women and children. 

It’s painful to me to see once again how male-centered society was in New Testament times. And it’s clear that in this event Jesus quietly makes His serving of that miraculous meal a service to every person present. Even the writer of “Matthew” had to reflect this reality.  

So, we look back and remember with horror the ghastly events just preceding the heavenly feeding at the wondrous hands of Christ Jesus. Let us carry that memory as we gather around Jesus’ twenty-first century table next week here in Coraopolis for our Holy Communion as men, women, and children. 

 

Deepening Faith 7/30/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 29, 2023 & Sunday, July 30, 2023 

Sermon Message: “Deepening Faith”

By Elder Laurie Zickgraf 

Last week we saw that the Gospel of John told us that Jesus came to dwell among us and to show us the Messiah was not what the Jews were expecting.  He had to show the people of that time that some their beliefs were not what God intended.  To do this Jesus sometimes did the unexpected to make them think and bring them to a deeper understanding.  He might say something that contradicts their current beliefs or makes them prove that they had real faith in Him.  Sometimes Jesus would plant a seed and watch it take root.  Jesus routinely did things that surprised, dismayed, or caused anger, but also gave hope to the people who are ready to hear what He was teaching. 

There are 2 examples in John:4 that we are going to look at today.   

The 1st is when Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well.  The disciples went for food, and Jesus stayed behind at Jacob’s well because He was tired.  The fact that we are told He was tired is a way to show us that Jesus, while God, was also human.  Jesus had all the frailties that we as humans experience:  hunger, thirst, being tired, being discouraged.  Things that we may experience every day.  

When Jesus is waiting, a woman from Samaria comes to the well, and He asks her for a drink. This request is unexpected for 2 reasons: Jewish men didn’t speak to women in the streets, and a good Jew didn’t talk to a Samaritan. The conversation between the woman and Jesus continues, and then Jesus tells the woman something unexpected:  He knows she is living with a man who is not her husband.  Now, it can be hard for us to hear the truth about ourselves, especially if it’s embarrassing or painful.  Many of us change the subject which is just as this woman did.  Instead of responding to His comment about her lack of a husband, she tells Jesus that she knows the Messiah is coming. Jesus says:  “I am He, the One speaking to you.” Think about this, not only did Jesus talk to a woman from Samaria, but He told her who He was! We can see that a small seed had been planted, because the woman runs to tells others about this man. 

Our 2nd example shows Jesus testing someone’s faith, and it comes after Jesus and His disciples leave the Samaritans and go to Cana of Galilee.  This is the town where Jesus had performed His first miracle of changing water into wine.  On this day Jesus is confronted by a royal official whose son was sick.  This man was probably not a Jew, but he sought out Jesus to ask for a miracle. Instead of going with the man or just agreeing to cure the boy, Jesus tests this man’s faith by saying:  “unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.”  The official again asks Jesus to come and cure his son.  Jesus tells him, “Go; your son is alive.” The official does have faith in Jesus, because he leaves and heads for home, believing that his son would live. When the official gets part way home, he is met by his servants who confirm that the boy is alive.  This information causes the faith of the official to deepen.  This event touches the entire household, and they all believe in Jesus.

Between these two stories, John inserts a section (John 4:35-38) that almost seems to be out of place.  To put this conversation into context, let’s go to Luke:8 and look at the parable of the sower.  

From our scripture reading today we know that a man went out to sow some seed.  He was a farmer, and it was planting time.  As the man is walking around, he throws seed.  Some of this seed lands on the road, and it’s trampled and dies.  He throws some more seed, and it lands on rocky soil.  Now this seed takes root, but without enough soil it had no moisture, and it withered away when the sun came out.  Some of the seed landed in the dirt where there were thorny plants.  These seeds grew, but pretty soon they were choked out by the other plants and died.  But there is good news; some of the seed landed in good soil.  Soil that was ready to receive the seed, soil that had enough nutrients and enough moisture to ensure the seeds would grow and would not wither.  This batch of seeds produced an abundant crop, much more than what was expected! 

In the case of the Samaritan woman and the royal official, Jesus is sowing seeds of faith.  With the Samaritans, the woman helps that seed along by telling the townspeople that she has been talking to a man who told her EVERYTHING about herself. I love that word, EVERYTHING. It is usually an exaggeration, as it was in this case, and should be taken with a grain of salt.  But after the Samaritan people heard the woman, it made them want to know more, so they went to Jesus and asked Him to stay for a few days.  John tells us that at first the people believed in Jesus because of what the woman said, but after meeting and getting to know Jesus, they believe because of what they heard.  Their faith was deepened – it became stronger by getting to know Jesus.  

The royal official had maybe a tiny bit of faith when he first approached Jesus.  Things he heard has given him hope that this man Jesus is special and can save his son.  By questioning this man’s faith, Jesus makes it possible for this man to come to a deeper faith in Jesus as the Messiah.  This deeper faith is shared by the official’s household, and more seeds are planted! 

Some of the seeds Jesus is planting land on rocky soil and some on good soil in a thorn patch.  While some people believe in Jesus, others don’t.  Some of these new believers will follow Jesus until it gets hard, inconvenient, or they get bored; then the thorns will choke out the small bit of faith that was there.  For mankind, there are a lot of thorns.  Everything that distracts us from our faith can be considered a thorn. Things like family or work take up a lot of our time. The desire for more stuff, more money, a new car, or a new house.  All of these things are fine and are worth our time, but not if they cause you to turn away from God! Remember – money is not the root of all evil; it’s the LOVE of Money that causes problems.  (1 Timothy 6:10: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.) 

Jesus knows that without additional support, education, and fellowship, the seeds He planted and continues to plant may die.  In these few verses in John, Jesus is teaching the disciples to continue His mission so that they can nurture the seeds and help people to a deeper faith when they face the daily challenges that we all face. When Jesus talks to His disciples in Samaria, He is telling them that when the farmer plants his crops, he knows it takes at least 4 months to see the results of the harvest.  But in this case, the disciples can see the harvest right away.  The harvest begins when the people meet Jesus and get to know Him.  

We need to be a bit more like the disciples and share our stories and our beliefs – at the right time and to the right person.  Sometimes a person is not ready to hear about God and Jesus, and forcing them into a conversation can backfire and turn them away from the truth of eternal life.  But gently, quietly, and by acting with love and concern, a word or two might become a seed that is planted for Jesus.  We also need to make sure we are tending the fields.  When someone has a little bit of faith, encourage them, support their spiritual growth, and help them to learn more about Jesus.  

I used to think that faith was something you either had or you didn’t have.  You were a sinner before you accepted Jesus Christ into your life, and after – you change, and you didn’t sin anymore.  I wish that were true, but it’s not. We’re all human, and we sin every day.  But as our faith grows, we learn that we are forgiven by a loving and merciful God.  A Christian with a more mature faith knows that we don’t have to stop believing because we sinned.  We allow God to touch our lives and let Him show us what He CAN DO! 

During the last few months, I have watched a man of faith show me just what faith can do.  After Reverend. Tom was diagnosed with cancer, he told me that he loves the Lord and he said, “All I want to do is to preach the word of God and take care of the people in this church.”  He had HOPE that he would face this challenge and win. 

Since that conversation, Reverend Tom has faced more challenges than he ever imagined.  He has been in ICU for over 3 weeks, one procedure after another, on his back, unable to move because of all the devices he is connected to.  Last week, as I sat in the room, Reverend Tom was listening to his favorite Christian song on Bonnie’s phone.  She had laid the phone on his pillow; his eyes were closed, his toes were tapping, and he was singing along – silently – with the music.  A look of peace on his face. This is a man of deep faith.  The type of faith that I would like to have.  

Years ago there was a seed of faith that was planted in me at the Moon Run Presbyterian church.  That seed has been trampled by life, but it’s stronger than I thought possible.  That seed became faith because it was nourished, first by the people of Moon Run and then by the people I’ve met over the years. That faith that has grown deeper and stronger since God led me to this church and to you. 

In the past 14 years, I have felt the Holy Spirit guide me, and I know that God cares for this church and the people who come here.  And while I still don’t understand the WHYs of this world, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the next world will be glorious! 

AMEN. 

Scripture Readings

Luke 8:5-8,12-15

5“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” 12Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

John 20:30-31

30Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

The Beginning and the End 7/23/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 22, 2023 & Sunday, July 23, 2023 

Sermon Message: "The Beginning and the End"

by Elder Laurie Zickgraf 

The Messiah is here!  He is the new king promised in the Old Testament.  If you read Isaiah 9:2-7, you get an idea of what the Jewish people expected. They expected the Prince of Peace.  They expected Him to establish a world government and to “uphold it with justice and righteousness”.  The Jews expected the new king to establish an immediate reign on the earth. 

What they got was Jesus.  A Messiah that taught love, kindness, patience, and forgiveness.  This was hardly a man who appeared to be able to save the Jews from the Romans.  Instead of a warrior who would send the Roman army into disarray and would lose the bonds of the Jewish people, they saw a man.  A man who’s first miracle was what?  A whirlwind?  Perhaps the takeover of the Roman government?  

No.  Jesus’s first miracle was to make water into wine.  And it was done at a friend’s wedding.  So the family wouldn’t be embarrassed.  It was done quietly, without telling anyone.  It was not a tremendous event, in fact, most of the guests didn’t know there had been a miracle. 

To say that this was a strange and perhaps disappointing beginning might be a bit of an understatement.  No big announcement, no balloons, no fireworks, just 6 water jugs full of wine.  

But, this was indeed the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  He and His disciples were at a wedding in Cana.  His mother was there.  When she found out the family ran out of wine, she asked her Son to….what did she ask? If you read John 2:3, she didn’t ask Him anything.  She simply told her Son that “They have no wine!” He would know what she meant! 

A lot of people read Jesus’ reply and think it was a really rude response.  “What business do you have with Me, woman?  My hour has not yet come.”  Some scholars believe that Jesus was telling His mother that He would not do what she wanted unless directed by God.  Whatever His reason for His remark, Jesus did change the water into wine.  By changing the water on a molecular level, He showed that He had power that no one else had.  This showed those first disciples that this was no ordinary man, and it deepened their faith in Him.  

After the wedding, the group then traveled to Capernaum, then onto Jerusalem for the Jewish Passover.  When they went into the Temple grounds, they saw men selling animals for sacrifice and changing money.  When Jesus saw what they had done to the Temple, He made a whip out of cords and drove the men and the animals out.  He overturned the tables and spilled the coins everywhere.  

Why was Jesus so irate? This outermost area of the Temple was called the court of the Gentiles, and non-Jews were able to enter this area.  With all the businessmen, the tables, and the animals, it was crowded, and there was too much noise and chaos for anyone to reverently worship God.  

Isaiah 56:1-8 in part says: 

‘Blessed is the one who maintains justice and does what is right, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps their hands from doing any evil.’  ‘For My house will be called a House of Prayer for all nations – I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.’ 

The Temple was a Holy place, intended for all nations and people that believed in God.  It was a gathering place for worship.  It was not a place for business; for overcharging people for the animals and coins that were needed according to Jewish custom.  Here we see a Jesus that is angry with righteous anger!  Angry for the way mankind destroys the things made for God.  Jesus uses the whip that He made and hands out judgement to those who have desecrated the Temple. 

Once again Jesus is showing the Jews that His ways are different than the Jewish traditions and expectations.  Jesus is showing us that He is ushering in a different way of thinking from the past and a change from the Jewish traditions practiced for so long.  

This is the Beginning of a new era! A new way of thinking! Jesus is acting as our Rabbi, teaching us that we must learn a new way, a way that leads to the Kingdom of God though belief in Him.  

Jesus continues to be our Rabbi when Nicodemus visits. As a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus didn’t want to be seen going to Jesus, so he visited at night.  When Nicodemus meets Jesus, he admits that Jesus is from God, meaning He has authority from God for His teachings.  Before Nicodemus even asks a question, Jesus tells him that in order to see the Kingdom of God a person must be born again.  

Nicodemus - even with all his education - answers from a literal point of view.  How can an old person be born again and come from his mother’s womb?  Jesus gives an answer about the difference between flesh and spirit.  Nicodemus is still obviously confused when he says, “How can these things be?” Jesus tells Nicodemus that as a teacher of Israel, he should understand these things.  Once again Jesus is pointing us toward new concepts.  A new way of thinking, a new beginning. 

In the discourse with Nicodemus, Jesus mentions Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness.  He states that the Son of Man must also be lifted up.  Jesus is referring to something that happened to God’s people during their journey to the Promised Land.  In the book of Numbers (21:4-9) the Israelites were traveling along the Red Sea to go around the land of Edom.  The people were impatient and spoke against God and against Moses.  They complained that they had no bread or water and were going to die in the wilderness.  The Lord sent poisonous snakes among them, and many were bitten and died.  The Israelites repented and asked Moses to pray to God to take the snakes away.  Moses did pray, and God told him to make a bronze snake and place it on a pole and hold it up.  If someone was bitten by the poisonous snakes and they looked up at the bronze snake, they would live because they were showing their faith in God.  Jesus also was to be lifted up on the cross, and whoever believes in Him will live. 

As Jesus’ ministry is beginning, some of John the Baptist’s disciples are still following John.  They see the crowds that are now following Jesus and said something to the Baptist. They appear to be upset that more people are going to Jesus’ disciples to be baptized than to John the Baptist. The Baptist tells them: “27 … “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.  28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.” 

I’ll bet many of you know someone who would have reacted differently than John the Baptist.  Maybe try to take more power for themselves rather than acknowledge that their job was to follow God’s plan, not to become the center of it.  Too many times we see ourselves as more important than we are.  

But John the Baptist describes himself as the friend of the groom who is rejoicing because the groom has arrived.  His joy is found in the joy of the bridegroom.  And while John was not the Messiah, we should not think of him as ONLY the groom’s friend.  For when John the Baptist followed God’s plan for him, prophecy was fulfilled.  This fulfillment became a witness to the true Messiah – Jesus the Christ! 

We know that John the Baptist really understood his role in God’s plan when he tells his disciples, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  The Baptist is a wonderful example of someone who was chosen by God to accomplish something, and he did it.  He completed his role and stepped to the side so God’s plan could continue.  Jesus would teach about the Kingdom of Heaven and invite us all to join this Kingdom by believing in Jesus and ultimately receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.  

John the Baptist had a short but vitally important role to play in the salvation of the world.  No, he didn’t save us, but he was “a voice of one crying in the wilderness” so that we might all know that Jesus Christ is the Light of the World.  He ensured that we were given the chance to know Jesus, and by knowing Jesus, know God.  

Without John the Baptist allowing his role to end, we might never have had such a glorious beginning to our faith in Jesus Christ.  We might never have learned that:  

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life!” 

AMEN. 

Scripture Readings

John 2:1-5

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

John 3:27-30

27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”

Who Is Jesus? 7/14/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 15, 2023 & Sunday, July 16, 2023 

Sermon Message:  "Who Is Jesus?"

by Elder Laurie Zickgraf 

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  Many of us recognize that sentence.  It is the first sentence in the Bible – the Old Testament, Genesis 1:1.  Genesis goes on to tell us how God created the world in 6 days.  

In the New Testament, the book of Matthew begins with the human genealogy of ‘Jesus the Messiah’. Mark begins with quoting the prophet Isaiah who wrote, “Behold, I am sending My messenger before You, who will prepare Your way.”  

Luke begins with an explanation of why he wrote his book.  Others had already written about the many events in Jesus’ life, so Luke used these eyewitness accounts to write his story in “an orderly sequence”…“so that you may know the exact truth about things you have been taught."

The first three books of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels.  They preserve the story of the Christian faith from 3 different perspectives. These 3 gospels share much of the same material and tell the same basic story.  

Historians have said that the book of Mark was written first, and Matthew and Luke used that book when writing their own account of the events during Jesus’ life.  These 3 gospels also share many of the same stories, but one book may have something the other 2 left out.  By looking at them all, we have a more complete picture of Jesus’ ministry. 

The 4th book of the New Testament is different.  John focuses on Jesus as God and a man.  He may have been trying to show that another religious sect (Gnostics) of his day were wrong when they said that Jesus was not a man.  Some in this sect also believed that because Jesus was not a real man he didn’t leave foot prints and you couldn’t touch him. 

The book of John does not follow the same pattern used by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  He also gives us new material.  It is estimated that 92% of this book is not found in the other three gospels.  John’s first sentence shows what he believes is the most important fact about Jesus. 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  

That first sentence is a lot like the first sentence in Genesis.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” 

Genesis tells us God was there; John tells us God was not alone!  Jesus was with God from the beginning, and He was actively involved in creation.

Now while John tells us that the Word was at the beginning he doesn’t clearly say who the ‘Word’ is until verse 17. That’s when we find out that Jesus is the Word. “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ”. The Law of Moses was not able to save mankind. The Law shows us how far away we are from God and even when we try to follow it, we fail. We are unable to be ‘good’ enough to ‘earn’ our way into the Kingdom of Heaven. There had to be a way for us to return to God . That way is through grace and is found in Jesus the Messiah! 

Once John has clearly shown us who Jesus is, he spends a little bit of time clarifying who John the Baptist was. He is very clear that John the Baptist was ‘a witness, sent from God (Jn1:6) to testify about the Light’.  When John the Baptist began preaching the Pharisees sent out some priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him if he was the Christ. John answered that he was not the Christ (v20). They asked if he was the prophet Elijah, and again he said no.  

His response is interesting because Luke writes about the angel’s visit to Zechariah in the temple. The angel announces that Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth will have a son. (Lk1:17a) “and it is he (John the Baptist) who will go as a forerunner before Him (Jesus) in the spirit and power of Elijah,”  

Matthew includes Jesus’ words about John the Baptist. (11:9-10) “This is the one about whom it is written: behold I am sending my messenger ahead of You.” Jesus even adds “And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.” (Matthew 11:14). 

Now some of John the Baptists’ followers believed that the Baptist was the Messiah they were expecting. The Baptist made it very clear that he was not when he told them he was not even worthy to untie the Messiah’s sandals. The Baptist told everyone; somebody else was coming and it would be the true Messiah. The writer John was very careful to clarify that John the Baptist was a messenger, not the Christ.  

Why was John so focused on John the Baptist? He may have done this because the Baptist’s followers were still around when John was writing his gospel. In Acts 18:24-28 you’ll read that there  

was a man called Apollos who was sharing the scriptures with others, but he only knew about John, he didn’t know about Jesus. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they pulled him aside and explained who Jesus was.  

John the writer gives us enough information so that we can be assured that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus was with God in the beginning and was active in creation. Jesus is God who became flesh to dwell among us. He includes information that John the Baptist and Jesus fulfilled prophecy from Isaiah and Malachi.  

John also uses many symbolic names of Jesus in Chapter one, including: The Word, Life, Light and Light of mankind, Son of God, Son of man, Lamb of God, Rabbi or Teacher, Messiah, and King of Israel. 

Once John has established beyond a shadow of a doubt who Jesus is, he begins to share the story of the men that were the first converts of Jesus. The first two of the twelve were followers of John the Baptist. When John the Baptist was standing with 2 of his two disciples, Andrew and an unnamed man, Jesus walked by. The Baptist looked at Jesus and said “Behold, the Lamb of God! The two disciples left the Baptist and followed Jesus because they knew that this was indeed the true Messiah John had been preaching about.  

Andrew found his brother Simon and told him they had found the Messiah. When Andrew and Simon got to Jesus, Jesus looked at Simon and renamed him Cephas, which means Peter.  

The next day Jesus found Philip and said “follow Me”. Philip found Nathanael and said they had found “Him of whom Moses wrote in the Law, and the prophets also wrote: Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth!” This is when Nathanael asked if anything good could come out of Nazareth. (Jn1:46). You see, at the time Nazareth was a small village, very poor with a bad reputation among the Jews. Most people had never even heard of it. No one expected the Messiah to come from such a town. 

So while Nathanael was skeptical, at his first meeting with Jesus he becomes a believer. Why, because Jesus already knew Nathanael. (Jn1:48) He said; “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 

This man – this Lamb is the Son of God and The Word who exists eternally with God. He is the fulfillment of prophecies from the Old Testament and He is the hope of the world. Jesus is the light that comes into our dark world to be the final sacrifice for our sins so that we may be saved.  

I have always liked the idea of Jesus as the Light of the World. It is very visual, and the light always wins over the darkness. We light candles at church and sometimes in our homes. At Christmas time we place candles in the sanctuary windows. I think of all the Christmas lights as a symbol that reminds us that Jesus was born to bring us out of the darkness and into the light. 

When we read the first chapter of the gospel of John, we get another view of Jesus. Matthew tells us about Jesus’ birth, the visit of the Magi and the escape into Egypt to save Jesus’ life. Mark mentions the prophet Isaiah and the prophecy about the messenger that comes before the Messiah. He shares what the Baptist wore and ate and shares the story of Jesus’ baptism . 

After Luke tells us why he wrote a book about Jesus he tells us about the prophecy of the messenger and the Messiah’s birth. Luke gives us more information about Mary and Elizabeth and how Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem when he was 12 years old. He gives a lot of information about the human events at the beginning of the story.

But John is different! He gives us the theology of what becomes the Christian faith. Theology or the study of God comes from 2 Greek words:  “theos” which means God and “-ology” from the Greek word logos which means word. So literally theology means “Words about God”.  

These words give us the Essential Doctrines of Christianity which include: 1) the Deity of Christ, 2) Salvation by Grace, 3) Resurrection of Christ, 4) the gospel or good news, and 5) monotheism- one God. John begins his writings with the focus on the Deity of Christ, not the humanity. This book begins by telling us who Jesus is! Who HE really is, not just a prophet, not a crazy man but God in human form. We see the Old Testament prophecies unfolding in the gospel stories. and we know that Jesus will fulfill His promises in God’s time. This is the hope of our faith!  

These past few weeks have been a dark and difficult time for our church. Our love for Rev. Tom has been shared with each other and his family in our words, our thoughts and our prayers. As a group, we have become prayer warriors – raising our voices to God in the name of Jesus Christ. We look at the darkness of this world and then we turn to face the Light. The Light that saves us all. We ask for God’s mercy and grace to wash over Rev. Tom .as he heals so that he may return to us and his beloved church. Amen.


FEAR NOT! 7/8/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 8, 2023 & Sunday, July 9, 2023 

Sermon Message: “FEAR NOT!”

By Elder Laurie Zickgraf 

Is there anyone in this room that has not been afraid at some point in your life? I suspect that we all have fears of one kind or another.  Fear is a powerful emotion.  It can make a strong, confident person curl up in the fetal position, afraid to do anything.  It can also be an excuse for why you are not doing something:  I can’t cross the bridge, it will collapse; or, I can’t make a presentation because everyone will laugh at me. 

Fear can be confusing, because fear can also be a good thing.  The fear of walking off a balcony of a 20-story building is a good fear to have.  The fear of poisonous snakes and wild animals is a good fear.  These fears may save your life.  

We all feel afraid at some point.  Some of the fears may be smart – wild animals - but some of them might make our life easier if they would just go away. 

For some, the fears are learned because of something we experience.  A friend of mine won’t swim in a pool with other people because of an event that happened when she was eight years old.  She was swimming with family and friends, and while she was swimming underwater, one little boy held her down.  When she started to panic, he let her up.  That day the fear of being underwater was born, and 60 years later, it is still there. 

Whatever caused our fear, whether it was born in us or started with a bad experience, fear can make us incapable of doing something we need or want to do.  It can affect our entire lives if we allow our fear to dictate our actions.  

Now there are ways to deal with fear.  You can try talking to a counselor or therapist.  You can try medication.  You can try exposure therapy.  With this therapy you are exposed to the object of your fear slowly and in a safe space. You might talk about fear of clowns. You will be shown a picture of a clown, and then you might see a toy or stuffed clown.  The goal would be to lose the fear of clowns.  

In the old sitcom, Frasier, there was an episode where a nurse was afraid of clowns.  Frasier used the little jack-in-the-box toy – the one that plays music ("Pop Goes the Weasel") when you turn the handle, and when the music is done, the clown jumps out.  Well the nurse watches him turn the handle, and when the clown jumps out, she screams hysterically. Needless to say Frasier does not cure her of her fear of clowns.  By the end of the show he has actually made the fear worse. 

Well-meaning friends and family may try to help you overcome your fears with mixed results.  I was afraid of roller coasters when I was younger, and my mother got me on one at West View.  I tried to climb out of the car as it moved slowly up the initial hill.  When the ride was over, I was so traumatized that I didn’t go near another roller coaster for years. 

There are other kinds of fear that can cause problems.  Some people worry about what others think of them, and they will do things to fit in and be accepted by the crowd.  Getting a certain job, house, or car so people will look up to you.  Maybe you dress a certain way, eat in fancy and expensive restaurants, or go on a fabulous vacation every year, even if you have to go into debt to pay for it.  It used to be called 'keeping up with the Jones’s.'  

Social Media has shown us that some people will do anything to be on the ‘inside’ or to show they are not afraid. 

In 2018 the Tide Pod Challenge spread across social media, where teens would either eat or vape laundry detergent, resulting in a surge in calls to poison control centers. 

Some of us remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014 and 2015 which raised over $220 million dollars for ALS research.  Sadly, this challenge was changed to become a hot water challenge, and kids, teens, and adults have been burned so badly that they required medical treatment.  

When I hear stories about people doing things like this, I’m horrified and I’m sad at the same time.  To do something dangerous so that people will like you is just sad.  These are people you’ve never met and will never meet.  I wonder if our collective self-esteem in this country has taken such a hit that more and more people are willing to go along with the crowd so they will be liked. 

But, we in this room are different!  

We have a great advantage over these other people because we have an ace up our sleeve when it comes to low self-esteem and fear.  We have a helper.  A secret weapon, if you will, that will help us if we ask.  The secret weapon is the Holy Spirit.  In John 14:26 Jesus told His disciples that a Helper, the Holy Spirit, would be sent to them. 

About a week after Jesus had ascended to heaven, the apostles were together in Jerusalem to celebrate The Feast of Weeks – in Hebrew it is known as Shavuot (shav ew ott) and in Greek it’s called Pentecost.  

Do you remember the story?  While the apostles were in the upper room, there was suddenly a noise like a rushing wind from heaven.  On this day the Holy Spirit was received by each believer in that room. Jesus had kept His promise!  It’s a promise that is still kept to this day.  The Holy Spirit is here for anyone who believes in God and in His son, Jesus Christ. 

I want you to think about something for a minute. When the disciples began to follow Jesus, they were expecting a leader that would save them from those who persecuted them. As time went on, the situation became more and more dangerous.  The people in power didn’t like Jesus and His message.  Just as the disciples had to make a decision to follow Jesus, they had to make a decision to stay with Him when people began to get upset.  Once Jesus was arrested, their fears overwhelmed them, and they ran away.  Peter is an example of someone who loved Jesus but was too afraid to stand with Him after the arrest. 

Can you imagine how you would feel if your teacher was killed and 3 days later he appeared again.  Of all the emotions I think fear would be in the top 5.  The disciples were told by Jesus to go into the world and share the gospel – the Good News.  Did it cross their mind that they were to continue Jesus’ work after He had been horribly killed by enemies?  Were they afraid?  How do you teach others about Jesus and about God’s love for His people when your life is being threatened?  They had to make a choice and face their fears or walk away.  

They had to TRUST JESUS and not let the fear win!  How did they do this? They did this with the power of the Holy Spirit given to them on Pentecost. I believe they were still afraid at times, they were human after all.  But they spread the Good News in spite of their fears.  

Throughout the Bible we are told to not be afraid and to trust in God: 

Joshua 1:9

After Moses died the Lord spoke to Joshua and said. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” 

Isaiah 43:1

But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 

John 14:27

We read earlier that Jesus told His disciples: 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. 

Nelson Mandela once said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” I don’t think that is quite right.  When I read that, it makes me think that my fear has to go away so I can say I have conquered the fear.  I have fears that I can’t triumph over.  They are embedded in my mind and my soul, and they remain no matter what I do.  

I like what others have said.  Simply -  it’s ok to be afraid but do it anyway!  If you do something brave it doesn’t mean you weren’t afraid.  

If we want to deal with fear, we have a decision to make – Do we believe Jesus and everything He told us?  Do we believe in His Father and in His gift of the Holy Spirit? 

When you believe in God, in Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit, you are choosing eternal life!  Once you believe, the gift of the Holy Spirit is ours.  This gift is forever.  Remember what Paul writes in Romans 8:38-39: 

38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

In the past week we have had to deal with fear. Fear that a man who loves the Lord, a man who loves the church, a pastor, and a friend, may not survive his latest challenge.  We are not ready to lose this man.  We are afraid because the situation makes us think of our own mortality.  We are afraid because there is nothing we can do to bring Rev. Tom back to us!  

UNLESS    Unless we choose to believe in the promises Jesus made to us.  When we choose to believe, we are NOT helpless!  We have the power of God and the power of prayer on our side.   

Pray for the healing of Rev. Tom.  Pray for his family to be strengthened.  Pray for the doctors and the nurses and everyone who comes into contact with him.  Guide them so they can help You perform a miracle!  We will continue to pray for God’s mercy and believe in God’s love for us, His children.  AMEN.

Godly Freedom 7/2/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 1, 2023 & Sunday, July 2, 2023 

Prayer For Illumination: Pour out your Spirit upon us, O God, and upon these words of Scripture, that they may reveal to us your eternal Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson:  Ephesians 4:1-6, 17- 5:2 (page 1175) 

Sermon Message: “Godly Freedom” 

This Fourth of July, and every Fourth of July here in the United States of America, is a time for us to reflect, reaffirm, and celebrate our freedom.  That one significant document that has served our citizens quite well for centuries is honorably referred to as The Declaration of Independence. 

Perhaps you have seen some of that which I have seen; our references to the Declaration of Independence have differing definitions regarding ‘freedom.’ 

While there are several of the written freedoms and ‘rights’ we might agree upon, there are several interpretations we hold and proclaim. 

Whenever our forefathers set forth to draft and affirm the Declaration of Independence, they were seeking freedom.  There was a seeking of freedom ‘from’ tyranny, unfair governing practices and over taxation, to name a few.  Our forefathers and foremothers worked together to obtain their freedom, and ours.  They had to fight for it.  

July 4th is the one day we set aside each year to celebrate and commemorate our freedom and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Many affirm this holiday as a great celebration of independence. ‘Freedom’ means different things to different people.  Today freedom can mean “no-one tells me what to do, I can do whatever I want, and I’m independent!”  I trust our forefathers and foremothers felt a mutual interdependence when they signed the founding documents. 

Freedom of religion is a firm affirmation since our nation’s inception.  This meant freedom to worship in our own way.  While many suggest this means ‘freedom from’ being told ‘how to believe’ some suggest ‘religious freedom’ means, “I don’t answer to anyone but God and no one can tell me or anyone else what to do and furthermore attending church or being a member is optional.” 

Some of our ideas about freedom have changed since the inception of our beloved nation.  

‘Freedom’ to singly do whatever we want whenever we want was not our nation’s design, nor is it God’s design for us. 

Our nation’s forefathers and foremothers saw ‘independence’ as more of a freedom to work together, to live together, to grow our nation together.  ‘Religious freedom’ meant working together in a mutually ‘dependent’ fashion to establish church and grow religion for the mutual, not exclusive, benefit of all. 

I still believe our nation’s birth and growth have been based upon wholesome Christian faith.  Of course, Christianity is not the sole influence nor sole religion of our great country.  Yet it remains pillars of that which steadies us. 

Godly freedom leads to peace.  We have been living in an age where many call for peace, cry for peace, and strive for peace.  Consider some spiritual insights into godly freedom. 

The Bible, God’s Word, does not teach us to be independent in a way that mutually excludes us from God, from Jesus, and from each other.  Actually, the Bible gives warning that too much being on our own and choosing not to lean on and help each other can lead to evil instead of good. 

In the earliest writings of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, Satan got Eve to think and act independently from God and from her husband.  They lost their innocence as well as their place in God’s Garden. 

Actually, the Bible teaches interdependence. 

God designed us to live in community, to love and not be alone nor grow alone. 

In the image of the church structure as a Holy Temple, we are built upon the foundation of the Apostles & Prophets and those faithful Christians who have come before us and are among us even now. 

Independent Christians is a contradiction in terms! 

There is a fitting scriptural reference in the Book of Romans 12:3-8, “Do not think of yourself MORE HIGHLY than you ought.”  This is about being humble and interdependent just as each of us has one body with many members, “so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member BELONGS TO ALL THE OTHERS.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” 

In the eyes of God we were created for community.  We were meant to live this life with other people. 

With other people work becomes easier.  Try moving heavy objects by yourself without the help of a few friends.  With other people our FEARS CAN BE OVERCOME.  It is very different walking down a dark alley by yourself compared to walking it with a bunch of friends. 

None of us were born independent.  We all came into this world dependent upon others.  Dependent upon community. 

The closing words of the Declaration of Independence solemnly states:  "With A Firm Reliance On The Protection Of Divine Providence, WE MUTUALLY PLEDGE TO EACH OTHER Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor." 

A more Godly freedom does entail our firm reliance upon one another.  After all we Christians know healthy relationships with other Christians are the preventative vitamin that keeps our souls healthy. 

While much could be said concerning strife, conflict, and political disagreements, I believe the good Lord is showing us our need for one another is often greater than we perceive. 

The Fourth of July is one of the greatest times to gather everyone and bring your church together to celebrate the true freedom that comes from God.  And the best part of this celebration is that you have the opportunity to celebrate this man-made holiday through the eyes of faith. 

In other words, this is a great time to see this holiday from a Godly perspective and celebrate this freedom with the true freedom that is found only by accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and personal Savior. 

But before we delve into the amazing spiritual things that we can learn from the Fourth of July celebration, let us first read some fun facts about this specific holiday. No matter how you choose to talk about Independence Day in the sermon, it is always nice to have some interesting facts and stories to weave into the message.  And because we are not made to become serious all of our lives, it is also important for us to find some joy even in simple things.  We have some fun facts about Independence Day in the U.S. worth enjoying: 

Did you know that the original stars in the original American flag were in a circle?  They did it so that all the Colonies would appear equal.  Now, that’s interesting! 

The first Independence Day celebration took place in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776.  This was also the day that the Declaration of Independence was first read in public after people were summoned by the ringing of the Liberty Bell. 

Benjamin Franklin proposed the turkey as the national bird but was overruled by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who recommended the bald eagle. 

Every Fourth of July, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is tapped thirteen times in honor of the original thirteen colonies.  This means that the bell is not actually rung.  Instead, it is only being tapped. 

Only John Hancock actually signed The Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.  All the others signed later. 

Now that we have our fair share of fun learning by looking back at some random facts about Independence Day in the USA, it is now time for us to further learn what independence or freedom is from a Christian perspective. 

Did you know that in the Bible there is a common verse about the freedom that is being used by both Christians and non-Christian individuals?  It is this verse from John 8:32: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  Remember the truth that is in Jesus.  Follow Him.  Follow His ways.  This world will be all the better for it. 

Godly freedom teaches us to live differently than the rest because we are Christians. Godly freedom calls our leaders to not lose their sensitivity.  Freedom, Godly freedom, is living maturely beyond the single-minded belief that I am free to do whatever I want, whenever I want, to whoever I want. 

Godly freedom provides us with both the teachings and the way to deal with anger that is non-explosive.  We can become free from bitterness and rage. 

I don’t know if you have ever thought about it, but forgiveness is also a Godly freedom.  

Freedom to choose not to let unwholesome talk come out of your mouth but only that which is helpful to building one another up. 

In ancient times, actually, in my ‘ancient times’ a certain mayor was re-elected year after year.  Those elections were peaceful.  No unwholesome talk about candidates or promises.  Only a precious few nicely-placed campaign signs with ONLY the candidate's name and office the person was running for.  Perhaps re-elections occurred so frequently because ‘freedoms’ spoken of were lived in the community. 

Tuesday it shall be wholesome and good to salute the flag of the United States of America. 

As we do, take some time to humbly recollect and give glory to God for Godly freedoms still leading our nation, our communities, our churches, our families, and our world.  Amen.

What Troubles You? 6/25/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 24, 2023 & Sunday, June 25, 2023 

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 86:1-10, 16,17 (page 589) & Isaiah 40:28-31 (page 720)  

Sermon Message: “What Troubles You?” 

There is a story in the Bible I’d like to acquaint you with.  It is located in the Old Testament Book of Genesis 21:1-20.  It’s a narrative about a surrogate mother and her son.  There was a mighty patriarch, Abraham, and his wife, Sarah, who could not have children.  So arrangements were made for Hagar to be a surrogate mother, to bear a child for Abraham and Sarah.  Later, Sarah IS in fact able to have a child of her own.  When she does, she asks Abraham to get rid of the slave woman, Hagar, and her son, which he agrees to.  Abraham sent that mother and son away with only some meager portions of bread and water.  When the food and water ran out, Hagar was beside herself thinking her young son might die.  The boy began crying, he was so hungry, and just then an angel of the Lord called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What’s the matter?  What troubles you?”  The story does have a happy ending, but I will leave that up to you to read Genesis 21 and following to perceive it for yourself. 

“What troubles you?” the angel of the Lord inquiries.  For heaven’s sake, isn’t it obvious?  Among all who observe the human condition, God should know most of all ‘what troubles us?’  

Our troubles are not always what we think they are.  Perhaps God would like us to examine our troubles more carefully and strive to view them more objectively than we do. 

There is a prevailing ‘notion’ that if you love the Lord and serve him, you’ll never have any troubles.  From my vantage point, and possibly yours as well, we know that’s not always true.  In all of my years of ministry, I have seen some good people catch hell in their lives.  A recurring question in the Scriptures is this: “Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer?”  One of the more notable characters of the Bible we associate with this question is a man by the name of Job.  More on Job later. 

There are big troubles and little troubles.  Some troubles seemingly just won’t quit.  There are many types of troubles. 

Some troubles are of the ‘to whom it may concern’ variety; these troubles can come to anyone at any time, at any place, even during the most inconvenient season.  A few possible examples: a severe storm, an unexpected turn in inflation, even a dead battery in our vehicle. 

There’s also some trouble we make ourselves: saying things we regret, choosing NOT to fill up the tank with gas and ‘running out,’ not taking our prescription medication and suffering the consequences of further illness, not being self-disciplined when we know we should, choosing NOT to pray but instead striving to always work things out for ourselves, neglecting God or others, or committing some sort of sin intentionally or purposefully. 

There are some ‘troubles’ we don’t ask for, yet they can affect us greatly: a disease, an act of violence against us, someone choosing to hurt us with their words, their neglect, an act of nature, an act of war, and so on. 

The Job narrative of the Bible is instructive about options available to people of faith that face the prospect of trouble in their lives.  Consider Job.  He had a lot going for himself.  Actually, he had it made.  He’d be like the person that has a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.  Or akin to a person sitting on the Board of Directors of three major banks.  Furthermore, Job would be like someone today who has international contacts all over the world.  He had a beautiful wife and a wonderful, complete family.  His family was ‘well-thought of’ and educated in their own right. 

This Biblical story of Job entails a conversation between Satan and God.  Satan challenges God saying, “The reason Job serves you is because you have a fence around him.”  God said to Satan that isn’t so.  A ‘test’ followed whereby Job began to lose everything.  His camels were stolen right out from under him.  A precious commodity at the time.  Then it was his goats and sheep that were stolen.  Then it was his cattle that were gone.  An east wind came and knocked down part of the support structures of his eldest son’s house.  All of his adult children had perished while they sat and ate.  Typical of people back then, Job pulled and ripped at his clothes and said, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh, blessed be the name of the Lord.” 

Job’s friends came by and saw all of Job’s troubles.  Job now also had some sort of disease from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. 

He looked so badly and really was so ‘bad off’ that his wife didn’t want him in the house. 

So it was, his friends and his own wife began to speculate that Job surely must have done something wrong that caused God to let all this horrific stuff happen.  Their summary advice to Job for all his troubles, “You may have been a good man, even a good father and husband but if I was you, I would curse God and die.” 

Job is the story of human life at its best and at its worst.  In this life we all get some troubles.  We do get to experience some of the best parts of life and some of the worst.  Eventually Job’s life was restored for the better. 

God wants to know “What troubles you?” 

The Bible is literally ‘full’ of examples of people taking their troubles to God.  Within today’s first scripture lesson we learn of David crying out to God with all sorts of troubles: “Hear me Lord, I am poor and needy.  Guard my life, save your servant.  Have mercy on me.  I call to you all day long.  Listen to my cry for mercy.  Show your strength on behalf of your servant.  Save me because I serve you.  Give me a sign.  Comfort me.” 

When troubles come our way, we ask God to take us under His special protection.  We may be holy yet be needy.  When troubles come, humble yourself before the Lord. 

When troubles come, ask and pray for God’s grace.  Ask God to teach you ‘truth’ to walk in and believe in. Ask God to show you His way, the way, a better way, to deal with your troubles. 

Pray for God’s peace and comfort for what troubles you.  Pray for God to deliver you, even as he did Job plus countless others.  Pray that others who are troubling you would see the presence of God inside of you and flowing through you. 

Do you have troubles?  Take it to the Lord in prayer.  Trust that He will deliver you, show you a way, send help, bring comfort, guide, and inspire.  Often times when we have troubles, our souls are restless and soon become weary. 

Trust in truth.  God is truth.  His ways are true ways.  Following them, trusting them will give you rest. 

Learn to affirm, in faith; the Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 

Some folks tend to feel as though ‘troubles’ are only those things that bother or hamper an individual.  The Holy Scriptures remind us that God cares about communities, kings, and leaders.  God cares about missions and ministries, businesses, and entire nations.  REMEMBER, God the Creator of the ends of the earth not only cares about his church but is able to save his church.  While our troubles and those of our communities, our nation, and our world may faint and grow weary, God does not! 

Our God is strong!  He gives strength to his people and helps them to help themselves.  God is the strength of his nation, Israel.  God is the strength of his church.  God is the strength of his people.  God is OUR strength. 

REMEMBER, God can help the weak.  He helps those who are willing to affirm a humble dependence upon him. 

Clearly, today’s second scripture lesson points out that the youth and young men, while being more likely to rely upon themselves, will also grow weary, stumble, and fall. 

When we trust only ourselves, our abilities, and our resources, we do tend to stumble and fall.  In our troubles we eventually grow tired and weary. 

REMEMBER, those who place their hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  Those who by faith rely upon and commit themselves to his guidance shall find that God will not fail them.  They shall have grace sufficient for their troubles.  They shall RENEW their strength. 

They shall soar on wings like eagles.  I like that description of faith; looking upwards towards God.  So many times when troubles come, we bow our heads.  Here we receive an affirmation, a spiritual affirmation, that we shall rise up, look up, and let our spirits SOAR towards God in heaven! 

Myself, I cannot recall the last time I was able to run.  However, reading and believing God’s Word for today in faith, I will run and not grow weary; walk, and not faint. 

What troubles you?  Take it to the Lord in prayer.  Trust that he will show you a way, see you through, lift your spirit, and hold your soul in the palm of his mighty hand.  Amen.

Carrying On With Hope 6/18/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 17, 2023 & Sunday, June 18, 2023 

Prayer For Illumination: May the Lord Bless our spirits, open our minds, and cause us to see His wisdom in these scriptures, we pray.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Matthew 9:35-38 (page 974), Romans 5:1-8 (page 1130), Psalm 116:1-6, 12-19 (page 608) 

Sermon Message: Carrying On With Hope 

Father’s Day is a reminder that we are a part of a family.  Some families are healthier than others.  Some are more broken than others.  Yet God, our Heavenly Father, designed us all to be in families.  Whatever your family might have been, or still is for that matter, God has designed us to carry on hope with the people with whom we share love, faith, home, and life. 

I began preaching messages on Father’s Day in the early 1980’s.  The prevalent family unit was a father, a mother, and one or more children.  There was a lot of assumption and even more ‘hope’ for a father to be ‘there’ to be present, to provide, to care, protect, and serve as a spiritual guide to the family.  Families are those trusted loved ones we grew up with, or as we sometimes say, ‘the family we came from!’  The ‘family unit’ has evolved across these decades.  While we still have ‘traditional’ family units, there are also single-parent families, foster families, and children living with grandparents or other designated caregivers or guardians. 

Families serve each other with security, protection, love, provisions, counsel, and care.  There’s also fun memories and long-term care when and where needed.  Families help our lives to carry on with hope. 

Lots of us fathers have stories to tell.  Even some ‘Dad jokes’ to share. A few Dad jokes: 

What does a baby computer call his father?  Data.

I only seem to get sick on weekdays.  I must have a weekend immune system.

My friend was showing me his tool shed and pointed to a ladder.  “That's my stepladder,” he said.  "I never knew my real ladder.”

Which days are the strongest?  Saturday and Sunday.  The rest are weekdays.

Did you know that the first French Fries weren’t cooked in France?  They were cooked in Greece.

What’s Forrest Gump’s password?  1forrest1. 

I remember hearing one story about a father and his young son walking through the forest.  As it got darker, his father wanted to teach him a lesson about the woods.  "Do you know where you are?"  "No."  "Do you know where the cabin is?"  "No."  "Do you know where the river is?"  "No."  "Then you are lost."  The boy looked up and smiled, holding his dad's hand.  "I can't be lost.  I'm with you."  His father would not steer him wrong, and neither will yours.  There is trust in this story that is mirrored in the Biblical stories of when the sheep trust and follow the shepherd. 

Sometimes I posit what it might be like to substitute a certain word and its meaning for another, just to gain an insightful message.

Consider todays reading from the Gospel of Matthew 9:35-38.  In essence, Jesus sees people, lots and lots of people, who are lost because they have no one to lead them, to help them discover God’s presence in their lives.  So it is Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore to send out workers into the harvest field.” (Matthew 9:37,38) 

Try ‘positing’ a few different words in this scriptural account for Father’s Day today.  It just might read like this: 

“When Jesus saw the large volume of children, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like children without a parent.  The need for good parents is plentiful but the willing parents are few.  Ask the Lord of Life therefore to send good parents to bring hope to the children, to ALL of God’s children.” 

Children need hope; parents need hope.  We all need hope.  Our children grow; they experience lots of changes. Adults mature, age, experience health concerns, sometimes economic challenges. We face the effects of sin and crime plus hurtful contrasting political views.  We need to be carrying on with hope. 

Jesus spent time in towns and small villages.  He preached in their synagogues but also on their hillsides.  He experienced first-hand the availability of souls hungering for a taste, a presence, a reality of God in their lives.  Jesus affords us a summary of what he found, what he saw in all of his travels. Through the eyes of love, care, and concern, he reports: the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore to send out workers into his harvest field. 

When Jesus speaks of seeing a ‘harvest,’ that indicates he saw hope.  His desire, his message, is for us to carry on with hope.  There IS a harvest ahead IF we choose to participate.  Remember a harvest requires work.  The planning, the planting, the cultivating, and nurturing all require some work on our part. 

Ask any parent -  raising a child has its rewards but also requires lots of intentional care and work. 

Does anyone remember the ‘test of the American Broadcast System?’ 

“This is a test of the American Broadcast System.  This is only a test” followed by a lengthy high-pitched sound. 

In analogy, some might say parenting is a test; it’s only a test.  We parents have surely made some of our own high-pitched sounds throughout our times of being ‘tested’ by our precious children! 

Praise God for the Christian faith.  This blessed Christian faith enables us to keep carrying on with hope. 

The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes of peace and hope.  Paul affirms, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Akin to the story of the little boy holding his father’s hand and feeling assured he is not lost, so too we, by faith, lay hold of God’s arm and of his strength, and so we are at peace. 

Sin separates us from God.  Confess, repent, change, make new beginnings, and experience fresh forgiveness with and from our Father who art in heaven! 

One of the more precious gifts we then receive from God, our heavenly Father, is grace.  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost but now I am found, was blind but oh now how I can see! 

In Christ we are assured of a deeper hope that shall not disappoint.  God knows, and I know, and you know, there are broken families.  Far too many marriages that did not succeed because one or the other would not, could not, place their hope in Jesus Christ and seek the solutions to their most pressing problems.  

Our Biblical guidance, for every portion of our lives and our relationships, is endurance in the face of suffering.  The spiritual ‘reward’ then is suffering produces hope. 

A question for us all on this Father’s Day: Does endurance ‘run’ in your family?  A by-product of searching faith, abiding faith, and seeking to endure is the kind of grace that enables you to imagine a future, no matter how hard, how difficult the present day reality may be. 

God doesn’t so much ask of us to ‘rejoice in suffering’ but rather to have a confidence of faith in the midst of suffering. 

Fathers and Mothers, brothers and sisters in Christ, our source of hope is the love of God.  Be assured of something I have found, and I trust you have as well; God helps us most when we are at our weakest. 

We baptize children, and adults, to the glory of God!  Remember this image of baptism, this spiritual image; in the waters of baptism we have been claimed by God.  Just as God the Father proclaimed at His Son Jesus’ baptism, “You are mine, in whom I am well-pleased,” trust that we who are baptized are claimed in love from our Father in heaven throughout our earthly lives and into God’s eternity! 

Love poured into our lives surely does help us, all of us, to endure suffering.  The Apostle Paul helps us to see and appreciate that suffering can then produce undefeatable hope! 

On this Father’s Day weekend may we remember the faith of our fathers.  Faith that affirms God helped.  God has helped us in our parenting and in our living as Christians.  The Lord has helped us to celebrate the best in life, in love, in happiness, and joy.  This same God has helped us to bear the worst and to hope the best.  God helps us to pray even when our desire to do so seems to have failed. 

David proclaimed in the Psalms that he loves the Lord.  That is how he begins his prayer.  So should we. He then declares to God in his prayer, “I will turn to God as long as I live.  The Lord has delivered me from death, (even spiritual death), I trusted in the Lord when I said, I am greatly afflicted.”  Then David proclaims a message, a very humble message, “Truly I am your servant, Lord; I serve you just as my mother did, you have freed me from my chains.”  (Psalm 116:16.) 

Our faith has a history; faith of our fathers, faith from our mothers, faith we have been blessed with, faith we intentionally and purposefully chose to develop and put into practice each day of our lives. 

May this Father’s Day serve to well remind us all we are carrying on with hope. Amen.

The Great Physician 6/10/2023

Sermon Message For Saturday, June 10, 2023 & Sunday, June 11, 2023 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, illumine these words by your Spirit that we might hear what you would have us hear and be who you would have us be, for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson:  Matthew 5:13-20 (page 969) 

Sermon Message:  “The Great Physician” 

You are the “Salt of the earth!”  You are the “Light of the world!”  This could be perceived as a huge compliment.  This is an even greater reminder that we are called by God. We do like to think of ourselves as being good people, sound people, and essentially moral, upright people.  Yet Jesus challenges that basic assumption within us.  Jesus Christ reminds us, straightforward, that we are not to lose nor compromise our Christian make-up. 

Being ‘salt of the earth and light of the world’ people means we have a job to do, not just a ‘title’ to assume. We have some responsibilities to live and act on God’s behalf.  

The best example we have to follow is Jesus Christ.  A large portion of what Jesus did was to help people.  Lots and lots of people.  All sorts of people.  He came to save the world from sin.  He came to bring us salvation to our souls.  He came to prepare us for an eternal home in heaven.  He came to help us.  

Helping others sincerely is part of the example of Jesus Christ we all need to follow.  

Jesus had several ‘names’ or descriptions. Perhaps you recall a few of these references: ‘Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Rabbi, Healer and The Great Physician.’  

We call upon Jesus for lots and lots of reasons.  Perhaps you, like myself, have called upon Jesus as The Great Physician.  Jesus promotes healing, recovery, forgiveness, and new life for our minds, our bodies, and our souls.  Jesus helps people.  Lots and lots of people.  All sorts of people,  

IF you have ability, any kind of ability at all, to help folks, to promote healing in another person’s life, in their mind, body, or soul, PLEASE don’t hide your light.  Let it shine!  

Spiritual healing is another form of communion we share with the Lord.  Spiritual healing may touch our minds, our bodies, and our souls.  One specific example of spiritual healing we practice as a church is found on the back of the bulletin; our Prayer Page.  Please note the scriptural reference at the bottom of each weekly Prayer Page.  From the Book of James 5:13, “Is anyone among you in trouble?  He/she should pray.”  

Sometimes we do hesitate to be salt of the earth or let our light shine.  We all have a tendency, at times, to hesitate helping those who are ‘different’ than us.  Those who may think, act, or even dress differently than us.  

Yet Jesus Christ reminds us in communion today that compromising ‘who’ we help and ‘how’ we help is wrong. Some even accused Jesus of associating with sinners.  Perhaps you recall the Biblical narrative of Jesus calling the tax collector, Matthew, to follow him and become one of his disciples.  Tax collectors back then were greatly despised and looked down upon by society, sometimes even by the ‘church.’ It was firmly believed that tax collectors were betraying their own people by working for the Gentiles and the Roman government.  It was further believed that they collected more taxes than were actually owed to the government, pocketing the excess for themselves.  The tax collector, Matthew, dropped everything he was doing to follow Jesus.  That very same evening of his ‘call to follow,’ there was a banquet, a pretty significant banquet, held at Matthew’s house.  Numerous tax collectors (despised people) were there.  Guess who ‘showed up?’  JESUS. He sat and ate with notorious, despised tax collectors.  ‘Sinners’ in the sight of most folks back then.  

The ‘salt of the earth’ and the ‘light of the world’ people back then took great offense at that.  They wondered ‘why’ Jesus would do that?  Why would he even associate with such people who were social outcasts?  SO it was they questioned Jesus at the time about such actions. Hear his response: Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  Specifically, Jesus was referencing the sickness of sin, self-righteousness, and pride.  Jesus then went on to say, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”  

As you let your light shine, do you bestow mercy upon others?  Or sometimes criticism and judgment?  Are we ‘worth our salt?’  Do others feel and receive something good of God through their interactions with us?  Or do we dismiss those who are different from us?  Those we disagree with? 

Jesus, the Great Physician, continues to help people, lots and lots of people.  All sorts of people.  Do you ever have need for Jesus, the Great Physician?  For your mind, your body, or your soul?  I know I certainly have. 

I believe you are all aware that I have some cancer in my lower esophagus.  I did not ask for cancer.  I do not want cancer.  Early on it was troubling to wrap my head around the diagnosis.  Some of my family just cannot.  

I was told early on that what I have is treatable.  A surgeon, an oncologist, and a radiologist reviewed all of my scans, x-rays, plus biopsies and have unanimously agreed, it is treatable.  They went on to teach me that I would be given four cycles of chemotherapy, then administered a CT-scan to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatments.  Sounds simple enough. 

Throughout my treatment process I have been made aware that each succeeding cycle of chemotherapy would be cumulative with the previous cycles.  That means it takes me longer each time to overcome the fatigue I experience following treatments plus any other ‘side effects.’ 

This past week was Hell.  At one point I found myself lying on the kitchen floor curled up in a fetal position overwhelmed by all that’s been happening.  Admittedly, that was a time when I cried out to Jesus the Great Physician. 

Yes, I have asked God ‘why?’  I read in the Bible of folks being healed of great afflictions and cannot help but wonder about myself. 

Two important and validating things happened. First, I believe Jesus came and sat with me.  I felt his abiding presence.  I experienced this affirmation; this disclosure from God; “This is not happening to you nor for you.  This is simply a part of being human.”  Then I realized I need to trust God for the prayers of the people being answered, the medications being effective, and whatever means needed to bring healing. 

Second, I wish to share with you a significant spiritual insight. It is found within this true story I am about to tell. 

At our house a few years ago, I built a large arch in our front yard, near the driveway. I grow Wisteria on the arch.  It does tend to get unruly and spreads out of control.  Birds make their nests in that arch each year.  I have placed two large pieces of granite under that arch to sit on.  While sitting there the other day, I felt myself running my fingers through my hair and observing hair falling out of my hand and onto the ground.  Yes, I felt bad, leastwise for a bit.  A couple of days later while sitting under that arch, a bird that had been nesting flew out.  I stood up, and when I saw the nest, I was simply amazed!  Those birds used some of my fallen hair to build their nest for their little ones.  I tended to accept that as a peaceful message from God. 

How has the Great Physician helped you?  Have you received healing in your mind, your body, or your soul?  Will communion today bring you closer to the Great Physician? 

Medical physicians today sometimes have a Physician’s Assistant or a Nurse Practitioner helping them.  Our communion today reminds us we are to be the Great Physician’s assistant.  While we may not think of ourselves as Nurse Practitioners, we are ‘practicing our faith, letting our light shine, and bringing saltiness to a drab and sometimes tasteless world.  Amen.

Blessed Trinity 6/3/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 3, 2023 & Sunday, June 4, 2023 

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:  Psalm 8 (p. 539), Matthew 28:16-20 (page 1000), & 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 (p. 1166) 

Sermon Message: “Blessed Trinity” 

God in three persons; Blessed Trinity! 

‘Trinity’ means 3.  This is the one day out of the year that the Christian Church focuses on a matter of doctrine.  The ‘doctrine’ of the Trinity remains the Christian Church’s beliefs; our understanding of how God is three persons in one ‘being.’  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Biblical scholars have struggled through the centuries to explain this doctrine of God being ‘three in one.’ 

Sometimes I think there are some more ‘obvious’ awareness's or analogies around us than we realize. 

In the news these past few weeks we have heard much in regards to our nation’s possible defaulting on its debt.  The House, the Senate, and the President have found a way to keep the United States from defaulting on its debt.  The House, the Senate, and the President form a ‘trinity’ of governance for leading our nation, this nation ‘under God.’ 

Three is a prominent number. 

There are three states of matter:  solid, liquid, and gas. 

There is the past, the present, and the future.

In math, a number can only be equal to, larger than, or smaller than another number.

In geometry, three is the minimum number of points needed to define a two-dimensional space.

An equilateral triangle is the only shape with both equal-length sides and equidistant corners.

Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean is:  “Every ethical virtue is a golden mean (just right) between two vices — one excess, the other deficiency.”  (Science News, May 6, 2023 & May 23, 2023, p. 40.) 

Things in Nature that Come in Threes.

Primary Colors are red, yellow, and blue.

Human Ear Parts:  outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear.

Bones In Ear: malleus, incus, and stapes (hammer, anvil, stirrup)

There are three-leaf clovers.

Parts of an Atom:  protons, neutrons, and electrons.

Dimensions are viewed as:  width, length, and height.

States of Matter include:  solid, liquid, and gas.

Human Body Types include:  Endomorph, Mesomorph, and Ectomorph.

Galaxies are defined as:  spiral, elliptical, and irregular. 

Funny Things that Come in Threes:

There are the Three Bears and Goldilocks’ testing the porridge, chairs, and beds and finding each of them was too much, too little, or just right.

The Three Stooges:  Moe, Larry, and Curly.

The Three Little Pigs:  Straw, Sticks, Stones.

There are Three Blind Mice:  Who ran after the farmer’s wife and cut off their tails with a carving knife.

Recall the Three Amigos:  Movie Characters in the 1986 film.  Played by Chevy Chase, Martin Short, and Steve Martin.

Perhaps you remember the Three Musketeers:  Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. 

Spiritually speaking, specifically so, during the Advent/Christmas season, we reflect upon the Three Wise Men. 

I believe you ‘get the picture’ regarding varying forms of ‘trinity.’ 

Today God speaks to us of the sacred order of three; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  When we even ‘attempt’ to describe ‘who’ God is or declare His honor and glory, we would do well to join the psalmist of old in declaring, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth.” 

The Psalmist reminds us that God often times proclaims his glory through the weakest of his creatures; “out of the mouths of babes and infants.”  

Further we are called to a humble reverence, “When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?”  (Psalm 8:3,4) 

These same scriptures spiritually affirm that God has made us a little lower than the angels and crowned us with glory and honor.  “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”  (Psalm 8:9) 

Consider now the “Triune” name of God; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God who came down from heaven and dwelt among us here on earth ‘commissions’ us to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:19,20) This “Great Commission” is about baptizing, teaching, and urging obedience.  Another affirmation of the Blessed Trinity. 

Jesus Christ spoke directly of this “Blessed Trinity.” 

Jesus understood then, and now, that great words and even greater affirmations do not always make for faithful followers.  Those early followers went to Galilee, then to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 

Jesus meets them in their doubting but still commissions them.  Instead, within the authority of God extended to Jesus, they are called to teach just as Jesus had taught them.  They’re called to let worship and doubt coexist. 

Today’s scripture lesson from the Gospel of Matthew is not Jesus' last words.  Instead, they are an invitation to join in God’s ongoing mission, a reminder that things are continuing.  Perhaps they can be viewed as a statement of “co-missioning,” or “mission with.”  The rich and vital communion shared by the triune God spills over into the work of teaching and preaching.  It is as if Matthew had intended to pen “More to come…” at the end of the chapter. 

In both my personal struggles and pastoral work these verses of Holy Scripture hold great hope for me.  Jesus’ words, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” (v. 20b), affirm His continuing presence.  The road of life and the reality of faith do not end here but continue forward.  There is indeed more to come as we continue in relationship with God; Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  The story of life and salvation is not yet over. 

“Gospel” means ‘good news.’  The on-going reality of the ‘blessed trinity’ IS good news our churches need to hear these days.  It seems more and more Protestant churches are closing than are being formed.  It is good news for shrinking congregations facing uphill battles to stay open in a time when fewer people attend church.  It is good to faithfully follow, obey, and respond to the co-missioning of the ‘blessed trinity.’ 

I believe in the ‘blessed trinity’ for it gives hope not only to me, not only to you, but also quite importantly to Christ’s church, His work, His missions, and His ministries. 

God gives us the ‘trinity’ to remind us, even daily so, of that, which unites us, that which is holy, that which again and again becomes sacred. 

A firm spiritual teaching from the Bible is the trinity of ‘faith, hope, and love.’  The greatest of these being ‘love.’  

The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, affirms we are to strive for full restoration, encourage one another, and be of one mind, living in peace. 

In a world now known for extreme political contrasts, this is a tall order.  In a world marred by violence, fear, and pain, this remains a great hope, one that certainly MUST be based upon faith and faith’s response to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. 

The Apostle Paul writes, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”  This was not something that Paul ‘came up with’ alone.  Rather, this was something spiritual, meaningful, holy, and sacred.  I believe Jesus extended lots and lots of ‘holy kisses’ to those whose lives he touched, healed, fed, forgave, and embraced.  

I wonder, if we were to fully embrace and then extend the ‘holy kiss’ the Bible speaks of, if this might further serve the Blessed Trinity of God?  

I conclude with this Blessed Trinity decree: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  Amen.

The Holy Spirit 5/26/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 27, 2023 & Sunday, May 28, 2023 

Pentecost 

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: John 7:37-39 (page 1071) & John 20:19-23 (page 1088) 

SERMON MESSAGE: “The Holy Spirit” 

I have a question for you.  Have you ever been thirsty?  I mean, have you ever been really, really, thirsty?  Maybe you’ve been running around, working really hard, or singing really loud, and you just got really thirsty.  Has that ever happened to you?  What did it feel like when you got really thirsty?  Maybe your throat got really dry?  Maybe it was hard to swallow?  Maybe your throat was so dry it was hard to talk? 

When you get really thirsty, what do you want the most?  Maybe you want a bottle of water.  A nice cool drink of water sounds pretty good at those times.  Sometimes when we are really thirsty, all we can think about is getting a drink.  We ‘thirst’ for water, but we also ‘thirst’ for other things. 

One day, Jesus was talking with his friends, and he said that sometimes people get really thirsty for God, too.  Does that make sense?  He said that, sometimes, people feel really lonely, or afraid, and they feel like no one cares about them.  And just like a drink of cool water helps us when we get thirsty, they wish someone could do something to help them feel better too.  And Jesus told his friends, “You know what?  If you ever see someone who feels lonely or afraid like that, you bring them to meet me, and I will help them.” 

But Jesus said there was one rule.  He said they weren’t going to be like the Pharisees and the people at the temple.  Those people said that before God would care about you, first you had to change the way you dressed and change the things you ate, and that you had to follow a whole bunch of rules and laws.  If you didn’t do those things, you couldn’t come and be with God. 

But Jesus told his friends they should bring anyone they met who was thirsty.  It didn’t matter who they were, or where they were from, or what they might have done.  All that mattered was that they wanted to be with God and not feel so bad and thirsty anymore. And, when those people came to meet Jesus, he would give them something a lot better than a bottle of water.  He said he would give them God’s spirit, and it would feel like a whole river of water would run through them, and they would never feel alone, or sad, or afraid again. 

It sounds kind of strange to us to have a river of water running through us, doesn’t it? But Jesus’ friends thought the strangest part was that Jesus said anyone could come to him.  No matter who they were, where they were from, or what they might have done.  Jesus didn’t say that some people could not come to him because we didn’t like them or agree with them, did he? And he didn’t say that people had to change before they came to him, did he?  Jesus just said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink!”  Jesus then went on to say, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 

By this Jesus means the Holy Spirit. 

On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember many things.  We remember soldiers who fought in battles around the world.  We remember lives changed, trauma endured, and sometimes lives lost, all for the cause of preserving freedom for someone somewhere in the world.  We further remember, reflect, and respond with thanksgiving, parades, celebrations, picnics, and various forms of worship associated with honor, sacredness, and sacrifices made. 

Consider with me a sacred ‘memory’ we have shared together across many years. That prayer, that affirmation of faith and praise, commonly known among us as “The Gloria Patri.”  Recall the words: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end.  Amen, Amen.” 

Why do we say “Holy Ghost?”  Why not “Holy Spirit?”  After all, they both mean the same.  Basically, we say “Holy Ghost” simply out of respect for tradition.  The words handed down to us from across the years and stemming from our forefathers and foremothers affirms the title, “Holy Ghost.”  These words are not to be ‘scary’ to anyone, but instead comforting and peaceful. 

Churches don’t tend to emphasize the Holy Spirit a lot.  We pray to the Father, relate to Jesus, the Son as Lord and Savior, study his messages and movements but don’t emphasize God’s Holy Spirit nearly as much. 

The Holy Spirit IS in each of our lives.  God’s Holy Spirit IS within this church and our community. 

The Holy Spirit comes to us in many ways.  Jesus said the Holy Spirit will come to you like rivers of living water. 

‘Living Water’ in the Old Testament portion of the Bible was an early reference to the waters that covered the earth, in the beginning.  God separated the waters from the dry land, and the creation of the world was born.  ‘Living water.’  Eventually, ‘living water’ comes to represent the Holy Spirit as a source of inspiration and power.  Throughout history the Holy Spirit becomes a vehicle of God’s revelation and activity.  

Israel’s leaders, such as Moses, Joshua, David, and Solomon, all of these servants of God receive their wisdom, courage, and power as gifts resulting from the possession of God’s Spirit.  These leaders are noted as speaking and leading with a power and a knowledge not their own.  It ‘came from above.’ It came from beyond. 

Have you ever found something similar to this within your life?  Perhaps you recall those ‘times’ when you prayed and prayed, asking God for just the ‘right words’ to say to another.  Possibly you were overwhelmed, even ‘lost’ regarding ‘how’ to address a situation.  But then, after you prayed and began the communication, the words seemed to just flow.  Not only that, they had depth of meaning, guidance, and profound insights.  You may have even wondered ‘where did that come from?’  Sometimes that IS the Holy Spirit moving through you. The Holy Spirit blesses us with wisdom, sometimes when we least expect but most need it. 

Surely there have been those times in each of our lives when we were just plain scared; everyone gets frightened from time to time.  Especially so when the problems being presented to us are huge and overwhelming. We all have fears to face from lots and lots of causes; devastating illnesses, broken relationships, and fears of harm or troubling compromise. After you prayed perhaps you began to notice even a small amount of courage welling up inside of you.  This, too, is the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit provides courage. 

Feeling inspiration, gaining depths of insights, wisdom to know, lead, and guide, calmness for fears, peace in the midst of great trials, are blessed by the Holy Spirit’s power to carry these things through in our lives, in the lives of others, within the lives of the home, the church, and our communities.  The Holy Spirit blesses us with power from above that shows up as power within.  

The Holy Spirit is not restricted to coming only from heaven to earth, from God to the individuals, or the church or the community.  The Holy Spirit is further expected to be shared, to be conveyed from one person to another.  Moses shared God’s Spirit with Joshua.  Saul and David, Elijah and Elisha shared.  They conveyed God’s Spirit one to another. 

You and I are to do the same.  As we feel, sense, and respond to God’s Holy Spirit in us, we are called and expected to share it with others.  

Tell others how you ‘felt’ when you prayed and God lead you in some scenario.  Share with others the wisdom of God you felt, the hope that welled up inside of you, and the peace that came when you least expected but perhaps most needed it.  God’s Holy Spirit is alive and well.  Moving within us and moving through us, like rivers of flowing water. 

God’s Holy Spirit is certainly not reserved ONLY for individuals.  Actually, the Bible readily affirms the movement of the Holy Spirit in the community.  Jesus Christ said, “Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there with them.”  Matthew 18:20 

Jesus is present in the community.  Not just any community but what the Bible describes as the ‘covenant community.’  Where two or more have gathered in a covenant relationship with God and as members of the church, the Holy Spirit is present and further reveals the wisdom, the guidance, and the discernment of the will of God.  The Spirit of God endows Jesus with the power as the Messiah.  This same Holy Spirit continues to this day to empower the church for its mission. 

Today the Holy Spirit is sent jointly from God the Father and Jesus the Son.  Thus, the Holy Spirit is sometimes described as a Counselor.  The Holy Spirit as ‘Counselor’ represents both the presence and activity of God. 

Some essential things we can pray about, ask God for, and receive from the Holy Spirit include spiritually based gifts such as wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, discernment, speaking in spiritual ways, and interpreting these ways. These spiritual gifts come most often for the common good of the church community. 

Today is Pentecost.  We remember and reflect upon the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus met with his disciples in the Upper Room where they had locked themselves behind closed doors due to fear of being caught and persecuted for being Jesus’ followers.  Locked doors do not stop Jesus.  Not physical locked doors nor the doors on our hearts and souls.  Jesus comes and ‘breathes’ upon them. 

This breath of God was the beginning of the Christian church as we know it.  From that point on the Holy Spirit continues to come to inspire entire communities of faith how to love, worship, and serve God.  

The Holy Spirit warms your heart and comforts your soul.  The Holy Spirit comes. 

Pentecost reminds us that Jesus comes and sends the Holy Spirit.  Jesus comes with His clear message: “Peace be with you.”  Jesus comes with his comforting message:  “Peace be with you.’ 

Jesus offers you the Holy Spirit.  He declares, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 

You see, the Holy Spirit gives life, new beginnings, and hope even to sinners.  If the Holy Spirit IS within us, we are agents of God, granting forgiveness. 

Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit has come and is coming still.  Amen.


The Eyes of Our Heart 5/21/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 20, 2023 & Sunday, May 21, 2023 

Prayer For Illumination: Open our eyes; open our hearts.  May we hear your Word read and proclaimed so that our lives and our witness will be strengthened.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Matthew 13:10-16 (page 978) and Ephesians 1:15-23 (page 1173) 

Sermon Message:  “The Eyes of Our Heart” 

One of our precious 30@6 worship songs is entitled, “Open the Eyes of My Heart.”  It’s kind of fast paced, happy, and full of praise. Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see you. To see you high and lifted up…’ 

People have always wanted to ‘see’ God.  Trouble is we don’t.  Sometimes we get kind of a glimpse of God.  Mostly what we see ‘of’ God are His characteristics. 

“Seeing with the eyes of our heart” is a characteristic of God.  Recall an example of Jesus “seeing with the eyes of his heart….” 

One day Jesus saw people putting money into the temple offering plate.  The Bible discloses that many rich people threw in large amounts, while a poor widow put in only a fraction of a penny.  Calling his disciples to him Jesus said, “This poor widow has put more into the offering than all the others, for they gave out of their wealth, but she put in all she had.”  (Mark 12:41-43.) Jesus saw this spiritual event with the eyes of his heart. 

We have quite a few souls in this church who physically see things differently now. Just this past week, one of our members, Diana, had her second cataract surgery performed.  A week before that another of our members, Billy, had his second cataract surgery performed.  David is another person who underwent cataract surgery to see well.  Debbie also sees better now, thanks to cataract surgery, as did my wife, Patty, from her procedure a while back. 

The Bible shares an account of Jesus once healing a man that was blind from birth.  Have you ever been acquainted with someone who had been blind and received even some portion of their sight back?  I am told in those first few moments when darkness gives way to light, distinct forms emerge from shadows, then colors and shapes further burst forth. 

It takes a while to get used to ‘seeing’ after being blind for so long.  Some folks need a break for a while after ‘seeing’ for a few hours.  The sudden influx of visual stimuli is a shock to their system.  

Jesus would at times become quite upset with those whom he said chose not to see with their spiritual eyes.  He referenced them as being ‘blind guides.’  They saw what THEY wanted to see while further choosing not to see the movement and presence of God in life.

I for one believe that within our church family the ‘testimonies’ of those who chose to see from corrective cataract surgery ‘inspired’ still others, lots of others, to choose a similar path that lead them to better sight. 

In a similar manner, when folks speak or ‘testify’ to one another regarding how God has answered prayers, where the hand of God has moved, and how following God’s ways has made life all the better, there is a further ‘inspired’ spiritual sight happening. 

‘Seeing’ both physically and spiritually so, takes some time plus training.  Really ‘seeing’ a flower just like really ‘seeing’ a friend takes a while to appreciate.  God may gift us with sight, but true vision must be trained.  In part that is what disturbed Jesus when he said to the inauthentic religious, “You have eyes yet you still do not see.”  (Mark 8:18) 

Do you ever ‘envy’ another person’s eyes?  Doug is our ‘in-house artist.’  That man can draw a picture without thinking.  He has learned to look for details in form and texture and shadings.  Artists further realize that shadows are not made of the color gray but are actually composed of blue and green and purple.  I do envy how Doug and others like him can ‘see’ things with their mind’s eye and evolve it into a sketch, a drawing, or a painting. 

What if each of us could take training to see into the human heart?  What if we could view situations before us rightly—with the eyes of God? 

‘Seeing with the eyes of God’ requires learning, training, self-discipline, faith, and sincere action.  This type of ‘sight’ is different from what most people think.  Lots of folks will say ‘Seeing is believing.’  God affirms ‘Believing is seeing.’ 

‘Opening the eyes of our heart’ requires our letting God inside our soul but also inside of our heart and our mind.  

What’s hugely important is deciding what to do with the eyes of your heart being opened. 

When you see a man hunched over, gasping for air, struggling to hold himself up, do you see a person near death’s door?  OR do you see an opportunity, a golden opportunity, to extend some compassion, offer some comfort, and bring that same man even just a glimmer of hope? 

Sometimes we’re either too busy or take too many people and far too many souls for granted.  Worse still is our apathy. 

What do you see in the checkout line at the grocery store?  Some poor soul who is irritating you and everyone else because even with coupons they are a few cents short of covering their grocery bill?  Or do you see, with the eyes of your heart, a God-inspired and God-given opportunity to simply contribute a few dollars to help that soul in front of you while also setting a good example and ‘paying it forward?’ 

Seeing with the eyes of our heart remains a characteristic of God.  Do you have this characteristic in you? If not, why not? 

Jesus was confronted by his disciples regarding ‘why’ he spoke to people in parables. 

Jesus answers by declaring in essence; those who want to hear, those who sincerely try to see with the eyes of God shall be given even more understanding and ‘sight.’  However, he emphasizes, those who choose not to see will be given even less understanding of the ways of God and the heart of God. 

Simply put, if you think you are smarter than God, you have limited vision of God.  If pride gets in your way, even one’s limited understanding of God will diminish, perhaps even be taken away.  Sin, in its’ varied forms, sheds darkness where God seeks to shine light. 

Jesus further warns about people’s hearts growing dull.  They don’t listen.  Their ears are ‘heavy of hearing.’  Folks will sometimes close their eyes to seeing much of anything that is ‘of God!’  

This disclosure from Jesus comes with a warning; God will not heal those who choose not to see.  Healing requires faith, hope, belief, and choosing to see God. 

I am humbled by Jesus’ next words: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears for they hear.”  (Matthew 13:16) 

The Apostle Paul, in his spiritual letter to the Ephesian church, commends the faith of the people.  ‘Faith’ in the Lord Jesus Christ and their love for all the saints.  He gives thanks for them and declares he remembers them in his prayers. He prays that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give them a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of their hearts enlightened. 

Are ‘the eyes of your heart enlightened?’  DO you see things with a godly vision?  

Jesus had eyes that see.  Do you look at things with only your physical eyes? 

With Jesus Christ in our lives we ‘see’ things differently.  Jesus Christ isn’t just in our lives; He does live within our hearts.  We are Christians, followers of Jesus Christ.  Life is different for us.  We have hope beyond that which we see and experience in this world. 

There is an abundance of hopelessness in much of our world.  Will there be a consensus this week regarding our nation’s debt ceiling?  How close to home will gun violence be this week?  Is immigration changing for the better or only getting progressively worse and harder still to handle?  From what we ‘see’ in this world we’ve never been more divided.  The world seems to be an increasingly angry and fearful place in which to live.  War remains and people are still struggling to just ‘get by.’

When we focus on the things that we can see with our eyes, we sometimes want to give up.  When we feel only through our body, the pain is sometimes too great for us.  When we think only with our minds, the thoughts can be defeating.  But when we look with our hearts, there is always hope.  In our hearts we can see that maybe in a year things will get better. 

If we look at life through the eyes of our hearts, things look different.  What makes a person successful, what makes a person wealthy, even what makes a person healthy, looks different through the eyes of the heart.  The worst disability in the world is not the loss of sight, or the use of your legs, or any debilitating disease.  The worst disability is when your heart becomes blinded, and you can no longer see the riches that God has heaped upon you. 

With the eyes of our hearts we see heaven.  None of us knows the number of days we have left on this earth before we ‘cross over.’  Whatever that number, it is a gift from God.  We further live in the hope of the cross.  The cross brings us hope, salvation, pardon, and great love.  Hope for today and hope for tomorrow.  Hope for here and hope for there, with Jesus, on the other side. We can see it with the eyes of our heart. 

We are called to live the Christian life.  We are called to see life and venture through our lives with the eyes of our hearts wide open. 

Today’s scriptures do make you think; when have you seen a situation clearly and later found out how blind you were.  What could have prevented your blindness?  

Something to think about.  Something to pray about.  Something to further consider now with the eyes of your heart. Amen.

Jesus' Mother and Ours 5/14/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 13, 2023 & Sunday, May 14, 2023 

Mother’s Day/Holy Communion 

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: Exodus 20:12 (page 76) and John 19:25-27 (page 1086) 

Sermon Message: “Jesus’ Mother and Ours” 

Do you think Jesus’ mother and ours were somewhat alike?  I can think of at least one way in which they were probably alike. Mary, the mother of Jesus, and our mothers, knew God.  They not only knew God, but they also knew some things ‘about’ God and from God. 

For instance, they most likely knew that portion of the Old Testament commonly known as the Ten Commandments.  Specifically so, the commandment which decrees, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” 

Jesus’ mother, Mary, and our mothers, prayed. 

Recently I read the story of a mother who was praying with her daughter one night.  The ‘Mom’ asked her daughter how she felt when she prayed.  Her daughter answered, “It feels good because I feel good inside.  I feel peaceful and happy.”  Her mother listened.  Because her Mom was listening she continues, “Something else is filling me, but I don’t know what to call it.” Her mother was quiet, now listening inside herself.  Then she said, “Could it be God?” Her daughter replied, “Maybe because it’s like we’re connected and safe, as if God is touching me gently inside. It’s as if we’re hugging.” 

Have you ever had the feeling that God is hugging you?  How do you feel when you pray?  Sometimes it’s our parents’ hug or the church’s hug that feels as if God is hugging us, and we feel full inside and happy. 

I wonder how young Mary felt when the angel Gabriel appeared to her with the wonderful news that the Lord God wanted her to give birth to his son, the Messiah?  With a calmness and a steadiness that typifies someone much older, Mary replied, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be according to your word.”  (Luke 1:38)  Mary was only about 14 years old at the time. 

When we look back across Mary’s life, we see at least two qualities that appear over and over again; she was believing and obedient. 

Belief and obedience are fundamental attributes in our relationship to God.  Not only for mothers, but also for fathers, children, brothers, sisters, singles, married folks, the very young, the seniors among us, and for all. 

When young Mary first learned that God had chosen her to give birth to the Son of God, she immediately responded with praise and thanksgiving, “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit does rejoice in God my Savior.” 

There is a certain form of prayer I’ve wondered about through the years, especially so on Mother’s Day. What sort of prayer does a woman share with God when she first learns she is with child?  Is it panic, or is it praise?  Is it overwhelming fear or a calmness and peace like nothing else ever experienced?  What’s it like, mothers?  I interviewed my dear wife, Reverend Patty, regarding this question.  She quickly responded, “The first thing that went through my mind was “The Magnificat” Mary’s song of praise when she learned she would conceive and give birth to God’s child.”  Still, I cannot imagine what that prayer ‘feels’ like.  I can hear and deeply appreciate what I am told and what is shared, however, as a man, I remain limited in understanding what that prayer feels like being so connected to God with the gift of life!  Jesus’ mother and ours do understand and remind us today that belief and obedience make a significant difference when we pray and when we ‘feel’ prayer. 

Those who adopt children, as well as most fathers and sincere guardians, rejoice and praise God when we grow to know we are becoming part of a new life that we shall love, protect, and nurture on God’s behalf. 

God prepares us throughout our life-times to become nurturing people.  A significant part of our spiritual preparation is the Holy Scriptures.  For centuries families have functioned well believing and obeying the Word of God.  Early on we are taught the foundations of faithful living known as the Ten Commandments.  Recall again God’s teaching, “Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” 

Honor is something you and I should give to our father and mother every day.  We can show honor in many ways:  by saying nice things to Mom and Dad and not talking back to them; and by not speaking to them or about them in mean and hateful ways.  You can honor your father and mother by letting them know you are very proud of them.  Honor your mother and father every day, because that is one of the most priceless gifts you can offer them. 

Reflect on Mary, Jesus’ mother.  She honored God our heavenly Father years and years ago when the angel Gabriel came to her with the wonderful news that the Lord God wanted her to give birth to his son, the Messiah.  She said ‘yes’ and sang praises of dedication unto God. 

How has your mother followed the Lord?  Jesus’ mother is a good testimony for us all to receive and incorporate into our lives anytime we receive a message or an invitation from the Lord to serve Him and be a part of His plan.  I hope, and I do sincerely pray, you can ‘look back’ and affirm a testimony regarding your mother’s response to serving the Lord.  If not your mother, then perhaps someone else who nurtured you. 

We must all remember God calls us to be examples, ‘living Bibles’ for all to see and hopefully follow. 

One day in Sunday School little Susie was asked to read from the Bible.  She told the teacher that she didn’t like to read the Bible anymore because she was ‘grown up’ now.  The teacher did not understand Susie’s attitude, and she told her how important it was to read the Bible.  Susie replied, “I’ve never seen my mother read the Bible, so it must not be as important as you say.” 

Mothers, you are one of the most powerful influences on your child’s life through your words and deeds.  Are you giving your children a Christian example?  Do they see you pray and read the Scriptures?  Do they hear you witness and talk about your love and respect for God?  For Jesus?  Do others see Jesus inside of you?  Do they see you serve him in the way you live?  If they do, your children will grow up to call you “Blessed,” as we read in Proverbs 31. 

Another Sunday School class teacher asked his young members to talk about how they became Christians.  They went around the room, each child telling the details of when he or she committed their life to the Lord.  Finally, it was Tommy’s turn.  He had no fantastic story to tell.  He simply said, “I don’t really know.  I guess Christianity runs in my family—on my mother’s side.”  It was obvious that his mother had been a positive Christian example! 

Mothers, are you giving your children a Christian example in the way you talk to them and pray with them?  Are you presenting a Christian example in how you love their father and in how you love the Lord and his Church?  Do they see Christ in your unending love, your patience, your concern for others, and your encouragement of them?  One of the greatest gifts you can offer your children is to be the kind of person you want them to be. 

Jesus’ mother and ours are called by God to care.  Consider today the ‘care’ you have received. How did your mother respond when you told her the worst news that ever happened to you?  Often times, I remember my own mother would just cry. Blubbering and bawling I would sometimes call it.  Oh, but after the tears, there would come this huge hug followed by words, calming, secure, strengthening words, as her eyes looked into my own seeming to pierce my very soul. 

What did Mary’s eyes see and communicate that day when she stood at the foot of her son’s cross?  Surely the scene at the cross must have frightened her.  Who were all these people?  Why were they so angry?  Why did some of them laugh, joke, and roll dice?  Were the soldiers necessary?  Mary huddled close to John, to her neighbors, and relatives. 

As she saw her son’s body growing weaker and turning an ashen gray, his voice slowed to a whisper.  She wanted to die too.  She heard him say, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”  Mary could not control her emotions until he raised his anguished eyes, looked directly at her and said, “Woman, here is your son.”  Then looking at John said, “Here is your mother.”  (John 19:26,27)  Jesus made provisions for his mother.  Mary, you see, had a unique place in his heart. 

Have you ever needed to ‘make provision’ for your mother? 

Across the years there were plenty of times when my since departed mother wished her son would have been able to ‘be there’ for some special occasion, and my responsibilities and associated realities as a minister, as a husband, and as a Dad, prevented me from doing so.  During those times, I did ‘make provision’ for my mother, sometimes for my father as well. It worked, and it worked well because we all saw the bigger picture of God moving in our lives. 

Jesus’ mother and ours taught us about the strength of faith that has helped us to ‘see it through.’ I further learned to pass that on to my own children. How about you? 

Communion is a connection, a sincere spiritual connection, we have with one another, with God, with Jesus, and with those who have gone home in faith before us. Communion requires belief and obedience as well.  Belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Obedience to the Christian faith. Hopefully we have seen that in Jesus’ mother and ours.  Honorably so, we live our lives and share now in Holy Communion.  Amen.

A Place For You 5/7/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 6, 2023 & Sunday, May 7, 2023 

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION: Savior God, your Word is a lamp to our feet on this discipleship road.  Walk with us.  Guide us with your wisdom and grace.  Open us to discerning your will and your way.  Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  John 14:1-14 (page 1081) & 1 Peter 2:2-10 (page 1221) 

SERMON MESSAGE: “A Place For You” 

God has a place for you in this world and the next. 

When we reflect upon these scriptures where Jesus speaks of a ‘place for you,’ most often we think of heaven and what that’s going to be like.  It’s true; Jesus has gone before us and is even now preparing a place for us in heaven. 

I sometimes wonder what that’s going to be like, you know, crossing over from this life to the next, standing before God, meeting Jesus and being shown this ‘place’ prepared for us in heaven. 

Folks don’t spend most of their days considering heaven or pondering what their ‘place’ in heaven might be like.  However, it does become quite important to us, and our focus is keenly centered on heaven when our souls are troubled. 

Jesus knew the souls of his disciples were so greatly troubled when he met with them in the Upper Room.  There was great tension and apprehension regarding what might happen next to Jesus.  Trouble was about to break out.  Even death might take place.  So it was, the Lord sought to comfort them with these words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many rooms, many mansions.  I go to prepare a place for you.” 

There are physical ‘places’ we experience.  There is also a spiritual place wherein our souls are invited to dwell and not be afraid.  

Jesus and his angels seek to bring comfort and assurance to people whose lives are troubled or afraid. 

It is important that we believe and understand in our hearts, our minds, and foundationally so, in our souls, that Jesus prepares a place for us. 

I believe that one day we shall cross over from this life to the next, find ourselves at heaven’s gate, and meet St. Peter.  Perhaps the first thing we shall read is our name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, indicating we have a place in God’s heaven.  Each of us will have our time to stand before God our Father, Maker, and Sustainer.  There we will talk.  God will inquire of us if we loved Him during our time on earth.  Did we love others and even inquire if we loved ourselves. 

I once met a person who told me they have too many scars and thus may not be recognized by their Creator when they one day return to heaven.  Scars are strong indicators upon our bodies, our hearts, and our souls, that we lived life in a manner that we identified with something worth fighting for.  Scars stand for something! 

After we meet with God, we pray Our Father will say to us, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter now into the place I have prepared for you.” 

We affirm heaven to be a place where we will meet God, see Jesus, mingle with angels, and reunite with those we loved who have ‘gone home’ to heaven before us.  Yet, we must remember heaven and our place in heaven do not come too soon.  We still have work, much work to be done here on earth.  God still has a time, a purpose, and a place for us in our current lifetimes. 

God has a place for you in your family.  There are times we need our families more than others.  Jesus wants our hearts to be ‘in a good place.’  Family is the place we call ‘home.’ “Let not your hearts be troubled…Neither let them be afraid.” 

Remembering and referring to scriptures can surely help to put our minds and our hearts in a ‘good place.’  Leastwise, most times. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those little gift boxes that contain small cards with scripture verses printed on them?  Some folks use them for personal devotions.  Even families will sometimes reference one of those cards each day, memorize the printed scripture verse, and try to make that a part of their daily faith journey.  Well, a mother and her son had done just that.  “Mom’ inquired of her small son what the scripture verse of the day was on one of those little cards.  Davey read this verse from the Book of Isaiah:  "I will trust and not be afraid."  Over and over they said the words until little Davey memorized them: "I  will  trust  and  not  be  afraid."  The mother told Davey that when he was scared or worried, he could say that verse, and God would be with him.  That afternoon Davy went to the movies with a friend.  They were showing the movie ‘Jaws.’  As one scene grew darker and scarier and the shark came up out of the water, Davy stood up in the movie theater and said out loud, "I will trust and not be afraid."  And he promptly sat down and wet his pants. 

Davey was not in a ‘good place.’  

Jesus, even now, prepares a place for you within your heart and soul where your spirit does not need to be troubled or afraid.  He is preparing even now within you a place of comfort and peace.  A place where Jesus and the Holy Spirit speaks to you comforting whatever may be troubling or fearful. 

I’ve met a few people who think they don’t want to go to heaven for they believe it’s a place where there is just one huge grouping of people singing praises to God all day long. Jesus declares in His Father’s house there are many rooms, many mansions.  I go and prepare a place for you.  Each of us will have our special ‘place’ in heaven.  We shall not lose our individuality. 

Heaven is for real.  Jesus further taught us the kingdom of heaven is among us.  Hell is also real.  Some circumstances can shake our faith and cause us to fear the hell we have to deal with. 

Today’s scriptures read, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God believe also in me.”  In still another translation of the Bible it reads, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  You trust in God, trust also in me.” Jesus wants our hearts to be ‘in a good place.’  Jesus has a place for you where trust can dwell.  Deep, sincere abiding trust.  ‘Trust’ with God is a good place to be.  Watch over your heart.  God has a place with you in your heart. 

The Lord has prepared a place for us in our families.  They are our ‘dwelling place’ here on earth where we nurture one another in love and hope.  I continue to find that love and hope leads a soul to faith. Family and home are the places where we find life, love, rest, fulfillment, challenges, and growth. 

Jesus teaches that he prepares a place for you.  Eventually that place will be with him in heaven.  Right now your place, your home, is with your family.  You and I have a home, a place, here on earth.  Dwell in it well. 

We further associate faith with church.  God has a place for you here.  This is your ‘church home.’  Dwell in it well. 

How many souls have believed Jesus Christ through the centuries.  They trusted God the Father, loved Jesus the Son, and welcomed the Holy Spirit into their lives. Think about it; because people have maintained a place for God in their lives through the centuries, folks have even marched off the map into places the world never imagined.  And so the church survived and the story was passed down from generation to generation because they remembered what he said.  You do not need to be troubled -- you do not need to be afraid.  We would not have a church or a Bible or a gospel if someone had not trusted in those words that went all the way back to an Upper Room.  ‘Church’ is a good place, a very wholesome and healthy place, to be.  God has prepared a place for you in His church. 

Sometimes we don’t see our ‘place’ in God’s church nor the way of faith that Jesus points out.  The disciple, Thomas, shared that same problem.  He said to Jesus, “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  They failed to see the way or the place where Jesus was going because they kept defining and prescribing the way, the place, as some sort of earthly kingdom.  They kept trying to define God instead of submitting to God defining them. 

The church remains an institution provided by God as a place for faith.  Here faith is confirmed.  The church is a place for you.  As noted in today’s second scripture lesson (1 Peter 2:2-10) there is a place where you can go even to crave spiritual milk so that we may grow up in our salvation.  

The Lord calls us to be the church, the living stones upon which love and hope and faith are built and sustained. 

Jesus spent some time alone in prayer, reflection, and meditation.  Sometimes that is the ‘place’ where we need to be in order to draw close to God and open our spirits to His Holy Spirit.  Yet the Word of God instills within us those reminders, those faith-based reminders, that we are ‘called’ together as a chosen people.  We are called to be living stones upon which the church and the Christian faith is built, shared, and displayed. 

As today’s scriptures inform, “once we were not a people but now we are the people of God.”  God has a place for you.  Grow to know the place God has for you, in His heaven, in your family, in our church, in faith living, and reflective meditation. 

Jesus reminds us still, I go and prepare a place for you.  Amen.

The Good Shepherd 4/28/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, April 29, 2023 & Sunday, April 30, 2023 

Prayer For Illumination: As the salt of the earth, as the light on the hill, let us do the good works of the Lord as we praise him for the lessons of scripture.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  John 10:1-10 (page 1075) & 1 Peter 2:19-25 (page 1222) 

Sermon Message: “The Good Shepherd” 

Today I begin my sermon message in a format I have never used before.  I begin by referencing Jackson, Hamilton, and Washington whose faces appear on our $20.00, $10.00, and $1.00 bills respectively.  Common to each denomination of currency here in the United States are these words, “In God We Trust.”  Our nation, our court systems, our currency, as well as our churches, and much of our core values have been richly blessed across the years by this common affirmation of trust in God.  What’s even better are the on-going realities that others have been further blessed well beyond our personal needs, our unique family, even our church. 

It surely is a changing world these days. For years and years we trusted that if we needed help, we could knock on someone’s door and get that help.  I’ve stopped and knocked on doors in the past seeking directions or because my vehicle broke down and so on.  Recently, it was on the news that some young folks who knocked on the wrong door, drove into the wrong driveway, or tried to get into the wrong car paid a terrible price.  At least four people, making mistakes that most of us have made, were shot, and one of them died. 

In diverse ways we have become a culture of suspicion.  That, along with the number of guns, creates a dangerous mix.  I will not even dare to ask how many of us worshipping God today have guns or are thinking of purchasing additional guns, for protection and security. 

Our grandparents may have raised us to knock on a door if you need help.  Today we tend to teach our children to instead call 911 or a family member if you need help.  With tenderness, Jesus proclaims that he is the good shepherd, watching out for the sheep.  Our young friends could use a shepherd — in fact, all of us could. 

Jesus, the good shepherd, invites us to share in his calling, to take up the work of being good shepherds in our own lives.  How have we traded that away to live in fear and to chase the pretend security of firearms? 

I recall reading of some good shepherds who worked behind the scenes after the killings of students, educators, and the shooter’s mother in Sandy Hook, CT.  The crime scene investigators who went into the school came to believe that if they tended to the bodies and told the story of the violence there, that the U.S. would change our response to mass shootings.  For many days they photographed small bodies, a teacher and a principal, and a teacher with a child in her arms.  When the bodies returned to their families, they photographed the classrooms in meticulous detail:  Pokémon cards, cups of milk still on desks, children’s goals for the year.  “I want to learn to tie my shoes.” 

Of the almost 1,500 photographs taken, all but a few have been redacted and are sealed by Connecticut law.  Few people have seen what the people at the crime scene saw.  When they heard Attorney General Eric Holder was coming, the highest-ranking law enforcement agent in the United States, a policymaker of the highest echelon, they knew it was their one chance.  To show the scene as they found it.  To present the evidence to the right set of eyes.  If what they saw did not shake the country out of its denial, nothing would.  Nothing did. 

And so the young people shot over the past weeks will likely carry the physical impact for the rest of their lives.  The shootings also carry an emotional impact on them, their families, classmates, neighbors, and all of us.  Gun violence is taking a mental toll on everyone, as we worry more about our safety in schools, churches, workplaces, and on the street. 

Firearms and associated violence are becoming the leading cause of death for children in the U.S. 

What, then, does the good shepherd have to say to us, speaking into this whirlwind of violence and indifference? Jesus rather pointedly reminds us that ‘who’ we follow, trust and believe in, makes all the difference in the world. 

Just prior to the scripture lesson for today from the Gospel of John, we learn that Jesus had just healed a man who was born blind.  The leaders back then disputed the man’s healing and questioned the actions of Jesus the Good Shepherd.  Not only had Jesus extended healing, but he further extended love, forgiveness, hope, and compassion.  The leaders back then were instead holding on to ‘their’ set of rules and their firm ways of handling things.  The Good Shepherd’s actions were severely disrupting ‘their’ way of thinking, acting, and believing. 

Those leaders back then felt so strongly in ‘their’ beliefs and actions they ended up throwing the man who was healed from blindness out of his community! 

Jesus strongly affirms that it ‘comes down to’ ‘whom’ we follow and ‘what’ we believe in. 

Those leaders back then were not good shepherds for their flocks.  Jesus provides the example; there is a tenderness and trust between a good shepherd and the flock.  That compassion was missing within the belief system of the leaders. 

Jesus goes on to point out what a good shepherd is and does.  Jesus is the gate, the place of protection for the sheep in the sheepfold.  The good shepherd stays with the sheep, even when they’re in danger. 

Not long after this, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the grave, another place where his sheep know his voice and hurry to answer.  The shepherd who guards the gate here will become the open door of resurrection and life soon after this. 

Jesus Christ instructs us to be ‘good shepherds.’  He affirms, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  (John 10:10) 

THIS is what we are to be doing and providing as Christians; bringing not only life but life to the fullest.  THIS is what we are to be doing as a church, a body of believers, bringing life and to the fullest.  This is what we are to be doing in our communities, our neighborhoods, out there on the highways and throughout this nation; bringing life and to the fullest. 

While too much of our world declares 'I am right, and if you upset me, I will kill you,' Jesus teaches us to instead be good shepherds who show in our lives, our actions, and our values; we are here to help life, to bring life, and to do so abundantly. 

THIS is to be our motivation instead of fear of violence or security in weapons of all sorts. 

I ask you, isn’t it good, oh so good, that good shepherds continue to help with care counseling and remembrances of the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh?  Isn’t it wholesome that a jury is finally being assembled to provide accountability and justice where such atrocities have taken place? 

I invite us all to remember and pray for the good shepherds who continue to process these atrocities as they seek to protect and serve the sheep of our communities and our world.  Prayer is perhaps the least thing we can do, yet the most fundamental.  We each are called upon by Jesus to be good shepherds in a world that shakes our faith and continues to destroy not only life but also life’s peace. 

I have a type of hopeful prayer to share with you. First some remarks and reflections. 

Decades ago our world, this nation, was plagued by the Uni-bomber; there were ‘sit-ins’, demonstrations, and flag burnings.  Not too very long ago abortion clinics were targets of violence, bloodshed, and bombings.  I also recall when smoking was rather commonplace, and is now seen as dangerous and disgusting by many people.  It is my prayer that a similar shift on views happens with guns and gun violence. 

Far too many are the published photos of individuals, even entire families posed around their assault rifles.  This kind of casual fetishization of violence, which makes light of the deaths of children, needs to become socially unthinkable. 

How much suffering must be endured before we change from instigators to good shepherds?  From folks who seek to harm and destroy life, to people who help God to bring life, abundant life, to ourselves and all others.

WE follow the Prince of Peace, not the idols of death, violence, and weaponry at any and all costs.  The obliteration of America’s children IS preventable.  While much of the news media might seek to scare us into believing otherwise, our faith, this precious Christian faith, continues to inspire and guide us otherwise. 

Ours is still the calling to suffer for doing good, not to suffer because of doing bad.  Today’s second scriptural lesson affirms it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.  To this you were called because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps. 

Consider, even briefly so, how Jesus set an example when he dealt with people that ‘rubbed him the wrong way’ instead of reacting violently.  

Hear again this teaching from the Bible; it’s there for all of us: 

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate, when he suffered, he made no threats.  INSTEAD, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness, by his wounds we have been healed.”  These same scriptures go on to say, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (Peter 2:19-25) 

Mr. Rogers, quoting his mother, famously told people to “look for the helpers” when trouble comes.  As people of faith, we look for the helpers, and we call them shepherds, those who follow the good shepherd himself.  The good shepherd holds us in his care and inspires us to be shepherds for others who are lost, in need, or in danger.  Look for the shepherds — they are still with us, tending the sheep. 

Amen.

Walking With Hope 4/23/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, April 22, 2023 & Sunday, April 23, 2023 

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 24:13-35 (page 1060) & Romans 8:22-28 (page 1133) 

SERMON MESSAGE: “Walking With Hope” 

Do you remember sermons from across the years?  Perhaps there was one particular sermon message that kind of ‘stuck with you’ from some time ago.  For me, I still recall some of the ‘gist’ that is, the main ideas, of a message I once heard in an old Methodist church regarding some disciples walking on the road to Emmaus.  Admittedly, I don’t recall word for word what that Methodist minister preached all those years ago.  I just remember that something ‘spoke to me’ regarding the circumstances of that ‘walk’ and how God was present. 

The Emmaus Road event occurred in the evening of that very first Easter.  It took place as two of Jesus’ disciples were walking the two-hour journey between Jerusalem and the town of Emmaus.  That could be somewhat similar to us walking from here to Sewickley or to Moon Township.  While the journey is relatively brief by vehicle, it remains a long walk on foot. 

It was a rather long and disheartening walk for those two disciples from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  While they had heard something about Jesus’ resurrection, for those two it seemed more like idle tales than current hurtful reality.  Nevertheless, they communed together in conversation trying to ‘reason things out.’  They had really ‘hoped’ that circumstances would have turned out differently for Jesus.  Their ‘hope’ was that he would be their Messiah King who would lead Israel out of bondage to Rome and into Jewish freedom.  But we all know that’s not what happened.  Sometimes when things don’t happen as we expect or want, it causes us to lose hope.  Possibly we even tend to feel like we are all alone. 

So it was those two ‘took a walk.’  I don’t think people ‘go for a walk’ as much as they used to.  I still see some folks walking on the Montour Trail, oftentimes for exercise.  When I look out my office window or work around our church, I will sometimes see people walking by.  I think many of those folks are pursuing business somewhere in Coraopolis.  Sometimes they return with shopping bags in tow. 

Folks formerly used to take a walk with each other just to stroll, talk some, and ‘clear their heads.’  

Walking does make our brains more relaxed.  Some researchers proclaim walking causes our brains to release chemicals that improve our thinking abilities as well as our creativity.  It’s also good for socializing. 

Walking does help us solve our problems.  Sometimes when we walk with someone, it helps even more.

Walking alone, be it in conjunction with others or by ourselves, can also be a lonely journey.  Especially so if the subject matter remains confusing and causes despair. 

The Bible is not clear on who the other disciple is walking with Cleopas.  Mostly what we do know is they were walking from Jerusalem towards the town of Emmaus, plus they were discussing all that had recently happened.  Initially we learn their faces were ‘downcast.’ 

This ‘stranger’ comes and walks beside them for a while.  They do not recognize him at first.  He inquires as to what they were discussing as they were walking along?  It was quite common, back then, to communicate mainly through one-on-one conversations since there were no emails, telephones, nor common means of communication we seem to assume and take for granted these days.  They were looking for hope. 

Jesus comes and walks beside them.  They do not recognize him at first.  When Jesus comes and walks with us, we do not always recognize him at first.  This Emmaus Road story reminds us also that the good news of the resurrection is a journey, not only a moment.  It takes time to understand it, accept it, and apply its significance to our lives.  Oh, but how glorious it becomes when we do walk with hope in our hearts! 

Some years ago when I first became your pastor, there was an established group that met weekly, weather permitting.  They referenced themselves as the “Walk and Talk” Group.  That would be a wonderful group to resurrect! 

Through the years plenty of folks have found that many things are solved by walking.  When Jesus meets us on a ‘walk,’ we find ‘hope.’ 

Tell Jesus your troubles.  That’s what Cleopas and the other disciple did.  They trusted the process of walking and talking might bring them some much-needed ‘hope.’  Their hearts were heavy with grief, among other things.  Be like Jesus when you see others struggling with their grief; be cognizant of that and be compassionate.  It becomes Christians to talk of Christ and his grace and love.  

Sometimes we don’t talk much about Christ and his grace and love, because we don’t want to be known as a soul that talks so much about Christ that we turn others ‘off’ from religion in general! 

Yet we need, desperately need, to walk with hope in our hearts.  Jesus showed us the way; spend some time with others and commune with others, break bread together. 

Jesus knows us.  He knows that we, just like Cleopas and that other disciple, still have our questions, even our doubts about faith, suffering, and unfulfilled hopes in general.

Remember, even Jesus once cried out and asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  The point here being that we ALL experience the pangs of hopelessness.  

The Road to Emmaus story still serves to remind us that hope comes when we walk together, and we welcome Jesus among us.

Recall this factual insight as well from the Road to Emmaus story; upon reflection those early disciples soon realized “their hearts burned within them” while on the road with Jesus and as He further revealed the meaning of the Scriptures to them. 

I think that remains a solid spiritual ‘reason’ why this Emmaus Road story has ‘stuck’ with me so much across the years.  It reminds me to look back and recall the times when my heart burned within me as I grew to know Jesus had walked with me. 

In the Christian faith we sometimes refer to this particular spiritual insight as perceiving God’s providence in our lives.  I believe we all have times and occasions to ‘look back’ and see whereby God caused all things to work together for the good.  

Some folks say we should not dwell in the past.  I agree to not live ‘dwelling’ in the past.  Yet I also know from many wise people that if we do not learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat history, sometimes the more saddened parts of history. 

Today’s Gospel lesson teaches us that two of Jesus’ disciples benefitted greatly from looking back and further realizing how they felt the presence of God, the Lord, with them that day.  

Sometimes we too shall benefit from looking back and seeing anew how God helped us, saw us through, and provided for us.  As we mature in faith, we continue to grow to acknowledge and trust in God’s providential help, protection, and care in our lives. 

The Apostle Paul writes a very spiritual letter affirming that the whole of creation has been groaning, as in the pains of childbirth, right up to the present time.  He further affirms we ourselves groan inwardly as we await our redemption, God’s answers, and provisions for our lives.  In this hope we are saved.  Paul assures us while teaching us that God’s Holy Spirit is among us, helping us to see, to understand, even to trust and mature in faith.  The Spirit helps us in our weakness. 

Sometimes when a soul feels weak, helpless, even without hope, recall these scriptures and remember this portion of the Bible where God informs us that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we do not know how to hope, help, or pray for ourselves.  We never really walk alone. 

Cleopas and that other disciple came to realize what we too come to realize - In ALL things, God works together for the good of those who love him, who have been called in accordance with the will of God. 

I pray you shall remember and recall, from time to time, this Emmaus Road story from the Bible.  It shall remain a story of walking with hope.  Amen.

Faith's Answer To Fear 4/16/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, April 15, 2023 & Sunday, April 16, 2023 

Prayer For Illumination: Savior God, you’ve gifted us with the Holy Spirit as our advocate and guide.  Open us to the Spirit’s breath.  Carry us on the wings of your wisdom.  Set us on the solid foundation of your Word read and proclaimed.  May we hear the truth you intend for us today.  Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  Psalm 16 (p. 542), John 20:19-31 (p. 1088), 1 Peter 1:3-9 (p. 1220) 

SERMON MESSAGE: “Faith’s Answer to Fear” 

Are there things that ‘trigger’ fear inside of you?  For me it is bees and snakes.  Some days when I am working outside in my driveway washing my truck, and a bee buzzes near my eyes or my arms, I just stiffen up and move cautiously away.  I’ve been stung before, and I abhor the thoughts of dealing with another bee sting.  The same fear trigger for me happens with snakes.  While I know many snakes are non-venomous, when they are curled up, hissing their tongues and in ‘strike mode,’ I tense up and try always to back away. While I realize I can deal with these ‘fear triggers’ still it takes me a while to pause, react, and think it through.  We all have fear triggers, things that ignite the fear response in us and set off the fight or flight instinct. 

There are certain ‘subjects’ that people shy away from, perhaps even ‘fear.’  I’ve met a goodly number of folks who say they absolutely detest talking about politics or religion.  Both subjects make use of fear triggers to persuade their audience.  Even just the mention of some ‘words’ can ignite forms of fear in folks.  Consider words such as Woke, Fascist, Liberal, Radical, Activist, Socialist, Pedophile, War, Racist, Conspiracy, Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, and so on.  These can be ‘fighting words’ or fear-causing words.  People can get into a frenzy over fear triggers or possibly become paralyzed in their responses. 

My wife and I sometimes enjoy watching the ‘news.’  Some of those commercials are obviously fear based. Ads for automobiles, tires, and brakes all remind us that the safety of our families is riding on their products. 

More alarming are the ads for prescription medications, specifically so when they list their lengthy side effects.  I sometimes wonder if the side effects are worse than the cure? 

Many of the ‘special reports’ on TV try to get your attention by inducing fear.  One example among many: “Is radon gas causing health concerns for you and your family?”  Tune in to our special report to find the answers. Many do. 

One of the worst times for fear to be elevated is when elections are drawing near.  All parties are guilty of pointing out some characteristic or belief system in their opponent that we should fear.  “My opponent hates America!  My opponent wants to end Social Security.  My opponent wants to increase taxes.”  The list goes on.

These ‘fear triggers’ are supposed to motivate us to vote, to buy a certain product, to follow a certain religion, or to adhere to a certain belief system.  Seldom do they point us towards either peace or freedom. 

Being a part of a group who thinks and fears the same things we do is not the healthiest thing to do.  Sometimes the goal of these fear triggers is not to sway us to their ‘side’ or way of thinking.  Sometimes their goal is to paralyze us from doing anything at all, thus lessening our potential influence or response. 

Taking advantage of our fears may be termed ‘exploitation.’  We may be somewhat ‘wise’ to what others are doing to induce fear inside of us.  We may strive to refrain from being manipulated by those who exploit our fears, but sometimes it isn’t enough.  Sometimes we still just get scared. 

The question we must address is the question of fear itself.  To paraphrase President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “The main thing we have to fear is fear itself.” 

The Psalmist affirms, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord.  With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (v. 8)  But sometimes we are shaken.  Faith is not perfect, but it is hopeful.  Even in a world where pain, suffering, and death are everyday realities. 

In this week’s New Testament lesson, Jesus offers faith’s answer to fear itself. 

Consider again the narrative of Jesus appearing to his disciples. Ten of the eleven remaining disciples are crowded into a room, lights dimmed, doors locked.  They’re afraid.  Afraid of the Temple Officials who conspired to have Jesus executed by the Romans.  They don’t know what to do.  Oh, they heard the report of the women, but depending on which gospel account you read, they have either dismissed it out of hand as foolishness, or they just don’t know whether to believe it or not.  And, even if they do believe it, well, they’re scared.  Scared for their lives. 

At least six things happen that can be described as faith’s answer to fear. Things we can and should identify with. 

One, Jesus shows up.  Literally, he “came and stood among them.”  There are some people who, just by showing up, can change the atmosphere in the room.  Some people do that in a negative way.  They show up, and you can feel the energy, the life being sucked out of the room the instant they arrive. 

But more common, I think, are those people who affect the room positively with their presence.  They enter the room, and suddenly it’s as if a light that no one knew was there has been turned on.  The room seems suddenly brighter, the air lighter, the energy enhanced.  The room is, itself, not changed.  But everything in it is transformed just by the appearance of this one person.

Jesus was like that.  His mere presence transformed a room.  The fact that he had been dead less than 24 hours ago, that the women had reported seeing him alive in the garden, that several of his disciples had reported that his tomb was empty – all of these things – contributed to the power of his presence on this particular evening, but it was a presence that would have been notable and powerful even without those added attributes.  Jesus just had to show up to make a difference. 

Knowing and affirming that Jesus is ‘there’ with us surely helps to address whatever ‘fear’ we may be dealing with.  Jesus is in my heart.  Jesus is in this church.  Acknowledging the presence of Jesus is one major step in faith’s answer to fear.   

The second thing Jesus does in the story is greet them with a blessing of peace which fulfills a promise he has made in an earlier chapter to give them peace. This is not peace as we know it – an absence of conflict. This is shalom, that general sense of well-being, of balance, of harmony, and good will. 

According to the gospel, the opposite of fear is not courage, but peace - shalom.  Peace is the opposite of fear, the cure for despair, and the appropriate response to doubt and shame.  

When we are infused with adrenaline, when our hearts are slamming against our chests, when we jump at every sound, when we are hiding from things we can’t even name, when terror grips us, when doubt ensnares us, when everything we believed in seems smashed and destroyed, Jesus offers us peace - shalom.  And then he reinforces his message with his own personal witness.  Jesus said, “Peace, I give you, MY peace I give you.  I do not give you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)  Jesus’ peace is different from what the world gives.  Faith in this peace, faith in our Savior, are sincere answers to fear. 

The third thing he does is show them his scars.  He didn’t have to.  He’s Jesus, after all.  He could have come to them without scars, without wounds of any kind. He could have come to them whole and smiling and filled with a reassurance that suffering and pain are mere illusions.  But he does not.  He comes to them with scars.  Suffering, pain, even death, are real.  

The promise of Jesus Christ is not that these things don’t exist.  His promise is that they do exist, but that they can be overcome.  Scars are not evidence of failure but of victory.  Everybody has ‘scars’ of one sort or another.  Our scars hold a memory of a victory, not a failure, in overcoming our fears with faith. 

Fourth, having given them the gift of authenticity, he reiterates the gift of peace.  Our peace is drawn not from some empty promise, some well-turned phrase, some bit of colloquial Christian jargon.  It is, rather, drawn from real life, lived authentically in the midst of real trouble and real turmoil.  Our peace is based on a real life well lived.  Look back at the ‘bigger picture’ of God’s movement in your life, and you shall see peace.  Trusting God for the bigger picture of what might lie ahead is faith’s answer to fear.

The fifth thing Jesus does is to commission them.  He sends them.  He gives them a job to do, a mission.  It is important to note, here, that Jesus does not give his followers – then or now – a gift simply for the sake of the gift.  The gift is always given with a purpose.  This peace we have been given is not to be held closely and guarded.  It is not to be hoarded and enjoyed for its own sake.  It is to be used.  Peace comes to us to be used.  Part of our ‘peace-mission’ is forgiveness.  Grow to be at peace with God and others.  This, too, is part of faith’s answer to fear. 

Along the journeys of our lives, just like Thomas, we shall experience times of doubt.  We need not fear doubt.  It sharpens our faith and our focus.  

I hope you are beginning to at least ‘see’ that faith’s answers to fears is not based solely on any one of us nor on our efforts alone. We each need to do our part to affirm faith, to nurture faith, and to grow faith. However, faith is to be ‘in concert’ with others, with the church, the body of believers. 

Faith’s answer to fear includes leaning on others, growing through others, being loved, cared for, and perhaps gainfully employed with others. 

The sixth thing Jesus teaches us is the reminder, the sincere and firm reminder that God sends to each of us the gift of His Holy Spirit, to guide, comfort, inspire, and assure. 

Sometimes, perhaps ‘out of the blue’ you will feel the presence, the message, the hope and peace of God’s Holy Spirit, His message from heaven touching your life, guiding your heart, and comforting your soul.  Faith’s answer to fear.  Mary felt that when she came to the tomb of Jesus and was afraid, for the Lord’s body was gone.  Angels and the Lord himself inspired her.  The church back then, and the church through the centuries, right up to these present days and times, has been ‘inspired’ by the Holy Spirit of the living God. 

Our fears are sometimes at their worst when we suffer.  Suffering is seldom easy but sometimes required.  Another important reality of how faith answers fear is found in Jesus’ words, his teachings.  I was pondering the other day how we might ‘better’ read some of the famous words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. 

“Close to God are those who mourn.  Close to God are those poor in spirit.  Close to God are the hungry and thirsty.”  In our suffering, we are close to God, and that is precisely the beauty, reward, and salvation for our souls that Peter is talking about in today’s third scriptural lesson. 

Today’s message on faith’s answer to fear ends with this blessing from the Bible, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end results of your faith, the salvation of your souls. ” (1 Peter 1:8,9)  Amen.

The Difference Easter Makes 4/9/2023

Sermon Message for Easter

April 9, 2023 

Prayer For Illumination: Divine redeemer, bearer of life, open us to the wisdom of your Word today and enlighten us with your truth.  Liberate us from all that distracts us and turns us from your path.  Guide us and ground us in Christ’s everlasting hope.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  John 20:1-18 (page 1087) and Colossians 3:1-4 (page 1184) 

Sermon Message: “The Difference Easter Makes” 

Easter makes a difference!  Our church is graced with beautiful flowers.  The music reflects a sacred hope Christians share.  The weather is gradually getting warmer.  At our home and around the church, flowers are blooming.  Do take notice of the beautiful blooming magnolia tree at the front of our church.  Pause, appreciate, and perhaps get a picture with yourself near the tree. 

Easter is also about candy, Easter bunnies, Easter baskets, and perhaps platters of ham later on with all the ‘fixins!’  Looking further into our faith, Easter is also about love, true love, but it’s also about hope, endurance, faith, everyday life, and eternity. 

That first Easter and every Easter since then begins in darkness. 

There are no roosters around where we live to announce the dawn of a new day.  For my wife and me, Easter began as does most mornings. We greet each other with a smile and a kiss, she gets me my initial dose of medicine, then as I slowly wake up, I begin reading and praying my devotions. Oh by the way, a cup of coffee surely helps. Know this, you are a part of my daily prayers. 

How did Easter day begin for you?  If your kids are grown and you are abiding by a daily routine, then Easter doesn’t start out much different than most days.  However the realities associated with Easter make a big difference throughout the year. 

God is pleased and Jesus is blessed that we have come together for ‘church’ for ‘worship’ this Easter.  I remember a rather ‘cute’ story of how Easter began in another church. 

A Sunday School teacher asked if anyone could tell the Easter story?  No one volunteered to answer.  So, she called on the one boy, Sam.  “I don’t think I know,” said Sam.  So the teacher reassured him that was okay and moved on to Elaine.  She responded, “I don’t know how to tell it.”  Finally Mack decided to raise his hand.  He said he would tell the Easter story.  Well that teacher was pretty surprised at Mack’s willingness, since he was usually the class clown.  Here is what Mack said: “On Easter, Jesus and his disciples were eating the Jewish Passover at the last supper, but later Jesus was betrayed and turned over to the Romans by one of his disciples.  He was accused of teaching he was the Messiah, and when he confessed it, the Romans made him wear a crown of thorns, took him to be crucified, and hung him on a cross with nails through his hands and feet.  He said, ‘It is finished’ which means ‘Debt paid in full’ and died.  He was definitely dead because the water was separated from his blood when they stabbed his side.  So they buried him in a nearby cave on Friday which was sealed off by a large boulder.” 

The teacher was taken back with excitement, “Very good, Mack!  And what else happened that we celebrate on Easter?” 

Mack thought for a moment then said, “Now, on Easter Sunday each year, we move the bolder aside so that Jesus can come out.  And if he sees his shadow, then we know there will be six more weeks of winter!” 

Folks, Easter and the resurrection of Christ isn’t just another good story.  The resurrection of Christ makes all the difference in the world.  It is the centerpiece of the Christian faith.  With it Christ is Lord, without it Christ is dead.  With it we have hope, without it we have hopelessness.  The Bible clearly teaches that without Christ’s resurrection the gospel is meaningless.  But the Bible also shouts loud and clear that because of the Lord’s resurrection, we can have eternal life and abundant life. 

Today, I pray I can help you to think further about the very real difference Easter makes.  

Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  The resurrection makes a difference in our lives.  Although Easter begins in darkness, remember it does become light! 

Some say that first Easter began with a race, a marathon of sorts. Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of Jesus while it was still dark.  She saw that the stone blocking the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away.  So she went running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved (John) and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 

So it was, Peter and John ran back to the tomb.  But those guys aren’t much help.  After sprinting into action, they limp back home unsure of what to think or believe.  The first Easter begins in the shadows of trauma, where weeping, confusion, and sadness keep us from finding hope. 

This certainly is a ‘far-cry’ from brightly colored eggs and gorgeous Easter outfits.  Preference for Easter morning would be chocolate eggs and bunnies, Easter baskets, and coming to church to triumphantly shout “Alleluia!  He Has Risen!  He Has risen indeed!” 

Yet here we are, somehow recalling in sacred submission some of the sadness, the sorrow, and even trauma associated with that very first Easter. 

Forgive me, but what might those ancient followers of Jesus thought about ‘our world’ if they could perceive some of our circumstances?  Haven’t there been lots and lots of traumas we have needed to deal with?  Wars, violence, natural disasters, and far too many innocent lives ending way too soon. 

Do you realize we have averaged one school shooting per day since January 1st?  Three hundred tornadoes since January 1st plus the trauma associated with racial clashes and political tensions.  Worse is the reality that we somehow seem to have begun accepting all of this as a nearly ‘normal’ way of life. 

What we learned this morning in the Bible is no different than how it is for us today. The joys of Easter emerge through the shadows of bad news before it became good news. The question for Jesus’ world and ours remains, “Why are you weeping?” 

Being a Christian means caring about others, not just ourselves.  Please remember today there are scores of families struggling with despair from severe losses. 

We are a Presbyterian Church.  Recently on March 24th at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, a private Christian school, a mass shooting occurred.  Like all mass shootings, the trauma associated with the Nashville incident is raw and multi-layered.  The law in that state does not prohibit persons with mental illness from owning weapons if they have not been committed to a mental institution.  

Tornadoes tear apart homes and lives in our world.  The storms seem to just keep on coming.  I was reading that 90% of US counties have experienced some sort of weather disaster in the past ten years. 

Increasingly so, we are being called to become communities of resilience. 

The question for that first Easter group and for us is this: how might people of faith progress from tears to hope?  Today’s disasters don’t seem to end; they evolve.  Resurrection entails dealing with the trauma in order to experience God’s provisions of hope and new life beyond the shadows. 

Something to remember about the darkness that very first Easter. Darkness at the tomb indicates that full recognition and belief are yet to come. 

Easter and the resurrection make a difference. 

One of the initial differences the resurrection makes in my life is in my endurance.  My spiritual endurance.  Because you and I believe in the resurrection, we have reason and strength to not give up on life.  We have a reason to remain determined in life.  After Jesus was resurrected from the dead, He told his followers, “And be sure of this:  I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:20)  Because of this resurrection message, this reality of Easter, you and I can endure our problems to the very end.  Jesus IS ‘with us always.’ 

Before that first Easter, the disciples felt as if death had won and there was no hope.  They felt nothing but dejection, discouragement, and confusion.  They believed Jesus had died and was gone for good.  Some of them wanted to give up, and some already had.  Despair is real challenging.  It makes you want to ‘throw in the towel’ so to speak.  

Easter reminds us that Jesus is alive, and He is ‘with us.’  Don’t give up on life.  Don’t give up on that person you’ve been praying for.  Jesus is saying, “I’ll be with you and I will work in you, through you and for you to the very end.  Don’t give up.  Don’t despair.  Stay faithful in prayer until the end.  Persevere in godliness unto the end.  Endure to the very end.”  Because of the resurrection, you and I know that even when our hopes look like they are dead and buried, Jesus still has resurrection power that can do the impossible.  Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can endure our problems, our heartaches, and setbacks in our lives because Jesus will be with each of us to the very end. 

Easter makes a difference in my endurance, but it also makes a difference in my ENTHUSIASM.  There is something about knowing in your heart that Jesus is alive that creates motivation, inspiration, and enthusiasm about life.  When those women who went to the tomb first came to realize Jesus was alive, their enthusiasm was described as ‘great joy!’  As the disciples became aware of Jesus’ resurrection, His being alive, they moved from fear and doubt to great enthusiasm.  That one disciple, Peter, went from denying he ever knew Jesus to being on fire for him.  When you and I experience the living Christ in our lives, there is a spiritual enthusiasm like nothing this world knows.  That’s part of the difference Easter makes.  Because of what Jesus did on the cross and through the grave, there is deep appreciation.  We have the true source of enthusiasm living within us.  

It’s true - Easter makes a difference to this very day in our endurance, our enthusiasm, and also in our desire to tell others about who God is, His Son Jesus, and ‘faith.’  Easter illustrates to us what God is capable of doing; yesterday, today, and in our world to come.  If you have experienced the hand of God moving in your life or in the life of another, you have a story to tell.  It becomes such a compelling story inside of us that we simply ‘must’ tell it to others.  Jesus said following his resurrection, “Go, tell, and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I give you.”  (Matthew 28:18-20)  Easter is God’s story.  A story inside of us.  A story flowing through us.  We have become a part of God’s story.  This, too, is a difference that Easter makes.  The story of Easter reaffirms Jesus has defeated death.  There is life beyond our earthly death.  We know Jesus loves us; we love Jesus and we love people, and because of this, we want others to know the love of Jesus and what He can do in their life now and the afterlife.  The resurrection of Christ, for the believer, is a driving force because it proves to us that everything about Jesus is true.  I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ.  It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes. 

The resurrection of Christ makes a difference in my spiritual endurance, my enthusiasm for life, my desire to tell others about God, and the resurrection makes a difference in my EVERYDAY LIFE.  Matthew 28:20 says something very encouraging to me.  Look at it carefully again.  Jesus said, “And be sure of this:  I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (NLT)  Jesus said, “I am with you always.  I am with you during the good times.  During the bad times.  I am with you when you are healthy and when you are sick.  I am with you when you are on the mountain or in the valley.  I am with you when you are rich or poor.  I am with you today and I will be with you tomorrow.  I am with you during, in the middle and after the divorce.  I am with you at your job.  I am with you when you are a parent trying to raise and train your kids.  I am with you when you are a teenager trying to figure out your place in this world.  I am with you when you feel old and feel forgotten.”  He makes a difference in my everyday life because He is always with me every day.  And He can help me every day because of the resurrection power that comes from the Holy Spirit. 

As a believer and follower in Jesus, Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you.  And those sins you still struggle with in your life, God knows about them, and He still loves you, and He will help you grow and overcome them.  He is with you every day:  helping you, guiding you, correcting you, and leading you.  That’s a good thing. 

The Apostle Paul in his spiritual letter to the Colossians writes, “Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above.  One day you will appear with him in glory.” 

Easter makes a difference in our endurance, our hope, our enthusiasm, our telling others about God, our everyday lives, and our eternity. 

Because He lives we can live also.  Now and into God’s eternity.  Amen!

Maundy Thursday Communion Meditation: "Simple Faith" 4/6/2023

Sermon Message for Maundy Thursday, April 6, 2023 

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: John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (page 1079) 

COMMUNION MEDITATION: ‘Simple Faith’ 

The Thursday before Easter Sunday is the day to commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples.  The story of Jesus breaking and blessing bread at the Passover meal, as a reminder of his life given freely for all, is told in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  This Passover act became the sacrament of Holy Communion in the Christian church.  Celebration of communion is usually the centerpiece of a Maundy Thursday service.  Let’s consider ‘how it was’ that first Maundy Thursday. 

All of the plans and preparation had been completed, and they were all gathering together in the room.  As they entered, they each paused to look at the long, horseshoe-shaped table with the cushions spread out around the outside and could not help but show a brief smile.  Even with everything that had happened and with the risks they faced out in the streets, the sight of that table and cushions took all of that away for a few seconds.  

Before they were disciples, they had all been part of good Jewish families and had all grown up with years of memories around the Passover Seder meal.  This sacred traditional meal was built entirely around a very serious ritual, designed to ensure that the stories of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt were remembered from generation to generation.  As serious as the intent, the evening itself was filled with good fun and family fellowship and was an exciting time for everyone of every age.  Some of their earliest memories were of being sent out after the meal to search for the hidden pieces of matzo that would be a part of the dessert.  The fact that the pieces also reminded them of how God found the people in their bondage and rescued them is something they understood later.  

As they looked around the room, they remembered their many experiences around the Seder table.  And as they moved to find their seats, they all knew exactly what was coming, just as they had experienced the Seder so many times before.  

Everyone gathered around the low table and took their positions, stretched out on the cushions, reclining on their left sides with their heads near the table and their legs stretched out toward the walls behind them.  It was the position of royalty, and something the slaves in Egypt did during that very first Passover Seder long ago to symbolize their coming change in status.  The head of the family, or host, would recline in the center position, say the ritual prayers, and perform the same actions that were performed every year.  After a brief welcome and greeting, servants would come into the room carrying bowls of water and towels and would slowly move along the wall behind the table, pausing to carefully wash the feet of each guest and then gently dry them with their towel.  It was partly symbolic, and partly just a good idea.  The act was a symbolic message from the host that each guest was welcomed into the place, and that everything would be done to make them feel comfortable as an honored guest.  Additionally, since everyone had spent their day walking the dusty roads and streets of Jerusalem, a good foot washing was an act promoting good hygiene.  

After the ritual of washing the feet, the host of the meal would begin the ceremony itself.  There were several prayers, stories, and recitations by everyone at the table.  It included the eating of specific foods, herbs, and spices, each recalling a taste or smell that rekindled memories of the Passover story, along with several glasses of wine, also representing important elements of the story.  As they found their comfortable spot on the cushions, we can hear them all chatting in anticipation of the familiar experience they were undertaking together.  Keeping this tradition was a simple faith. 

Then it got very quiet.  Jesus had spoken the familiar words to welcome everyone, and the first glass of wine had been shared.  At first, no one paid any attention to Jesus getting up from his place at the table and leaving the room.  It was not unusual at all, because even as important as the Seder is, the overall atmosphere is pretty casual.  While he was out, the chatter had begun again as they recalled stories from past Seders together.  The quietness came in stages, only as each person in the room noticed what was happening.  If you picture it, with everyone leaning on their left side, some of the group were most likely facing away from the door and did not see Jesus when he first returned to the room.  They were still chatting away, having a grand time, until others at the table hushed them and pointed toward the door.  Then the silence was complete — silence and some very real confusion.  

Jesus was walking back into the room, carrying a large bowl of water.  His outer robe was gone, and he had a towel tied around his waist.  He almost looked like one of the servants.  The rest of the servants were standing behind him, shifting from one foot to the other in the same cloud of confusion as the disciples around the table.  What was happening here?  This was not how the ritual went.  Instead of the servants coming in to wash everyone’s feet, it actually appeared that — no — of course not — it was just too nonsensical to even consider.  

Jesus walked along behind the table and stopped at the outstretched legs of a disciple.  He bent down on his knees and carefully cupped water from the bowl with his hands.  He poured it over the feet of the startled disciple.  He slowly wiped the water away with the towel, and then reached for the small vial of perfume oil.  He poured a small amount of oil into his hands, and then massaged it into the tired and sore feet of the disciple.  When he was finished, he calmly repositioned himself behind the next disciple, and then the next, and continued in the same manner around the table.  

No words were being spoken, and there were glances as the disciples looked at each other around the table, trying to make sense of what was happening.  It made absolutely no sense.  The foot washing was a job for the servants, those people who weren’t sitting at the table, and whose primary reason for being there was to serve everyone else.  To think that anyone with the privilege of having a place at the table would even think of giving it up to act like a servant was unheard of.  And to think that the host himself was doing that!  No — it made no sense at all.  But no one even knew how to ask about it or protest.  One disciple did pull his legs back, perhaps out of embarrassment at what Jesus was doing, but Jesus simply smiled and calmly reached out and pulled the guy’s feet toward him so he could complete his task.  

Then Jesus came to Peter at the end of the table.  If Peter had a thought on his mind, he spoke it, even if that thought was better left unspoken.  In this case, as Jesus moved to pour his handful of water onto Peter’s feet, Peter did not just pull his legs away, but he sat up from the table and asked, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” (v. 6)  Jesus calmly replied that he realized Peter did not understand what was happening but assured him that he would understand everything later.  In the quietness of that moment, Peter almost shouted at Jesus, “You will never wash my feet!” (v. 8) 

All eyes were on Jesus to see how he would respond.  Rather than argue or try to complete the act against Peter’s will, Jesus calmly looked him in the eye and said, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” (v. 8) 

It suddenly grew very cold in the room.  It was one of those key moments in which a decision had to be made that had some very big consequences.  Peter still could not imagine what Jesus was doing, and the true meaning of it did not even cross his mind.  All that Peter understood was that he had a choice either to stay with Jesus or be left behind.  Peter responded in the only way he knew how.  

Peter said, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (v. 9)  That’s Peter for you.  It’s all or nothing, no middle ground on anything.  Undoubtedly, that comment broke the tension in the room, and I can see all of the other disciples almost bursting out in laughter, “Yep, that’s Peter for you!”  I even see a smile on Jesus’ face.  Even though Peter is completely lost here and has absolutely no idea of what is actually going on, Jesus admired the raw honesty that Peter has and had a smile on his face as he said, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet.”  I can see Peter very slowly unfolding his legs and stretching his feet out where Jesus can reach them.  I can see the almost painful look on Peter’s face as Jesus poured the water and wiped with the towel.  I can see Peter almost visibly shaking as Jesus massaged that perfume oil on his feet.  In my imagination, as he finished, Jesus gave Peter’s feet a little pat, just to say, “There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”  

After leaving to change again and then returning to the room and his place as the host of the Seder meal, Jesus asked if they knew just what it was that he had done.  Apparently, no one did, or at least couldn’t imagine saying it out loud . So, Jesus explained.  “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, because that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  I have set for you an example that you also should do as I have done to you.” (vv. 13-15) 

The disciples glanced at one another, trying to imagine actually having to take the step of physically washing each other’s feet.  It was a rather difficult thing for them to imagine doing.  Jesus apparently saw their hesitation and tried to help clear away the symbolism of what he had done by simply explaining that even though he is their Lord and Teacher, he is still a servant of God.  And a part of the role of God’s servant is to serve others too, even if that sometimes means giving up your seat as host at the table and taking on the role of the lowest person in the room.  Then he said, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (v. 17)  Follow Jesus’ example.  It’s a simple faith, or is it? 

Sometimes how we define ‘simple faith’ just isn’t Jesus’ definition.  Jesus doesn’t just ‘talk’ to us, He has set an example.  

This evening we commune with others whom we love, know, and share worship with.  Maundy Thursday serves to further remind us Jesus suffered, not only for us, but also even for people who are not ‘like us.’  

Simple faith draws us to communion with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and also to others, all others whom we are called to serve.  

Maundy Thursday remains our ‘mandate’ to remember and embrace a simple and sincere faith.  Amen.

The Main Message of Palm Sunday 4/2/2023

Sermon Message for Palm Sunday, April 2, 2023 

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: Psalm 118:15-29 (page 610) & Matthew 21:1-11 (page 988) 

Sermon Message: “The Main Message of Palm Sunday” 

Palm Sunday recalls an event in the Christian Scripture (The New Testament) of Jesus entering into Jerusalem and being greeted by the people waving palm branches.  For Christians, it is a reminder of the welcoming of Jesus into our hearts and of our willingness to follow him. 

Today, when we remember the day on which Jesus rode in triumph into the city of Jerusalem, may it be our resounding prayer that now and always he may triumph in our hearts.  We have come together today to offer praise that Jesus came into the world, not as a conquering ruler, but as the Messiah to save us from our sins and reveal to us the God of the universe as the God of love.  May we pledge, in faithful living, that we shall so live that the day will come when every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  

We are a part of the ancient crowd who went ahead of him and followed him shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" ~ Matthew 21:9 

The triumphal entry was a moment in time when some in the world recognized and proclaimed a greater truth than they fully understood.  There are moments in time when only praise can speak to a truth that is greater than we fully understand.  We sometimes refer to this as ‘Moments that take your breath away!’ 

Perhaps we tend to think of such moments that ‘take our breath away’ as celebrative and uplifting times.  Moments such as the birth of a baby, a gorgeous sunset, or when signs from heaven touch our lives and some flow of God’s inspiration floods our souls.  Such ‘moments’ can be even ‘miraculous’ in nature.  Yet there are others. 

Today is Palm Sunday.  Consider Jesus’ ‘moment’.  God the Father had well revealed to Jesus the severity of trials that lie ahead.  When questioned about future suffering, if he were to go to Jerusalem, the scriptures inform us Jesus became ‘resolved.’  He ‘set his face towards Jerusalem.’  I for one cannot imagine what Jesus must have felt like the day he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.  It was a magnificent ‘parade’ of sorts!  More importantly, it was an affirmation of His ‘God-worth,’ his integrity as the very Son of God.  Still there was that awareness deep inside of what lies ahead.  During such moments Satan has a tendency to make a soul doubt and a mind to question.  Even a person’s body can tremble when facing certain impending suffering.  Yet Jesus Christ did not flinch.  Jesus could have ‘called it quits.’  He could have said, “It’s been nice, but now I am through.”  He could have ‘given in’ to the request of his disciples and the crowds to become an earthly king, or at least a dominant societal figure.  After all, he was admired and respected as a ‘Rabbi.’  But his heart was resolved after due reflection.  He did not flinch at the critical moment.  

There comes a time in each of our lives when we can ‘flinch at the critical moment,’ a point at which our values are called into question.  

Some years ago a young fellow started up a computer programming and repair service.  He was fresh out of school and so full of enthusiasm.  He admits he was surprised when his business started to grow.  Eventually he bought a small car and had lots of signage for his business painted on it.  I recall his struggle with deciding to hire his first employee.  After a while he needed more room and still another employee.  Not only was his business growing, so too was the respect folks had for him. 

As his computer business grew, so too did the National computer chains.  ‘They’ could afford huge marketing campaigns.  In the midst of one of those huge advertising campaigns, he became extremely discouraged.  His plans to expand his business worsened when some employees from the competitors began ‘bad-mouthing’ him and his business.  The guy just wasn’t sure if he wanted to go on; he was so disheartened by the other folks’ betrayal of solid and sincere business ethics.  Becoming encouraged by ‘faith perspectives’ he recalled even Jesus had his Judas.  Yet even Judas was used as a part of God’s plan for a greater good. 

At this most critical moment he did not flinch but decided to move on.  He stood firm in his business ethics and quality, personal customer approach. 

Despite all of the insults and wounds to his heart, he did not flinch.  His business continues to thrive, for he still offers something genuine and ‘more’ than the big businesses. 

When the critical moments come in our lives and we do not flinch, these too are moments that ‘take our breath away!’  

Palm Sunday; Jesus’ very entry was a challenge to the authorities in Jerusalem under the reign of Rome.  Palm Sunday is a political challenge as well as a religious celebration.  It recalls that it is finally God who reigns, and that judgment belongs to God.  While others may hold something over us temporarily, we ALL are accountable to a higher power.  The on-going challenge for the Christian church is how to proclaim the lordship of God in the form of the servant hood of Christ.  Sometimes the ‘church’ becomes guilty of pronouncing the rule of God in a triumphalist manner that suggests more arrogance than faithfulness.  It remains a part of the mission of the church to lift up the accountability of the nations to the lordship of God.  Our model for doing so, however, is made visible in the Christ who entered Jerusalem to challenge the powers of the world "humble and riding on a donkey."  The theology of the cross is a continuing challenge for the church. 

Does religion rule in your house?  In the house where religion rules there is salvation.  Where there is salvation there is cause for rejoicing, for continual joy in God.  Where there is rejoicing there ought to be praise and thanksgiving, openly talking about God, His ways, our responses, and our faith. 

Psalm 118:15,16 affirms, “Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous.  The Lord has done mighty things!” Verse 18 decrees “he has not given me over to death.”  Instead may we know the Lord has called us to live as a monument of God’s mercy and power.  May we all live to declare the works of the Lord.  Make it your business to praise and magnify God.  That’s ‘why we are here!’ 

The Psalmist decrees, “Open for me the gates of the righteous.  I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.”  Admission into God’s graces involves ‘blessing Him who comes in the name of the Lord.’  Our Palm Sunday decree of faith as Jesus entered into Jerusalem.  

Today IS Palm Sunday.  The day when Jesus entered into Jerusalem, resolved and not flinching.  This begins Holy Week. 

Holy Week reminds the world that suffering may lie ahead, the ‘likes of which’ we do not know.  Yet there will be redemption. 

Some Christian scholars are already beginning to ponder what the new world order will look like following the on-going war in Ukraine.  I recall standing at this very same pulpit wondering years ago what the new world order might look like following the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Following the suffering of 9-11 on America’s soil we too pondered what our impending suffering might further look like.  There was also the pandemic. 

Will violence increase or decline in the future?  Are ‘pandemics’ a thing of the past?  Can rising interest rates really curb inflation?  Far too many Christian churches are in the decline.  What might Christianity look like just ten years from now? 

Our bulletin lists many concerns and requests for prayers.  Thank God we know of answered prayers.  Thank God that God is God in this old world, and we are not.  There was only one Savior, and I am not him, nor are you. 

Jesus came and lived among us.  Throughout the year we reflect upon His birth, His life, His ministries of care, compassion, and healing.  Today we are called upon in this season of Lent to reflect upon not only his sufferings during Holy Week, but more importantly, his resolve.  His unflinching resolve at the most critical of moments. 

Sometimes there are celebrations and shouts of joy.  The ancient crowds shouted “Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven.” 

Friends there are times of ease and celebration in all of our lives.  Easily enough during such times we might say, “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” 

The main message of Palm Sunday is what happened that day and for the rest of the week we call ‘Holy Week.’  

Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday are also ‘days’ which the Lord has made.  As we experience these days in our lives, may we too be resolved as was our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  These days in our lives are also the days that the Lord has made.  Therefore let us too rejoice and be glad in the Lord during these days. 

God is good to man, and his mercy endures forever. Amen

Healing Tears 3/26/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 25, 2023 & Sunday, March 26, 2023 

Prayer For Illumination: Our souls wait for the Lord and in God’s Word we hope.  We wait for the Divine Word to envelop and guide us.  We wait for the creating word to give us life and bring nourishment to our parched souls.  Our souls wait for the Lord and in God’s Word we hope. 

Scripture Lessons:  John 11:1-45 

Sermon Message: “Healing Tears” 

Memory verses from the Bible are helpful to us.  The easiest verse from the Bible to memorize is found within today’s scripture lesson.  Just two words, “Jesus wept.” 

I’ve wondered across the years if that constituted healing inside of Jesus?  He wept.  Jesus cried.  He was hurting in his heart, and so it was, he cried. 

Tears are important.  We shed tears for lots of different reasons.  The most obvious reason being our sadness or our sorrow.  Yet there are also tears of joy. 

A Christmas story to share with you, even though it is ‘out of season.’ 

Some years ago when my daughter, Bonnie, was just a little girl, she really and truly believed in Santa Claus.  She really wanted to meet ‘the real’ Santa Claus.  The closest thing I could find to the ‘real Santa Claus’ was a fellow from the community where I preached who lived most of the year in Alaska.  Mitch had ‘the look’ of Santa; white hair and beard, a jovial voice, and a love for children. 

Bonnie really wanted a special doll back then.  I think it was Chatty Cathy or perhaps a Cabbage Patch Doll.  I made the arrangements on Christmas Eve.  We were back home from church.  She still had her Christmas outfit on.  The doorbell rang. It was Santa Claus! She first gave him a hug, but then she ran to sit on the couch.  He talked to her for a bit.  He offered for her to pull his beard and see that it was real.  Then he gave her that one ‘special’ doll.  After he left my darling little girl began to cry.  I asked her why?  She said, “Daddy, I’m just so happy, I have to cry!” 

Tears that touched my heart and flooded my soul.  The memory of them still moves me. 

Today we baptize two souls to the glory of God.  When their lives first came into this world, no doubt tears of gladness were shed for them as well. 

Within today’s Gospel lesson we learn of Jesus shedding a few tears.  Actually, the Bible states, “He wept!”  Sounds more like some extended tears and heart felt emotions.  Have you ever wondered why Jesus wept if in fact he already knew he was going to restore Lazarus’ life?

Before responding to that question, I seek to enlighten us with the awareness that the Bible mentions only one other occasion when Jesus wept. 

According to Luke's Gospel, Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem.  Presumably, he wept because that city, like so many of our cities today, was filled with people unwilling to embrace the reign of God which Christ came to inaugurate.  So, he wept over the city.  Here in John's Gospel the circumstances are different.  After learning of the death of Lazarus, Jesus began to weep.  The question I want to invite you to ponder this morning is why - why did Jesus begin to weep? 

Part of the reason Jesus wept may have been simply because Lazarus was his friend.  That's what those standing near the tomb thought.  They looked at Jesus, saw him crying, and said, "See how Jesus loved him."  (John 11:36)  Don't you wonder how Jesus felt when he first received word that his friend Lazarus was ill to the point of death?  It's a hard word to hear when the doctor says to you, "I'm sorry, but there's nothing more we can do."  It's a hard word to hear when they say to you, "I'm sorry, but your loved one has at most a few months left to live."  It's a hard word to hear when you learn that a friend has cancer, or that another friend has been diagnosed with advanced Alzheimer’s. 

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, Martha, the sister of Lazarus, meets Jesus and says to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  (John 11:21)  Later, their sister, Mary, comes out and says the very same thing, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  (John 11:32)  When Jesus asks, "Where have you laid him?" they say to him, "Come and see."  Then, when faced with the reality of Lazarus' death, Jesus begins to weep. 

Perhaps Jesus wept, even as we all weep, because he felt that a part of him had died as well.  Don't you suppose that he had an emptiness deep inside, a hole in his soul, which would not soon be healed?  How hard it is to hear the word that a loved one has died; hard even to go to sleep at night, you cry and cry and cry some more, until your pillow is soaked with tears and until finally you cry yourself to sleep.  It's hard to hear that a loved one has died, hard even, says this scripture, for the Son of God. 

For you see, Lazarus and Jesus were friends.  In fact, as one author suggests, Lazarus may have been the only friend Jesus had who was not primarily a disciple, but just a friend.  "Someone Jesus didn't have to be the messiah with but could just be himself with, someone to have a drink with once in a while."  Someone to go for a walk with around town, someone to let his hair down with, someone just to be himself with.  Lazarus and Jesus were friends, and this is part of the reason why Jesus began to weep when he learned that Lazarus was dead.  Healing Tears for Jesus’ wounded heart and troubled spirit. 

Something that the crowd asks hints at another part of the reason Jesus wept.  They asked, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"  (John 11:37)  The simple answer to that question is No!  Not even Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, could keep his friend from dying, for sooner or later death comes to each of us.  No matter how much we avoid it, no matter how much we evade it, no matter how many medical miracles our doctors perform to prolong our life, sooner or later death comes to us all. 

Of course, some people like to say, "Yes, but it's different for Christians - for Christians there is no death."  But that's nonsense.  It's simply not true.  Try to tell that to the widower who has just lost a spouse of 47 years.  Tell it to the family in which a child has died.  Tell it to anyone who has lost a loved one - that there is no death - and they will look at you as if you're crazy.  Death has a certain finality to it, which we simply must acknowledge and admit. 

Tears can be very healing. 

I am reminded of a couple who had been married many years.  Their 3 children had long since grown up and had children of their own.  The husband suffered a stroke, and his wife became quite protective of him.  The man’s doctor told him smoking was one of the worst things he could do, yet part of his recovery involved tinkering around in his basement while ‘stealing a smoke’ on his pipe.  She knew what was going on but pretended not to notice.  He even went so far as to hide his pipe out of sight from her.  Eventually he did pass, and for years she still looks at that old pipe and sometimes sheds healing tears. 

No doubt Lazarus two sisters, Mary and Martha, shed quite a few tears when their brother first became sick.  They sent for Jesus’ help, but at long last their brother passed. 

Did you happen to notice the ‘hope’ found in today’s scriptures?  Specifically so in Jesus’ words, “This sickness will not end in death.  No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”  (John 11:4) 

When our tears are at their heaviest, we need such ‘hope’ as Jesus speaks of. We need to be reminded that not every illness ends in death.  We need to know that sickness and affliction will pass.  Even death will not have the final word. 

Sometimes we shed tears because it seems to take so long for our prayers to be answered for help, even God’s help, to come.  Such was the case with Mary, Martha, and their request for help with their ill brother. 

We can say the ‘timing wasn’t right.’  Therefore, Jesus delayed coming to them.  For us, as we await our help, we need to become patient even in our trust.  Sometimes we will shed a few tears as our hearts grow weary and our souls need comforting.  Everybody needs ‘a good cry’ from time to time.  These, too, are healing tears. 

We certainly do ‘identify’ with one another’s tears for a variety of reasons. If you have ever been in a group of people and one of them starts laughing so hard they cry, you can’t help but smile and perhaps shed a few happy tears yourself.  This can be healing. 

Jesus saw Mary and Martha and sought to comfort them.  Those two women confronted Jesus and said to him, “If you had been here our brother would not have died.”  Sometimes, even through our tears, our anger, or our doubts, our questions arise. Jesus feels their pain, experiences their tears, and begins to cry himself. 

Jesus cried with and for Mary and Martha.  Jesus cried for his dear friend, Lazarus.  Jesus cried as he experienced first-hand the solemn reality regarding the finality of death.  Jesus also cried because he was realizing the nearness of his own death.  

As Holy Week approaches, may we be reminded even now of Jesus words, “This will not end as you fear.  Rather, it will serve to give glory unto God.” 

Perhaps Jesus experienced some much-needed healing for his soul when we wept that day. 

May I suggest another reason why Jesus may have wept at the tomb of Lazarus?  This reason may not be obvious when you read the eleventh chapter of John, but it becomes obvious when you view the Gospel of John as a whole.  For in some symbolic way, the death of Lazarus is a prelude to Jesus' own death.  As Holy Week approaches, may we remember for Lazarus to come out of the tomb, Jesus must enter a tomb; for Lazarus to live, Jesus must die; for Lazarus to believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, Jesus must first go to the cross.  At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus comes face to face with the impending reality of his own death.  No wonder that Jesus, standing outside the tomb, began to weep. 

As wrenching as it can be, weeping is the best way of coping with overwhelming emotion.  It is unfortunate that our culture has not encouraged weeping, particularly among men.  Many men, and some women, are taught that it is a sign of weakness to weep, that public displays of emotion are unseemly. 

Tears are the safety valve for the body -- and the soul. Jesus mourned unabashedly for his friend, Lazarus.  He shed tears publicly in a way that is not often observed in Western culture.  We are taught to keep grief private.  Big boys don't cry.  Nice girls don't fall apart in front of their friends and relatives.  We find it embarrassing when someone makes a public display of raw emotion. 

Be thankful if you cry easily and often.  There is no merit in holding back tears.  "Big boys don't cry" is a lie that has brought many a man to an early grave. 

Tears express what cannot be put into words.  We are moved to tears on those occasions when we cannot speak.  Lucille Ball portrayed this so well in the old I Love Lucy shows.  She and Ethel would do something outrageous that turned into a disaster.  Then Ricky would come in and say, "Lucyyyyyy!  You've got some 'splainin' to do."  And Lucy would begin to wail.  The tears said it all. 

Tears can be healing in so many ways.  Weeping is one of the characteristics of the abundant life.  Tears open a portal that allows the Spirit to come in and do its healing work.  Amen.

The Question That Counts 3/19/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 18, 2023 & Sunday, March 19, 2023 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, illumine these words by your Spirit that we might hear what you would have us hear and be who you would have us be, for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  John 9:1-41 (page 1074) and Ephesians 5:5-20 (page 1176) 

Sermon Message:  “The Question That Counts” 

This past week at our Monday evening Bible study, we were reviewing some of Jesus’ parables.  Did you know there are 49 recorded parables of Jesus?  At our meeting we discussed the parable of the prodigal son.  Perhaps you recall some of that parable; a man had two sons, the younger one asked his father for his inheritance (previous to his father’s passing) then went off and spent that money on drunkenness, partying, and in general, living the ‘wild life.’  He was carefree…for a while.  Eventually the money ran out, as it most often does.  He found himself feeding the pigs for a living.  He was both hungry and humiliated.  He decided to go back home, apologize to his father, and ask Dad to take him on as a hired hand, not as a son.  He made his way back home.  The dad sees him coming, rejoices, welcomes him back, kills the fatted calf for a festive celebration, places a robe across his back and a ring on his finger.  His older brother who had ‘stuck by’ Dad all those years heard about it.  He was so bothered he asked his dad, “Why?  I’ve been faithful to you all these years and you never once did anything celebrative for me and my friends yet when this son of yours who has wasted your money comes back home you throw a party.”  WHY?  

That elder son did have a point.  He seemed to have a ‘right’ to ask such a question.  Gently, yet firmly, that father replies, “This, your brother, I thought he was dead, but he is alive.  He has come back home.  All that I have is yours but this one who came back to us is worth celebrating for.” 

Sometimes really ‘odd’ or perhaps ‘unique’ occurrences also happen in our lives that make us question things. 

Years ago I was a part-time student pastor just outside of New Castle.  There were two churches, set a few miles apart.  I preached at one of them around 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning, and then I got in my car, drove a few miles to the second church and preached at 11:00 a.m. 

Admittedly, I wondered ‘why’ God would have me in this remote area far from my home base at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.  I met Carrie just a few weeks after I started preaching there.  She had a real challenge walking, even though she was a whole 8 years old.  Carrie had to look way up at me because I was so tall and she was so small. Her grandma watched what happened next.  Carrie made her way over to where I was standing and extended her hand to shake mine.  Carrie is a unique soul.  She was born with legs that kind of crisscrossed each other.  She had both hands but no arms.  They told me her father had served in Vietnam and came into contact with some horrific chemical.  Thus Carrie’s birth and life challenge.  I grew to appreciate the scripture lesson of the man who was born blind.  Why did Carrie have this challenge?  Why was that man born blind?  We all do ask questions, especially so when we do not understand. 

At the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry the religion of the day provided some answers and possible insights into life’s most perplexing questions.  As evidenced in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus’ own disciples questioned why this man was born blind.  Was it the man who sinned or his parents?  The prevailing thought was ‘sin’ caused people to be blind or suffer any of a number of other ailments, diseases, and even emotional disorders.  Those disciples thought their question counted for something because that’s all they knew or understood. 

Hear again Jesus’ response, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  Jesus went on to say “we must do the works of the Father while it is day.  Night is coming, when no one can work.  While I am in the world I am the light of the world.” 

He that is blind has no enjoyment of the light, but he that is born blind has no idea of it. 

Jesus let his disciples know they were asking the wrong question. 

There just aren’t a lot of references in the Bible of Jesus ‘spitting.’  But here within today’s scripture lesson we read of Jesus spitting on the ground, making some mud with it and putting this mixture on the man’s eyes.  Jesus then told the man to go wash in the Pool of Siloam.  So the man did wash and came home seeing. 

Something really good happened.  It just didn’t happen the way significant ‘others’ thought it should happen.  They ‘questioned’ extensively so, how this man got better.  They questioned ‘why’ Jesus did this. They questioned why Jesus performed this ‘work’ of healing on the Sabbath.  They went on to question the fellow that was healed, over and over again.  They even questioned his parents. 

This remains a story and a testimony of Christ’s compassion.  I think Christ’s compassion should kindle ours. 

The question that counts is NOT “Who sinned?”  Blindness or illness, physical disability or natural disaster are not about moral failing or sinful behavior.  The question that counts is “How is God present in this man’s life?”  Jesus Christ affirms that his condition is an opportunity for God’s work to be revealed, and then Jesus proceeds to heal the man of his blindness.  That’s when the wrong questions really start flying. 

The guy’s neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?”

Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”  Strange how we ask the wrong questions when we fail to understand God’s presence and movements. Even though the fellow told them, ‘testified’ as to what Jesus did for him, they just could not ‘wrap their head’ around this. 

Through the years it has been my pastoral privilege to visit and pray with lots of different folks dealing with illness, anticipating surgery, and just fearing the worst.  I’ve experienced these same things personally.  The common question is ‘Why?’  Why did this have to happen?  The next question is, ‘What if?’  And we tend to fear the worst.  Perhaps we should work at foregoing the fantasy of fear and strive to embrace the strength of faith.  Sometimes the better question we should ask is “What happens if I get better?  What happens if the procedure, the prayers, the medications work?”  What then? 

The question that counts is, “What has faith revealed to us?”  Jesus Christ affirms the works of God are displayed even in the most trying afflictions. 

Eight-year-old Carrie would sometimes sing in our small church choir.  When she did, her singing became the most glorious testimony of a life well lived and a light, a very precious light, shining in our world’s darkness. 

God re-created Carrie.  God re-created the man born blind. 

God ‘re-creates’ people’s lives. 

We learned a few weeks ago of Nicodemus, sneaking at night to find Jesus and talk with him.  Jesus teaches Nicodemus, and us, “You must be born again.”  That means to be ‘re-created’ from your old self into something new. 

We also learned of the woman at the well who was hiding away from others in broad daylight because she felt so guilty and ashamed by her sins.  Jesus speaks to her about ‘water.’  He references ‘living water.’  Water, in the Bible, is often times a reference to cleansing, re-birth, and re-creation from what was sinfully wrong into something gloriously new. 

Jesus came into the world not only to give sight but also to give light. Look to the light of Christ.  It is shining in our world.  It remains shining in this Church.  His light shines even in our gravest darkness.  Jesus charges his disciples to let our light shine. 

Like the man born blind you may be questioned when you give your testimony or just simply live your life the Christian way.  Some folks may question ‘why’ you are so patient?  Why do you remain calm?  Why don’t you get angry like the rest of us?  Oh, but the question that counts, perhaps even the ‘unspoken’ question is, “How has God moved in your life that enables you to live this better way? 

Another little girl I once knew felt God helped her family.  So it was she became a bit more compassionate at school.  During lunchtime she would sometimes seek out the kid that was sitting all by themselves and just go sit with them.  When the meal was over, she placed her leftover containers in the recycling bin instead of throwing everything away together.  Hers was a quiet yet sincere example of a young life re-created by God’s presence. 

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, speaks of dealing with our destructive habits.  He references impurity, immorality, and greed leading a soul to idolatry.  Then the Apostle Paul reminds us “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.  Live as children of light.” 

Each night on the news we learn of major incidences that have a profound effect on people’s lives. Pray for those people and events as you learn of them.  One day they could impact you or me.  The question that counts as you pray is, “How, God, can you please help these poor souls?”  Not “why did this happen to them?” 

God re-creates people’s lives.  Jesus shines His light in our world and in our lives.  We are all ‘the better’ because of this.  Yet we should recall there are none so blind as they who will not see.  Asking the wrong questions is kind of a spiritual slumber that has little or no benefit to anyone.  There are some things we need to ‘awake from.’ 

Some Christians have a hard time controlling their bad language or restraining their vicious tongues in gossip.  Some Christians experience difficulty as they begin to raise the percentage of their financial giving toward a tenth and then to giving more.  Some have difficulty reining in their anger.  Others struggle against lust and pride.  For many Christians it’s a hard step in faith to look beyond our own interests, destructive habits, and ‘know-it-all’ questions. 

We need to turn to God for the power to stop our destructive habits and also to allow God to open us to more and more of God's blessings in this good world.  In Lent, we get into the habit of inviting and urging each other to advance further into the light and life of Christ:  "Sleeper, awake!  Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." 

Following the time that Jesus healed the man blind from birth, the poor fellow was questioned extensively, also his parents, and eventually thrown out of the church, the synagogue.  Jesus found that poor soul who just wanted to be happy for the miracle of sight he had received.  God moved in his life.  Jesus heard about this, found the man, and asked him the question that counts the most, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 

We'll never on this earth learn enough about God, study the Bible as we might.  We won't understand perfectly what God would have us do, pray as seriously as we can.  We'll never be the people in this world that we're going to be in the next, although we speak as honestly as possible about how God is working within us now.  Yet, despite the circumstances around us, we are light, nonetheless, not for ourselves but for others.  That also is a summary of Lent.  Let us grasp the joy and shoulder the task of our Christian life.  "Sleeper, awake!  Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."  Amen.

Growing Through Suffering 3/12/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 11, 2023 & Sunday, March 12, 2023 

Communion Sunday

3rd Sunday in Lent 

Prayer For Illumination: Loving God, fountain of every blessing, open us to your life-giving Word, and fill us with your Holy Spirit so that living water may flow through our hearts — a spring of hope for a thirsty world.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Romans 5:1-11 (page 1130) & John 4:5-26 (page 1065) 

Sermon Message: "Growing Through Suffering" 

Perhaps you remember the saying, “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger.”  I guess that’s one way of seeing how a soul might grow through suffering.  I’ve heard some folks say, “Well, looking back at our suffering we emerged so much better from it!” 

We might all agree that suffering is never easy.  We all experience it.  

The season of Lent is a wholesome and meditative time to reflect upon suffering and how God helps us. 

There are a few things we have all learned or should learn about suffering. 

All people of any age ‘suffer’ to some degree.  There are forms of suffering that are needed and beneficial, such as recovery pain after surgery.  Some suffering just doesn’t make any sense at all such as the pain we experience from violence, prejudice, and bullying to name a few. 

Support is vital when we suffer. 

I pray you have personally found what many spiritually know and decree; God shows up when we suffer.  He’s there ‘for us’ and ‘with us.’ 

Sometimes when I read and re-read the Bible and study those ancient Israelites and how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land, I am humbly amazed at how God provided for them through it all.  Their experience took years!  What’s sort of perplexing and sad is recognizing the fact that those ancient Israelites, while being quite well provided for by God, surely complained a lot!  Some have chosen to reference them as Serial Complainers! 

Let it be both our prayer and our ambition this Lenten season and beyond to complain less and constantly work at growing through whatever suffering we must endure.  The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Rome, affords spiritual insights into growing through suffering.  But first, let’s review this story, this Biblical narrative of the Woman at the Well.

Jesus and his disciples were needing to travel from Judea to Galilee for the Lord to carry on his ministry and fulfill his calling from the Father.  To get from Judea to Galilee they would have to travel one of three routes:   

The Eastern route crossed the Jordan River in the region known as Perea, then crossed back over the Jordan River near Jericho.  It would have taken pilgrims five to seven days to traverse it but, due to the Jewish settlements in and around Perea, it was a relatively safe journey. 

The Western route followed the coast of the Mediterranean Sea all the way to Emmaus, a trip of about 10 days. 

The Central route was the shortest and took only about 3 days to go from Judea to Galilee, but it went through Samaria.  It was a path through a volatile region that carried with it some very real risks. 

Jesus and his disciples chose this third route, this volatile region to journey through.  Eventually they come to the little town of Sychar, built around a famous well known as “Jacob’s Well.”  According to tradition, this community well was dug by their ancestor, Jacob. 

Jesus and his disciples arrive at this well around Noon.  The disciples decided to go find some food.  For reasons that are not explained, Jesus decides to stay and hang out around the well, which is what people did in those days though rarely in the middle of the day.  The well would have been a sort of morning and evening gathering place in the village where people came to get water but also to share news, gossip, and just kill time.  If you were new in town, it would be the place to go to get a feel for the local culture.  Jesus stayed there by himself for a while. 

Imagine the scene.  It’s the middle of the day, and you, a Samaritan woman, culturally and otherwise despised, make your way to this community well.  While you’re drawing water, a man approaches you.  Startled, you quickly avert your gaze.  It is quite literally a man’s world that you’re living in, and the patriarchy demands you pay him respect, after all.  He’s not just any man, though.  He’s a Jew.  The top tier of Israel’s class-distinctive caste system.  He’s a man with power, with privilege, with opportunities your people could never dream of.  You brace yourself for the inevitable disgust and contempt he’ll throw your way, but it doesn’t come.  You sneak a peek, recognizing him as the Jewish rabbi everyone is talking about.  He’s male, Jewish, and a teacher of the Law – essentially the trifecta of status, power, and respect in Israelite society. 

And this man, He asks you for a drink.  Jesus is quite aware of the cultural system of power dynamics.  We still have groupings of people and individuals who believe they are ‘better than the rest’ and do not wish to associate with others whom they look down upon.  This is sometimes caused by race, by gender, by economics, by ethnic background, by ‘looks,’ by location alluding to where you live, and on and on goes the list.  Yes, there remains suffering from our assessments and decrees of ‘who’ we judge to be ‘lowly.’ 

By asking for a drink of water, Jesus, a socially elite Jew, makes himself equal with a despised Samaritan female. 

This Lenten season please help another soul to grow through their suffering by following this poignant example of Jesus; respect and speak to another who feels ‘less than.’  The kingdom of God is coming still.  It remains in our midst. 

The story goes on and on about ‘why’ this woman was a ‘bad’ person and didn’t deserve grace, kindness, or mercy.  There are also times in any of our lives when we do not deserve grace, kindness, or mercy.  Jesus calls upon us to change that, help another soul, and you will end up helping yourself. Let’s grow through our suffering.  Let’s grow to be better Christians and more faithful disciples.  Let’s grow into our communion with Christ and one another. 

That woman at the well tried to draw Jesus into a bit of an argument regarding who was better and who the well really belonged to, the Jews or the Samaritans.  After all, her ancestor Jacob dug that well for ‘her people.’  

Jesus would not get drawn into the conversation.  Instead he teaches her to look at the bigger picture. Water is common.  Spiritual water, ‘living water’ is eternal. Focus on what matters more than your most immediate needs.  

Actually, that’s solid and sincere advice for any of us when we are dealing with suffering; try looking beyond our most immediate needs and strive to focus on the bigger picture.  Your wound will eventually heal.  The pain will get better. 

We’ve all needed to experience some growing through our various forms and degrees of suffering.  ‘Growing’ can further mean ‘moving on.’ 

Jesus and the woman at the well address her lengthy number of broken relationships, which left her ashamed and isolated from others.  Notice what Jesus did NOT do.  He did not condemn the woman at the well.  He sought to save her, not condemn her. How do you and how do I seek to save and not condemn another?  Salvation and forgiveness become growth through suffering. 

Jesus and the woman at the well dialogue about ‘where to worship.’  Some said 'at the temple.'  Others said 'on the mountain.'  That’s somewhat similar to us saying today 'our church is better than yours.'  Or only people who think and believe OUR way are right with God or shall someday be in heaven with God.  Jesus reminds us ALL “The time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.” 

All Christian worship, whenever and wherever it occurs, should point us in the direction of heaven, draw us closer to the heart of God, lead us into better lives with all God’s people, and help us to grow through the suffering incurred by prejudice, condemnation, and judgment among other things.

Like the woman at the well, when we experience Christ, whatever it is we are suffering becomes lighter, more bearable, and we feel hope in our soul.  

Suffering manifests in many forms in people’s lives.  Some folks want to believe ‘suffering’ is what happens to others but never ever to them.  This just isn’t true. All folks suffer.  Some for good reasons, some for bad reasons, some for seemingly no reason at all.  

God designed us to lean on Him and grow to love others, especially those who are suffering.  No one ‘asks’ for suffering.  The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Rome, speaks of us having peace and hope as we grow through our sufferings.  As Christians, we continue to ‘grow’ into the spiritual insights that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  God’s Holy Spirit is in the midst of our hope. 

‘Hope’ is what the Ukrainian people are holding onto right now even as they ‘persevere’ through their sufferings.  Growth through suffering is a lesson the world is learning as we suffer with those who are suffering in another land.  

‘Hope’ is what we can give to others because, as the Bible decrees, “God’s love has been poured into us.” 

Lent reminds us that Christ died for us while we were undeserving but also to help us understand his suffering and ours. 

Think about it, because of Jesus Christ’s suffering, the world for centuries has been blessed with the hope associated with Christianity.  The Christian church exists because of Jesus’ initial suffering.  Our salvation, our ‘rightness’ with God, is blessed because of Jesus’ suffering upon the Cross at Calvary. 

Easter morning shall remind us that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.  He is alive.  The living Christ is with us in our suffering.  Jesus is present now in our communion.  Amen.

Faith That Changes Us 3/4/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 4, 2023 & Sunday, March 5, 2023 

Prayer For Illumination: As these words are read and proclaimed, may we be drawn into your will, your way, and your wisdom. May your grace and truth abound in our hearing and our doing your Word. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: John 3:1-17 (page 1064) and Romans 12:1-8 (page 1137) 

Sermon Message: “Faith That Changes Us” 

It was the end of the day, a very long day.  Actually, day had progressed into ‘night’ when this very important man, Nicodemus, decided to take a walk through his town.  Because he was such an important person, he didn’t want others to see him or discover where he was going.  

“Where” he was going was quite a surprise to the people he visited that night.  Quietly he walked through the dark streets then ended up knocking on the door of a house where Jesus and his disciples were sleeping.  The one disciple who cautiously came to the door recognized Nicodemus.  The disciples were concerned that Nicodemus and some of his group might cause them trouble, have them arrested for something, or instigate a fight. 

The disciple who answered the door told Nicodemus to ‘wait a minute’ and he would go to see if Jesus was awake or not.  Actually, that disciple wanted to wake not only Jesus but all of the disciples so they could pick up tools and weapons to defend themselves if Nicodemus or any of his group members started something.  But Jesus reassured his disciples that it was ‘OK’ for him to meet with Nicodemus. 

The two sat down together at a small wooden table.  Being a smart man, Nicodemus tried to begin the conversation in a non-offensive manner.  He even went so far as to speak well of Jesus.  Nicodemus said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.  For no one could perform the signs that you are doing if God were not with him.”  (Matthew 3:2) 

There was a pause, perhaps quite a long ‘pause’ before Jesus responds with these words, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” 

“Are YOU born again?” 

Nicodemus was a scholarly man.  He held a very distinguished and important position as a Jewish Ruling Elder.  Yet he did not understand what Jesus meant when he said “You must be born again.” 

We know some ‘born again’ Christians.  Perhaps you have learned from the news that former President Jimmy Carter is now in a hospice scenario.  He was President of the United States from 1977-1981.  He affirmed himself to be a ‘born again’ Christian.  Some political figures affirm their ‘born again’ status as well. 

Possibly you have also met some folks who readily affirm they are ‘born again’ Christians.  As we shall further learn in today’s message, Jesus’ teaching on ‘born again’ remains a spiritual requirement for seeing the kingdom of God. However, seeing our ‘born again’ status as a badge of spiritual achievement is not necessarily what Jesus had in mind. 

Jesus and Nicodemus kind of went ‘back and forth’ in their conversation that night.  It wasn’t that Nicodemus could not hear or understand what Jesus was saying about being ‘born again.’  On the contrary, it was because Nicodemus was so very intelligent and well learned that he had a hard time understanding. 

For Nicodemus, there were ‘prescribed ways’ for doing things and for understanding one’s faith. For instance, part of the religious ‘law’ back then that Nicodemus understood was the teaching ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  That meant if someone did you harm, you might at least equally harm them back. 

Jesus taught something ‘different.’  He said, “You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:38,39) 

In Nicodemus’ world things were simple. You could not be born again, even if you wanted to.  ‘Birth’ was a privilege for God’s Chosen People, and they knew it.  The ‘Law’ was strict, clear, and often times quickly implemented.  There was a prevailing feeling of being ‘entitled’ because of one’s ‘birth status’ and an on-going ‘protection’ of keeping things that way because of the strict ‘law’ that was rigidly observed. 

Jesus’ words, HIS teaching, remains; “You must be ‘born again.’  Nicodemus asks, “How can this be?  Surely, they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” We can perceive that Nicodemus asks three questions of Jesus, and in responding to them, Jesus begins each reply with, "Very truly, I tell you" -- which is code for "What I am about to say is very important." 

Hear again Jesus’ words, “Very truly I tell you no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:5-7) 

‘Born again’ in the Bible can also be translated as ‘born from above’ or ‘born within.’ 

Jesus’ reference to the ‘wind’ is a spiritual insight into understanding things differently.  While Nicodemus and the Pharisees wanted all things to be legalistic, black and white, this left very little room for transformation of one’s thinking, one’s actions, and one’s heart.

Nicodemus wanted things to be personal, ‘just for him.’  Jesus pushed all people, then and now, to see that God the Father sent the Son to save the world.  Not to judge the world nor condemn the world.  Judging and condemning still occurs in our world, in some Christian circles, and in some hearts. 

How has the Christian faith transformed your way of thinking, believing, and relating to others?  How has Jesus made a difference in your life? 

Basically, ‘born again’ means being aware of the time in your life before you knew Jesus and let him into your heart, and the time after you have let him in.  There’s a significant difference in the two. 

A young man was laboring for a family that was constructing a trailer park.  Part of the young man’s work included building the roads for the trailer park.  Gravel and heavy stone were brought in.  The young man drove the machine that placed the gravel and stone where the new roads were laid out.  He ran into trouble with a family living near this newly developed road system.  The introduction of the newly developed road caused the established family’s driveway to soon become compromised with increased mud and ruts.  Some very heated words were exchanged between that neighbor and the young man developing the new road.  The young man knew he was within his rights to continue his work just as he was doing.  ‘So what’ that there were some drainage issues for that other fellow. 

That young man who operated the machinery had started going to church after being absent for a while.  He heard messages on being born again and how that changes a person’s thinking and effects their actions.  That next Monday the young man knocked on the door of the fellow who had said some pretty nasty things to him.  The young fellow extended his hand, offered not only an apology but also a solution that could help fix things for both of them.  He ordered a specific truckload of gravel for the neighbor’s driveway and used his own equipment to properly put it in place.  No charge.  Faith changed him.  Faith, shared, helped even the other fellow to understand where problems could be better dealt with.  They remained ‘friends’ for years. 

Perhaps most folks remember Mr. Rogers.  His faith was uniquely different.  He was a soul that helped others with their faith as well.  Back in 1995 the reporter, Tim Madigan, was given the assignment of interviewing the children's television icon Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. 

Even though Tim's writing career was flourishing, the rest of his life was in shambles.  He was having trouble in almost every area of his life:  spirituality, marriage, and personal relationships.  His health was causing him a great deal of difficulty.  He had never had a good relationship with his father and had never heard his father say he was proud of him. 

So, Madigan interviewed Mr. Rogers.  In that conversation, Fred Rogers began to ask Tim about his life.  Over a period of months, they kept in contact.  Tim opened up his heart and let Rogers in.  It was a remarkable relationship -- not one way at all.  Mr. Rogers would call or email Tim and find out how he was doing.  After every conversation or email, Mr. Rogers would always write, "I'm proud of you." 

That phrase, “I am proud of you,” became the title of the book that Tim writes about his healing relationship with Mr. Rogers.  He tells how his life slowly began to come together, and how he was a different person not only with Mr. Rogers but also with his father, his wife, and others.  When someone has faith in us, it really has the capacity to change our lives. 

The late Baptist minister, Luther Jo Thompson, talked about a visitor to a small community who was so impressed by the radiant happiness of the woman that came to clean his hotel room.  He asked her why she seemed so cheerful.  She said it was because she was a Christian.  The visitor asked her, "Do all the people around here enjoy their religion like you?" 

She replied, "Them that has it does.  That's the way you know they got it." 

Jesus said to Nicodemus what he says now to us: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” 

This kind of faith, being born again, requires a change of heart.  Repentance of sins, affirmation of faith in God the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Mostly it requires accepting Jesus Christ into your life, into your heart, your soul, your total ‘being’ as your Lord and Savior. 

‘Things’ will change when you do. You will begin to desire to be holy and do what’s pleasing unto God.  Worship will not only become important, it will be a firm way of life for you.  The ‘way’ the world looks at things shall be far less appealing to you.  Instead you shall seek to see things as God does, with lenses of compassion, care, forgiveness, and far less judgmentalism. 

Jesus in our hearts changes things inside of ‘us.’  We come to know, understand, and relate to grace that has been given to us from God.  With this knowledge comes a sincere humbleness so that even when we think of ourselves as being ‘born again,’ we just don’t think more highly of ourselves than we ought to.  Our new character has a more sober judgment of who we are.  We remember, God has blessed us with grace and with faith. 

Faith that changes us from self-centeredness or being self-oriented leads us back into the family of God, back into the church, back into the body of believers, back into that firm reality that we are ‘in this together.’ 

When we are ‘in Christ,’ we bring what we have, and we share our blessings and abilities to serve the Body. 

This Lenten season open yourself to God’s reforming love.  May you continue to be born again, born from above.  This kind of faith changes things.  Amen.

Testing and Forgiveness 2/25/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 25, 2023 & Sunday, February 26, 2023 

Prayer For Illumination: God of grace, help us seek you and the message you intend for us today.  Let us not be distracted by worldly pursuits or pleasures.  Help us to focus our hearts and minds on you and your Word read and proclaimed today.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 (page 3), Psalm 32 (page 553), Matthew 4:1-11 (page 967) 

Sermon Message: “Testing and Forgiveness” 

During this season of Lent we remember Jesus.  Today we remember that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 

During this season of Lent we seek to draw closer to Jesus.  Our Lenten devotions, our dedicated endeavors to ‘give up’ something for Lent, are to further serve the Spirit moving in our lives. 

The wilderness is characterized as a place and a time of ‘testing’ in Jesus’ life as he went without food or companionship for 40 days and was tested with diverse temptations. 

This season of Lent can be looked at as a time of testing and also as a season of forgiveness.  

Today’s scriptural lessons inform us of various ‘tests’ that occurred and how differing individuals were able to respond.  Sometimes we fail the ‘test’ and are in need of forgiveness.  During this season of Lent, as we seek to grow in our faith, in our closeness to the Lord, we shall encounter some tests of our own while also identifying with forgiveness. 

Within the 1st Book of the Bible, Genesis, we learn of the story of Adam and Eve plus their time spent in the Garden of Eden.  It’s a basic story.  The ancient people taught their children this story.  It serves as a wisdom lesson for dealing with temptation as well as with testing.  As the story goes, God placed Adam and Eve in the beautiful Garden of Eden.  God Almighty designed and grew this lush garden.  Within that garden God made all kinds of trees grow, trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.  In the middle of the garden were two very ‘special’ trees; the ‘Tree of Life’ and the ‘Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.’  A river flowed through The Garden of Eden further making it a natural wonder to behold.  

God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to further take care of the garden.  There was lots of ‘leeway’ given to them for enjoying all that God had created.  They could enjoy all the fruits, take in all of the beauty, roam about in complete freedom, and bask in God’s goodness.  God gave one restriction: “Do not eat fruit from that one tree.  The Tree of the Knowledge of Good or Evil.”  God went on to say, “If you do, you will die.” 

God trusted Adam and Eve.  So it was He set them free to enjoy all of His blessings and creation.

Everything in life carries with it some form or degree of responsibility or requirement.  Always we shall be tested to see ‘how’ we will choose to fulfill what’s required of us, how we meet our responsibility.  

Adam and Eve were tested. Yes, we could blame their failure on the serpent.  Some still do. They failed the test and were held accountable. 

Teach your children and speak to yourself regarding the Garden of Eden narrative.  It’s also about taking ownership for the sins that are committed and then working to do better in an adult manner.  Part of the ‘test’ is seeing if we will choose to ‘grow up’ to fully acknowledge what it is we have done wrong, and to live into our authentic selves.  The Father wants His children to mature.  ‘Testing’ can lead to growth and maturity. 

How do we make good use of what God has provided and created?  God has given you life, health, money, friends, family, and love.  Equally important is this test; how do you handle forgiveness?  Do you forgive others?  Do you accept forgiveness?  Do you confess your transgressions? 

When God handed down His punishment to Adam and Eve, they stopped rebelling and continued living and growing.  They failed the test yet responded to God’s forgiveness and accountability.  

Psalm 32 tells us much about forgiveness.  “Blessed” is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. 

Sometimes our ‘transgressions’ are quite obvious.  Stealing, swearing, gossiping, coveting, dishonoring God, hurting others along the way.  At other times our sins are less obvious. 

A ‘temptation’ that can easily become a ‘transgression’ in any of our lives is our phones, a useful tool which tempts us all day long.  Having our phones at our fingertips erodes our peace.  Being constantly connected creates a distraction.  That distraction can be ‘away’ from others, significant others, around you who need to just ‘be’ with you.  Our constant connection to our phones creates unpredictability.  Your peaceful Saturday morning can take an abrupt turn because of an email or text that came over our phones.  In an instant, one’s life can be shifted from relaxation mode to work mode.  This unpredictability associated with our phones causes stress, insecurity, and a constant state of activation.  It’s hard to be ‘present’ with people when your phone competes for attention and response.  If you want to enjoy feelings of closeness, connection, and intimacy with your friends and family, you need to put away your phone.  Make some dedicated time during each day to set your phone aside and enjoy ‘life.’  Especially ‘life’ with others. 

Resist temptation.  Some years back we embraced the phrase, “Just say, “NO!”  Easier said than done, especially for people using drugs.  Yet resisting temptation, dealing favorably so with a test, begins with resisting the wrong and saying ‘No!’  Remember when you are tested; we are Christians.  We have the example of Jesus Christ to follow.  When Jesus was being tested in the wilderness, three times he quoted scriptures to deal with the devil’s temptations. He quoted from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, “One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Deuteronomy 8:3)  Next he quotes from Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”  Then, “The Lord your God shall you fear, him shall you serve.” (Deuteronomy 6:13) Each week within our bulletins there is a list of scripture quotes.  Study those quotes.  Memorize as many of them as you can.  It’s not only good for the soul.  Following Jesus’ example, we know scriptures help us to endure our tests and resist our temptations. 

Remember you have hope for dealing with testing.  Jesus sets an example for us to follow as we face temptations and deal with our times of being tested.  Ask for the Lord’s help and keep gaining further understanding.  Combine this with a full measure of willpower. 

During our current tax season we can relate to some times of testing and temptation in our society. Did you know that during the years of 1987 and 1990, eight million children disappeared in the United States?  However, not one of them was abducted.  Not one of them was kidnapped or harmed.  No.  Rather, in the year 1987, the Internal Revenue Service first began to require proof that children claimed as dependents actually existed.  Beginning in 1987, Social Security numbers were required on tax returns when dependents were claimed.  And suddenly, eight million children disappeared in America.  Temptation.  It is a constant companion and very real danger to everyone's life. 

Jesus knew the power of temptation.  He knew its allure for the human heart, and he knew the solution required more than willpower.  To be sure, it involves our will -- the will to resist temptation, the will to do what is right, the will to live more closely with Jesus and be a child of God.  For without that will power, without that resolve, there is little hope that we can ever overcome temptation and testing. 

During this Lenten season and beyond, make sure your heart is in the right place.  Fill your heart with the presence of God. 

Here are a few insights that will help: 

1. You are never alone.  Satan thought Jesus was alone, and Satan wants us to feel as though we are all alone. Recall this: the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness to face testing was also right there with him.  God’s Spirit is always with us as well.  Stay close to the family of God.  Whenever you are tempted to let your worship attendance slide, to make commitments that keep you apart from church, resist them.  They are the devil's way of pulling you apart and getting you alone.  When you begin to think you don't need others, that people at church are just a bunch of hypocrites, or worse yet, when you begin to feel that you can be just as good a Christian without worship and fellowship, cast aside those thoughts.  They are the devil's way of setting you up for a fall.  Never deal with temptation alone.

2.   Secondly, don't play with temptation.  It's real and deadly.  I think we often fool ourselves in thinking that temptation sneaks up on us.  It can do that, but it doesn't usually.  Most often, temptation comes right to the front door and rings the bell.  We know that it's wrong, and we know we shouldn't be doing it.  But we tell ourselves it doesn't matter.  Or that nobody will know.  Or worse yet, we try to convince ourselves that it really isn't wrong at all.  Human beings have an incredible ability to rationalize our way into trouble.  Recognize temptation when it comes calling and refuse to have anything to do with it.  Nip it in the bud and avoid it from the start. 

3.   Third and finally, lean on God's help to deal with temptation.  Remember that God wants us to live good lives, to do what is right, and to experience the fullness of life -- not the devil's empty promises.  And because of that, God stands ready to help in resisting temptation and in returning to God once we have fallen.  At the end of the gospel reading today, the Bible tells us that God sent angels to minister to Jesus.  They were there to help him, and they are here for us as well.  Be confident that God will help you.  Our God is a God of love -- a God who knows our weaknesses and our failings and loves us in spite of them.  Trust that God will see you through any temptation that may come your way. 

A group of mountain hikers came across an old woodsman with an axe on his shoulder.

"Where are you going?" they asked him.

"I'm headed up the mountain to get some wood to repair my cabin."

"But why are you going up the mountain?" they asked incredulously.  "There are plenty of trees all around us here."

"I know," he said, "but I need strong timber, and it grows only on the highest elevations, where the trees are tested and toughened by the weather around them.  The higher up you go, the stronger the timber grows." 

That is what God desires for us -- that through the winds of trial and the storms of temptation, we would grow strong and live on a higher level -- strong to resist the devil's urging, strong to serve God, and strong as we stand together in faith and service to one another.  Take my advice: stay close to each other, practice sincere forgiveness, worship regularly and often, avoid temptation when it comes your way, and fill your hearts with God's word.  Because if you do, you will grow strong in Jesus' name.  Amen.

Ash Wednesday - The Ashes of Hope 2/22/2023

Ash Wednesday Sermon

February 22, 2023 

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: “The Ashes of Hope” 

‘Ashes’ were once more common in our world.  In years past coal furnaces and coal stoves heated many homes.  Some were heated by wood-burning fireplaces.  As a hobby, I enjoy our fireplace insert that burns wood. 

Ashes are an eventual outcome from burning wood or coal.  Across the years folks would sometimes use leftover wood ashes as fertilizer for flowers and plants in the Spring. 

Ashes have a consistency part of which is light and fluffy, yet another part that can be dark, and coarse; even abrasive. 

Our ashes for tonight’s service are a combination of burned palm branches and ground charcoal.  Hopefully not abrasive to any of us. 

Ashes affirm the Biblical reminder, ‘From dust we have come and unto dust we shall return.’ (Genesis 3:19) 

While ashes might oftentimes be viewed as the residue, the leftovers of fire, they are also symbolic of hope. 

A brief story associated with ashes: 

Years ago my family was given the opportunity to move into a farmhouse in another school district.  The Conemaugh River was our dividing line between school districts.  I still recall saying goodbye to all of my teachers and classmates.  I think I was just 7 or 8 years old.  Our parents gave us 4 boys the weekend to move, unpack, and set-up our new bedrooms.  Because the farmhouse was big, we each were given our own bedroom.  The day before I was to start school in the new school district, our farmhouse caught on fire.  I assumed responsibility for my two-year-old brother, Walt, and kept him confined and protected in the outhouse.  It took a long time for the fire department to arrive.  The house could not be saved.  We moved back to our former house and familiar school district. 

In the Spring of the year we drove back to that burned down farmhouse just to ‘check things out’ and see if there was anything left to salvage. I still recall how impressed we were to see spring flowers growing out of the ashes of that farmhouse.  Those Easter flowers, lilies I believe, gave us hope. 

This Ash Wednesday consider God’s provision of ‘hope’ in your life and furthermore within our world. 

We shall explore scriptural texts during this season of Lent pertaining to Jesus’ life, teachings, ministry, cross, suffering, death, and resurrection.  For the Christian these solemn and serious subjects will provide a foundation for hope in this world and the next. 

At one point in Jesus’ life, as he hung upon the Cross, he called out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” 

Friends, when we feel ‘forsaken’ hope becomes greatly challenged. 

The greatest hope we have is for salvation, the salvation of our souls.  Lent serves to remind us, solemnly so, that Jesus Christ came for salvation, not condemnation. 

Many folks, then and now, would like to define Jesus as a judge, a ruler, or even an executioner.  Yet Jesus reminds us he came to save the world, not to condemn the world.  (John 3:17) 

Ashes remind us of the basics of life and of faith.  When it’s all ‘said and done’ from dust we have come and unto dust we shall return. 

Like Jesus, sometimes we, too, feel forsaken.  Where is God in the midst of this ongoing international war in Ukraine?  Where is the Lord in the midst of shooters taking innocent lives, expressing their disdain in such violent ways?  Have you discovered or perhaps rediscovered ‘hope’ among the ashes of your life’s circumstances? 

God reminds us to turn to Him.  If we have been distant from Him, come home.  If it is sin that has separated us, now is the time to do something about it.  THIS is the season. 

In ancient times, folks who sought to follow God but sometimes failed would ‘rend their garments’ as a sign of sadness and sorrow for their sins.  This meant they would tear their clothing as a sign, a symbol.  The signification of rending the garments is mourning, sadness, sorrow, or even repentance.  We do read in the Bible of persons rending their garments also as a sign of mourning or repentance of sin.  

God insists we return to him with all of our hearts, with fasting and weeping and mourning.  “Rend your hearts and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God.”  (Joel 2:12, 13) God wants to see and know where we are coming from in our hearts as we turn to Him for hope. 

When the world seems as ashes, return to the Lord; come home to God. 

Some folks do that quite well.  Others do not. Some will not. 

When the ‘worst’ happens to us in our lives, how do we handle it?  Do we return to God or forsake God? 

Every Ash Wednesday as I am called to impose ashes on the hands of people who come to worship and begin Lent together, I am humbled and somberly reminded that some whom I touch with the sign of the cross will far outlive me.  My personal human suffering has served to well remind me of my human limitations as I journey through this world.  Also, as I impose ashes, I am reminded of some whom I will be called upon to transition from this life unto the next.  

Yet ashes give us hope for sustaining grace during this lifetime.  Ashes serve to further remind us of the graciousness of God.  

Ashes, in their own way, remind us, solemnly so, of the presence of our God in life. 

When all else is gone, diminished, consumed, even burned up, God still remains present, uplifting, and renewing even from the ashes. 

Practice a Holy and meaningful season of Lent this year.  Yes, it does begin tonight with the imposition of ashes.  Tonight’s ashes remind us where we’ve come from and where we’re going.  The in-between time we call ‘life.’  

Remember during these next 40 days of some good you can do, some Lenten practices you can observe.  Doing so can bring hope. 

Give to the needy. Do follow the Bible’s method of giving. Don’t announce nor make a big deal of what you are giving or who you might be giving to.  I favor this Biblical analogy, “When you give to the needy, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  (Matthew 6:3,4) 

Like ‘ashes’ the needy feel consumed, used up, exhausted of meaning.  Our giving provides hope.  Do consider our One Great Hour of Sharing Offering that we will be contributing to throughout this season of Lent.  Only God knows who we shall help in doing so.  Remember, someone somewhere will be thanking God for you, even though they know not who you are.  Giving provides hope when life feels like ashes. 

Practice prayer during Lent.  Neither for show nor for glory.  Not to ‘get on the good side’ with God in heaven.  Prayer is to be birthed from the heart and soul.  Prayer moves us more than it moves God.  Pray much in private.  Pray ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ just as Jesus taught us all, ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” 

Think about ‘what’ you are praying, “Forgive us our debts, forgive us our trespasses, forgive us our sins, even AS we forgive others.”  Lack of forgiveness is like a heap of ashes.  Forgiveness brings hope, even out of the ashes. 

Lent is a time for fasting, giving up something.  Here is an idea: take one of those One Great Hour of Sharing banks home with you.  If you choose to ‘give up’ candy, for instance, instead of buying yourself some candy, place the money you would have spent on candy in one of these banks.  The point being, set aside something that will benefit and even provide some hope for another. 

‘Fasting’ during the Lenten season can take the form of refraining from candy, donuts, cigarettes, swearing, giving up one meal per week, etc. Again, let’s remember tonight what God teaches us concerning fasting. Do not make a big deal of it.  Do not make it a public display.  Do it quietly, even in secret.  Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you. 

Fasting is to be done to remind us to pray, meditate, reflect, and perhaps repent.  The ‘yearning’ that takes place when we ‘fast’ or ‘give-up’ something further reminds us, first-hand, that we are to be doing something new, more, or better with our lives; repent, set aside some offerings, study faith more, draw closer to God, His Son, and the Church. 

I have a very unusual problem to share with you.  Leastwise it may seem unusual to many. This past year I met and discussed with three different souls their attitude towards money.  Many say they don’t have enough ‘money.’  These three souls, each in their own way, tell me money is a problem.  It just gets in the way.  Although they have worked hard to earn their money, they now identify it as more of a distraction and even a destructive thing.  They tell me they have accumulated so much but miss what was fulfilling throughout their lives; having to trust, needing to work, striving to provide while seeking purpose and meaning for ‘being here.’  Perhaps you can identify with these three who rose from the ashes of despair and have blossomed. 

Long ago God provided us with spiritual guidance for dealing with ashes and with abundance. The Father references “treasures in heaven” where neither moths nor vermin can destroy and where thieves cannot break in and steal. 

Many years ago, an old black Ford sedan arrived at our old house.  We had moved back into our 4-room shack, kind of with our tails between our legs having lost everything except the clothes on our backs, when that farmhouse fire occurred.  The two people who got out of that smoky old Ford said they were with the Salvation Army and had come to help us out.  My School teachers and my Sunday School teachers also came by, welcomed us back and opened their arms.  The church was ‘right there’ also.  We reaffirmed ‘who’ our neighbors were, plus our family.

Out of those ashes we one day saw faith, and that gave us so much hope. 

God, in our lives, is not a by-word but a sustaining hope in the most forsaken feeling of circumstances.  Actually, we have never been without hope.  Sometimes we simply need to remember and choose to turn back to God.  Remember where we’ve come from and to whom we are going.  

Please take some time, some purposeful and meaningful time, to observe a Holy Lent.

You will receive ashes and be blessed by hope.  Amen. 

Reflective Prayer:  We thank you, Lord, that you are not impressed with how great a show we make in public, but how great a change we make in our lives as disciples committed to the work of your kingdom.  Amen.

When Heaven Meets Earth 2/18/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 18, 2023 & Sunday, February 19, 2023 

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:  Matthew 17:1-9 (page 983) & Psalm 121 (page 616) 

Sermon Message: “When Heaven Meets Earth” 

Within the Bible there are various accounts of where it seems as though heaven meets earth.  Perhaps most familiar to us is the birth of Jesus Christ; when the angels sang, the nativity occurred, and the wise men visited.  Looking back a bit further into the Old Testament we might also recall the occasion when Moses saw God in the burning bush, and heaven met earth as the Lord spoke with Moses.  Among other accounts of ‘heaven meeting earth’ we have today’s narrative of the Transfiguration. 

One day, Jesus called Peter, James, and John and said, “Hey, let’s go for a walk.”  They followed Jesus up a trail in the hills and ended up on top of a big mountain.  Peter, James, and John just stood there looking around.  You have probably been on top of a mountain or a big hill before. Sometimes you can see a really long way from up high like that, can’t you?  Well, Peter, James, and John could see all the way across the sea from there.  They could look down and point at their hometown from there, and even their houses.  But then they saw something they did not expect to see at all on that mountain.  When one of them turned to tell Jesus that they could see their house, they saw that two more people were standing next to Jesus.  And they saw that Jesus’ clothes were really bright, and it looked like his face was shining.  They were really surprised.  And then they heard a voice from somewhere say that they shouldn’t be afraid, and that Jesus was God’s own son.  That would surely be a big surprise, wouldn’t it?  After a few minutes, the two other people left, and Jesus looked like Jesus again.  Then Jesus said, “Let’s go back home.” 

There is a special name for this story.  We call it the Transfiguration story.  If something is transfigured, it means it looks like something different.  It changes what it looks like.  So, why do you think we call this story the Transfiguration story? Because Jesus changed and looked like something else.  His clothes got all white and bright, and his face shined.  He was transfigured because God had come to be with him on that mountain.  He looked different because God was with him.  It was a time when heaven met earth. 

Some years ago, I tried to kind of ‘illustrate’ this during a Children’s Moment using a flashlight.  Shining a light on our faces sure makes us look ‘different’ doesn’t it?  When I shined that flashlight on my face, you might say I was ‘transfigured’.  My ‘ordinary’ face became illuminated, but just by a flashlight and not by God. Wouldn’t it be special if there were a way we could tell if God was with us like that?

I think it would be special if somehow when we are afraid, hurt, or lonely, we could know for sure that God was right there with us.  Have you ever been afraid, or hurt, or lonely, or sick, and someone came to take care of you and help you feel better?  Maybe they brought you something, or just stayed with you and talked with you, or hugged you and their faces didn’t get all lit up and bright, but they showed us that God was with them because of the way they took care of us.  Sometimes when heaven meets earth, it’s very bright and even dramatic.  At other times not so much, yet, quite meaningful. 

Jesus was transfigured to show Peter, James, and John that God was there with him.  But if we want to show people that God is with us, we don’t need lights or bright clothes, do we?  Just like those people who helped us when we were afraid, or hurt, or sick, or lonely, we might not glow when we help take care of each other, but they will see that God is with us. 

On the other hand, we all have had what we call "mountaintop" experiences in our lives -- times when we feel we have overcome great challenges or risen above the cares of the world.  These are moments in which we feel we are changed forever.  As we gather to celebrate the Sunday of the Transfiguration, we encounter this type of experience in the gospel account.  While we know that the disciples were changed forever by witnessing this awesome display, the question remains:  Are we changed?  When we come into the presence of God in worship, do we climb down the mountain the same as when we ascended? 

‘Mountains’ are good insights and metaphors for most of us.  I was born and raised near Johnstown, PA.  Every once in a while, when I go back to my hometown, I am amazed at the tallness and the strength I perceive of the mountains around that area. 

In the Bible the Psalmist proclaims, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains - where does my help come from?” (Psalm 121:1)  He then goes on to proclaim, “My help comes from the Lord the Maker of heaven and earth.” 

Sometimes it seems as though the mountains around us touch heaven.  It further seems as though heaven is touching the mountains at times. 

Within the Bible we are called upon to follow the example of Jesus, of Moses, and others who ascended the mountain, stood on the summit, took in the breathtaking scenery, and felt heaven and earth.  

Mountains have long stood as a metaphor for human aspiration. 

Within today’s scripture lesson we learn of Jesus climbing a mountain.  He was glorified.  His appearance changed; his clothing became dazzling white.  His few companions with him were blessed with an unforgettable vision not only of who he is, but also of how God can transform the ordinary into the sacred, the holy. 

This is part of what we should be expecting, hoping for, and preparing ourselves to be open to each Sunday morning as we come together for worship. 

The view from the mountaintop symbolizes for us not only clarity of vision, but also hope for the future.  Peter, James, and John were with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.  They were ‘hoping’ for greater understanding of Jesus, of heaven and earth.  Most likely, they did not fully understand what was happening until later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Sometimes that’s how it is for us also.  Heaven and earth, even the Lord Jesus might be ‘right there’ before us, yet we don’t see, fully appreciate, or understand until much later after we have walked with Jesus down in the valley. 

Ash Wednesday occurs this week.  Will this be a walk through the Valley of the Shadow or perceived as a significant mountaintop experience?  Either way, may I suggest we open our souls to experience this Ash Wednesday as a spiritual time where heaven meets earth.  Recall the words spoken as ashes are received: “From dust you have come and unto dust you shall return.”  

We each have our mountaintop experiences.  Maybe you went on a mission trip, volunteered at the local food pantry, delivered Meals on Wheels or dealt with the death of a loved one, and experienced closeness to God and heaven.  Perhaps you battled with cancer and overcame it or lost a job and still found God’s ways for moving on.  Maybe your mountaintop experience rose up from the ashes of the struggle and the fire you walked through in the valley below.  

Truth remains, when we taste of the bread of life with Jesus, we are transfigured, changed for the better.  It becomes a meeting of heaven and earth. 

Just as going out into the wilderness for forty days prepared Jesus to begin his ministry, so going up onto the Mount of Transfiguration prepared him to conclude his ministry by setting his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) and all that awaited him there. 

As we begin Lent this Wednesday with our Ash Wednesday service, we need to remember that we each have our own, God-given ministry -- at home, at work, at school, or wherever we may go.  This certainly will include praying for those around us and showing them the kind of concern and care that our Lord has for us and for them. 

Ash Wednesday occurs at 7:00 p.m. It will be dark when you come to church for Ash Wednesday.  It will be dark when you leave the service.  The season of Lent seems to be sort of a ‘dark’ time, a humble time, a sacrificial time.  We are to be quiet and meditative, reflective, and even repentive.  Walking with Jesus is not always a mountaintop experience.  But it does always lead us onward and upward to the light.  

Walking with Jesus this Lenten season shall involve ‘giving up’ something and perhaps doing something ‘more’ or even ‘better’ for our soul’s sake.  During Lent our lives shall encounter Christ, sometimes within others.  For all of us, Lent serves as a reminder of our common journey through life; from dust we have come and unto dust we shall return.  Christ in our lives shall transfigure us from who we are into whom God continues to call and create us to be.  May we pray to be transfigured.  Perhaps not glowing but sincerely being changed into something more and better for the Lord’s sake. 

There’s an old rabbinic story that is retold in several versions.  For some Jewish denominations certain prayers are to be recited at dawn; but dawn, unlike sunrise, can be difficult to determine, so some students ask their rabbi, “How light does it have to be to constitute dawn?”  The rabbi turns the question back to the students.  They give various answers.  One says, “When I can see two animals in the field, and I can tell the cow from the horse.”  Another says, “When I can tell a fig tree from an olive tree.”  And a third said, “When I see a person and can tell if that person is a woman or a man.” 

“No,” said the rabbi, “When you can see a person and know that person is your brother or your sister, then the night is over, and the new day has dawned.”  As we recognize God’s love with others, heaven meets earth.  Sometimes dramatically so, at other times in the ordinary and mundane parts of our lives. 

Sometimes when we do experience heaven meeting earth, we get all excited at the moment.  That’s kind of what happened with those disciples up on the mountain with Jesus.  Peter got so excited he wanted to build three shelters:  one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.  Jesus wanted them to seize the moment, when heaven met earth, but those three wanted to freeze the moment instead.  Sometimes we do that in our churches.  We recall a significant group or event, and that’s all we can talk about.  Yet, the Lord’s ministry continues on beyond the group, beyond the event. 

The ‘main attraction’ for Jesus was not the mountaintop experience.  Jesus himself disclosed that heaven and earth would come together at his crucifixion.  He said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.” 

My friends, be prepared; become prepared to draw near to the Cross of Jesus Christ.  It was the most significant time in earth’s history when heaven met earth.  

Don’t look for the drama.  Look instead for the presence.  Heaven still meets earth, and when it does, we are transfigured.  Amen.

Be a Better Christian 2/12/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 11, 2023 & Sunday, February 12, 2023 

Prayer For Illumination: O God, what the world says and what you say are often at odds.  Set before us now your truth as we hear your Word and as we respond in faithful trust.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Matthew 5:21-37 (page 969) & Romans 12:9-21 (page 1137) 

Sermon Message: “Be a Better Christian” 

Our congregation today just doesn’t compare to the congregation that will be assembled tonight at 6:30 p.m. when it is ‘kick-off’ for the Super Bowl.  Thousands will be watching, enthusiastically so.  Undoubtedly, prayers will be lifted up for ‘your’ team to win.  

This is to be a time to relax, eat lots of snacks, and watch ‘the game.’  It’s not wrong to ‘pray’ for your team to win.  Just remember, the game has to be played, and at the end of the day someone has to lose, and someone will win. 

There’s always going to be ‘right and wrong’ moves in football and in life.  We’re going to see some things that make us celebrate and other things that shall make us downright angry.  

The enthusiasm of ‘the game’; relaxing, eating, and enjoying, isn’t supposed to get compromised by ‘what goes wrong’ along the way. 

Life is to be good.  God created life good and called us to enjoy ‘life.’ 

Akin to football there are rules to be followed and fulfilment to be gained.  

When things go wrong, as they sometimes do, it’s good to take a look at what went wrong, what ‘broke down,’ and strive to make things better. 

Back in the day, back in Jesus’ days here on earth, he, too, drew a large crow.  Sometimes just a few, and at other times hundreds, even thousands of followers. 

Folks were hearing different ‘rules’ from different ‘teams’ back then.  There were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Romans.  Some were stricter than others regarding how to live, practice religion, and function in society. 

Jesus called attention to these strict teachings and how they effected the ordinary person.  The common folks realized some things just were not ‘right.’  Some aspects of their culture and religious outlooks weren’t even fair.  Too many of the ordinary people felt overwhelmed, burdened, and even intimidated by what they were experiencing. 

It is a heavy burden to be poor, in spirit.  Mourning with very little hope in sight is overwhelming.  The meek are sometimes trampled underfoot or simply left out and forgotten altogether.

Jesus reminds them to ‘be better’ and to ‘do better’.  Be the salt of the earth and be the light of the world.  Be better than those who put you down, oppress you, or even hurt you.  For you belong to God.  Your Father loves you and calls you by name.  He who created you will sustain you. 

Jesus understood things sometimes go wrong and people do sin.  So it is, he pushes us to think about ‘why’ we sin.  Dig a little deeper.  Think a bit harder.  Reflect, realize, and reform yourself. 

Jesus is a teacher.  As such, he reminds the people of something they were all taught long ago; do not murder.  You and I learned that same lesson.  We still reference it as one of the Ten Commandments, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ 

Ok Jesus, we remember learning the commandments.  Notice what Jesus says next, “But I tell you anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”  The Jewish religious leaders back then taught the letter and the law of the commandment but somehow seemed to be overlooking the root cause behind it.  The Jewish law back then prohibited the sinful act, not the sinful thought. 

If you are a parent, you might well remember a time or two when one of your kids hurt you when they said, “I hate you!”  Some children carry it a bit farther and harshly say, “I wish you were dead!”  

Recall that somewhat helpful ‘saying’, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  

Jesus reminds us even our thoughts about harming another make us guilty in the eyes of God. 

Murder, killing, isn’t only the physical act.  Jesus is striving to teach us to think better and be better.  Breaking someone’s heart is wrong.  It’s a form of murder.  Think before you act. 

Saying ‘Raca’ to another is wrong.  Calling someone names that are hurtful and inciteful is wrong.  Every person alive has a God given, God birthed integrity as a child of God.  Regardless of age.  Malicious slanders and hurtful criticism are tongue murder.  Poison under the tongue. 

Anger can lead to sin, harsh sin, even murder of various sorts.  Be a better Christian for God’s sake.  Be a better Christian in your fear of the Lord.  Be a better Christian for the sake of love. 

There remains dreadful punishment for the harm we boldly do, the sin we intentionally commit.  

Carefully preserve Christian love and peace with all our brothers and sisters.  If at any time some breach happens, labor for reconciliation.  Jesus was serious about people becoming better Christians than those who came before them. 

The Lord went on to teach us to do some serious reflecting and self-examination.  The best religious occasions, if performed in wrath, are not acceptable to God.  Prayers made in wrath are written in gall. 

God calls us to sacrificial living yet reminds us that what is better is love, kindness, forgiveness, and reconciliation. 

Some folks will not come to church nor to communion because they are ‘at odds’ with their neighbor.  Whose fault is that?  One sin will not excuse another but will rather double the guilt.  “Don’t let the sun go down upon your anger.”  This means to get over it quickly.  Extend forgiveness in short order.  Don’t harbor a hatred or carry a grudge. 

Jesus teaches us his spiritual wisdom.  “Settle matters quickly with your adversary before it escalates and you do something wrong, commit some sin, or end up in court. 

God appreciates our worship and our offerings.  Jesus reminds us: God first and foremost expects us to be at peace.  Be a better Christian.  Move your soul, train your mind to a more humble submission. Anger produces more fear and harm than it does peace, security, or love.  

If you are angry with God, strive quickly to be reconciled. Choosing not to reconcile with God or others is a prison.  Hell is a terrible prison of the soul. 

Jesus further teaches about adultery.  Again, Jesus affirms, it isn’t just the act of adultery that is wrong, it’s what’s in the heart in the first place that is wrong.  Lust means looking at another in such a way that we feel entitled to take advantage of them.  Jesus remains pretty direct in teaching us that we may need to take strong measures within ourselves to overcome this sin. He shares the illustrations of “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out.” Please do NOT literally do that.  Instead realize Jesus is teaching us ‘lust’ in its many forms, looking at another in such a way we feel entitled to take advantage of them, requires some pretty serious work inside of ourselves to overcome this particular sin and sinful attitude.  Be a better Christian.  

Jesus addresses divorce.  He saw it back then as a sin that needs to be confessed and forgiven.  It was so easy in Biblical times for a man to give his wife a certificate of divorce, freeing him to pursue another.  Jesus taught against the adultery involved.  Marriage continues to remain sacred.  It is not to be taken lightly.  Consider the causes behind divorce. Be a better Christian.  Strive to work at love and reconciliation when possible. 

Jesus reminds people that we are not to swear.  Generally, we think of swearing as ‘saying a bad word.’  That is partly the definition of swearing.  In today’s scriptures, Jesus refers to this as breaking an oath, dishonoring a vow, irreverence to heaven and here on earth.  Remember God’s middle name is not ‘damn!’  “Jesus Christ Almighty” are supposed to be words of reverence and wholesome, healthy, awesome fear and respect of God, not maligning, provocative, or hurtful. 

Look at what’s behind the words you say and how you say them.  You and I are responsible for what comes out of our mouths.  

Keep your thoughts, your words, and your actions thoughtful, meaningful, and simple.  Jesus reminds us, all of us, “Let your ‘Yes’ be Yes and your ‘no’ be no.”  Be a better Christian. 

Some positive ways to become a better Christian; Let your love be sincere, stay far away from evil.  Cling to what is good.  Be excited about your faith.  You are a Christian.  That’s something wonderful and wondrous in and of itself!  May there be joy in knowing you have hope unlike many in the world who struggle to find hope.  You have patience because of your faith, even in affliction.  You can pray. Share with the Lord’s people.  

Bless, don’t curse others.  Help those who mourn.  Choose to live in harmony, not strife.  Don’t be proud.  Associate with the lowly.  Don’t be conceited.  Don’t repay anyone with evil for evil.  Instead do what you know in your heart and soul is right stemming from the Lord’s love inside of you.  Don’t take revenge; instead, leave room for God to act in His time and His ways. 

As strange as it may sound, the Bible still teaches us to feed our enemies, give them something to drink, don’t be overcome by evil. 

Be the better Christian in these ways, and you have already ‘communed’ with God in your heart and soul.  Amen.

Bringing Out The Best In Others 2/4/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 4, 2023 & Sunday, February 5, 2023 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, illumine these words by your Spirit that we might hear what you would have us hear and be who you would have us be, for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Matthew 5:13-20 (page 969) and Psalm 112:1-10 (page 607) 

Sermon Message: “Bringing Out the Best in Others” 

Children are special to observe.  Sometimes they bring the grandest of insights into the deeper meaning of life without even knowing it.  I came across this story about some kids playing in the front yard when a fire truck zoomed past.  The fire truck had a mascot dog, a Dalmatian, with its black and white spots sitting on the front seat beside the driver.  It was a beautiful dog, from what the kids could see.  So it was they tried figuring out why the dog was there.  

One five-year old said, “I know, they use him to keep the crowds back when there is a fire.”  “No,” said another, ‘he’s there for good luck!”  The third child, a whole six years old, was very definite about his answer.  He said, “I know why he’s there.  They use him to find the fire hydrant!” 

So, the next time you wonder that age-old question, “Why am I here?” just know there are plenty of ‘answers’ available. 

We all do ponder some questions about life.  Some go deeper than others.  

Last week we shared in a message regarding the blessings of baptism.  Coinciding with that message were Jesus’ words, His teachings regarding ‘being blessed.’  Those teachings are referenced as the ‘Beatitudes.’  Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and so on.  Those words, His message, occurred in a sermon Jesus once preached. 

Jesus was by the Sea of Galilee, and a big crowd of people came to hear what he was going to say.  They wanted so much to hear from Jesus because lots of ‘bullies’ back then were giving them a hard time regarding their choosing to listen to Jesus and do the things he was teaching them.  ‘Bullies’ such as the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Romans.  These groups had some very strict rules they required everyone to follow.  If you questioned their rules or did not follow them, they could be pretty nasty with you sometimes.  Some of their rules prohibited you from helping certain people if they were sick, or that you could not sit with some people or even talk to them.  If you dared to question or break their rules, they’d threaten you, pick on you, make fun of you, and even some worse things. 

Some of the people who came to hear Jesus wanted to do the things he asked them to do, but they were afraid and just wanted to keep it a secret and not let anyone know that they believed in what Jesus was saying.  Jesus understood what they were feeling.  So it was he said to them, “You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

Occasionally I get a notion to look up a ‘different’ recipe to make for Patty and me.  I do not well recall the recipe, but I know it had to do with boiling pasta and spinach in water for a while and then adding some salt.  So I did.  I figured a little salt goes a long way; why not give it another ‘shake’ or two?  I think it ended up tasting like cooked seaweed, and we both had to drink an awful lot of water that night after my ‘experimental’ recipe! 

I had over-salted the pasta water, effectively ruining the dish.  We suffered through that meal!  Patty sometimes says I am the better cook between the two of us.  However, that story will remain as part of our family lore!  O the power of salt.  Throughout history salt has played a significant role in people’s lives. 

An ancient king once asked his three daughters how much they loved him.  One daughter said she loved him more than all the gold in the world.  One said she loved him more than all the silver in the world.  The youngest daughter said she loved him more than salt.  The king was not pleased with this answer.  But the cook overheard the conversation, so the next day he prepared a good meal for the king but left out the salt.  The food was so bland that the king couldn’t eat it.  Then he understood what his daughter meant.  He understood the value of salt. 

In the ancient world salt was a valuable and scarce commodity.  It was used as currency in some countries even into modern times.  During an invasion of Ethiopia in the late 19th century, Italian soldiers found blocks of salt stored in bank vaults along with other familiar forms of currency.  Jesus was paying his disciples a compliment when he called them salt. 

Salt can also act as a preservative.  It can clean and heal wounds.  In portions of the Old Testament salt also represented sacrifice (Leviticus 2:13; Ezekiel 42:24), plus covenant fidelity (Ezra 4:14; Numbers 18:19).  Throughout the Bible eating together is a way of creating a binding relationship.  Even Holy Communion further connotes this binding relationship. 

Being the ‘salt of the earth’ was so much more than a compliment from Jesus.  He was teaching them how to make a difference in people’s lives for the kingdom of God.  How to make life better for others.  Being ‘salt’ certainly helps to bring out the best in others. 

Think about it, salt helps to cleanse, to preserve, and to bind.  By nature of being a follower of Jesus, we bring out the best in others. 

Jesus said, "You're here to be salt-seasoning," or as some other versions put it, "You are the salt of the earth."  Salt is a very common, ordinary ingredient.  We can find it on virtually every table and in every kitchen cabinet.  When we buy it in the grocery store, it's quite inexpensive. 

However, salt has an important role.  I know some of us don't use it for health reasons, and probably most of us shouldn't use as much as we do, but salt makes an important contribution when it comes to eating.  Why do we put salt on our food?  We usually use it to enhance the flavor of what we're eating.  Salt is a seasoning that adds a little zest to food, and it also enhances the flavor of the other ingredients.  As our Bible passage suggests, it "brings out the God-flavors."

What would that mean if we applied it to human beings?  What would it mean to think that part of our purpose in life is to be "salt-seasoning," "the salt of the earth"? 

If salt adds a little zest and brings out the flavors of other things, then maybe that's what we're supposed to do in the human realm.  Maybe we're here to spice up life and help others by bringing out their particular flavors -- their uniqueness, their gifts and talents, and to help them simmer to perfection.  

It seems to me that one of the ways in which we can do that is by encouraging and nurturing other people.  We can offer positive reinforcement and feedback.  We can help others discover their gifts and enhance their lives by helping them grow. 

Jesus most often walked when traveling about.  His disciples were often times right by his side.  Sometimes entire crowds of people would follow Jesus.  One day while walking, Jesus stopped and pointed at the big hill that was behind them.  He then pointed to the top of the hill.  He asked them if they could see the city that was up on top of the hill.  They all knew the city he was talking about.  In fact, some of the people were from that city and had walked from there that morning. 

It was not a great big city, but it was in an important place because just on the other side of it was a big highway called The Kings’ Highway.  That was a road that was built a long time ago by the Egyptians.  It was one of the main roads from Egypt all the way to Asia.  People traveled that road from all around the world, all kinds of people, and they all liked to stop in the little city for food and other things, just like we do when we go on a trip. 

But it was different at night when it got dark.  If there were robbers or other enemies who were traveling on the road, they traveled at night so no one would see them.  So at night, the highway was a dangerous place.  Because of that, the people in the city had a rule that no one in town could have lights shining at night.  The rules said that if you had a light on, you had to hide it under a basket so it wasn’t bright enough for anyone to see it from the road.  They said the entire town had to stay nice and dark so the dangerous bullies passing by might not see the city by the highway and would just walk on past.  Everyone Jesus was talking to knew about the city and how they hide their lights. 

Then Jesus looked around at the people who were with him by the sea and told them that a city on a hill cannot be hidden, and that everyone should shine their light for others to see.  They all knew that Jesus wasn’t really talking about the city anymore, but was talking about them.  They knew that Jesus was asking them to trust God and not hide what they were doing because they were afraid of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Romans.  He was asking them to instead intentionally work at bringing out the best in others.

Friends, as Christians, we are to let our light shine so we can show everyone how God wants us to take care of each other. 

Psalm 112 evidences some ways that we can perhaps bring out the best in others.  Help others to respectfully fear the Lord.  They will live well.  Show others the benefits you have found from following God’s commands.  Let people see how your children benefitted from being nurtured in the Christian faith.  Acknowledge that it is God who has given us blessings of income, accomplishments, and possessions.  Being right, doing right, and living right are like light shining in the darkness.  Be gracious and compassionate.  Strive to remain generous and conduct all of your business affairs in just and ethical manners.  Be remembered for being good, doing good, and helping others to become the same. 

Be strong and sincere in faith.  Especially work at helping other souls to become strong in faith.  You will be remembered for bringing out the best (of faith) in others.  

Help others to trust God in tough times, to not fear bad news.  May our hearts remain steadfast, trusting in the Lord, overcoming fears with faith. Teach others that faith is secure and strong.  In the end God will triumph.  Even over our enemies. 

Share what you have, especially so with the poor.  Your soul will be honored. 

Share faith.  Provide testimony, in your own way, as to how God has ‘seen you through.’  This becomes one of the most powerful sermons others will see and receive.  

Showing someone a shaker of salt is not the same as providing them with some salt to flavor, to enhance, to season, to help bring out the best in them. 

Turning a light on is one thing.  Helping a soul to ‘see’ God in their midst is another thing altogether. 

We sometimes journey through paths of suffering and wonder why?  It may sometimes feel as though we are all alone at sea, adrift in the mighty ocean on our small lifeboat striving just to survive. 

Remember, God visits us, Jesus comes, angels minister, and something salts our souls, shines in the very darkness of our lives, and kindles the hope of faith. 

It doesn’t take much to flavor another’s faith and float their lives.  Sometimes just a spark will help to bring out the best in another.  Be that spark. 

In the darkness of this season of the year, bring out the God-colors for the world to see.  Don’t hide your light, especially so when it is needed. 

You are the salt of the earth.  Don’t lose your saltiness.  You are the light of the world.  

Daily strive to bring out the best in others that your good deeds may glorify your Father in heaven.  Amen.

The Blessings of Baptism 1/29/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 28, 2023 & Sunday, January 29, 2023 

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: Matthew 5:1-12 (page 968) and Galatians 3:26,27 (page 1169) 

Sermon Message: “The Blessings of Baptism” 

Basic to our Christian faith is baptism.  We affirm baptism to be a sacrament because it is sacred.  Jesus Christ was baptized.  God the Father was pleased.  God blessed Jesus when he was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  Perhaps you recall the story of Jesus’ baptism from the Bible?  Jesus, who was without sin, presented himself to John the Baptist to be baptized in the Jordan River.  John initially resisted, for he felt Jesus should be baptizing him, not the other way around.  John complied and baptized Jesus that day in the Jordan River.  When Jesus arose from the waters of baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, from heaven.  Then an audible voice from heaven, the voice of God the Father, spoke declaring and affirming, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  

Further consider the blessing of baptism for Jesus Christ.  He fulfilled the Father’s will.  He pleased the Father.  He was blessed by receiving the Holy Spirit.  God spoke to him. A further blessing of Jesus’ baptism was that of setting an example, a holy and sacred example, of how we can and should please God.  When we obey God, we are blessed. 

Today, we baptized little Reese to the glory of God.  Her baptism included water, prayer, love and anointing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Today, Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit and completed this Sacrament of Baptism anointing her soul and touching her life. 

Jesus received the blessings of baptism.  He was anointed with water.  The Holy Spirit further entered him, touched him, and began guiding him even more.  Today we trust God’s Holy Spirit will further touch and guide this precious little girl whose baptism we witnessed and shared. 

Baptism is a blessing in heaven and on earth.  Heaven ‘sees’ when baptism takes place. 

A further blessing of baptism is becoming aware that one of the nearest and dearest things to heaven is a child. 

Jesus taught us that we must become ‘as a child’ in our faith if we are to receive the kingdom of heaven.  Today’s scripture lesson affirms “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:26,27) 

Children need to be taught ‘the basics’ about God, faith, and religion.  Adults need to become ‘child-like’ in our sincerity, dedication, and love.  Today’s message applies to all ‘children of God.’ 

The Old Testament book of Proverbs is full of Godly wisdom.  For instance, Proverbs 22:6 conveys this wisdom, “Start children off in the way they should go and even when they are older, they will not turn from it.” 

Someone somewhere conveyed such Godly wisdom to this family that brought their child here today to be baptized. 

The things you were taught when you were a child are still with you.  Part of ‘the way you should go’ is still leading and guiding your lives.  ‘Things’ such as the Ten Commandments.  Things such as the narratives of the birth of Jesus Christ, his baptism, his teachings, his life with us, his suffering upon the cross, his death, and oh yes, his resurrection. You see, Jesus lives still inside our hearts and souls.  He taught us what it is to have a more blessed life. 

Some of the ‘basics’ Jesus taught us and we glean from the Bible are the Beatitudes.  These teachings of Jesus remind us of how we are blessed. 

At first glance we might think “oh, not so much!” Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted.  Most folks never ‘long’ to be poor.  Nor do we look forward to mourning, becoming ‘meek’ and so on. 

Sometimes we understand the word ‘blessed’ to mean merely an expression of good wishes.  For Christians the word ‘blessed’ is most often defined as divine favor either received or invoked upon oneself or another. 

I know some folks believe ‘blessed’ means having more material things than you can possibly use or consume.  That’s mostly a human definition attempting to be applied to a spiritual truth and teaching. 

God’s truth remains; we are blessed to be a blessing.  

A funny and peculiar example of this: we have been experiencing this ‘rain changing to snow’ kind of weather and back again.  At our house I insist on putting down a lot of ice melt on our approaching sidewalks and driveway.  I just don’t want to fall, you see.  So, I walk cautiously when I go outside and when I return inside.  I kick my shoes off near the entryway door.  If I happen to come in through our garage, some of the ice melt and slush tends to follow me.  Poor Patty!  To make matters worse, I sometimes wear a different set of shoes or boots because the others are now wet.  Every once in a while, my beloved will get kind of exasperated and say something like “O Thomas you’re getting quite a collection of shoes here!” OR, “I just cleaned that floor!”  She’s not too pleased when I come back at her with, “But Patty, I am your blessing!  Remember you prayed for me.  Here I am, the answer to your prayers.  Your blessing dear!” 

That’s probably not so much what Jesus was referencing when he met with his disciples and shared these blessings of his, what we still refer to as the Beatitudes.  Pay attention to the basics of our faith.  Read, review, and further ‘digest’ these faith basics known as the Beatitudes.  Upon first review, these particular teachings of Jesus may seem like some sort of upside-down sermon. Blessed are the poor (in spirit), those who mourn, the meek, and so on. 

These ‘blessings’ of Jesus, commonly known as ‘the Beatitudes,’ are not primarily prescriptions of how we ought to behave.  Rather, they are declarations of blessedness for those who don’t feel blessed.  Jesus pronounces grace on those who need it.  When God sees you poor, mourning, meek, and so on, Jesus proclaims God sees and will seek to bless you towards a much greater ultimate reality. 

Sometimes God’s ‘blessings’ are far different than our expectations.  

A few years back, some of you might remember, I was quite honored to baptize here in our church, several of our grandchildren plus my son-in-law.  The time was so meaningful to Patty and me.  Afterwards, when we went home for Sunday dinner, I thanked my family for the honor and the sacred reality of sharing in Christian baptism.  My dear son-in-law spoke to me stating he didn’t really ‘feel’ anything when he was baptized.  There was no dove from heaven or voice of God from behind the clouds.  We all lovingly smiled and shared with him that’s not the blessings of baptism we should anticipate.  For Jesus, yes; for us, no. 

Part of the blessings of baptism is knowing our souls are well identified and dedicated unto God.  Baptism remains a sacrament, for it is sacred.  In the waters of baptism Jesus further identified with the will, the wisdom, and the way of God.  Jesus, in being baptized, dedicated himself, his life, further to God the Father.  As we baptize children and adults, as we reaffirm our own baptismal vows, we also are identifying further with God, with Jesus, and the dedicated life of faith.  The blessing of baptism conveys the touch, the presence of God’s Spirit in our lives.  We belong to God.  O the blessing of being baptized.  Baptism remains basic and essential to the Christian faith.  

Jesus teaches us something more regarding ‘blessings.’  These blessings, the Beatitudes, are not for everybody.  They are for disciples, for people who are serious about following God and living the Christian life.  Without a heart for Jesus, these Beatitudes make very little sense. 

Blessed are poor (in spirit), who realize their utter dependence upon God, for that dependence brings us closer to God’s heart.  Think about the times when you simply didn’t have much to go on. Much faith, much hope, much love, much help, much security, much money, and so on.  Didn’t you find it was precisely during such times, such ‘dependent upon God times’ that you felt blessed, O so blessed to know God and share your dependence upon Him?  The poor in spirit get caught up in their doubts and struggle to find a way out.  It’s sometimes a struggle to overcome damage done to us by those who should have loved us.  It can make a soul feel bankrupt before God.  Jesus says such poor souls are blessed because God has compassion on them and ultimately shows them the abundance of the kingdom of heaven and a better way. 

Blessed are those who mourn. Typically, we associate ‘mourning’ with death, the passing of a loved one.  Also included in mourning are children who grow up without a significant parent in their life.  Or possibly that single parent left with the sincere and immense responsibility of rearing children alone.  In our surrounding area, we are aware of churches that having struggled for years and finally had to close their doors.  We tend to ‘mourn’ for various reasons and causes.  Each of us mourns.  We cannot go through life without our losing someone or something important to us.  Some express their grief.  Others cry alone.  If we dare to love, there is no avoiding loss and sadness. 

God sees and God cares.  God blesses us in our deep, deep sadness, for it is in that sadness that God can touch, fill, and comfort us.  Sadness and sorrow can utterly empty one’s soul.  When some inkling presence of God comes within those times, it begins to fill us, often times to hope which overflows.  

Blessed are the meek for when we are most limited in our earthiness and finiteness, it is in this felt humility that we find abundance from God.  Make no mistake; ‘meekness’ is NOT the same as weakness.  The ‘meek’ are those who quietly submit themselves to God and are gentle towards all. Sometimes it seems as though the only thing the meek of this world inherit is an inferiority complex.  Meek people are often overlooked, disregarded.  Jesus says it won’t always be that way.  The bullies, the strong, and belligerent might push their way to the top, but ultimately God will have God’s way.  God will reverse the fortunes, the plight of the meek. 

Choose to believe these teachings from Jesus, and your attitude towards life will become blessed.  Be ‘baptized’ further into God’s blessings, his amazing grace.  Become a part of baptism blessings by giving life to others instead of taking so much. We are children of God, and in essence, we are called to ‘take after’ our heavenly Father. 

Blessings come to us in a lot of different ways.  After we sneeze someone might say, ‘God Bless You.’  The beauty of nature, and the innocence of a child bless us.  We are further ‘blessed’ by the good things of life and the love of family and friends.  God’s Blessings are no ‘magic potion.’  Nor are they to be measured and acquainted with having more material things than you can possibly use or consume. 

God’s Blessings take the gloomiest of realities and enable them to become the most glorious of rewards.  

Blessed are you.  Amen.

Faith Foundation 1/22/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 21, 2023 & Sunday, January 22, 2023 

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:  Psalm 119:105-112 (pg. 613), Mark 4:1-20 (pg. 1004), and Matthew 7:24-27 (pg. 972) 

Sermon Message: “Faith Foundation” 

Do you ever pay attention to the foundation in your home?  Most of us don’t unless there is some sort of problem.  We tend to perceive a variety of ‘foundations’ in our world and our personal lives as remaining secure until some sort of problem presents itself to us. 

Some years back when my wife and I originally purchased our home in Robinson, we were advised to take out this ‘extra’ insurance policy due to the fact that there are underground coal mines, long since closed, far under our general house location.  I believe it’s around this time each year that I receive a bill for Mine Subsidence Insurance.  We’ve had no problems, and we haven’t seen any effects down through the years, but I am glad to pay that bill each year, just in case our foundation should somehow become compromised.  

Foundations truly matter.  There are stone and block foundations.  Pillars and cement slabs may also serve as a foundation.  Consider also some other ‘types’ of foundations.  Educational foundations.  Economic foundations.  Spiritual Foundations.  Faith foundations. 

Jesus tells the parable of seeds planted in a variety of soils, some good, others not so good, even some that were virtually useless. 

Generally speaking, ‘parables’ have a double meaning.  Some say Jesus’ parables are earthly stories with a heavenly meaning. 

Upon first hearing Jesus’ parable about a man sowing seed in different ‘soils’ it simply sounds like a pleasant little story.  Yet when you stop and think about it, ponder it with spiritual lenses, there’s a much deeper message to be gained.  This parable about planting seed is something folks could identify with back then and still today.  However, when Jesus draws us further into the story, we can see ourselves, evaluate ourselves, and perhaps even rediscover ourselves.  This story speaks to the very foundation of our faith! 

Remember how John came proclaiming the kingdom of God: “Repent of your sins for the kingdom of God is near.  Repent!” Pointing out people’s sins, then calling them to repent may be a preliminary way to get people to establish faith, nurture faith, and grow in their relationship to God.  Repenting of our sins remains a sincere part of our faith foundation.  Jesus also preached repentance of sins.  But notice how Jesus goes a bit further, actually makes us all dig a bit deeper with these ‘parables’ of his.  

Jesus’ parables operate in a familiar story-telling method.  His parables require a comparison of the familiar with the unfamiliar in order to help clarify the latter point. 

Jesus tells this parable about a farmer sowing seeds.  He brings to comparison something that is familiar in daily life that is designed to teach some spiritual truth or assumption that what is valid in nature, or daily life, is also valid in God’s world. 

Jesus’ parables follow a standard story-telling technique.  They are told in a particular place and setting to a specific audience.  Furthermore, they seek a concrete response, action, or commitment from the audience that hears them.  What’s so very clever about the majority of Jesus’ parables is the way the story leads the audience to a conclusion and response they derive themselves, rather than Jesus pointing out the meaning to them. 

Parables are not merely ‘cute little stories’ that offer some sort of challenge.  Actually, they are narratives Jesus employed, then and now, to spur some further spiritual perception and challenge to our choices and our actions. 

This Parable of the Sower offers some quality insights as to why some people hear Jesus’ message and follow him enthusiastically while others are attracted for a time then drop away or remain resistive and even hostile towards his word.  God’s good news is offered to all, but not all respond to God’s initiative.  God provides, but the individual decides whether to accept or reject God’s gift.  Those religious leaders back then, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, did not respond well to Jesus’ parables.  Some even denounced them.  Yet the humble, simple peasant disciples not only understood Jesus’ parables, they went on to share them with others, lots of others.  The early church used this parable to encourage its frightened and discouraged followers who encounter opposition, persecution, and death for believing as they do.  The parable was used by the early church to describe degrees of faith, rather than contrasting the shallow faith of Jesus' opponents with the deeply committed faith of his followers.  

Today, this parable of Jesus offers us some encouragement when we begin to wonder if faith is even effective anymore.  We look around and remain aware of the effects of a pandemic.  Covid-19 is not all gone.  Some of it remains with us.  The war is still occurring between Russia and Ukraine.  Slowly it has expanded to become a proxy war between the Soviet Union and much of the rest of the world.  Is anyone, anyone at all, hearing and responding to the Christian input of the reign of Christ?  Immigration carries with it degrees of poverty.  What ‘seed’ has fallen on solid, fertile ground?  Where and how does our faith foundation come into ‘play?’ 

Perhaps we would do well to rename this narrative "The Parable of the Bad and Good Soil."  Each type of ‘soil’ represents one of four possible ‘types’ of faith foundations.  The first and second type of soil refers to the Scribes, the Pharisees, and to the Jewish people who failed to understand Jesus’ mission.  The third kind of soil identifies those who in following Christ have not left everything else behind, who are but partially committed to Christ, or perhaps only when it is convenient for them.  Shallow soil references shallow faith . Oh, but the fourth soil is a viable source for the faith foundation.  These are those precious souls who hear and believe Jesus’ word and respond with good works and faithfulness. 

How do you ‘hear’ this parable of Jesus?  God asks us to evaluate our own faith and lives in light of these four different examples of spiritual seeds sown in a variety of soils. 

Today, this church, as it has done so for many decades, will affirm our shared labors on behalf of God during our Annual Meeting.  Do not be fainthearted regarding our efforts.  Jesus encourages us to persist while affirming the results will be beyond our imaginings in richness and reward. 

This familiar parable of Jesus contains further meaning and greater spiritual insights for the foundation of faith.  Bear in mind, that ‘seed’ planted produced results, even if just for a brief time.  Keep planting seeds of faith.  You may be contributing to another soul’s faith foundation. God promises the further coming of his kingdom.  In spite of every failure and opposition from hopeless beginnings, God brings forth the triumphant end that he had promised. 

How firm is our faith foundation? Jesus Christ continues to teach us there are various levels of Christian commitment evident in the early church and today. 

This parable reminds us there are people, gifted by God, who do not understand God’s gift or don’t value it.  There are persons who do not persevere persecution and mountain top believers who cannot deal with routine day-in, day-out faith or with controversy and persecution for his or her beliefs.  Some folks are simply worldly and value other ‘things’ more than Christ and are consequently quite good at rationalizing choices.  YET there are persons who remain faithful in beliefs, convictions, and in good works, and are therefore known by their love and their actions. 

Some of our folks are sports enthusiasts.  Analogy could be drawn to ball players with talent but don’t work to improve their talent or make sufficient effort to stay physically fit and disciplined in diet, exercise, and practice.  OR the ball player who gets discouraged and gives up when younger, seemingly more talented players join the team and outperform them.  There are also players who want the financial rewards of playing ball and readily endorse products and companies without a thought or a care for the exploitation of workers in the third world OR the possible positive uses he or she might offer through a sharing of that income. YET there are also ball players who see their talent and hard work as a resource to be built upon in order to improve him or herself as a person and as a player.  Take notice of those athletes who see their skill as a means to make possible a free education for another, provide an upcoming player with further opportunities to enroll and play in additional teams, professional and non-professional.  

Some folks do see their talents as gifts, and they use them as a means to ‘give back’ to their fans, family, and community through modeling of a life based in professional and personal integrity and generosity.

Jesus makes the further point that sometimes we are the sower, sometimes we are the seed, and all of us at one time or another are the soil.  It takes both good seed and good soil to produce good fruits.  Jesus informed those disciples, and he informs us, not everyone will see nor try to see God’s messages.  Oh, but for those who do the Word of God becomes a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.  Even when we constantly seem to take our lives into our own hands.  Even when we suffer much.  Even when we forget about God or His laws.  Even when the wicked set a snare for us.  God’s statutes are our heritage forever; they become the joy of our hearts. 

May our hearts be set on keeping God’s decrees to the very end.  Hearing something is good.  Hearing and responding to something is better.  Wisdom comes from hearing the words of Jesus and putting them into practice.  Just like the wise man that built his house on the rock.  Those who hear the words of Jesus but choose not to put them into practice are like foolish people who build their house on sand.  When the rains come and the streams rise and the winds blow, there is a great crash. 

Our faith foundation began when we first became aware of God, of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit then responded to them.  Our faith foundation is built from the solid rocks of Jesus Christ, the Bible, the Ten Commandments, and the scriptures that teach us how to live, how to love, and salvation. 

Each generation proclaims there are severely more problems in their generation than the previous generations. 

Jesus reminds us there will be wars and rumors of wars, nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  Jesus proclaims such things to be birth pains. 

Faith foundations are needed; they remain essential in OUR day and age of wars and rumors of wars, and nations rising against nations, divisions, bipartisanship that stalls instead of heals, helps or progresses. 

Faith foundations show us our commonality.  God created us to be different, but united. 

Pay attention to your faith foundation.  Amen.

The Call of God 1/15/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 14, 2023 & Sunday, January 15, 2023 

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:  John 1:29-42 (Page 1063) and Ephesians 1:15-18a (Page 1173) 

Sermon Message: “The Call of God” 

In a very pastoral letter the Apostle Paul writes, “I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people.”  These words in that ‘letter’ could very easily have been written to you or to me. We share a ‘call’ from God to ‘have faith’ and love all of God’s people. 

The ‘Call of God’ happens every day though some think it can only happen, significantly so, maybe once in a person’s lifetime.  Some ‘calls’ from God are more ‘illustrative’ than others.  For instance, in the Old Testament when God ‘called’ Moses, he heard an audible voice of God, perceived a burning bush, and was compelled to take off his sandals for he knew he was standing on Holy Ground. 

The ‘Call of Jesus’ from God the Father is further described in today’s scripture lesson from the Gospel of John.  A testimony of ‘who’ Jesus is was provided by John.  He describes seeing the Spirit of God come down from heaven and settle upon Jesus.  A bit later John points as he sees Jesus passing by and blurts out, “Look, the Lamb of God.” 

The call of God upon Jesus was spectacular.  It didn’t take long at all for two of JOHN’S disciples to drop everything and follow Jesus. 

What’s so spiritually interesting is seeing what happens next?  Jesus turned around and saw these two disciples following.   So he asks them, “What do you want?” 

Think about it; these two fellows were already disciples of John.  They had made their commitment to John.  They were in effect ‘working for him’ when Jesus passes by.  John doesn’t hesitate to point out to them who Jesus is and even encourages them to “Behold the Lamb of God.” 

This ‘Call of God’ is not crisp, dramatic, or even decisive.  No flashing lights or burning bush.  No booming voice from beyond the clouds, not even clear instructions as to what these two are supposed to do.  Jesus simply asks them, “What do you want?”  It is a strange and penetrating question.  Yet it is the question that forms the foundation for understanding the Call of God. 

Jesus looks for both our input and our response in discerning the Call of God. 

Don’t we know, aren’t we possibly acquainted with ‘some’ who prefer to ‘tell us,’ instruct us, what our ‘calling in life’ shall be? 

In my own life I was given such ‘voices of instruction.’  My earthly father had worked as a coal miner, as an electrician in the mines, and part-time as an auto-body repair man and mechanic.  I clearly remember him ‘telling me’ those are ‘real jobs.’  Pursuing some sort of open-ended career in a church environment might be for some, he said, but certainly not for any of his sons.  My mother had watched my one older brother pursue a career working at a State Mental Hospital.  She said, “Son, you can make a good living there and really help people, if that’s what you’re wanting to do.”  I did, in fact, work at a State Hospital for the mentally challenged over a period of ten years.  Yet something kept tugging inside of me towards Christian ministry.  Repeatedly when I’d bring that up, folks such as my mother would say, “You’re already helping people.  That should be enough.”  Finally, after so many years and so many voices telling me I’m already helping people at the State Mental facility, I drew a line and declared, “I need to not only help people, I believe God wants me to help save people.  Their souls.”  Few seemed to understand that. 

What I was feeling ‘called’ to do became a passion inside of me.  Looking back, I guess it had to be that way for like the two disciples of John in today’s scripture lesson; I already had a job.  Those two were already working with John, working for John, when Jesus comes into their lives asking them what they want.  I was already working in a secure State position, in line for promotions, good benefits, and even an early retirement if I so desired. 

When Jesus makes his way into your life and in perhaps a strange and penetrating way asks you what it is you want, how might you respond?  Common to us all in our ‘Call from God’ is to ‘want’ an abundant life for ourselves but ALSO for others. 

Sometimes the presence of God stops us in our tracks, and at first, we may not even know what to say.  It’s interesting, those two disciples heard Jesus ask them, “What do you want?”  Their response was a question of their own, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  Something seemed to ‘burn’ within them in a very good, yet strange way.  There’s something about Jesus, something about God, something about the deep question of life that can stop us in our tracks, turn us around, and even change us, when and if we listen.  

Those two disciples’ names are Andrew and Simon.  They felt drawn to Jesus, to His spiritual power; they felt a ‘connection’ with him, so it is they ask, “Where are you staying?”  You see, they wanted to be with him.  Get to know him more.  Stick with him.  Grow closer to him.  Remain with him. 

Notice how Jesus responds, “Come and you will see.” I have found that to be oh so true, haven’t you?  When we ‘come and see’ Jesus here in his church, during worship, through our prayers, our devotion, in our actions, within our hearts, daily lives, and study of the Bible, we experience a connection.  You ‘come and see’ Jesus and the Call of God in whatever form it might take and follow.

Moses spent many years, actually, it is believed to be 40 years, working as a shepherd before he responded to God’s call to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. 

Sometimes a ‘call’ happens to us when we are young.  Sometimes we sense or feel a call quickly.  At other times God’s Spirit may be working in our lives and developing both our faith and our hearts across several years. 

For lots of folks, a discernable ‘call of God’ is to be good, to see good, and to do good in the world.  What is it that you want?  In part the answer lies in how we perceive, answer, and fulfill the Call of God in our lives.  Many a soul turns to Jesus looking for a balanced life.  We’ve heard the stories of Jesus, possibly for years.  There’s a difference, a foundational difference, between knowing the stories of Jesus and discovering the person of Jesus in your life, in your family, in the church, and in the world.  

The life of Jesus was sincere, passionate, and caring.  Jesus wanted to help people see God, know God, and quite importantly, experience God. 

What is it that you want?  Perhaps we all want to stay close to Jesus and consistently strive to become like him in whatever fragile and finite ways we can. 

For me, that has been in church ministry, and marriage, and fatherhood, and thinking and preaching, caring and serving, striving to help make someone’s life perhaps just a little bit better, more peaceful, and God appreciative. 

Abiding with Jesus happens all the time in the everyday for any of us, for all of us.  We want to see and experience and share elements of Jesus in our homes, in the kitchen, the basement, the garage, and the living room. We want to express the life of Jesus, His teachings that have affected our lives, in the boardroom and the courtroom, in the hospital, the lab, wherever we work, and with whomever we meet.  For we are first and foremost Christians, people called by God, given a passion to fulfill that stems from God. 

Perhaps God has placed within you a call to a particular relationship, or to a special vision for the betterment of others.  The point is, God has been and is moving in your hearts.  Jesus inquires, “What is it that you want?"

All of us as Christians are called.  We are called through our baptism to be God’s person in the world. While we may desire that ‘Call of God’ to be a digital printout with specific directions, it seldom happens that way.  Rather, the Call of God is a lifelong question, burning in our hearts, given to us by the One who encourages curiosity and faith, commitment, and imagination. 

The Call of God in every Christian’s life is to see what God sees when God looks at the world, to imagine caring as God cares, and to further imagine becoming that person who cares for others with and through the Call of God in their lives. 

We see from reading and studying our Bibles that sometimes the Call of God is quite clear, dramatic, and specific.  When the Call of God happens that way, it makes it easier for our answer to be clear, loud, even dramatic.  But most of the time the Call of God is much more quiet, even subtle in our lives.  Possibly even a bit vague.  Sometimes folks even experience some confusion and disbelief.  Yet, I have found, as many of you have found, God keeps wrapping his grace around us.  Our spirits remain restless until we find our rest in the Call of God, the will of God transforming and guiding our lives. 

More than forty years ago there was a man who heard a call from God and answered it.  He heard God ask him, “What do you want?”  The man was able to answer.  He prayed, “I am looking for freedom and justice for all of God’s people.”  And so, Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to give voice to the voice of God through the voice of his own passion. 

“I have a dream that is deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that my children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  And then all of us will be “free at last.” 

My friends, Jesus asks, “What is it that you want?”  What are you looking for?  Answer the call of God, and then you, too, will be free - free at last.  

May it be so - for you and for me.  Amen. 

What God Has Written On Our Hearts 1/7/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 7, 2023 & Sunday, January 8, 2023 

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:  Jeremiah 31:31-34 (p. 789), Acts 2:42-47 (p. 1092) & Luke 22:20 (p. 1056) 

Sermon Message:  “What God Has Written On Our Hearts” 

‘Covenants’ are made in many different ways.  A simple covenant can be handing a few dollars to the person at the fast-food drive through window, then being handed a bag of food and possibly a drink in return.  Other ‘covenants’ might include signing paperwork, a form of agreement to attain a loan, purchase a car, or even a house.  These ‘covenants’ tend to be ‘spread out’ over a lengthy period of time.  “Love” most often comes with ‘covenants’.  We make a covenant to love, to be loyal, in sickness and in health, for better for worse, for richer and for poorer.  ‘Love covenants’ are written upon the heart and serve as not only agreements, but quite importantly, sincere commitments to care.  God has covenants with us, and we have covenants with God.  These tend to be written on our hearts. 

Some ‘covenants’ just might make us smile!  A story is told of a man in a church who once made a covenant with their young minister.  These two men agreed, early on, that come what may, they would each tithe ten per cent of their income every year. 

They were both young, and neither of them had much money.  But things changed.  While the minister’s salary did not go up that much, the church member’s salary did. 

After ten years, the church member was earning $50,000 and so tithed $5,000 that year.  After 12 years he earned $80,000 and so tithed $8,000.  However, after 20 years, he earned his first million but couldn’t bring himself to write a check for $100,000 for the church. 

He telephoned the minister long since having moved to another church, and asked to see him.  Walking into the minister’s office, the man begged to be let out of the covenant saying, "This tithing business has to stop.  It was fine when my tithe was $5,000 per year, even $8,000, but I just cannot afford $100,000.  You’ve got to do something, Pastor!" 

The pastor knelt on the floor and prayed silently for a long time. 

Eventually the man said, "What are you doing?  Are you praying that God will let me out of the covenant to tithe?" 

"No," said the minister.  "I am praying for God to reduce your income back to the level where $1,000 will be your tithe!"  

For many people the concept of a covenant is a foreign idea.

But to the writers of the New and the Old Testament – our Bible - it was central.  For it goes to the very heart of the Gospel.  It is unfortunate that our Bibles are divided into the Old and New Testament and not into the Old and New Covenant.  The word “testament” nowadays is synonymous with a Will.  But that is not what is meant when referring to the Old and the New Testament.  

Unlike a ‘will’ a covenant doesn’t kick in when you die – it kicks in now. 

A covenant between two parties is more like a contract today.  There is an obligation for both sides to keep to what was agreed. 

The Old Testament is full of covenants – God’s Covenant with Noah, his covenant with Abraham, his covenant with Moses. David to name a few.  And then you have David’s covenant with Jonathan – a covenant between two friends.  You will also find covenants between kings on various matters especially in the books of Genesis and 1 Kings. 

Kings in ancient times made covenants to fix their areas of interest or terms of peace.  The relationship between the partners in a Covenant is expressed by “covenant loyalty” a term known as ‘hesed’ in Hebrew. 

A covenant worked by setting out both sides’ rights as well as both sides’ responsibilities.  A good covenant was one where both parties were satisfied with what was agreed.  A covenant forced on the weaker party by the stronger was rarely going to work in the long run. 

A sincere covenant we might think of today is the wedding covenant, where both parties go into it willingly and understanding the rights and obligations. 

The Marriage Covenant has been described as a “voluntary life sentence with no remission for good behavior!”  And it is specifically referred to in the book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament.  In Malachi’s time, things were not going well for the Jews because they had broken their Covenant with God. 

But the prophet remonstrates with them – for not only had they broken their covenant with God but also with their wives.  There was a nasty habit of putting aside one’s old wife and taking on a younger “trophy” wife when their wives got older. 

This is what Malachi says in Mal 2:13-14; “Another thing you do:  You flood the Lord’s altar with tears.  You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands.  You ask why?  It is because the Lord is acting as a witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.” 

Some divorces happen with good reason.  Some, with not so good reasons.

God takes covenants very seriously.  Some of God’s earlier ‘covenants’ with us included the Ten Commandments.  Remember these are NOT the Ten Suggestions! 

The Ten Commandments were written, by God, on tablets of stone.  A firm reminder of their seriousness and God’s strong and solemn intent.  When ‘laws are laid down’ often they are given to us in straightforward manner because they are needed to stop the abuse, the compromise, the sin.  Such ‘covenants’ are ‘black and white’ in nature.  

God requires obedience, but God desires a healthy relationship with us.  With all of us and with each of us.  So it is, we have learned from today’s initial scripture lesson in Jeremiah 31:31-34 that God “writes on our hearts.” 

What is it that God has written on your heart?  The difference between right and wrong, the respect/fear of God.  The knowledge of good and evil, but more importantly “love.”  I think you and I know and well understand what it means to have something “written upon our hearts.”  Consider the people you love and those who love you.  We know, for it is written upon our hearts, that we care for them, would do most anything to help them, provide for them, and protect them.  What’s communicated from one heart to another is so much more than a “legal” obligation or response to a set of strict rules.  “Love” is by far the greatest “writing” upon each of our hearts. 

God places the law of God in our minds and further writes it on our hearts.  Don’t we all know that what is written upon the heart is a form of love?  I believe we further understand that the heart is the birthplace and the foundation for a love relationship.  We follow God, trust God, and obey God’s ways, not so much out of fear of reprisal, but because we love the Lord and know deep within our souls that God loves us. 

‘Love’ is characterized, in part, by devotion.  Each worship service is a gathering of people who love God and one another.  We devote ourselves, as did the apostles of old, to Biblical/spiritual teachings, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread (communion), and prayer.  We grow in our appreciation and apprehension of the many signs, wonders, and answers to prayer we receive from God.  ‘Devotion’ is part of any Christian’s covenant relationship.  Devotion is written upon the heart and fulfilled through our covenants. 

Jesus Christ set examples for us in our covenants, in our hearts, and in our lives. 

For instance, today as we renew our Baptismal Covenant, we remember that Jesus was baptized.  This was a time of devotion, covenant, and love between God the Father and God the Son.  It was witnessed by many.  Today, as we renew our Baptismal Covenant, we once again declare our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and affirm our trust in Him.  Further we intend to be His disciple, obey His word, and show His love. 

Last Fall, during our weekly Bible studies, we further reviewed our baptisms. Pastor Adam Hamilton, whose Bible Study we referenced, offered us a simple baptism ‘prayer’ we might use when we bathe or shower.  It reads like this: 

“Lord, as I enter the water to bathe, I remember my baptism.  Wash me by your grace.  Fill me with your Spirit.  Renew my soul.  Help me to live as your child today and honor you in all I do.” 

Baptism blesses our souls and is written upon our hearts all the days of our lives.  You may not remember your baptism, but I sincerely urge you to affirm your baptism. 

Belonging to a church is far different than belonging to a club, a lodge, or some other organization.  Our purpose is to be in God’s presence and prepare ourselves to receive God’s presence.  We come together for love, for fellowship, to commune, and then to serve.  We are so much more than members of a club, an organization, or a lodge.  We are fed to be healed, made whole, complete, and thus to be His disciples.  Our church membership covenant affirms our trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Showing and sharing His love with our prayers, time, talents, financial support, presence, and care is fulfilling, for this too is written upon our hearts.  Here we learn the story of God in all of life.  Here we find the rich fulfillment in knowing the story of God is in us! 

Following God is a covenant we make and keep.  For God has written His love upon our hearts.  ‘Love’ has its ebbs and flows, its ups and downs.  Sometimes complicated, sometimes serene, easy, and quite fulfilling.  Love can be messy.  Mostly love is what makes the world go round and fills our hearts to overflowing.  The greatest love we shall ever know in this world and the next is with God, through God, and from God. 

Now, may we prepare our hearts, minds, and souls to renew our covenants and reaffirm what is written upon our hearts.  Amen.

New Light In The New Year 1/1/2023

Sermon Message for Saturday, December 31, 2022 & Sunday, January 1, 2023 

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:  Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 (p. 664), Revelation 21:1-6a (p. 1252) & Matthew 25:31-46 (p. 994) 

Sermon Message: “New Light in the New Year” 

Hopefully you felt the light of God this past Advent and Christmas season.  I pray you experienced the light of God in occasions of hope, peace, joy, and love.  I trust we were blessed, as were the shepherds of old, the three kings, those wise men that worshipped, by a light that shined in our world’s darkness and further guided us.  Hopefully, our meaningful Christmas present to Jesus Christ and to others this past year was our bearing the light of God in ways that led others to Christ. 

While the magnificence and the tree lights of Christmas are beginning to fade, the true messages of Christmas are still being acknowledged and shared. 

Following these holidays, a common insight we all receive is that it’s time once again to ‘move on.’  It’s further time to ‘get on with life.’  The birth of Jesus Christ was a new light in the New Year.  The Gospel of John describes Jesus as being “Light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)  Looking ahead, let us seek God’s new light in our new year. 

The three scripture lessons we recently shared provide new light.  Let us prayerfully consider God’s messages that brings light. 

The first reading of scriptures located in the Book of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 has a familiar ‘ring’ to them… “For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.”  

Does anyone recall a musical group, The Byrds?  Back in 1965 they released their single hit entitled, “Turn, Turn, Turn.”  It was a popular seller among all age groups back and remained ‘on the charts’ for many years.  The familiar lines in that song included the words, “turn, turn, turn.  For every season, turn, turn, turn.”  It was a popular song back then, based upon these words, we just shared from the Book of Ecclesiastes. 

The author of the Book of Ecclesiastes had lived an abundant and long life.  His writings are inspired reflections of the past. Today, those very same scriptures point us to the reality of the world we live in.  Our on-going reality remains; there are ups and downs of ordinary life.  These ups and downs are not always seen as rewards or punishments, but simply as the sort of things we are all heir to.  This past year we saw natural disasters, accidents, and even life and death.  While we’d like to look back and then project our views of such things as God’s response to good or bad behavior, the author of Ecclesiastes, who has ‘seen it all’ knows and teaches us in his reflections and spiritual wisdom that bad things happen to good people sometimes.  And yes, sometimes good things happen to bad people.  Friends, this is the universe that is visible to us.  Please don’t overthink it. 

The second set of scriptures from the New Testament Book of Revelation informs us, straightforward, that despite the cyclical ups and downs we experience, history is heading towards glory, and the ending of God’s history is good—very good.  The very best of what we’ve experienced will be retained, and glories we cannot imagine will ensue.  All will be well. 

The third scripture lesson from the Gospel of Matthew further affirms that there will be a glorious end someday.  However, take comfort in knowing and reviewing the fact that those ups and downs of our lives will be judged on our ministry and care for those on the margin of society.  Jesus Christ will come to see not only if we are saved by our faith, but quite importantly if we have been and remain faithful. 

God is beckoning us towards new light in the New Year. 

Perhaps some among us are familiar with the old saying, “Make hay while the sun shines.”  This remains a common English proverb that refers to taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. 

Ecclesiastes reminds us all of certain ‘seasons’ or ‘times’ that happen in life; death, war, peace, mourning, dancing, weeping, laughing. The Book of Ecclesiastes serves to remind us that these things will happen again in the New Year, not necessarily as a result of God’s direct will, but as a matter of course.  This is a description of time.  Not a prescription from God.  Accidents have and will occur.  So will wars and natural disasters.  Every year we experience life and death.  Laughter and weeping.  This is not fatalistic.  It’s realistic.  Stuff happens.  Everyone experiences these things.  No one ‘rides free.’ 

If you have lived some part of your life experiencing these things, then choose to embrace a new light in the New Year.  Take on this more spiritual/biblical perspective that well informs us we need to enjoy the good things of this life and this world while we can.  Live not to regret. Pray for God’s presence and help in all that we ‘go through’, the very good, the very bad, and just everyday ‘life.’ 

Akin to the author of Ecclesiastes, it does sometimes seem as though we’ve ‘seen it all before!’  There remains some ‘philosophies’ in the world that believe time is a great cycle that keeps repeating itself endlessly. Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, and affirmers of the New Testament, know that time is not an endless circle nor a great cycle repeating itself endlessly.  

The author of the Book of Revelation knows that time, as we know it, does have an end that’s coming up!  While we may ‘feel’ as though we’re going round and round and experiencing the same things over and over again, the greater truth is our familiarity with ‘things, times, seasons, and events’ and remains part of a goal and an aim to the history God has immersed us in.  We may not well recall the entire story of God in life.  What’s important is knowing the story is in us. 

The Book of Revelation reminds us that the goal and aim to history is good.  A new world is coming.  God is still seeking to make all things new!  Strive to be ‘open’ to the ‘new’ God is seeking to bring.  This too remains a new light in the New Year. 

Initially, the Book of Revelation was written by the prophet John to challenge and encourage believers in the midst of their opposition and persecution.  John’s writings are directed to seven churches of Asia Minor back then.  Some of those churches were more faithful than others.  Don’t we also know some of us are more faithful than others.     

Regardless of how horrid things might be and how unfaithful some remain, God reminds us still of a new heaven and a new earth that is coming.  There shall be a time when tears shall end, and God makes all things new.  Eventually all things will fall into place.  TRUST shall bring new light in the New Year. 

The Book of Revelation serves us still as a reminder that Jesus Christ will come again, not in darkness, nor obscurity, but in brightness, gloriousness, and light. The Gospel of Matthew affirms “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him. He will separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” 

What is it that separates one year from the next?  Think about it. Historically, referencing New Years, it is not any significant time or important landmark in the earth’s journey around the sun.  Back in Shakespeare’s day, New Years was observed on March 25 being associated more so with the first day of Spring.  Different cultures may interpret the days or times when they observe New Years.  

However we count time, the important thing is what we do with the time we spend in the real world we live in.  

The Lord of History, who is revealed as Jesus, judges the nations---and that judgment is not based on a simple declaration of faith, but upon the fruits, the actions of our faith.  What makes faith genuine are our actions, not just our words.  There can be new light in the New Year if and when we put our faith into action.  Our words need to be genuine.  

Jesus Christ himself reminds us; what we do for the least is what matters.  

Some of the ‘light’ we may ‘shine’ in this New Year may well take the form of ‘resolutions for self-improvement.’  That remains good.  Possibly quite healthy as well. 

Jesus Christ reminds us today that the ultimate resolution is the resolution to do for others, for ‘the least of these.’ 

I was once acquainted with a family that took it upon themselves to make some new changes coupled with new outlooks and better actions in the New Year.  They began this course of action by reading everything they could in the Bible about loving God and helping others.  Their first scripture lesson was the one we shared in today from the Gospel of Matthew 25:31-46.  Within these scriptures Jesus straightforward informs and guides us to care for the least of God’s children. 

The family read those scriptures together.  They agreed to ‘come back to them’ a day later after every family member had some time to reflect upon what God’s message was to each of them. 

The following day they read them once again ‘out loud’ in their family setting.  Each person offered their thoughts and further insights.  What was common among them all was a central thought that whatever they do, however they might ‘interpret’ these scriptures, their faith response needs to start at home. 

Jesus’ teaching about ‘the least of God’s children’ kind of hit home when they reflected upon an ailing grandparent living with them.  That grandparent’s needs were not extreme but were still concerning.  So it was they agreed to spend a little more time, each one of them, listening and fetching a few items for their grandma every day.  

Furthermore, they discerned that because their family was so very large, it remained hard to keep up with picking up dirty dishes, used napkins, leftover snacks, and soiled clothing.  Even cleaning the bathroom sink was a major chore always ‘leftover’ to the ‘Mom.’  

They further agreed to quit ‘reporting’ who did not do their job, for whatever reason, and instead, just help out, pick up things as needed, or when first observed. 

A week later they sat down together again, discussed again Jesus’ teaching and strove to identify how they had transformed a few things in themselves.  They realized from their care for one another, especially for whoever was ‘the least among’ them at any given moment, they slowly became a better family.  There was a different kind of love among them.  One family member described as becoming more mature. 

Who are ‘the least’ in our world?  Where you work, what is your Christian response and outlook from Jesus’ teachings about the ‘least’ among us? Do you simply do ONLY your work?  Or do you sometimes quietly lend a helping hand to another?  Perhaps you might even do something beneficial without anyone but God knowing?  When that happens at work, there’s a different tolerance and peace for fellow workers. 

Within our church I’ve seen the positive examples of people caring for the least among us.  I watch you open doors for others, share a hymnbook or bulletin with someone. These past two years, increasingly so, we transformed in some areas of our church work.  There was a time when most of the work needing done at our church was sanctioned and guided by committees, ‘farmed out’ mostly to contractors and perceived as ‘normal.’  Not so much anymore.  While we still have committees, more importantly, we have a huge host of willing workers who do all sorts of things.  Many without being told or ‘asked’ to do so.  I watch people, on their own, pick up left over bulletins following our worship services.  I’ve seen people pick up a broom and dustpan and put it to use.  Never complaining.  Some of our members enjoy walking the perimeter of our church grounds picking up trash.  Not for credit, show, nor glory.  Just to care for God’s House and this church family.   grass gets trimmed and cut, the hedges trimmed, the soup made, the phone calls placed, the cards sent, the prayers lifted up, and the love shared, not just with the precious few among us, but most often, when whoever might be ‘the least’ is needing. 

Our church knows there are folks in our churches and our communities that need food.  So it is we participate with goods, services, finances, and volunteers in our Community Food Pantries, Meals on Wheels, and some other quiet, yet important areas of caregiving. 

This weekend is a time when many make resolutions for the coming year.  More important than anything we might resolve to do for self-improvement is the resolution to do for others, for the least of these.  We are worthy.  We are worthwhile.  It’s okay to try to improve.  It’s okay to resolve to do what we enjoy.  But the greatest satisfaction will be found in being the presence of Jesus, and to know his countenance is smiling on us!  Jesus inquires of you.  Jesus inquires of me to bring new light in the New Year.  Amen.

Christmas HAS Come - Christmas Eve Worship Service 12/24/2022

Sermon Message for December 24, 2022

CHRISTMAS EVE 

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:  Luke 2:1-21 (page 1026) and Romans 8:22-28 (page 1133) 

Sermon Message: “Christmas HAS Come” 

I am curious; what was it that brought you here to church tonight?  Did you come seeking to hear once more these ancient scriptures bearing the account of how it was when Jesus Christ was born?  Or perhaps you were thinking, ‘well it’s just the right thing to do.’ Did you come seeking to meet anew Mary and Joseph and of their marriage plight?   

God shows us that His Christmas, in part, is about children.  Tonight, we remember and celebrate the gift of His child, Jesus.  

How many present in church tonight have siblings?  A brother or a sister?  Maybe for breakfast tomorrow morning you will have pancakes with your brother or sister?  I share that thought with you because I remember a story about a pancake breakfast a mother tried to make for her two young boys. The mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3.  The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake.  Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson.  “If Jesus were sitting here, he would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake.  I can wait.’”  Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus.” 

Remember last year when we all came to church?  How grateful we were increasingly becoming following the extensive Covid-19 pandemic.  It felt so good to be ‘out and about’ once more. 

We are here remembering.  We are here enjoying.  We are here anticipating.  There remains a solemn and sacred reality among us all tonight.  We are here because this is God’s Christmas. 

Every year I meet some folks who tell me they can’t wait until Christmas is over.  Also, each year I meet some folks who wish Christmas would never end.  For all of those folks and for everyone in between, may we recognize in our souls this very night that Christmas has come. 

In the fullness of time Jesus Christ was born.  There is still something to be said about God’s providence in times past and currently.  For centuries people had prayed for the Messiah to come.  Possibly for years you have further prayed for a certain need, cause, or person. The Bible reminds us “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)  Mary and Joseph neither knew nor well-understood that teaching when things happened in their lives early on. ‘Things’ of God that lead, eventually so, to the birth of Jesus Christ.  But they matured in their faith over time.  They were assisted, blessed in their faith by family, clergy, and even God’s angels. 

Mary was poor.  She was empty.  She had nothing much to offer God, but she offered herself.  She responded to God’s movement, His ‘call’ inside of her, to become something more, to ‘do’ something special, to give birth to another. 

By now your gifts are purchased, wrapped, and placed under the tree.  Perhaps you have a family tradition of opening at least one Christmas present on Christmas Eve.  The best present has already come.  God has loved you and given you life.  Jesus Christ lives within your heart and soul.  He guides your life abundantly so. 

Like Mary, you are here tonight because you have offered God yourself.  Recall the words to the dedication hymn, “Here I am, Lord, it is I Lord, I have heard you calling in the night.  I will go Lord where you lead me…”  When we are poor, when we become poor (in spirit), all we have to offer God is the little bit left over of ourselves as a ‘present’ to God.  This night, this holy and most precious night, and for all of your days ahead on earth, give God your best.  Be your best for God.  Become an ever-increasing, wholesome Christian.  Christmas is about believing.  As we believe, so may we continue to advance in our living. 

I trust Christmas has come, in some ways, for I further trust that you have given your heart over to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. 

Mary and Joseph experienced God’s providence and the ‘fullness’ of time’ even though they did not initially understand it.  Trusting God.  ‘Faith’ shows us that Christmas has come in your heart and in your home. 

The gladness of Christmas is ‘hope.’  Lots and lots of folks need hope this Christmas.  The world ‘covets’ hope.  The War in Ukraine that continues on and on ‘begs’ for hope.  Acts of violence and daily bloodshed on the streets of Pittsburgh and beyond.  Inflation and shortages, desolation and changes that upset what WAS our normal make many a soul cry out, whisper a prayer unto God, for ‘hope…’ 

Remember back to last February.  The Ukrainian people were not expected to last more than three or 4 days when they were first invaded.  Ten months later they still have hope of surviving and perhaps one day ‘thriving’ again. 

Where there is ‘hope’ Christmas has come.  Do you have ‘hope’ for tomorrow?  Perhaps you are ‘hoping’ that those near and dear to you will like their presents in the morning.  Perhaps you are ‘hoping’ for better weather, family getting along, and some good food to come.  Nothing wrong with that hope. 

For those who grieve loved one’s passing remember this; there is Christmas in heaven.  Not just on earth.  Christmas in heaven, in part, consists of angels singing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” and the Hallelujah Chorus, friends, families, and loved ones who are already ‘there.’  Heaven is a wonderful place.  It is so good, IF we knew it and understood it, we would not want to carry out our time and purpose God has given us here and now.  Hope is fulfilled in God’s heaven. 

Part of my ‘job’ - my God-given responsibility - is to get you to think more about God and the hope you have seen fulfilled this past year.  IF I can get you to contemplate ‘hope’ that comes from God, I know, as God knows, you will pass that along to others, and this world will become a better place. 

Perhaps we can all agree that we have more ‘hope’ to be ‘out and about’ this Christmas season since the Covid-19 pandemic is not as prevalent and fear-inducing as it had been. 

The gladness of Christmas is ‘hope.’  God’s present is hope. When and where you experience God’s ‘hope’ Christmas has come. 

The spirit of Christmas is Peace.  The word ‘Peace’ is often times associated with Christmas.  For we remember in our faith history that God’s angels came on that very first Christmas affirming, “Do not be afraid, I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in Bethlehem there is born to you a Messiah, the Lord.”  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 

God’s ‘favor’ rests with those who choose to believe, nurture faith, live a clean life, and further seek to serve God with their lives. When we choose to live peaceful lives and extend that peace unto others, God is blessed.  Tonight, I wish to extend to you all a blessing from Jesus. The ‘blessing’ Jesus pronounced (gave) to his disciples when their spirits were quite low.  Jesus’s blessing, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you, I do not give as the world gives.  Let not your hearts be troubled.  Neither let them be afraid.” (John14:27) 

I look forward tomorrow to a very ‘peaceful’ Christmas with my extended family.  Lots of presents, good food, and oh so much to be thankful for this year!  Yet I am reminded, keenly reminded of times in life, in your lives and my own, when peace was lacking, when peace was so needed, and it came.  God Almighty sent us help.  He sent us His Son and lots and lots of good people to help us when we felt drained of peace.  Poor old Joseph, if you had asked him early on when he learned that Mary was pregnant and he knew he wasn’t the father, if he felt ‘peace’. In his Jewish dialect he probably would have said, “Not so much!”  It took faith, family, and divine help to bring an abiding peace to both Mary and Joseph and even to the birth of their child in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn. 

Tonight, may we all recall how Christmas has come to us this past year.  It came abundantly so when we finally began to experience HIS peace, not as the world gives but as Jesus Christ gives. Jesus further said to us, “Ask and you will receive.”  Ask for peace, God’s peace, in all areas of your life.  Let peace shine through you then as the very light of God.  Please ponder that this evening as you lay your head on the pillow for sleep.  The spirit of Christmas is peace.  Jesus offers you peace, His peace.  Not as the world gives, He gives.  Ask and you will receive. 

The heart of Christmas is Love.  The Bible remains the basis of our Christmas celebrations.  Hear again those ancient words of faith spoken through prophets and agents of God, “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. God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:16,17)  

IF you have experienced God’s love this past year, then Christmas has already come to your heart and soul.  Remember this, God’s love is best found and more often felt in the most unlikely of places, during some of the worst times in our lives, and in ways perhaps we never would have thought of.  I KNOW this to be true. 

Love came down at Christmas.  Remember tonight, where that love came from.  It came from heaven.  God’s love is from heaven. Heaven is ‘for real’.  The angels and the hosts came from heaven singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven!” 

The greatest love was to be found where the brightest star had led them.  They’ll know we are Christians by our love…Let your light shine so that others will see God. 

This past year I was ‘laid up’ with some major surgery to my hip and left femur.  It took a good while to recover.  Actually, I am still recovering, so please don’t push me or I just might fall over this evening!  I share that with you to say that I know I experienced lots and lots of love during my full recovery process.  As your pastor, I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your love, your prayers, your encouragement, and your continued support. 

A soul goes through this life growing to know that ‘love’ is just real important.  God says so, but this year, at least for me, ‘life’ also said so! 

At our house on the wall of our dining room we have this picture of Jesus.  Years ago, in another church where I served, a lady who was blessed with so much recovery due to much loss within her family sketched this picture for me.  What is so very unique about this picture are the eyes of Jesus and the way she has portrayed them.  Kind eyes, sincere eyes, soul searching eyes.  That picture reminds me to look into the eyes of others and see Jesus, bring comfort, help with hope, seek peace, and share love. 

There is a current story about a family in Ukraine.  They have suffered great loss. An uninvited and unprovoked war has taken the lives of their 26-year-old son, and just a short while later, the life of their 28-year-old son.  Their home has been bombed.  A person from that country seeking to care inquires, “What might I do to help them?”  Yet he further states, “When I see such devastation and feel so much pain for another, I just want to look away.”

This Christmas and beyond, be like Jesus.  Meet the eyes of another, especially so when they are hurting.  They need that, and so do you.  We are all seeking to see Jesus.  We are all needing Jesus.  Jesus is sometimes seen in and through us.  Meet the eyes of another. 

I heard the story recently of a little boy who wanted to meet God.  He knew it was a long trip to where God lived, so he packed his suitcase with some Oreo cookies and a couple of cans of Coke and started his journey.  When he'd gone half a mile or so, he met an old woman.  She was sitting in the park just staring at some pigeons.  The boy sat down next to her and opened his suitcase.  He was about to take a drink from one of his cans of Coke when he noticed the old lady looked hungry, so he offered her some Oreos.  She gratefully accepted and smiled at him.  Her smile lit up her whole face. 

It was so lovely, the boy wanted to see it again, so he offered her a drink of Coke.  Once again, she smiled at him.  The boy was delighted!  They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word.  As it grew dark, the boy realized how tired he was, and he got up to leave, but before he'd gone more than a few steps, he turned around, ran back to the old woman and gave her a hug.  She gave him her biggest smile ever. 

When the boy opened the door to his own house a short time later, his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face.  She asked him, "What did you do today that made you so happy?"  He replied, "I had lunch with God."  And before his mother could respond, he added, "You know what?  She's got the most beautiful smile I've ever seen!" 

Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home.  Her son was stunned by the look of peace on her face, and he asked, "Mother, what did you do today that made you so happy?"  She replied, "I ate Oreos in the park with God."  And before her son could respond, she added, "You know, he's much younger than I expected." 

It does seem strange to think of God as a little boy, or indeed, as an old woman!  It seems pretty strange to think of God as a baby in a manger.  Yet that's what Christmas is all about.  About God being born.  

Christmas HAS come this past year and furthermore tonight in hope, peace, joy, and love.  

Like Mary, treasure and ponder these ‘presents’ of God in your heart.  Amen.

Christmas Love 12/18/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, December 17, 2022 & Sunday, December 18, 2022

4th Sunday of Advent 

Prayer For Illumination: Savior God, guide us by your Word and Spirit that we might hear your truth, heed your call, and be prepared for Christ’s birth this Christmas.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Matthew 1:18-25 (pg. 966); John 3:16,17 (pg. 1065); 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (pg. 1152) 

Sermon Message: ‘Christmas Love’ 

The last scriptures we shared from 1 Corinthians 13 are often times referred to as the ‘love chapter’ in the Bible.  Quite often these same scriptures are spoken and referenced at weddings.  Sometimes they are thought of, as so many ‘ideals’ regarding what ‘love’ should be.  

This is nearly Christmas.  A time to give and receive gifts.  Today, I invite us to look at these scriptures from 1 Corinthians 13 as a gift from God.  In part these scriptures describe God’s Christmas love for us. 

God’s love is patient.  God’s love is kind.  God is not envious in His love for us, nor is He proud.  God is not easily angered, nor does He keep a record of wrongs.  God’s love protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. 

I like knowing THAT is how God loves me.  THAT is how God loves you.  Not just during the Christmas season. 

These same scriptures also provide wholesome meaning and guidance to our lives as well.  I came across a simplified version of 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter, someone has written especially for the Christmas season: 

"If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shining balls, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crystal snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir’s cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child.

Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.

Love is kind, though harried and tired.

Love doesn’t envy another’s home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.

Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

Love never fails.

Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, and golf clubs will rust.

But giving the gift of love will endure." 

Isn’t that was Christmas is really is about?  God gave us His gift of Love.  He gave us the gift of Life.  How precious the baby Jesus was.  Precious, not because he was a tiny baby, but because He was the Gift of God’s Love. 

And maybe the best gift you can really give at Christmas is the gift of love.  I think sometimes we get caught up in the "commercialism" of Christmas and the "big gift-giving frenzy".  And sure, behind those gifts are expressions of love.  BUT, the most important ingredient to a wonderful Christmas is that it contains Christmas love. 

Often when we ponder what love is, we think about romance, people falling in love.  We think about the love that a parent passes along to a child, shares with a grandparent, or perhaps a grandchild.  Two of the most familiar scenarios of love are a marriage ceremony and the birth of a child. 

From what I have seen of the Divine, God is all about shining love in the least likely places. 

Think about it, the first real example of Christmas love was at a stable, a non-conventional place for any child to be born.  At that little manger a new spark of love was born into this world.  

Every year when we read the account in the Bible regarding Jesus’ birth, we realize again and again in the first few hours and days of Jesus’ life, he was surrounded by love.  It wasn’t just his parents, but shepherds appeared and adored baby Jesus. 

After leaving the stable Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem.  While they were at the Temple, Simeon and the prophet Anna showered Jesus with love and gave glory to God for the experience of being with Jesus. 

Who helped you along?  Who gave you life?  More importantly, who gave you love that helped you to be alive and also to thrive?  We just never know whom we’re going to interact with in our lives, and how this love will ripple into the world.  Through these interactions, Jesus felt love in his earliest days, and I believe, helped him grow in love. 

Throughout his life we perceive scenes of Jesus having compassion on the sick and caring for those cast out by others.  Jesus ate with sinners, blessed, cared for, and healed those who were perhaps undeserving.  His gift was Christmas love. 

Look around; look at your own life.  We HAVE experienced the Divine. This Christmas consider love.  

Sometimes our heavenly Father watches us do the same terrible mistakes over and over again.  Love is His patience with us.  Christmas love occurs when we change what we’ve been doing wrong repeatedly and allow Jesus to give birth to new ways and better directions in our lives. 

Folks tend to imagine or describe God as being mean, demanding, and angry.  But that’s not how I know God.  Really think about it.  If you consider how God has helped you and been present in your life, even during just this past year, you know He is kind to you.  That’s Christmas love. 

How can we love someone who has hurt us so horrifically?  When we read and respond to the scriptures which declare that God’s love keeps no record of wrongs, and we implement the same characteristic of love in how we relate to others, there is Christmas love. 

God’s Christmas is to be a time of hope, peace, joy, and love.  But that’s just sometimes real hard to see.  Especially so when the events of this life make you hurt, cause such sadness, and even create suffering.  Like me, you probably know some people who will be dealing with so much pain this Christmas.  Pain from grieving, depression, and conflicts.  It IS often times hard to see love when so many that we care about are hurting.  

Yet God asks us to open our eyes a little more.  Look around and see Christmas love.  It’s there, not only in the presents and the decorations, nor is it there only in the meals we shall prepare.  Look and see who IS sitting with someone who is ill or grieving.  REMEMBER there are people praying for you right now.  

The world is changing for the better in lots of areas.  There IS Christmas love.  In this very world we live in perhaps most news reports are of the bad, the ugly, the fearful, the hurting, and the sensationalized.  YET there really IS love that is going beyond races, genders, sexual orientations, religious beliefs, family structures, and even political views.  Love remains the universal truth that we as Christians experience in Jesus Christ. 

There IS suffering in our world.  The War in Ukraine continues.  There remains a longing for peace where there is no peace.  Violence continues every day in Pittsburgh and lots and lots of places in our country. The prayer list on the back of our bulletin remains long and somewhat daunting, a rather stark reminder of suffering among many, among folks we know, love, worship with, and share faith with as well. 

This Christmas receive a few gifts from God. God the Father so loved the world that He has sent his son Jesus Christ.  Jesus was sent not to condemn but to save, to love, to care. 

Christmas love was and still is sent to us from God.  I can testify to it, for I have experienced it personally throughout this past year.  I know bad things happen in our lives.  I have matured to realize there’s no way to avoid all suffering in our lifetime.  Even Jesus Christ understood that to be true.  

Christmas reminds us that we meet love in some of the most unlikely of places.  Love has the potential to take a very bad situation and make it less painful and lonely.  Love is contagious, and once we experience the gift of love, the greatness of love shared with us, we can’t help but pass it forward. 

Mary and Joseph discovered that sometimes it takes a miracle to deal with all that’s perplexing, fearful, even hurting in life.  Christmas love came.  

This church has received Christmas love from God.  Our love as a church family remains an active part of our faith.  To love means having open tables and open hearts, forgiving spirits, and willing workers. 

WE have discovered that love is not only a feeling but also an active part of our lives.  Christmas isn’t for us just a holiday, but a ‘way’ of love.  This I know, every little experience with love impacts us. From the time we are young into our later years, each time we meet love somewhere, we experience the presence of God.  The more we share that love, the more others see God in their lives. 

THAT is what God is calling us to do this Christmas and throughout the entire year.  Amen.

The Greatest Joy of All 12/10/2022

Sermon Message for 3rd Sunday of Advent/Communion

Saturday, December 10, 2022 & Sunday, December 11, 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. 

Scripture Lessons:  Isaiah 35:1-10 (page 713) & Luke 1:39-55 (page 1025) 

Sermon Message: ‘The Greatest Joy of All’ 

The prophet Isaiah and young Mary knew the greatest joy of all.  ‘Joy” is a very important part of this Christmas season. ‘Joy’ is mentioned throughout the Bible.  It’s a bit different than ‘happiness.’  Folks tend to agree that ‘happiness’ kind of comes and goes, but joy seems to be more lasting. Mary sang with joy.  Isaiah describes a joy that comes when you see what God is doing. 

Today let’s strive to consider the greatest joy of all. The greatest joy of all is a spirit of contentment that comes from knowing, for certain, that things are right between you and God.  It is the spiritual contentment that comes from knowing that you have a hope that holds constant beyond the uncertainties of this life. 

Some folks would say the word ‘joy’ seems similar in meaning to the word ‘happiness’ but not really so.  Yes, they have some similarities, but they are NOT entirely the same. 

There’s a difference in asking someone, what would bring you the greatest joy?  Versus, what would make you happy? 

What is it that would make you happy?  Is there a certain present that you might receive this Christmas that might really make you happy?  ‘Happiness’ comes and goes.  Far too often it is short lived.  Some of the things we acquire that we ‘thought’ would make us happy only do so for a short time.  

For instance, how long after you opened last year’s Christmas presents were you truly happy and excited with them?  Can you even remember what you got for Christmas last year?  Did last year’s presents bring you ‘joy?’ 

I think we all have experiences in our lives that were ‘happy’ and fulfilling.  Surely we were happy when we ate that good Thanksgiving meal.  This past Wednesday reached 60 degrees.  That was a happy reality.  Sometimes our happiness is associated with ‘getting what we want.’ 

There are still lots of ‘happy marriages’ out there!  Lots of folks are happy to be alive, happy to have a home, nice clothing to wear, perhaps funds saved for a rainy day or retirement. 

Most often ‘happiness’ is a good thing and remains a goal among many.  Yet it is not the only thing that leads our lives or brings such solid fulfillment to us.  If ‘happiness’ is our main goal, far too often we ‘come up short.’  In part that is because ‘happiness’ is short-lived and quite often changing. 

Have you noticed how culture has changed from saying Merry Christmas to ‘Happy Christmas?’  Again, I ask, what will truly make you ‘happy’ this Christmas season?

Myself, I am waiting for a cultural shift that proclaims “Joyous Christmas to you” instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Christmas.’  

Joy is more lasting.  The Bible describes ‘joy’ as being a ‘gift’ or fruit’ of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives. 

‘Joy’ is a big word this time of year.  Think of some of the songs that speak of joy:  “How Great our Joy” and some of the words within “Joy, joy, joy!  Joy, joy, joy!”  Sung over and over again.  Or the hymn “Joy to the World,” “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee,” “Good Christian Men Rejoice.”  We speak of spreading “Christmas joy.” 

Actually, the true joy of Christmas lasts all year long.  How might Christians identify joy? 

The prophet Isaiah speaks of the desert and the parched land being glad.  Years ago I traveled through a desert out West.  I’ve known what it is to get ‘parched lips.’  Can you ‘relate’ to a desert or having ‘parched lips?’  Sometimes we are to draw some analogies in order to perceive God’s deeper, His greater truth and joy, for our lives. 

A desert is usually dry and parched.  In dire need of something more to revive it, sustain it, make it blossom with life.  Have there been ‘deserts’ in your life that God may have redeemed and brought you joy? 

You have probably heard my story associated with my early years.  My Dad was an alcoholic.  Often times a mean alcoholic.  We were quite poor.  Although there were times of happiness back then, those years lacked an on-going joy to them. 

When father began attending AA meetings, sought the counsel of our local clergy, and went back to work and began ‘making things right’ again, there was joy.  

Has there been a desert area in your life that God redeemed and you experienced not only happiness, but more importantly, joy? 

Today’s scripture lesson in Isaiah 35 tells us there is joy; there is rejoicing when and where in life we have seen the glory of the Lord and the splendor of our God. 

Perhaps you were somewhat ‘happy’ with the weather pattern this morning.  Possibly not. Yet day after precious day God reveals His nature, His splendor to us with each morning sunrise and through each evening sunset.  Not only in nature but throughout all of our lives there remains evidence, solid and sincere evidence, of seeing and experiencing the glory and splendor of God. 

If you’ve ever lived through or are possibly living through something right now that makes you feel weak and feeble, perhaps making you feel like your knees might give out, the prophet says “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.”  God will get vengeance where it is needed.  Divine retribution will be seen.  Sooner or later.  He will come to SAVE you. 

When God saves a soul; when God takes care of a life, a situation, a circumstance, there is something that wells up inside of us.  Something both meaningful and lasting.  JOY. 

The nice thing about faith is it helps you to see.  When a soul ‘sees’ God in the midst of life, there is a certain ‘joy.’  ‘Happiness’ is for the moment. ‘Joy’ is lasting. 

I don’t know if you noticed or were ‘touched’ by the one portion of scripture found in Isaiah 35.  It’s actually within verse 8.  That particular verse states, “A highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness.”  God has given us that ‘Way of Holiness.’  That’s what true religion is!  That’s what godliness is in our lives. 

‘Religion’ isn’t some club or organization we join and say we belong to.  Religion is a way of life.  It is holiness and it leads to godliness in our daily lives.  Religion doesn’t start and stop with our worship service each week.  Religion and godliness carries through every day of our lives.  A worship service might bring some happiness.  It may be entertaining, thoughtful, even moving in some ways.  But when the believer allows one’s ‘self’ to enter into a deeper relationship with God during worship, there is joy.  The kind that lasts beyond the time of worship.  

The Bible teaches us that when Jesus was born, the angels announced a proclamation of Joy - “Good tidings of great joy.”  Jesus brings joy.  Even Mary’s cousin Elizabeth’s baby leaped for joy at the name of Jesus being born. 

Being in the right relationship with God will cause us to experience joy.  Even at the name of Jesus we might begin praising God.  Praising God the Father for the gift of His Son; Jesus will bring peace on earth even if there is not peace on earth.  I say it can lead a soul unto joy. 

The Christmas season ought to bring Joy - it was not meant to be a time of sorrow.  

No doubt some of you will be baking cookies for this Christmas.  I think Mary, the mother of Christ, affords us a ‘recipe’ of sorts for joy this Christmas and beyond.  Mary wasn’t surrounded by a large number of family and friends that first Christmas.  She didn’t receive an MP3 player and give Joseph a DVD player.  She didn’t have large piles of food sitting around her nicely decorated house.  And yet, Mary was filled with joy – it came from something deeper – something that goes beyond all the physical trappings of Christmas. 

It is my prayer that Mary’s ‘recipe’ for joy will bless you in the days ahead and throughout your entire life, as you seek to be someone who has joy in your life. 

We find Mary’s recipe for joy in a song she sang, a song many people today call the “Magnificat.”  Here’s the setting – Mary had just received word from the angel Gabriel that she, an unmarried girl, probably in her teens, would become pregnant and be the mother of the Messiah.  She also learned that one of her older relatives, a woman named Elizabeth, was already six months pregnant.  These were pretty amazing things for her to hear – so immediately she went to visit her relative Elizabeth.  The moment Mary greeted Elizabeth, the unborn infant “leaped in her womb.”  Elizabeth then said to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear.”  She went on to inquire, “Why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  The Holy Spirit had revealed to Elizabeth that Mary would be the mother of the Messiah.  Elizabeth told Mary that her unborn child had leapt for joy,  and that Mary was blessed for believing that she would be the mother of the Christ. 

At this point, the Holy Spirit fills Mary with a song.  It is called the “Magnificat” because of verse 46, where Mary says, “My soul glorifies the Lord.”  The Latin translation actually says, “My soul magnifies the Lord,”  and there you get the word “magnificat.”  Verse 47:  “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  Her spirit was filled with joy.  Let’s find her recipe. 

The first ‘ingredient’ in Mary’s recipe for the greatest joy of all is being humble.  Mary humbled herself when the angel visited her. May we also humble ourselves when the presence of God comes.  Humbleness opens the soul to joy.  

The second ‘ingredient’ for the greatest joy of all is mercy.  There is joy inside any of us when we ‘feel’ and experience God’s forgiveness.  There is joy experienced in heaven when we choose to extend mercy to another soul. 

The third ingredient for the greatest joy of all is grace.  God has surely redeemed my life with lots of love, mercy, and grace.  Many are the observable realities that make my soul humble with the reality, “If not for the grace of God, there go I.” 

May that be your recipe for joy as we head into the festival of Christmas.  A good recipe can be hard to find, but here’s one that has proven to be a good one for thousands of years.  Combine one part HUMILITY, with two parts God’s GRACE and a sincere helping of Mercy.  And the result - your spirit will rejoice in God your Savior.  

This morning my prayer is that Jesus restores Joy to your life, the way it is intended to be given and lived in a life of a believer.

If you need it this morning, grab it, hold unto it.  If you are being blessed by our great God, share the joy of the Lord with those that are around you.  Be a blessing by relationship with God and others He puts in our path. 

The greatest joy of all is our salvation and relationship with Almighty God.  Amen.

Bigger Peace 12/3/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, December 3, 2022 & Sunday, December 4, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Savior God, guide us by your Word and Spirit that we might hear your truth, heed your call, and be prepared for Christ’s birth this Christmas.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Isaiah 11:1-10 (page 690), Luke 2:14 (page 1027), John 3:16 (page 1065) 

Sermon Message:  “Bigger Peace” 

Without hope there is no peace.  But hope fulfilled can lead to peace realized.  

Jesus would sometimes share a simple little story in his effort to communicate and get people to think.  I have a very brief little story that you can perhaps ‘relate’ to. 

Two little girls saw there was only one cupcake left.  The one little girl says, “I want the bigger piece.”  Placing a knife on the table the mother says, “One cuts, the other gets to choose.”  So, the elaborate process begins; one daughter trying to cut the cupcake exactly in half to prevent her sister from having “the bigger piece.”  Oh how honest children are! 

Some folks are still after the bigger piece. Today I will share with you some insights into peace, spelled P-E-A-C-E. 

In the Bible a symbol of ‘peace’ is the dove.  I know some of us place a dove on our Christmas trees each year when we decorate.  We sometimes get Christmas cards that speak of ‘peace.’  It’s an important word because peace is such an important concept.  It is important that people get along with each other and feel at peace inside.  Conflict, war, and harsh disagreements are something we try to prevent and resolve.  Jesus is sometimes called the "Prince of Peace." 

Peace is the absence of conflict, but it is so much more.  The word ‘shalom’ is the word Jesus used when he appeared to his disciples.  It is the same word used by today's Jewish people as they greet one another.  It means peace, but it really means much more.  The word also implies God's blessings upon the recipients of the greeting.  So, I say to you today, “Shalom.”  “Shalom” leads to a bigger peace.  

Angels remind us of peace.  Angels came to bring us a bigger peace from God into our lives; within our world. The angels and a great company of the heavenly host praised God saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 

May God’s ‘favor’ rest upon you today and lead you to a bigger peace. 

Some parts of the Bible make you ‘think’ as you consider their message.  For instance, today’s first scripture reading from Isaiah offers his vision of the “peaceable kingdom” -- a world where “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, the cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together.”  It’s an enticing vision, yet it also seems like an impossible dream.  How exactly is that supposed to come about?  How can genetic predisposition be overcome?  Those questions seem particularly apropos for us today as well since we live in a world rife with divisions and enmity, especially in the wake of particularly vicious political campaigns and election results that have left all sides with raw emotions and worries about the future.  How can we listen to those with differing viewpoints, put aside lingering resentments, and sit down together in fellowship and unity?  Moreover, how can we reconcile the various parts of our own personalities that represent the lion and the lamb?  And how can we avoid being lions that unnecessarily prey on vulnerable lambs and the powerless?  In the current environment, achieving all of that seems almost unimaginably difficult.  Yet the prophet provides the simple prescription for finding peace when he observes, “and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:1-10) 

Have you ever taken the kids to the zoo?  I sometimes wonder how some of those big animals, bears, lions and gorillas tolerate the human beings that seek to care for them.  Who feeds them on a daily basis?  What’s that like, I wonder? Are the animals somehow confined when the workers come into their area to feed them, clean up, or strive to examine them?  How do the animals and the keepers learn to inhabit the same space, without harm to either one?  

Within today’s scripture lesson from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah those questions are kind of resolved.  Isaiah does not speak of ‘how’ God gets animals who are natural enemies to live in peace with one another.  He just supplies us with a vision, God’s compelling vision that it will happen.  How it happens seems awfully big, don’t you think?  

How would a snake learn to transcend the reptile brain and not be a threat to a baby?  What basis would the wolf and the lamb find for their friendship?  How full would the leopard have to be to pass up a plump, young goat? 

Isaiah promises that the natural order will change once the world knows the fullness of God’s peace.  Even dead tree stumps will crack so new life can grow.  We can’t help but wonder how this will come to pass, and if it’s even possible anywhere other than the mind of God.  God welcomes us to consider and be a part of the bigger peace. 

As a pastor, I have been more than impressed, often times simply amazed, to see how the church community works to achieve and maintain this ‘bigger peace!’  Here in the church, I not only see quite distinct and different people worshipping together but also working together.  There are some very impressive signs of the peaceable kingdom coming to life in all of God’s churches.  I have observed the highly educated and the very wealthy roll up their sleeves and work right alongside people who just don’t know how they are supposed to ‘make ends meet’, serve a fundraising meal or a community luncheon together. I have witnessed those with plenty and those with little, pruning the hedges and mowing the grass, planting flowers and painting the church together.  Best of all is when this occurs in worship.  My heart is warmed and my spirit feels so blessed with the peace, the bigger peace, that stems from witnessing all different scenarios and types of people ‘here’ worshipping God, side by side.  We all need prayer, we all need fed the Word of God, and we all need faith fellowship.  We all have need for support, opportunities to give and share.  We all are seekers of God’s peace, His bigger peace, that is far greater than the kind of peace we can know simply on our own. 

God’s vision of a bigger peace can be brought to life more fully in the church!  Functioning as a church family we live together striving for a bigger peace so our differences enlighten each other.  As people of God, we need to make sure the wolf and the lamb both have their voices heard. 

Additionally, try thinking about the lion and the lamb that both live inside each one of us.  Images for Jesus include both the lion and the lamb, and our path in following him incorporates both.  How do we know when it’s time to use the lion’s strength, and when it’s time to lead with the lamb’s gentleness?  When we’re using our lion skills, how do we not scare the lambs?  When we’re in lamb mode, how do we not get gobbled up by the lion?  

God wants all of His children to have a bigger peace.  Draw some analogies from today’s scriptural teachings and illustrations.  Perhaps you, like myself, have been taught for years, Do not be quick to purchase items of food, clothing, automobiles, and so on, developed by people who are being paid poverty wages or enlisted in slave labor so that large stores and corporations can make a huge profit.  This is perhaps a modern-day analogy of wolves, gobbling up lambs on a daily basis as our lives are sustained by modern-day subsistence labor.  How can we change our wolf-like nature to impact the lives of people who are more like the lamb than we are?  We don’t need to change everything at once, but begin with one change we can make in our consumption.  Do that, and then “the next right thing,” and then another step.  The peaceable kingdom comes one step at a time. 

People still hope for what may seem impossible.  No doubt many in Ukraine hope for what seems quite impossible with Russia’s war being daily imposed upon them.  Perhaps within your own life, your work, your family, and your health, you perceive needed peace, a bigger picture of peace than seems at all attainable.  God’s vision of extreme opposites growing to be at peace with one another across multiple centuries and amongst diverse peoples has seemed impossible.  But that doesn’t mean we should stop working for it. 

As with so many areas in our walk of faith, we can’t obsess too much with the results, but we do need to remain faithful to God’s vision of what He says can be.  

Consider just ‘how’ you can be effective in working and attaining the bigger peace in any and all situations and scenarios, then work towards it.  Use your degrees of effectiveness wisely and abundantly. I know and you know, you have some ways and means, some abilities to help attain a bigger peace somewhere in this old world IF you will but try.  Be faithful not only unto God, but also be faithful to your own abilities and gifts streaming through you.  IF you keep considering and affirming how ‘small’ your effectiveness might be, you will take on smaller and smaller tasks.  Many a soul who has stood for high values never lived quite long enough to fully realize the effectiveness of their endeavors.

To work for the bigger peace this Advent and Christmas season, you and I need to ‘hang in there’ for the long haul. 

Whether we’re wolves or lambs, snakes or babies, living together peacefully requires us to step out of what we know into an unfamiliar, uncomfortable world.  Our usual instincts don’t work here -- we need a different kind of wisdom only God can give.  Being together harmoniously isn’t possible in an instant -- we have to learn new ways of thinking, and then new patterns of living.  But God is on our side in this work, just as God has always been on the side of peace.  Our world holds the same darkness and fear that Isaiah saw, and God’s word of promise belongs to us too.  But we have to learn enough to take our place in the world God dreams for all of us. 

An old Cherokee was teaching his grandson about the kind of life that leads to a bigger peace. 

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.  “It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves.  One is evil -- he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”  The old man continued, “The other is good -- he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.  The same fight is going on inside you -- and inside every other person too.” 

The grandson thought about this for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” 

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”  My friends, feed that part of you that leads towards the bigger peace. 

Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” 

Prayer can lead a soul to a bigger peace.  Hear, receive, and reflect upon this familiar prayer for peace; Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:  where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. 

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 

Amen.

Advent: Hoping and Waiting 11/26/2022

Sermon Message for the First Sunday of Advent

November 27, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Open the heavens, O God.  Open our hearts.  Let your Word be heard, remembered, and received.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 40:31 (page 720), Ephesians 4:1-6 (page 1175), Romans 8:22-25 (page 1133) 

Sermon Message:  “Advent: Hoping & Waiting” 

Christmas is coming.  In fact, just 29 days from today it will be Christmas Day!  I am ‘hoping’ to have a better Christmas than I did the year building up to it.  I am ‘hoping’ for a white Christmas, just not the bitter cold nor freezing rain. 

These days leading up to Christmas are days of hoping and waiting.  After all, this IS the spiritual inclination of this church season we refer to as ‘Advent.’  While Advent is to be seen as a time of both preparation and waiting, with hope, Christmas is hope personified. Christianity is a religion of hope. 

Today we begin the Advent season by lighting the first Advent candle, the candle of hope.  As we heard a few minutes ago, this candle reminds us of the hope God gave His people when He promised to send them a Messiah, a Savior, a Deliverer.  The candle reminds us that this promise was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ.  And it invites us to look forward in hope to the day of Christ’s second coming, His second Advent, when all the promises that were initially fulfilled at His birth will be completely fulfilled at His return. 

We wait for Christ’s second return.  We wait for Christmas to come.  Throughout the year our lives are marked by periods of hoping and waiting. Some folks feel that’s such a waste of time.  However, our faith teaches us a better ‘way’ a greater ‘understanding’ associated with hoping and waiting. 

Several of us realized just this last year that we had to hope and wait a long time to gain an appointment to see any of our medical caregivers.  I waited six weeks to gain an appointment with a doctor who would read the test results associated with the pain I was having in my hip and leg.  After consulting with the doctor, I then had to wait from mid-July to the end of August for much-needed surgery.  I continue to hope and wait for strength to return and healing to further come. 

None of us are exempt from times of hoping and waiting.  We hope for the lines to move fast when we go shopping for groceries or Christmas presents.  We often times have to wait at the pharmacy and hope that the medicines will ‘do the trick!’ 

Perhaps you have also gained this following awareness; having hope and being patient as you see others ‘wait’ is troublesome and sometimes quite frustrating.  If you’ve ever striven to help someone you love and keep running across obstacles that make you wait for the things that will help them, you understand what I am communicating. 

Hoping and waiting can lead a soul into apathy whereby you set back, allow anger to roll over you, plus some disgust and dismay with not being able to do anything.  A soul just sometimes grows tired and weary waiting for something to happen. 

I think we have all also found that we do end up striving to help, to do, to speak up when our hoping and waiting seems to have become too much to bear, especially so when we see someone we love suffering.  Quite often we know they would strive to do something for us if the roles were reversed. 

Advent is widely regarded as a season, which recalls a period of hoping and waiting, by Israel for the coming of the Messiah.  But it is altogether too easy for us to misinterpret the command "Wait!" as "Do nothing!"  Waiting hours should not be thought of as wasting hours. 

For instance, if you prepared any portion of the Thanksgiving meal, you know what I am saying.  When the turkey was cooking, we didn’t stop all activity and sit back watching it.  We most likely busied ourselves with other food preparations such as the potatoes, the stuffing, the veggies, and setting the table. 

Hours of hoping and waiting are not hours of wasting. 

Pregnant women have to wait an average of forty weeks hoping right along for that precious baby to develop fully before labor and delivery.  But hoping and waiting does not mean stopping or doing nothing.  Life still goes on.  Normal work has to be accomplished.  Rooms have to be prepared.  Classes associated with ‘giving birth’ need to be attended, and the principles taught need to be practiced. 

Within the midst of our hoping and waiting we ‘go on’ for Mom’s sake, for the baby’s sake, and for the sake of others we love and care about in life’s situations and circumstances. 

With all of the technology we are blessed to have, there are still periods of time whereby we have to hope and wait for the screen to open, the program to download, the given instructions to work. 

Common to us all is the theme of expectation.  Folks will sometimes say, “If you have no expectations, then you won’t be disappointed.”  Perhaps in a few areas that might be true.  Yet in the on-going reality of life that people have experienced down through the centuries and right up to these present times, we do become expectant. 

We expected our turkey to ‘get done’ and enable us to have fun and fellowship consuming.  We expect in several areas of our lives our hopes and times of waiting shall produce healthier results and better answers.

I used to hear the familiar verse, "those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength" (Isaiah 40:31) and sort of imagine someone sitting down in a rocking chair, facing the east, and waiting for God to appear in some kind of sky-rending event. 

I don't think that way any longer.  For what God really says is just the opposite:  Get up and at it!  While you're waiting for Me, wait on Me.  The world's needs are very great, and I have commissioned you to bear My gospel, My love, My mercy and compassion, and word of My justice, power, and majesty to all people.  "Those who wait for [expect, anticipate, yearn for] the Lord shall renew their strength."  You don't get strong by repeatedly sitting down or lying around.  You get tired, lazy, and apathetic. 

There was a star, one especially bright star shining in the sky when Christ was born.  That one star gave them hope and helped them to wait.  Today we are reminded and reaffirmed by God’s Holy Word that we, along with the entire creation, have been waiting and groaning inwardly as our spirits, our very souls, hope for and await our redemption. 

I think we’ve all seen it happen. You know whereby we get so very tired of hoping and waiting, then give up and give in to some sort of apathy.  That happened centuries ago too when many knew, or at least thought they knew, the prophecy about the Savior’s coming.  They let their spiritual vision get weak.  They let their faith muscles atrophy. 

We are called into this one blessed hope of Jesus Christ coming into our world, into our lives, renewing and transforming things, birthing new life and greater hope. 

Hope is not automatic.  In fact, sometimes hope is very difficult.  Sometimes our circumstances seem anything but hopeful; on the contrary, sometimes they can seem all but hopeless.  So how do we sustain hope in the midst of disappointment and difficulty?  How do we keep from being completely overwhelmed by trials and pain?  How do we maintain an attitude of hope when everything in us wants to yield to despair?  When we can’t see a way out?  When we want to give up?

We’ve all faced situations where there seems to be little objective reason for hope – in our jobs, in our marriages, in relationships with family members.  Some of us have faced seemingly hopeless medical or financial problems.  Some of you, right now, may be in situations that seem hopeless, so that you are tempted to give up hope.  How do we hold on to hope during those times when our circumstances seem hopeless? 

Put your hope in God. 

First and foremost, put your hope in God.  Trust in Him for help.  That may seem obvious, but too often we are willing to seek help from anyone and anything before we turn to God.  He becomes the appeal of last resort.  After we’ve exhausted every other option, we go to God.  So, if the problem is financial, we don’t look to God first; we look to a banker, or maybe a rich uncle.  We rack our brains trying to think of any way we can put our hands on more cash.  If the problem is relational, a conflict with a spouse or a family member, we’ll buy books on marriage, scour articles in magazines, listen to Dr. Phil or another, and then finally, maybe turn to God for help.  We will try everything we can think of, and then if nothing else works, we will think of praying.  But that’s backwards!  We should go to God first, not last.  Listen to what the Psalmist wrote:  

“No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.  A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.  But 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 rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.”               ~ Psalm 33:16-22 (NIV) 

Advent is a season that reminds and informs us of hoping and waiting. Sometimes it takes a little inner “push” to act instead of vegetate.  Remember from the Bible, the Advent/Christmas story of old. Some did act.  Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, and Elizabeth.  John.  The shepherds.  Those “kings from the east,” and others of living faith. 

The narratives of the Christmas season strive to teach us of the drama, the miraculous and the unbelievable.  Yet we are also to remember in both our times of hoping and waiting that God sent His Son in the form of an ordinary child born to ordinary parents in humble scenarios.  

Look for Christ's advent in you.  Look for his advent in others.  Our further hope is to be born again in Him.  We are never more ‘alive’ than when we know and see Christ alive within us and flowing through us. 

May this Advent season teach us all that hoping and waiting is worth it.  Hope and wait for Christ’s further advent in you.  Hope and wait for your life to change, your prayers to be answered, and your soul to be saved. This type of waiting is certainly NOT a waste of time. 

Hope for change in this world this advent season.  Change for the better.  Hope and wait for the war in Ukraine to come to an end.  Hope and wait for change to occur within you and within others.  Hope, pray, and sincerely work at changing for the Lord’s sake.  

Without hope there is no peace.  But hope fulfilled can lead to peace realized.  Amen.

A Thoughtful Thanksgiving 11/20/2022

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

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:  Psalm 8:1-9 (page 539) and Ephesians 1:15-23 (page 1173) 

Sermon Message: “A Thoughtful Thanksgiving” 

 ‘Thank you’ is among the greatest forms of prayer.  ‘Thoughtfulness’ is among the greater forms of faith. 

A family once shared their Thanksgiving Story. They had two sons; Billy, who was nine at the time, and his big brother, John, who was 11.  The grandparents were there for the meal.  So too were some of their aunts, uncles, and cousins. Billy was always the polite little boy.  John was the more mischievous one. The boy’s parents thought it would be nice if Billy would ‘say the blessing’ for the Thanksgiving meal.  Billy began his prayer by thanking God for his family and his friends, naming them one by one. Then he began to pray for the food.  He called out every item by name; the green beans, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the baked corn, the cranberry sauce, the rolls, the pumpkin pie.  Then he began to thank God for the turkey.  He said in his prayer, “The turkey looks so good!  I can hardly wait to eat some.”  He proceeded within his prayer to thank his Mom and Dad for preparing the turkey, for baking it, and for serving it.  He went a bit further and even thanked God for the store that sold them the turkey, and for the farmer who raised the turkey. 

Billy paused, looked up from the table with his hands still folded and asked, “Did I leave anyone out?”  Just then his big brother, John, blurted out sarcastically, “Well you’ve thanked everyone but God!”  Without missing a beat Billy said, “I was getting to Him!” 

A cute little story that comes with a reminder. It seems as though at Thanksgiving we thank everyone, and we should.  We wish everyone a happy “Turkey Day.”  We should thank the people that have contributed to our lives; it’s thoughtful to consider our forefathers and foremothers, and we should further praise our family and our friends.  But let’s not forget God.  He is the source of all blessings. 

“Thanksgiving” is a way of living.  I sometimes wonder what it must be like for people who don’t think much about God.  I wonder what it might be like for people who don’t really ‘know’ God and worse still for folks who choose not to ‘believe’ in God.  I don’t think Thanksgiving would be very ‘thoughtful’ if we didn’t know God and choose to thank Him for our many blessings.  I hope and pray, while strongly advising, don’t wait around this Thanksgiving or anytime during the year to thank God. 

Thanksgiving became a national holiday at a time in American history when Americans were prone to see their rich country and their good fortune to be born into it, as a direct gift from God.  They spoke of the heritage of the Pilgrims who gathered after the first harvest to thank God for the bounty that was theirs.  According to tradition, their good friends, the Native Americans, brought turkeys and venison, and together they enjoyed a great feast in primitive Massachusetts.  

So here’s a challenge to us all. This Thursday, after millions of turkeys have been prepared, served, and consumed, and you are possibly snoring with the remote control rocking on your full stomach watching, off and on, the football games, who received thanks for the good life?  Remember to reflect even after you pray, eat, and hopefully help with the ‘clean-up.’  Be intentional about Thanksgiving being Thoughtful! 

Try thanking God for Who He is, what He has done, and what He has given us. 

Today’s first scripture lesson, Psalm 8, was written by a man who was a king; King David.  Today is also Christ the King Sunday. Acknowledging Christ as King requires extensive thoughtfulness.  King David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, touched by the very hand of God, joyously reflects upon the majesty and the glory of God! Perhaps one night, as he stares up at the vast expanse of the sky, he considers God who put it all into place.  Take detailed notice of Psalm 8.  David begins and ends this psalm with God.  He does not forget the source of all blessings. 

Let us remember to be thoughtful Christians as we call upon the name of the Lord this Thanksgiving.  Hear again King David’s reflection and reference to God; “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1) Affirming God’s name as “Lord’ is a reference, a submission, and honor and glory to the attributes of ‘who’ God is!  God’s “glory” remains an ongoing expression of His goodness.  This eternal quality is for thoughtful Christians to ponder and place into their hearts and daily lives.  God is good and so too should we be in all areas of our lives. 

You’re going to “miss’ some folks this Thanksgiving.  So will I.  IF those folks we miss were lost and gone for good, that would be quite hard to take.  Consider God’s ‘heavens’ this Thanksgiving.  The Psalmist declares, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of him?” 

Perhaps this Thursday you will ‘take a little walk’ if not outside, at least to your window, look out, look up and give further thanks.  Be thoughtful of how you ‘give thanks’ this year.  This has been a year, in some ways unlike any other year.  Only God holds the year yet to come.  Remember this when you look up and look out, the vastness of the universe is the vastness of God. The Psalm reveals that God created the heavens with his fingers. This huge created order is the work of God’s fingers!

The inquiry comes from this ‘king’ David; “what is man that you are mindful of him, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:4)  God who created the Milky Way, the Andromeda galaxy, and a hundred million universes that are tossed all over space as mere handfuls of stardust, cares for us; you and me. God thinks of us.  He remembers us.  He keeps us in His heart and on His lips and in His eyes.  In all of that vastness, God thinks of us and sees us. 

For the created order, for our creator and the creation of you and of me, we are so thankful.  More importantly, remain thankful for being invited into a relationship with God.  God knows you by name.  When we bear the name ‘Christian’ and let others both see and know we are ‘Christians,’ God thanks us. 

King David reminds us of the moon and the stars.  Consider this analogy; we, like the moon, reflect the energy, the light of God when touched by the Son even on the blackest of nights. 

The story is told of a little girl walking home from church when she turned to her Mom and said, “Mommy, the preacher’s sermon this morning confused me.”  The mother said, “Oh, why is that?”  The girl replied, “Well he said that God is bigger than we are.  Is that true??”  “Yes, that’s true,” the mother replied.  “He also said that God lives within us.  Is that true too?”  Again the mother replied, “Yes, that is true.”  “Well” said the girl, “If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn’t He show through?” 

God wants to show through each of our lives so we can bring light into this dark world.  This remains something very important we are to do for God.  Let His light shine in us and through us for others to see and know God.  

The Apostle Paul writes of being thankful and praying for people as he remembers their faith.  He prays for these people he cares about to get to know God better.  Now there is a healthy thanksgiving prayer. To pray for people we care about to get to know God better.  That is thoughtful thanksgiving. 

Having a thoughtful thanksgiving is not restricted only to reflections and memories of times past.  Nor is it only thankfulness for those whom we know and love.  The Bible reminds us to also thank God not only for this present age but also for the age to come. 

Right now God is preparing a special place for us.  Life is more than here and now.  Life has a future focus, and for believers, an eternal home.  Heaven is a place prepared for those who choose to call God their Father.  “Our Father who art in heaven…” 

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms, many mansions, I go and prepare a place for you.  I will come again and receive you to myself that where I am you may be also.” 

A few ‘recommendations’ for a thoughtful Thanksgiving, now and throughout the year; the next time you step out at night, see the stars and thank the One who put them in space.  The next time you take in a sunrise or a sunset, say a prayer of thanks to the One who created it.  Or for that matter when you see a rose, or a babbling brook, or a rainbow, or that first blanket of snow, don’t forget to thank the One who gave it to you and me, no strings attached.  Just a simple gift so we can enjoy. 

Because of God’s care, we should be thankful for his presence.  It has been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  Do you realize how much God cares for you?  God perceives our needs and responds.  God learns of our ‘wants’ and sometimes ‘protects’ us from harming ourselves!  We don’t always see God, nor do we always ‘feel’ His presence.  But God is there. God, like a caring friend, a good doctor, and a loving pastor all rolled up in one, focuses on our needs.  He quietly intersects our lives meeting our needs when we need him most.  

Do you remember the footprints story?  A man looks back on his life and sees two sets of footprints.  One is his; the other is God’s.  As the man observes his life when things are going well, there are two distinct sets of footprints.  But, interestingly, when life is difficult and the times are trying, there is only one set of footprints.  He questions God, as to why he leaves him when life is hard.  God responds by saying, “My son, you don’t understand.  When there is only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.” 

God is a caring God.  Like Hallmark cards, “He cared enough to send the very best.”  When he saw our need for forgiveness, he sent his one and only Son to die for our sins.  He did for us on the cross what we could not do ourselves.  For that we should be eternally grateful. 

We truly have much to be thankful for, don’t we?  Giving thanks to God for all he has done should be one of the most distinctive marks of the believer in Jesus Christ.  Is that true of you?  Or has the spirit of ingratitude hardened your heart and chilled your relationship with God and with others?  Nothing turns us into bitter, selfish, dissatisfied people more quickly than an ungrateful heart.  And nothing will do more to restore contentment and the joy of our salvation than a true spirit of thankfulness.     

To be grateful, after all, is to see God, the world, and ourselves aright – to recognize that all of life is a gracious gift from his hand.  We are all God’s debtors.  Do strive to believe in God.  This Thanksgiving I hope you don’t forget God.  Make sure he is first and last on your thanksgiving list.  

I pray you and I shall have a thoughtful Thanksgiving.  Amen.

The Way of Generosity 11/12/2022

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

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 Lessons: Luke 19:1-10 (page 1052) & Matthew 6:19-21 (page 971) 

Sermon Message: "The Way of Generosity" 

When it comes to being generous, the question God presents to us is,“Where is your heart?” 

Jesus reminds us that we need to look at our heart and respond from our heart.  There remains both blessings and warnings in scripture regarding the way of generosity. 

Perhaps what ‘comes to mind’ when we think of generosity is someone giving money.  While generosity may well involve finances, there are many ways any of us can be generous. 

Being ‘generous’ is harder for some folks than it is for others. For instance, folks with more skeptical or scientific minds tend not to act or react quickly to ‘matters of the heart.’  While generosity is not merely actions guided by the heart, it certainly does help to ‘care’ when being generous. 

The way of generosity is a way of thinking as well as believing.  Foundational to the way of generosity are our beliefs as well as our ‘feelings.’ 

Consider the Gospel of Luke that includes the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector.  Luke, the writer of this particular gospel, was a physician.  It is believed he had a skeptical and scientific mind.  While the Holy Spirit put Luke to remarkable use, it wasn’t without both some trials and some further growth before Luke subscribed to the way of generosity. 

Starting around this time of year and beyond we are likely to be bombarded with requests for donations to a wide variety of ‘causes’, organizations, and individuals. 

The way of generosity is not to be delegated to just a ‘season.’  Even the generosity we experience during the Christmas season should be a sincere part of us throughout the year. 

I continue to become nicely aware of folks who spend some time researching ‘who’ or ‘what’ is a good cause to support, to be generous towards.  I personally have benefited from gaining knowledge of what ‘percentage’ of my donations goes to ‘overhead’ or administration versus helping the needing individual or grouping of persons. 

Luke had ‘heard’ much about ‘who’ Jesus was; Luke chose to study, pray, and investigate things for himself.

It is believed that Luke was a person of great privilege and self-confidence.  He was learned and able to write well enough to undertake writing a book: The Gospel of Luke. 

Prior to his writing he had time to make independent investigations regarding the awareness of Jesus’ movements and miracles.  He did some traveling as part of his investigations. 

But this privilege and self-confidence was not, for Luke, an invitation to hold himself higher than others.  On the contrary, what is perhaps most notable about Luke’s gospel is his emphasis on the place of women, the poor, and outcasts (including lepers and Samaritans) in Jesus’ ministry and in the early church. 

A vital aspect of Christian stewardship we learn from Luke is ‘The Way of Generosity.” Generosity is giving freely without anxiety or thought for your own or another’s deserving; sharing what the world would call “yours” because you cannot conceive of behaving another way.  Luke is generous in his inclusion – in sharing the Jesus story as one that is for all people, without regard to financial status, nationality, gender, or relative status.  Not only are all welcome at the table, but anyone might turn out to be evidence of generosity in some form within the Gospel of Luke.  There are many unique examples of this in Luke, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna (Luke 8:2-3).  There is also the ‘Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37); Martha and her sister, Mary (Luke 10:38-42); Pharisees, tax collectors, and lost sheep (Luke 15); ten men sick with leprosy (Luke17:11-19); and many others. 

There is another story in the Gospel of Luke that teaches us about stewardship.  It is the story of Zacchaeus.  It’s quite ironic; Zacchaeus means “Innocent.”  This man whose name was “Innocent” had been stealing from his own people.  He was colluding with the occupying enemy forces, and for his help in raising money for the continued support of their army, Zacchaeus was given the privilege of collecting as much extra as he thought he could get away with in order to enrich himself.  Zacchaeus, then, was not only a man of “privilege,” he was a man who had elected to exercise this privilege in hurtful ways.  What a contrast with Luke, who used his privilege to make it clear that God’s grace and God’s church was open to all people! 

The ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of Zacchaeus are quite clear and remain relevant to us still today. The conversion of Zacchaeus was swift and thorough:  all it took was for him to be aware of Jesus, and he turned from his old way of living, committing to return his fraudulent earnings four-fold, and furthermore to give to the poor.  It is hard to say for certain, but this may well have entailed giving everything he had. 

Jesus noticed Zacchaeus, not because he was wealthy or powerful, though he was both.  Jesus noticed Zacchaeus up in a tree – a man who had made himself an outcast in his community by giving into his greed; a man wanting so badly to see Jesus that he couldn’t help making a fool of himself.  This man was ripe for repentance. 

Zacchaeus would not have been in a position to give so much if he had not taken so much.  Better for us not to take in the first place than to have much to give!

Some years ago in a rural Western Pennsylvania town there lived a man who owned a neighborhood bar.  The citizens of that town were mostly poor.  Several were on welfare.  Work was not plentiful nor even nearby for those folks.  Yet that bar owner did well.  Wives would often times approach the bar owner and beg him not to keep serving their husbands who continued to ‘drink away’ what should have been food on the table for the kids.  Yet he continued to do well most often ignoring their pleas. 

Like far too many, that particular business man was gripped by entitlement.  Similar observations could be seen within the town’s only mechanic, the owner of the only nearby grocery store, and so on.  Entitlement is so easy to feel and aspire towards.  It can be found in areas boasting multiple businesses that are similar.  Entitlement can possess the heart, the mind, and the soul of any of us.  Foundationally, ‘entitlement’ decrees what’s mine is mine and you can’t have it.  I’ll take whatever I can for as long as I can and call it all ‘mine.’ 

Jesus notices Zacchaeus, the man who owned the bar, the grocery store, the mechanic, even you and I, right where we are.  Wherever we are, whoever we might be or have become, Jesus, just like in the story of Zacchaeus, holds us all in high regard.  Jesus notices us, loves us (and them), and invites himself to table with ‘those people’ and with ‘us people’ even before we make any commitment of our own to change, to care, to share, to become better and more fair stewards of what we have grown to feel entitled to. 

Jesus appeals to the heart.  He appealed to the heart of Zacchaeus, and we saw where Zacchaeus became generous.  His whole way of thinking became that of the way of generosity.  “How can I help another?  What might I do to ‘make things right’?” 

Jesus sat at table with Zacchaeus and received his change of heart with forgiveness and compassion, so Jesus invites you now to His Communion table. 

In the weeks leading up to last week’s elections we saw increasing numbers of attacks on candidates.  Some commentators asserted that such volume of attacks severely clouded the awareness of what was truth.  Within these past few years we have seen increasing evidence of anger generated from opposing views.  Some Christians are proclaiming, as a result, ‘enough is enough!’  

The way of generosity begins with the treasures that are in a person’s heart.  Is it love or hatred we have for one another in this world?  Is it blessing or cursing of others?  The way of generosity calls us to treasure what God has provided and how he calls us to live in peace with one another. 

Luke affirmed treasures in heaven through his way of generosity.  He cared for the place of women, the poor, and outcasts, (including lepers and Samaritans), in Jesus’ ministry and in the early church.  Luke’s heart was in the right place.  

Friends, it requires generosity of the heart to care for others.  The world has shown us it’s so much easier to put others down, even hate them.  

It requires generosity to give time, care, even finances to the church.  The world decrees you are much too busy and have greater priorities for your time, your care, and even your finances than the church. 

Luke was a disciple of Jesus Christ.  He was also a physician well thought of while being skeptical and also subscribing to a more scientific approach.  He was believed to be a more mature Christian. 

Mature Christians have learned much concerning the way of generosity.  In all subjects and areas of life they respond to the maturing of the Holy Spirit inside of them.  It’s an on-going form of communion. 

The Holy Spirit inspires that we have more need to give, to be generous, than God has to receive our generosity.  When we live into the way of generosity with our care, our time, even through our tithes, gifts, and offerings, we are the ones being blessed by God. 

Where your treasure is there will your heart be also. Amen.

I Know That My Redeemer Lives 11/5/2022

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

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION: Open us, Holy One, to your Word and your way.  Clear our minds of daily distractions.  Fill our hearts with the humility we need to hear and receive the message you intend for us today.  Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS: Job 19:25-27 (page 515) & Psalm 17:1-9 (page 543) 

SERMON MESSAGE: “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” 

The Bible is a book for all ‘seasons’ in our lives.  From the celebration of births to the sadness and sorrow of death and everything in between; God’s Word appeals to us. 

Through the centuries and into our own times, the relevancy of the Bible remains. 

Neither you nor I have to think too hard nor vastly stretch our imaginations to find contemporary correlations to the story of Job. 

Many of us go through some of the challenges that Job went through in his life, though not all at once.  Loss of property, financial decline, humiliation, and death of a loved one are only some of the things that seem to follow us in our lifetimes.  For those of us who have experienced tragedy, the story of Job holds a special place in our hearts, because it teaches us always to trust God no matter what we might face in this world. 

Christianity is a world-wide religion and appeals to all sorts of people.  There are Christians living in Ukraine.  Perhaps we can imagine a father in Ukraine seeking vindication and an audience with God over the atrocities that have consumed his life and his country’s.  A father who has lost his family, his home, his physical and psychological well-being to warring Russia. 

Just imagine the mother of a child gunned down in her Uvalde, Texas, classroom, crying her questions of “Why?” to the school board, the local sheriff, and her priest.  She, like Job, wants answers to the unanswerable.  She wants justice.  She wants the irrational, violent world she knows to make sense.  She wants her child’s life back. 

Looking back, we can imagine George Floyd pinned down by police officers, struggling to survive the knee on his neck, the oppressive forces of White supremacy and a policing system that targets Black men.  Job wished for his words of protest to be written down, inscribed and engraved on a rock.  Floyd’s words — “I can’t breathe” uttered more than 20 times— have been Sharpied on poster board, spray-painted on confederate statues, and inscribed on signs at street side memorials that call us all to vindicate social injustice. 

Beyond a desperate hope for the restoration of life, home, and sense of safety, we wish that the suffering we have endured be known, that our tribulations may have meaning.  We wish that however irrational the world, it is still possible to hope that injustice, deprivation, and violence would somehow inspire their opposites — vindication, plenty, and peace. 

Job had a problem. Well, actually, Job had a number of problems. He had lost virtually all of his earthly possessions. He was bereaved of all of His children. His health had fallen completely apart, and his wife was none-too-supportive. She was nagging him to "curse God and die." The only really positive thing we could say about Mrs. Job is that she could not have been after the inheritance, because, at this point in time, there was none.  

Added to Job's woes were his "friends", Eliphas, Bildad, and Zophar.  His friends were not all that much in the way of comfort. They were committed to the theology of Glory and Prosperity, which said perversely, 'if you are suffering, you must have done something to deserve it - something really awful!' Job maintained his righteousness, which admittedly could sound somewhat egotistical, except that the book of Job begins with God saying that Job was righteous, more than any other man. His friends all assumed that Job was either deluded, or that he had a problem with basic honesty. You had to have done something really awful to be suffering the way Job was suffering.  So THEY thought and proclaimed. 

These men completely affirmed the idea that good things happened to good people, and bad things happened to bad people.  It is still being taught, and, even more, being assumed by many Christians today. It forms the basis of the health, wealth, and prosperity "gospels" of the myriad preachers on TV and Radio. They are always telling us that health and wealth and success are God's rewards to the good, to the believers, to those who trust Him enough to “name it and claim it.” 

But that is not what we actually see in this life, is it? Good people do sometimes suffer, and evil folks tend to do surprisingly well, at times.  The Bible also tells us this truth! The rich are not often paragons of virtue, and the poor and the downtrodden are not necessarily bad actors or immoral, at least not any more immoral than is common in all society. The problem is so striking and common that books have been regularly written trying to answer the troubling question of why bad things happen to good people. One of the first books to be written on the subject, actually, was the book of Job. 

It’s normal to ask “Why me?” when something goes wrong in your life. One answer that comes our way is “Why not me?”  Nobody wants troubles or trials, although we know into each of our lives some will come. The more ‘entitled’ we become or feel, the greater our expectations for life to be perfect.  Taken to an extreme, some will quit church and turn away from God when troubles come.  It’s as though they believe that God had betrayed them, and so they were no longer going to trust Him. 

Job provides some further insight and spiritual help to our inquiries, our faith questions regarding “Why me?”  Earlier on in his terrible time of trial, Job’s wife confronted him as she too realized all of their trials and horrible experiences. His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your dignity Job?  Curse God and die!”  Job’s response to her is not only memorable but faith affirming as well.  Job declares, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?"  

Job understood of His redeemer that this earthly life would not be perfect.  Trials would come.  Like the Psalmist of old and akin to us, Job sought to ‘make his case’ with God. 

Job didn’t just cry out in some sort of self-righteousness or ‘Holier Than Thou’ attitude.  His response, his faith, was well formed over a lifetime of walking with God.  He knew God, and Job trusted that God knew him quite well.  Job thought it through and realized deep inside his soul that current circumstances, the present experience, was certainly NOT all that he knew of God or that God knew about him.  You see Job had grown to know, understand, and believe that his redeemer lived over the course of his lifetime.  So should we. 

Job’s words: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth,” these are not only expressions of faith but words of comfort.  Job went on to say that he knew his flesh would fail, yet he shall see God! 

Job was not asserting that he was without sin. He knew better. He was first asserting that nothing in his conduct had earned the horror that his life had become - at least not compared to other men. He was a good man. What was happening to him was horrible, to him it was incomprehensible, and it made him wish that he had never been born, but it was not happening to him because he was a monster among men. He did what was right and worked at being a good person, caring about and helping the less fortunate (when there were those who were less fortunate than he was). But he knew that he was not utterly without sin. So, he looked forward to the Savior - the One he called "my Redeemer". 

There are patterns of prayer throughout the Bible.  These patterns of prayer are provided to both teach and inform us of ‘how’ we should pray and from what basis our prayers should come. 

Psalm 17:1-9 is one such ‘pattern of prayer.’  The psalmist ‘makes his case’ before God.  Notice what the psalmist does NOT do in his prayer pattern. He does NOT appeal to God negatively complaining, “Well you haven’t heard me before, but I am willing to try again!”  Such prayer patterns tend to be fruitless!  The healthier pattern of prayer in today’s scripture lesson from Psalm 17:1-9 affirms a relationship with God.  A relationship of history with God and trust between God and the individual who is praying.  

This healthy pattern of prayer asks God to hear.  States that it is not out of deceit that the prayer is made, affirms that God sees and knows already what is ‘right.’  

Friends, our own conscience is to be such that when we pray, we know deep inside that we are not trying to manipulate nor coerce God.  Furthermore, we know from inside our own conscience, that God is walking with us and continues speaking to us through our conscience.  A Christian’s conscience is sometimes referred to as ‘God’s deputy for the soul’; the spirit, the soul of a person, is sometimes viewed as ‘a candle of God’ bringing light.

Within this healthy pattern of prayer, there is healthy affirmation of being ‘right’ with God and of having lived ‘right’ for God.  Humbly, when any of us pray in this manner and from this lived foundation, we just know that God has and God will answer our prayers.  There is this very strong affirmation that our relationship with God will provide strength for pour souls as well as forthcoming answers to our genuine prayer requests. 

There is this ‘trust’ that God keeps us as ‘the apple of His eye.’  This IS a reference to tenderness, closeness, trust, rest, and protection.  We have this further affirmation and ‘image’ of God as ‘hiding us in the shadow of his wings.’ 

The psalmist is quite ‘real’ in his prayer as he declares there are those who are “out to destroy me.” 

Sometimes it just might feel like you don’t even have a prayer.  Job felt that way.  David did sometimes.  You and I can relate. 

When backed into a corner, when confronted by all sorts of evil and suffering, when questioning ever so deeply ‘why?’ some things are happening, in the final analysis we are to review ourselves and our standing with God.  Examine your heart, mind, and soul.  You may NOT find yourself to be perfect, yet you just might sincerely find you are a good soul who simply and sincerely seeks to love and serve God. 

Like Job of old, choose to reaffirm that you KNOW your Redeemer lives, and one day, He will come to rescue, renew, and reaffirm.

Saints That Reform 10/29/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 29, 2022 & Sunday, October 30, 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 116:7-9 (p. 609) & Romans 12:3-21 (p. 1137) 

Sermon Message:  “Saints That Reform” 

Within the Christian Church there are two significant occurrences right now: All Saints' Day and Reformation Sunday.  Most folks are probably thinking more about Halloween than either of the two aforementioned occurrences. 

I am looking forward to Halloween.  Our 3 grandchildren from Elizabeth, PA, are each in their teens.  Grandma and I used to attend their school Halloween parades and visit with them at their house for Halloween.  They’ve outgrown school Halloween parades but haven’t quite given up on the dressing up part, and they still go door to door for some free candy.  We are looking forward to one of the last few years seeing them dressed up and ‘Trick or Treating!’ 

All Saints' Day is November 1st.  Reformation Sunday is today. 

“Saints” are people who are very close to God and show evidence of that in their beliefs and lifestyle.  Saints may be people living now or possibly folks who are currently in heaven.  Saints bring reform. 

‘Reformers’ are people known for initiating change that transforms lives. 

All Saints' Day is designated as the 1st day of November each year.  The day prior is Halloween.  Some ‘saints’ of God enjoy Halloween.  Others disdain it as a pagan holiday.  While it is not biblical to endorse or represent demons, evil, sin, or anything that would lead another to sin, there is no injunction in the Bible against making lanterns out of pumpkins, wearing superhero costumes, and asking neighbors for candy.  Many churches use Halloween to care for the kids, further meet the neighbors, and extend some caring outreach.  Our beloved faith community has participated a time or two in ‘trunk or treat’ here at our beloved faith community.  This is where some of our folks give out candy and goodies from the trunks of their car to ‘halloweeners!’ 

Hopefully we can all benefit, even just a little, from a message pertaining to saints that reform. 

It takes a saint to live the way today’s scriptures point out; overcoming evil with good, caring for your enemy, being at peace with everyone, and even blessing those who persecute you.

Let’s take a brief look at some ‘saints’ who put into practice some of these teachings and in doing so, brought reform. 

Around this time of year folks need to consider what they will be doing for Halloween.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but Halloween is growing in its prominence as a holiday that people ‘go all out for!’  I recall a neighborhood where most families did the usual for Halloween.  They put out a few decorations, carved a jack-o'-lantern or two, purchased lots of candy, and left the light on each year as ‘Trick or Treaters’ came by for candy.  One family in that neighborhood took a very dim view of the whole ‘Halloween’ thing and made no bones about decrying it to be a pagan holiday that worshipped evil, demons, and darkness. 

That family believed they were ‘right’ in what they were doing.  However, the kids in the neighborhood and their parents saw things differently.  They saw more than a ‘Bah Humbug’ in that family.  They saw some sort of religious belief that seemingly punished little kids who just wanted to dress up in costumes and go door to door for candy and smiles. 

Halloween Trick or Treating was scheduled for the evening.  Earlier in the day this one neighbor, a grandma herself, took her dressed up granddaughter over to the house of the people who disdained Halloween.  Her little granddaughter was dressed up as an angel.  Grandma wasn’t ‘pushy’ but invited the people to just say ‘hello’ to her granddaughter and ‘take a look’ at her costume.  Seeing the ‘innocence’ of this little angel melted their hearts and changed their attitude as well as their strict stance against Halloween.  A gentle saint brought reform to Halloween and to strict hearts and souls. 

‘Evil’ portrayed in costumes, even with some accompanying make-up, is one thing.  You and I know there remains evil in the world that isn’t restricted only to a holiday.  Evil exists throughout the year and is personified in evil people.  Dealing with evil requires many assets of faith.  Today’s scriptures teach us to ‘bless those who persecute you, associate with low people, don’t repay anyone evil with evil, be at peace with everyone, don’t take revenge, feed your enemies, and overcome evil with good’. I think a person really and truly has to be a saint in order to live life that way.  One such saint brought much-needed reform in very trying circumstances. 

A fellow grew up believing mainly in himself and in pursuing whatever it was he wanted, regardless of the costs to others.  Although he had some religious background in the church, years ago he dismissed that as being just so many ‘ideals.’  One type of ‘church’ preached the ‘prosperity gospel.’  That ‘form’ of belief strives to win people over by convincing them that IF they will just pray in a certain way, believe in a certain manner, and give their money to the church, God would prosper the individual. The guy ‘liked’ that part of religion because it didn’t require him to do any changing, just be blessed!  The guy firmly believed in ‘survival of the fittest’ and in his personal ‘joy’ of being superior to others, even ‘making them squirm’ when and where he could.  The world was kind of a playground to the fellow.  He grew to accumulate quite a collection of coins and old cars.  What’s more, he’d brag about how he acquired his collections. His philosophy was watching when others became weak, then swooping in to gain access to their coin collection or antique car at a drastically reduced offer from what was the current value.  He did this when he learned of an older fellow growing weak and needing to go to a care facility.  He did this to new widows and widowers as he became aware of an antique vehicle they possessed.  He thought nothing of what he was doing.  To him this was kind of a ‘game.’  Because he lived believing he could have whatever he could put his mind to and get away with, he had very low morals.  His further ‘sport’ was seeking to ‘take’ another man’s wife, then laugh and walk away from her.  For years it appeared as though there was no stopping him.

A Christian fellow living in his neighborhood kind of ‘caught on to him.’  He would occasionally talk with the fellow and gently remind him that his behavior would one day catch up with him.  The other guy would nervously laugh and sometimes swear at his Christian neighbor.  Finally the Christian neighbor stopped talking with the guy.  This occurred soon after that ‘guy’ tried to weasel some things out from under the Christian fellow’s nose.  The Christian fellow was wise enough to realize that ‘talking’ had not really ‘gotten through’ to the guy, nor had it produced any reform.  So it was, the Christian fellow quit talking.  Not to be mean, but mainly to disassociate himself from a fellow who made a mockery out of all that Christian stood for. 

Gradually things changed.  The guy who was all about himself felt alone when fewer and fewer of the neighbors talked or listened.  Fewer and fewer people were impressed by his coin collection or his old cars.  Sometimes they never even looked up when he drove by.  Loneliness becomes a rough teacher to a fellow bent on pursuing evil and mocking God. 

The guy did his level best to persecute the Christian to the other neighbors.  But it didn’t work.  His attempts to ‘put down’ a good soul, a saint of God, failed miserably so. 

The Christian tells his ‘side’ of the story.  While you and I might reference him as a saint, he surely didn’t think so.  He confessed to his pastor on more than one occasion how much he hated the mocking neighbor.  How he wanted to ‘take him out’ even ‘teach him a thing or two.’  But the pastor served God as a saint and advised the Christian against it.  The pastor repeatedly advised that Christian to ‘take it to the Lord in prayer.’  So he did.  In taking his neighbor to the Lord in prayer something seemed to release itself inside of him.  He felt peace and began to trust that God would somehow ‘handle’ things.  Eventually the guy who wanted and took everything he could lost out.  Somehow, someway, folks ‘caught on’ to ‘who’ he was and ‘what’ he was about.  In part because a quiet saint brought reform.  Not all ‘reform’ can be done quietly and in stillness. 

We are aware of saints, some who are living, some who have gone home in faith before us, and some who lived long ago. 

Protestant churches affirm saints who brought reform through the centuries.  Some of the ancestors of our faith have prompted reform in the church universal.  From 1517-1529 ‘reformers’ sought to bring change. One of the ‘reformers’ back then was Martin Luther.  He was a German Theologian who strongly disagreed with how ‘the church’ was being run.  Specifically, he listed 95 statements or ‘theses’ and nailed them on the door of a church for the priests to read.  This was a more common method back then for starting dialogue between the clergy and the people. Martin Luther disagreed with how the Catholic church back then sold ‘indulgences’ as a means of people gaining forgiveness of their sins. Since Martin Luther’s theses and process of reform, there is no longer the sale of indulgences.  Martin Luther is viewed as a saint who brought reform.  Eventually his reforms led to the beginning of new ‘church denominations’ such as the Lutheran Church. 

Another Reformer from that time period was John Calvin.  He was a French Theologian and pastor who strongly believed in thrift, hard work, strict morality, and that God predestined many who would be saved.  John Calvin broke away from the Roman Catholic Church seeking to instead ‘reform’ people’s awareness and understanding of God.  This ancient saint of God is accredited with being the founding father of Presbyterianism. 

There are numerous ‘reformers’ from that time period.  Their work grew to bring rest to troubled souls who felt they could not easily access God nor the salvation of their souls. 

Friends, when folks work on our behalf to bring change, specifically that wholesome change that helps us to see God, experience God, and better know God, we are most grateful.  Some do that for us in the church, others do that in our everyday lives.  Saints help to bring the kind of ‘reform’ in our lives that enables us to appreciate God and more wholesomely love people. Like you, I have been blessed by good people, ‘saints’ who are holy, godly, and shaped my life to perceive the goodness of God.  As the Psalmist declares, there is rest for my soul when we know the Lord has been good to us. 

The greatest ‘reformer’ God ever sent is Jesus Christ the Lord.  He has delivered us from death, close calls with death, the fear of death, and even from spiritual death.  I’ve personally known how the Lord has delivered my eyes from tears and my feet from stumbling in order that you and I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.  The ‘land of the living’ is this life we are now living. 

There are saints ‘on the other side’ with God in heaven.  There are also saints among us here in the land of the living.  God gives some guidance for how we can be saints that reform. 

Being a saint starts with being at peace with God.  Bringing reform starts with sharing God, His ways, and His love with others.  

Come to Jesus. Believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son.  Ask Jesus into your heart and soul, into your life to be your Lord and Savior.  Jesus as ‘Lord’ offers guidance for our lives.  Jesus as Savior offers us deliverance from sin and overcoming evil with good. 

No matter how very good or how terribly bad my life, or yours, might be from time to time, knowing Jesus, coming ‘home’ to Jesus, informs us all that there was only ONE who was truly good.  There remains ONE who shall love us, still choose to know us, and forgive us even when we are at our worst.  As a Christian pastor, I continually take great comfort in knowing there is only one Savior; Jesus Christ.  Experiencing and honoring Jesus Christ keeps me humble and provides me with a more sober judgment regarding who I am and who I am not. 

Saints know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and follow His teachings.  The Bible reminds us that we are all parts of His one body, even though we have many members and each us has different gifts.  A family could not be a family unless there were two or more.  Those two or more share many things that unite them, yet they remain individual personalities.  So it is with the church.  We come to church in many shapes and forms, from different backgrounds; all of us are different ages, yet we assemble together and function as one.  I enjoy gathering with the saints each week.  I truly enjoy how our gathering together with Jesus blesses my life, makes it better, and brings ongoing reform. 

There’s a nice steadiness and stableness to the saints of God.  Their love is sincere.  They know what is evil, declare it and deal with it.  All the while honoring one another.  Saints inspire us to be better people, calmer souls, and more spiritually enthused. 

Saints bring reform.  Amen.

Better Days Are Coming 10/23/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 22, 2022 & Sunday, October 23, 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: Psalm 65:1-4 (Page 573), Joel 2:23-32 (Page 911), & Luke 18:9-14 (Page 1051) 

Sermon Message: “Better Days Are Coming” 

God wants our lives to get better.  God wants us to look forward to better days.  God inquires of us to be patient in our faith and to believe in something brighter.  We are to never lose sight of better days no matter how hard things might get. 

As the Psalmist declares, we also affirm that God answers prayer.  Friends, we are here in church to thank God and praise Him for answered prayers. Specifically, we are called by God to acknowledge that when we were far from God, He forgave us and welcomed us home to His church. God keeps a good house!  A Holy temple.  There is an abundance of good things in His house; prayer, preaching, singing, and fellowship.  But also grace, forgiveness, guidance, righteousness, and the comforts we share of the everlasting covenant.  As we come to church, participate in worship and ministry; invest ourselves in God’s work.  We are filled with the good things of His house. 

Better days are coming when we become filled with the good things of God’s house, His church, and His temple.  ‘Church’ provides for our future.  In church we learn and affirm better days are coming. 

Years ago in a different community, I was called upon to officiate a funeral for a woman who had passed away due to some long lingering health problems.  Her husband had been so faithful to her, consistently by her side through it all.  But they had remained ‘unchurched.’  Andy worked in a local grocery store.  He was by all accounts a ‘good man.’  We shared in the funeral.  I met his extended family.  Afterwards as we parted, I invited Andy to ‘give me a call sometime’ if he just wanted to talk some more.  About a week later he did.  Andy and I talked that day and for lots and lots of days since then.  Consistently he would share with me this one special insight into himself and his family.  “His spiritual ‘gas tank’ was running on empty.”  Andy and I would talk.  He started to come to church and brought some of his family members; his daughter, his nephews, and grandchildren on different occasions.  Eventually several of those family members joined the church.  Several came to be baptized.  It wasn’t just ‘me’ they identified with.  It was the church, the people who spoke with them, welcomed them and invited them to help out around that church.  You see God keeps a good house, and those who come to be a part of God’s house realize things that enable them to have better days and to begin to believe that better days are coming.  Andy is but one example among many of those who have become blessed and fed by the good things of God’s holy temple, His church. 

The prophet Joel speaks of God giving us ‘autumn rains.’  Literally speaking we have seen ‘autumn rains’ this past week.  They are kind of cold, somewhat dreary, and make the gorgeous leaves fall to the ground.  The term ‘autumn rains’ are also a Biblical reference to the steady and reliable provisions of God in all seasons; something we should trust and can trust for better days ahead. 

‘Autumn’ can also be a reference to a time or ‘stage’ of our lives. Some of us are living in the ‘autumn’ of our lives.  A few peculiar insights into people in their ‘autumn years.’  While the prophet Joel speaks of equality among the ages, between sons and daughters, old men and young men even with ‘servants,’ that may be all well and good in God’s realm.  But in our world we need some translation between the generations.  For example, if a young person calls somebody, and it goes to voicemail, they will probably just hang up.  If their communication is urgent, they’ll send a text message.  Folks in their ‘autumn years’ just don’t tend to see the point in this.  If they have something to tell you, they’ll leave a long and perhaps rambling message on your voicemail.  What’s more, they expect you to listen to all of it!  Folks in their ‘autumn years’ tend to take pictures of places and things other than themselves!  Folks, it's kind of common for people over 50 to still have a landline.  Patty and I do.  We use it mainly to screen the hosts of scam calls.  Some folks firmly believe you MUST keep a landline available ‘just in case there is an emergency!’ 

Another peculiar insight; if your pockets or purses are filled with enough nickels, dimes, and pennies to pay for just about anything with exact change, you’re probably in the ‘autumn years’ of your life. My wife likes having quarters. Lots and lots of quarters. 

I hope they never close the mall at Robinson, because it provides a private walking trail for folks living into their autumn years. 

Having grandchildren informs me of a secret weapon I still have; being able to write and read in cursive! 

There are stereotypes we have with each generation. We say the Greatest generation is thrifty but just doesn't understand technology.  Some suggest that millennials are not very hard working and are bad with money.  Stereotypes are limiting and quite often hurting.  God reminds us in the Bible that each person of any generation has particular talents, and every generation has a unique worldview.  In order to have ‘better days’ may we not operate from our assumptions.  Each generation carries with it the intrinsic responsibility of preparing the next generation for better days ahead.  I pray you are able to ‘look back’ to the world you came from, the world you grew up in, and perceive where your efforts and mine have made this world a better place for this and future generations to come.  The prophet Joel calls us to imagine and trust in a world where people of all ages have something to say on God’s behalf.  How is God’s spirit being poured out in our faith community?  Are better days coming?  I trust and believe they are.

We are Christians, people who believe ‘in’ God and seek to ‘serve’ God.  In our beliefs and in our work we are to serve God by helping others, not just ourselves, see that better days are coming. 

Numerous are the scriptures that point out God has good plans for us, God seeks to save us, renew us, restore what was lost, and make life better.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, teaches us that we can’t go around thinking that we are better than the rest.  Within the Gospel of Luke we are told of some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.  Some of those folks who acted like that were Pharisees or tax collectors, to name but a few.  Pharisees in the modern sense might include strict people who feel morally superior to others, not just because of their theology or their legalistically rigid lifestyle, but also because of their education, their vast experience, their intelligence, or their position in the world. 

Simply put, the difference between arrogance and confidence is humility. 

Arrogant people don’t give me a ‘better day ahead.’  Confident people make you and I feel comfortable.  Arrogance might be a ‘cover’ for insecurity and other areas of weakness.  Confidence takes in its stride both strengths and weaknesses.  

Jesus Christ spoke of a group, the Pharisees, who made themselves feel good by making others feel lesser.  Jesus further spoke of a tax collector, perhaps confident in his profession but humble, by choice.  Consider with me some of the attributes, the characteristics of the types of folks Jesus was speaking of and perceive what it is that might provide better days for others or us. 

The tax collector was able to admit his weakness, whereas the Pharisee seemed to view himself as superior and never admit to making mistakes. 

Haven’t we all seen in life that arrogant people must feel superior to others?  Confident people can feel good about themselves without the need to put others down.  Which ‘type’ of person can lead others into better days ahead? 

Arrogant people don’t have time to listen to others and usually blame others when things go wrong.  Confident people tend to be attentive listeners and are willing to acknowledge their own mistakes.  

Confident people are aware of their own weaknesses and know how to deal with them.  Arrogant people can’t admit they have any weaknesses. 

People in relationships with arrogant people report the relationship causes them pain.  People in relationships with confident people feel good about the relationship and their place in it. 

Confident people make eye contact and can make you feel that you are the most important person in the room.  Arrogant people are constantly looking around the room trying to find the most important person they can talk to in order to enhance their own standing in the eyes of others. 

Scripture is full of examples of those whom Jesus referenced as being immersed in their own righteousness and who looked down on everyone else.  Jesus teaches us to instead choose to be humble. 

In the eyes of the Almighty we’re all the same; sinners who need God’s mercy and grace.  Jesus Christ calls us to be confident in our relationship with God, self-assured but with humility and respect.  Arrogance has no place in the house of the Lord. 

Better days are coming if we will continually choose to humble ourselves before the Lord and treat others with respect, love, and care. 

We should all be warned that it is rather tempting to ‘demonize’ others who are ‘different’ than us.  Easily enough we may ‘demonize’ those whose appearance we are weary of or whose behavior we consider unworthy.  

During this election season politicians tend to play on generalized fears and distrust of those who look or act differently. 

Jesus teaches us not to judge one another while proclaiming our own righteousness.  Instead the Lord counsels us to look in the mirror and acknowledge our own shortcomings. 

Our human nature is to divide ourselves up by labeling, categorizing, and even ‘demonizing.’’  But God, through the ages, remains most interested in multiplying His grace, for one for all that will make everyone’s lives better. After the elections, after the storm, following the war, candidates and leaders, common people and known individuals, shall need to humble themselves in order to make life better. 

Yes, better days are coming IF we are humble enough to receive, embrace, and share them.  Amen.

Faith Beyond Adversity 10/15/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 15, 2022, and Sunday, October 16, 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 25:20-21 (P. 549), Romans 8:22-28 (P. 1133), & Philippians 4:12-13 (P. 1181) 

SERMON MESSAGE: “Faith Beyond Adversity” 

Hopefully, you and I enjoy reading the Bible for lots and lots of reasons.  It remains a guide for daily living, a preparation for eternal life, and an ongoing awareness of how others have nurtured faith even through adversity. 

For instance, within today’s first scripture lesson, the writer of this Psalm, David, appeals to God during his personal struggle with adversity.  Psalm 25 begins with these words of David: “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.  I trust in you.” (Psalm 25:1-2)  

That’s always a good beginning for prayer; “In you Lord, I put my trust.”  David did not have this unfaltering faith, especially so when adversity entered his life. Yet David, akin to us, grew to learn that God can rescue us from adversity.  God can help use adversity for the good in our lives.  God can transform adversity into something that teaches a spiritual foundation of trust in all circumstances. 

This kind of ‘faith beyond adversity’ must be cultivated over a lifetime.  I suspect that at the beginning of each new day David may well have prayed what he wrote as one of his ‘Psalms’; “Guard my life today, God, and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.  May integrity and uprightness protect me because my hope, Lord, is in you.” 

How do you and I ‘start out’ our prayers each day?  Ask God each morning to be ‘present’ not only to answer YOUR prayers and fulfill YOUR agenda for the day.  More importantly, ask God to guard your life each day, rescue you from anything and everything that might bring ‘adversity.’ 

Throughout the Bible there remains a recurring theme, even from Jesus Christ, for God the Father to help us, deliver us, rescue us, and restore us. 

‘Adversity’ basically means ‘hard times.’  ‘Spiritual adversity’ has to do with times and occasions when our faith is challenged and possibly depleted. 

Rising gas prices remain a form of ‘adversity’ for most.  Inflation, challenging politics, war, and disturbing weather patterns are all forms of adversity in anyone’s life.  

There are various ‘forms’ of adversity in life; 6 types of adversity include:  

1)   Physical adversity.  As the football season unfurls before us, several ‘Steelers’ remain concerned with injuries that could drastically change their playing abilities and their life’s trajectories. The older any of us become the more we seem to become concerned with physical adversities, such as a fall, heart condition, etc., that could alter our daily lives and negatively impact our life trajectories.  Faith remains a response.

2)   Mental illness as an adversity may limit someone.  This can be something as basic as mood swings, depression, or anxiety.  Seeking help from professional caregivers can greatly improve one’s dealing with mental adversity.  This remains true both for the individual first-hand experiencing mental adversity and for the family, plus others, who seek to care.  Faith remains a response.

3)   Emotional adversity is simply a part of growing and maturing throughout life.  Perhaps we all could benefit further from an increased awareness of our own self-worth and how we choose to understand and respond to problems.  Striving to control our emotions so that they do not control us remains a lifelong endeavor.  Faith remains a response.

4)   Social adversity is a lifelong challenge from our younger years here on earth all the way through our elderly years.  Social interaction is crucial to human life. We must continually work at developing and refining our social skills for developing friendships, maintaining a family, and working with others.  Faith remains a response.

5)   Spiritual adversity is mentioned throughout the Bible with plenty of examples.  As Christians, every one of us will go through times when faith is challenged, and we cannot help but wonder, ‘where is God?”  Even Jesus Christ asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Faith remains a response.

6)   Financial adversity is perhaps the most apparent adversity that our society and the rest of the world faces.  Not being able to afford necessities creates barriers and leads to compromised human behavior such as jealousy, anger, even theft and deception.  Faith remains a response. 

The Apostle Paul endeavored, heartily so, to serve God.  Of all the people in the Bible, Paul was among the most challenged in his faith by adversity.  This man, Paul, tried hard to think through ‘how’ God moved in life, particularly so within his life.  Like the author of Ecclesiastes, Paul pondered the meaning of life in the midst of adversity.  He affirmed, “all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”  He went on to perceive that God’s Holy Spirit prays for us even when the challenges, the adversity, is greater than we can handle or understand.  In His spiritual growth and maturity Paul realizes something.  He affirms, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” 

When David faced adversity, and Paul faced adversity, and even Jesus Christ faced adversity, their faith response had one common element we can further nurture in ourselves.  They chose to trust in God. 

Look around. Even the most successful people you know face challenges in life.  We all have to deal with some struggles and times when things don’t go our way yet choose to trust God has a plan.  Think back upon faith.  Haven’t we all seen whereby God can use, can transform, even our adversities into a better plan, a greater outcome in our lives? 

There are a lot of things we don’t like in life.  It’s disappointing when a friend betrays us or we don’t get that better job, or what we had hoped to be a doorway we might walk through is instead slammed on our face.  None of us like it when it seems as though our prayers go unanswered.  Like the Apostle Paul and others throughout the Bible as well as in our present life, there are many things we just don’t understand.  Our faith attitude, our faith trust, our faith response will strengthen us. 

Part of the basics of faith is growing to realize we are not going to understand everything that happens.  Trying to ‘figure out’ why everything happens helps a bit yet can also lead to frustration.  Faith further means trusting God for the bigger picture for our lives. 

Sometimes a soul just has to get to a point of saying, “I don’t like what’s happening, but I believe God will help to work things out.” 

Faith remains a response.  Faith isn’t reducible only to one’s ‘belief’ in God.  Faith requires interaction and trust. 

There are times in any of our lives where we pray and ask God for something.  We ask God for what we want and perceive to be beneficial for us.  Especially when we are dealing with some type of adversity.  ‘Trusting’ means choosing to believe that however our prayers may or may not get answered, God knows what’s best.  IF we’re not trusting when we are praying, perhaps we are just giving God orders.  “All things work together for the good of those who love Him.” 

I realize adversity hurts.  It tends to ‘rub us wrong.’ We can get negative, live with bitterness, even ‘give up.’  The better response is to ask God, in faith, to help things to work together for the good.  Even when you can’t see that happening. 

Faith remains a response.  Faith is a lens through which we see all of life, especially so, our life with God, from God, and through God. 

Faith must be grown and nurtured over one’s lifetime.  Quite often, faith is a choice we have to make and implement.  Trusting in God helps that, a lot. Our faith outlook is key to finding strength in adversity. 

Sadly, I’ve watched people respond to adversity in ways that changed their entire destiny.  I do not pretend to have all of the answers for how any of us deal with adversity.  I trust in God, and I further invest my trust in teachings from the Bible that further reveal better, healthier ways to grow my faith while dealing with adversity. 

A ‘faith lens’ that helps is found in the Apostle Paul’s writings to the people of the church of Phillipi.  To those Philippians and today unto us Paul affirms, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4 12,13) 

Adversity can affect any of us.  Reconsider at least six types of adversity: 

1. Physical Adversity; 2. Mental Adversity; 3. Emotional Adversity; 4. Social Adversity; 5. Spiritual Adversity; and 6. Financial Adversity. 

The darkest ‘adversity’ in the Bible occurred on Good Friday, when Jesus was crucified upon the Cross.  His poor mother Mary must have suffered greatly from seeing her son die on a cross. However then and now, the world has chosen to view that great adversity through the eyes of faith, and to this day we refer to the occasion as Good Friday.  

Any and all adversity can feel like so much darkness in our lives, within our world.  We struggle, even now, with recovery efforts from Hurricane Ian, from strained politics in our nation, from war between Russia and Ukraine, plus our own daily doses of adversity in its many forms. 

Remember what faith taught the world back then, and now. Good Friday is our faith review, Sunday, the Lord’s Day, God’s Sabbath, reminds and reaffirms we are still loved by God, cradled by God, and destined for goodness by God. 

God we affirm in all things you can and shall cause all things to work together for the good.  This we trust.  This we affirm.  This we believe. 

This, O Lord is our faith beyond adversity.  Amen.

Growing Gracefully 10/9/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday; October 8, 2022 & Sunday; Oct. 9, 2022 

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:  Ecclesiastes 3:1-12 (p. 664) and 2 Timothy 4:7-8 (p. 1199) 

Sermon Message: “Growing Gracefully” 

This past Monday we began our Fall Bible Study.  There were several areas of interest we focused on.  The one area we reviewed made us all smile a bit.  It had to do with ‘the very old’ in the Bible. We don’t really use that term, ‘very old’ today.  It sounds perhaps, politically incorrect. Instead we tend to make reference to senior citizens, the elderly, and perhaps old age. 

In the Bible, old age appears to start at age 60.  Jewish tradition had taught that people were to stand to honor someone who is sixty years old or older.  Imagine what that might be like in our church.  Many of us are in our 60’s. For myself, I’m not ready for people to stand and honor me as I enter a room because of my age.  

During our Bible study this past week we learned that God often chooses and uses older adults to do God’s greatest work.  Abraham was 75 when God called him to the Promised Land and promised to create a nation through him.  Years later, Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was 90 when she gave birth to Isaac.  Is there anyone receiving this message who is in their 60’s or older who would like to go through childbirth at this age? Moses was 80 when God called him to lead the Israelite slaves out of captivity.  There isn’t much room for retirement in the Bible. 

Zechariah and Elizabeth were ‘up there’ in age when God called upon them to give birth to a son who grew to become John the Baptist. 

All of these folks had lived the majority of their lives when God called upon them to do something very important.  Gracefully, they accepted God’s calling.  Perhaps because they had been growing with God throughout their lives. 

How many years do we have here on earth - 80 - 90 - 100? Or perhaps more?  Ask any of us who are in our 60’s or older how fast those years have gone, and you will most likely hear us say they are gone in a blink!  A recurring theme of advice from the older generation to the younger generation remains this: you better live your life well while you’ve got it.  

From the cradle to the grave, if we choose to spend our lives growing gracefully, we shall have a life of no regrets. 

A vital aspect of growing gracefully is following and choosing to implement the most sound and firm teachings of God. Haven’t we all grown to gracefully see that what makes us rich is the people we love more than all the money and stuff we may accumulate?

1 Corinthians 13 teaches us that love never fails.  Love helps any of us and all of us, at any age and station, to grow and to mature gracefully.  Faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.  Matthew 6:19-20 shares the grace of growing to know that our greatest ‘treasures are not here on earth nor with things that can be destroyed, broken into, or stolen.  There is grace for living when we affirm our greatest treasures are in heaven.  Where our hearts are there will our treasures be also.’ 

I suspect there is a ‘truth’ that those older folks lived by all of their lives that most of us, as we age, also choose to live by. Because God has been in our lives, Jesus saves and the Holy Spirit inspires; we don’t look back at our lives with regret.  While any of us might think to ourselves, ‘If I knew then what I know now things might have been different,’ THAT my friends is what’s termed as ‘wisdom,’ not regrets, 

I would not choose to go back and live any of my life over.  God’s hand has been upon me all the days of my life, and I have walked with Him intentionally so, through it all. 

Another ‘funny’ thing we can appreciate from studying the Bible and learning of the many whom God did not call upon to do their greatest life work until they were very old is this: those folks, just like you and I, grew to see we are just getting to our best years yet! 

As a pastor, I have had the privilege and the spiritual opportunities to keenly observe how folks grow gracefully.  I have officiated hundreds of funerals across the years.  Some for good, church-going folks who knew God keenly.  Others for folks whose ‘connection’ with God was something as basic as driving by this or perhaps another church and acknowledging there is a ‘God.’  What we have all grown to perceive is that the longer we live, the fewer friends we have, for we begin to ‘outlive’ those we love.  Therefore, a vital aspect of growing gracefully is always making sure you ‘have someone’s back.’  Care for your friends, consistently so.  Be a good friend; genuine, sincere, and quite ‘real.’  

Growing gracefully surely means many things. As the author of Ecclesiastes advises, there is a time, a season, a purpose for everything under heaven.  

A time to be born and a time to die. All life begins at some new point.  For all of us, gain wisdom in knowing death is a part of life.  There is grace in knowing and accepting that. 

Ecclesiastes mentions many ‘times’ for us to consider and grow with.  Remember there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. Sometimes we certainly do need to reach out to others in their time of need.  There also remains ‘times’ when we simply need to ‘leave well enough alone.’ 

Ecclesiastes also speaks of a time to keep and a time to throw away. One of the ways we ‘keep time’ is in the sharing of memories.  The older we get the more valuable our memories become.  They are almost as a ‘grace’ from across the years.  We all have memories.  They are a gift from God.  Some make us laugh.  Some make us cry.  May your memories and my own make us grow. For we HAVE lived life abundantly so. 

Something else that I firmly believe is similar between those older folks God called upon and within each of us is this: the older we become the more we pray. Have you noticed that?  The older we become the more I think we pray.  That’s not always because we have ‘oh so many’ problems!  While aches and pains do increase with age, there is something far better within our lives and our walk with God as we grow gracefully. We come to know God better from having lived our lives and experiencing God.  So it is we ‘talk’ to God more. I believe we pray more because we have more to say to God. 

The more thankful we become. 

Can you think of a ‘for instance’ when you were ‘growing gracefully?’ 

Some years back when I was still a very young pastor, I was privileged, honored actually, to know and become acquainted with some more ‘senior’ pastors.  This one aged, white-haired pastor had grown to be not only a friend but also a mentor of sorts to me.  He helped me navigate some of the ‘ins and outs’ of church, administration, and long-term planning.  He touched and influenced my life spiritually.  I still miss him.  I will refer to him simply as ‘George.’  

A mutual friend to George and I was a fellow about 15 years my senior by the name of Cowan.  While George was serving in retirement as an assistant minister of pastoral care, Cowan was deep into this large cathedral church he was serving back then.  Admittedly I admired both of these men of God and grew because of their influence and presence in my life. 

One day I received a phone call letting me know that George was in Allegheny General Hospital, and things ‘weren’t going well.’  I decided to go there and visit my mentor friend.  He warmly greeted me.  I wasn’t at his bedside long until Cowan walked into the room.  George was just as glad to see Cowan.  There we were, just the three of us, this side of heaven, ready to lift George up in prayer.  Something special happened that day.  George informed us that ‘his time had come,’ and he was ‘ready to go.’ So, following some further discussion and words of comfort and care, George said, “Let’s pray boys.”  He looked at me and said, “Tom, how about you ‘going first?”  Admittedly, I blubbered a bit, yet managed to get a fairly okay prayer out. Cowan followed in his more elegant and learned style.  Finally George prayed. He prayed as did Jesus. He quoted scriptures, “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 will award me, and not only to me but to all who have longed for his appearing.” 

Then I cried. 

As you walk with the Lord, be thankful for the life you’ve lived and for the life you’re living still.  Together we are growing gracefully.  Amen.

The Blessings of Communion 10/2/2022

Sermon Message for Worldwide Communion 2022

Saturday, October 1, 2022, and Sunday, October 2, 2022 

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 LESSONS: Psalm 133:1, Romans 15:1-6, and John 17:20-21a 

SERMON MESSAGE: “The Blessings of Communion” 

Do you remember the first time you received Communion?  I do, for I was raised in a Roman Catholic Church in Seward, PA, not far from Bethlehem Steel in Johnstown, PA.  Back then we were required to attend a number of spiritual ‘classes’ within our Catholic church before the priest would approve our becoming ‘confirmed’ in the faith and worthy to receive our first Holy Communion. 

Confirmation classes simultaneously occurred in Protestant churches, such as the local Presbyterian, United Methodist, Lutheran, and Baptist.  Within Protestant churches there was not as much significance placed upon one’s first receiving the Sacrament of Communion. 

Whether or not you may recall when you first received Communion, it is my solemn and sincere prayer today that you just might recall a time or two, or possibly even more, when ‘communion’ was meaningful, hopefully a “blessing.” 

I believe it was somewhere around 1983 or 1984 that I received a very ‘special’ communion blessing. I was serving two United Methodist churches near Elizabeth, PA. The first service, as I recall, was at the smaller Elrama Church and began at 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning.  The second worship service was at the West Elizabeth Methodist Church just a few miles down the road at 11:00 a.m. 

Within those Methodist churches the tradition was for folks to come forward and kneel at the communion rail just in front of the altar when receiving communion. 

This was always such a meaningful time as they knelt at that communion rail and I, serving as their pastor, spoke the sacred Words of Institution and administered Holy Communion to each person. 

I was always quite moved by the sacredness, the kneeling, and the close proximity.  Most folks would kneel down, fold their hands, and bow their heads as this sacred time progressed.  But on this one particular Sabbath one of our esteemed elderly ladies did NOT.  Helen struggled just a bit to kneel there, but as the others bowed their heads, folded their hands, and then received first the small portion of communion bread then the small cup of communion juice, Helen instead watched ME.  In fact, she never took her eyes off of me! As a young pastor, I was not fully aware of what was going on but had a spiritual ‘suspicion’ that this had become a more sacred moment for both Helen and me. I remember finishing that 9:30 worship service, getting in my car, and traveling to the next church for 11:00 a.m. worship. Afterwards I went home and shared in Sunday Dinner with my family. 

Following dinner, I received a phone call.  The person on the other end of the line was filled with tears. She told me her Mom had died unexpectedly.  Her Mom was Helen. 

The “blessing of communion” for Helen was a spiritual preparation and sacred moment shared in her small beloved church earlier in the day.  The “Day” was Worldwide Communion Sunday!  I knew I would never forget the day. 

The Sacrament of Holy Communion is for life.  It remains a time to renew one’s life in Christ, seek and give forgiveness, all the while drawing one’s heart closer to the kingdom that Jesus spoke of.  One of the “blessings of Communion” is how it draws us closer to the Lord and one another through shared faith. “Unity” is a further “Blessing of Communion.” 

Jesus Christ established “Communion” as we reference this sacrament, in the Upper Room with his 12 disciples, several centuries ago.  He broke bread, shared the cup, and conveyed deeply meaningful words and further practices around that initial ‘communion table.’  I doubt that His table looked anything like our communion table. 

“Communion” always includes prayer.  Jesus prayed many times, the scriptures record. One day Jesus looked towards heaven and prayed for his disciples.  He stated this simple prayer unto the Father:  “My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” 

It was a simple, yet sincere prayer of unity.  “That all may be one, just as you are in me and I am in you.” 

Christians through the centuries have also needed to pray Jesus’ prayer for unity. 

Long before Jesus physically walked the face of this earth, people, Holy people, prayed to God for unity.  In Psalm 133:1 the psalmist prays in an affirmation of faith: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” 

Through the years have you thought much about “WHY” this is referred to as Worldwide Communion?  

Each year the first Sunday in October is designated as World Communion Sunday.  This remains a time for us to acknowledge and celebrate our ‘oneness’ in Christ.  Did you further know that World Communion Sunday was kind of a ‘gift’ from the Presbyterian Church?  I’ve been to the Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. Long before I was even born, back in 1933, the very first celebration of Worldwide Communion took place at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church.  Dr. Hugh Thomas Kerr served as the pastor.  The Session records of Shadyside Presbyterian Church reveal that Dr. Kerr conceived the notion of World Communion Sunday during his year as moderator of the General Assembly (1930).  World Communion Sunday grew out of the Division of Stewardship at Shadyside Presbyterian Church.  It was their attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.  Dr. Kerr readily admits the spread of World Communion Sunday was quite slow for the first few years.  People just didn’t give it a whole lot of thought. It was actually during the Second World War that the spirit caught hold because more and more people were seeking to hold the world together. Worldwide Communion symbolized the effort to hold things together, in a spiritual sense.  It emphasized that we are one in the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

The celebration of Worldwide Communion was adopted as a practice in the Presbyterian Church US in 1936.  Although churches from other denominations were invited to celebrate World Communion from its inception, it wasn’t until 1940 when the organization that became the World Council of Churches promoted the practice that it became a widespread spiritual reality still existing to this day.  World Communion Sunday IS celebrated around the world to this day.  I believe an important blessing of communion is unity. 

Long before Jesus physically walked the face of this earth there was such a dire need for unity in the world at large and throughout the Jewish faith.  Jesus himself dealt with the need for unity among his disciples and with the crowds of people seeking their own agenda. Factions were occurring then in both churches and government, within families, and among nations. 

Today we see widespread disunity among the nations.  There remains intense suffering and pain due to the War in Ukraine.  Some foreign nations criticize the United States “Call” for democracy when so much disunity prevails within our country. 

Last week Reverend Patty spoke to us regarding “Truth.”  Within our own country, who bears the “truth?”  Is it the Republican Party or the Democratic Party?  Entire states remain divided over legislation regarding abortion rights and gender identification. Yes, there are many ‘gray’ areas in our current world. 

What might the Christian church embrace and do when even our constituents are sometimes gravely divided?  

I for one suggest we return to and further embrace some things which have ‘worked well’ through the centuries. 

Worshipping God centers our lives, not only our hearts, on faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 

The Sacrament of Communion continues to show evidence of the blessings of communion.

Back in the 1930’s and 1940’s that idea conceived, perhaps spiritually inspired by one Presbyterian pastor at the Shadyside Church in Pittsburgh PA ‘caught on’ and became an accepted notion worldwide for a faith sharing that actually did provide for spiritual unity among the people, the churches, and the nations.  May we not ever minimize the impact of faith neither on worldwide concerns nor upon our own community, our own church, our own family concerns. 

Remember this as we share today in World Communion with brothers and sisters of the faith throughout the world, in war torn and also in peace filled countries. 

Jesus Christ unites us.  In heaven Jesus sits at the right hand of God and still prays for us.  Hear again his prayer, “I pray also for those who will believe in me that they may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” 

Perhaps some folks view Jesus Christ’s words as ‘so much idealism.’  I trust in Jesus Christ.  I further trust that God the Father Almighty sent the Holy Spirit to inspire others in the faith and record words that became firm spiritual insights and directives for faith through the centuries.  Consider with me again the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 15: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not please ourselves.  Each of us should please our neighbor to build them up.  For even Christ did not please himself but as it is written; “the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 

Disunity often contains elements of insult and sometimes injury between people. 

Unity is better achieved when we who are strong do not seek to impose our beliefs nor injure others with our actions even due to their insults.  God gives us a spirit of endurance and encouragement.  Our goal throughout this lifetime is to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

As we do this we become ‘communion blessings.’ 

Today may we pray as share in this worldwide sacrament, for God’s Holy Spirit to inspire someone, somewhere to hear, receive, and share an idea, a notion, an insight that many in the world will receive, embrace, and respond to.  Just as the good Lord did back in the 1930’s and 1940’s when He inspired the idea of Worldwide Communion.  In the words of a Christian Camp song, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.”  Amen. 

Communion Blessings.

Truth From The Heart 9/24/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 24, 2022 & Sunday, September 25, 2022 

Sermon Message: "Truth From the Heart"

by Reverend Patty Giles-Petrosky

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 15 & John 8:31-36 

Does Psalm 15 affect you like it affects me? Until I fully understood the grace and mercy of God – or at least as far as it is possible for a person to understand it – I figured there was no way I would ever live on God’s Holy Hill. I certainly am not blameless in any way, shape, or form. The truth is – not one of us is. 

It’s rather concerning to think about. But Scripture tells us that if we want to know how to live a Christian life, that God’s written word is a faithful director, and our conscience is a faithful monitor.  

I like the second half of Verse 2 – we are to speak the truth from our heart! What does that mean? If we’re speaking from our hearts, then our hearts had better be pure. After all, God knows our hearts better than we do – He knows what’s in there – and it had better be pure! 

I’d like to share a letter with you from a fellow named “Lucifer.” Lucifer has the ability to be very handsome and convincing. In fact, he and his minions are rather popular all around the world. Some refer to him as the prince of this world.  

Anyway, here’s the letter: 

Dear Constituents: 

I’ve written letters like this across hundreds of years and in many languages. I’m pleased to meet you this morning, even if we are in my enemy’s home. You may be a bit uneasy because we have the most influence when, like some government agencies, no one suspects that we exist. Or if they are aware of us, they don’t consider us very important. 

However, we have goals to achieve and hope to embed ourselves concretely into your lives. Our stock in trade is instant gratification and constant self-absorption. One thing we do not tolerate is being ignored. And we keep our cards close to our chest, so to speak. 

We are very careful to expose to you only that which is pleasing and exciting, and, as I stated, instantly gratifying. 

I am extremely careful that some information doesn’t get leaked, because I’ve seen what happens when the truth about secret things becomes public knowledge. I assure you, none of us wants that. So, none of you better go all holy on me, or I will have you for lunch – literally. 

Now, the heart of the matter is, I want to move into every area of your life. I want you to define yourself by logic – my logic. You see, I take all that is given to me and distort it. It’s not very difficult, because I realized long ago that most of you are so good at NOT being attentive to what is right in front of your eyes on Sunday mornings. 

I like to play with your desires – it’s truly one of the best instruments in my toolbox. It works like this, with a little encouragement from me; your desire becomes an inclination, which often becomes a habit; and those habits are hard to break. Desire is so deeply rooted in people’s souls, that it becomes their identity. And at that point, they belong to me. Think about it … vanity, greed, lust, envy, laziness … they all have earthly effects. Oh – resentment too! It’s like savoring a victory, especially when your most hated and feared enemy loses. Kind of like the relationship between the fans of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox – it’s not enough for one’s own team to win, the other team must lose – how sweet the revenge! 

It might seem like small stuff to you, but we use every episode of your life and just keep building on it. The small things are so easy to distort. We can destroy your whole life by starting small – vanity, greed, lust, envy … you know those desires, right? Oh, and we feed the ego. That’s our playground. And we keep you so busy and involved in so many things that you have no time to attend to your soul. Man – we get you into all kinds of mischief! 

However, some folks cause me all kinds of grief. When the true consequences of your behavior are uncovered for what they are – self-deception on a level you never expected – you might actually (and I hate using this word) – repent! 

Such joy I get when I see individual lives ruined through betrayal or abuse. We actually celebrate where they end up! After all, violence is at the heart of our purpose. It’s one of the ways we manage the world - me and my minions, that is. And there is an infinite variety of forms that violence comes in. We never get bored! 

Well, enough said. I believe you get the gist of this letter. I can’t give away too many of my secrets and processes. Wouldn’t want you getting wise to me! 

Just sit back, think about my words, let the excitement stir you up. I have the world to offer you.  

Have no doubt, this isn’t the last you’ll be hearing from me.  

I remain sincerely yours, 

Lucifer 

 And Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin … BUT, if you hold to my teachings, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

The truth of Jesus Christ is indeed freedom – freedom from slavery to sin. It is spiritual freedom. Rely on His promises and obey His teachings, and we will find where our hope and strength are – the tools we need to withstand Satan’s (Lucifer’s) fiery arrows that take us into sin. Jesus clearly reminds all of us that when we are living a sinful life, we are slaves to that sin. 

Christ gives us freedom from living in sin. He has the power to give us freedom when we repent for our sins, and when we place our faith in Him. 

The next time you sense you’re receiving mail from Lucifer, just hand it over to Jesus. Dwell in His sanctuary, Live on His Holy Hill.  Walk blameless with Him. Do what is righteous. Speak truth from your heart.  And know that by doing these things, living your life this way, you will never be shaken. 

And to Him be all the glory, now and forever. Amen.

The Real Final Answer 9/18/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 17, 2022 & Sunday, September 18, 2022 

Sermon Message: "The Real Final Answer"

by Reverend Patty Giles-Petrosky

Scripture Lessons: Hebrews 9:24-28 and Colossians 2:13-15 

A man once said to a minister, “I really want to believe that God forgives me, but I can’t accept it. How can you really know that God forgives your sins?” 

The minister said, “How long have you been struggling with doubts about God’s forgiveness?” To which the man answered, “Ever since I was a kid. I did something very wrong when I was young. Every day I beg God to forgive me, but I just can’t believe that He has.”  “How old are you?” the minister asked. “I’m 62” said the man. Incredulously the minister asked, “Do you mean to tell me that you’ve been begging God to forgive you for over 50 years?” The man sadly said, “Yes, yes I have, and I feel I’ve wasted my life.” 

Some folks may be able to identify with the man. I’ve heard others say they feel like they’ve been racking up a huge sin debt across the years. Here’s the real final answer to those beliefs: 

UNTIL YOU REST IN THE FINALITY OF THE CROSS, YOU WILL NEVER EXPERIENCE THE REALITY OF THE RESURRECTION! 

Back to the minister and the man. The minister asked the man, “Are you a Christian?” “Yes,” said the man. “I believe Jesus is Lord, I confessed Him as my Savior, and I have gone to church my whole life.” The minister said, “I have some news for you. You already are forgiven.”  

We already are forgiven! Forgiveness isn’t something we can earn, it’s something that God, through Jesus Christ, has already done for each of us.  

Jesus has already forgiven all of our sins – past, present, and future – on the cross!  

God has already forgiven the sins we committed long ago, and He has forgiven the sins we’ll commit tomorrow. 

THAT is what the FINALITY OF THE CROSS means! 

And Jesus forgave sins ONCE FOR ALL! Notice I didn’t say once and for all. That means something different.  

ONCE FOR ALL means that His death on the Cross – His sacrifice for us – was accomplished because of His one-time death on the cross.  

He gave us eternal forgiveness, not with the blood of an animal – as the sacrifices in the Old Testament. But with His own blood, Jesus removed sin by sacrificing Himself. Not partially, not temporarily, but completely.  

He did this one time, for all time! One time, for all sins, of all the people, for all time.  

The finality of the cross is not the end of the process of our salvation. It’s the beginning! So now, the issue of sin no longer separates us from God. The cross wasn’t the end, but rather, the beginning of new life in Christ. 

So… until we rest in the FINALITY OF THE CROSS, we will never experience the REALITY OF THE RESURRECTION! Christ’s resurrection is the way to a new life in Christ, but we can only experience it if the matter of our sin is settled.  

Want to hear the good news? God has forgiven us – once for all! Because He has, we can have a relationship with Him. Not because of anything we have done, but because of what God, through Jesus Christ, has done for each one of us. Accept that truth personally. Sometimes we can think that God is constantly disappointed in us. But – the pressure is off! Jesus has done for each of us what none of us could ever do.  

The truth is, our sins are not forgiven because we confess them. No, they’re forgiven by the shed blood of Christ. A new covenant has been established. And it’s written in our hearts as a gift of God’s love.  

The forgiveness of our sins involves a change of heart in us. When we are set free from the guilt of sin, we are also free from the power of sin! What a gift. Jesus didn’t simply cover up our sin, He took it away! On the cross He said, “It is finished!” In the Greek language those words mean, “paid in full”! The debt for our sins has been paid in full; nothing more needs to be paid! 

God isn’t dealing with us on the basis of our sins like the man in the story believed. Don’t get me wrong, we can still choose to sin; but why would we want to carry around all the guilt that sin produces in us?  

The finality of the cross actually makes us feel God’s love. The finality of the cross leads us to live in holy freedom – freedom to let God love us and to love Him in return.  

Carrying around that burden of sin is heavy. However, if we truly believe in the finality of the cross, we can stop carrying that heavy burden, stop focusing on sin, and start focusing on life with God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

So… the real final answer is until you rest in the finality of the cross, you will never experience the reality of the resurrection.  

To God be all the glory. Amen.

God's Promises 9/10/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 10, 2022 & Sunday, September 11, 2022  

Sermon Message:  "God's Promises"

by Elder Laurie Zickgraf  

Have you ever made a promise to someone?  Did you always keep that promise? Chances are you didn’t keep all of your promises. Usually you have a very good reason, but sometimes you might have forgotten the promise. With luck, the person you made the promise to also forgot. We’re human, and so we have problems with memory – like where are my car keys or where did I lay my wallet?  My favorite is when I am looking for my glasses and they are on my nose. 

When you make a promise, you are making a commitment to do something or to make something happen.  Other words for promise are:  pledge, vow, or covenant.  Promises are important.  When you fulfill a promise, you are building trust with someone.  

I knew someone that would routinely break what they called 'little promises.'  They would offer to bring something to a family dinner and forget or promise to be somewhere at a certain time and then show up late. While the dinner may not be ruined if they don’t show up with the carrots, what if they forgot the stuffed turkey?  What if they show up 5 minutes late or 2 hours late?  Does that make a difference?  Breaking a promise also breaks trust.  Once trust is broken it takes a lot of effort and time to build that trust back up. 

The Bible tells how God created the world and all of life.  It tells about an idyllic garden where man lived.  All the wondrous things God created for mankind, including animals, plants for food and the oceans, the sun, the moon, and the stars. 

The Old Testament is also full of promises made by God.  One thing we can be sure of is that when God makes a promise, whether it’s to one person or to a whole nation, He’ll keep that promise.  

As you read through the Bible, you’ll see hundreds and thousands of promises.  Some scholars have estimated over 8,000 promises are found in the Bible.  Many of these promises talk about physical things.  In the Old Testament some of God’s promises included a promise of prosperity.  Some of the men that believed in God and were faithful were rich in material things.  Abraham was rich in livestock, silver, and gold.  (Gen. 13:1-7) Isaac had so many flocks, herds and servants that he was envied by the Philistines.  When he planted his crops, he reaped 100 times more than he expected.  (Gen. 26:12-14) Jacob had many flocks and servants as well.  (Gen. 30:43) Joseph lived in the house with his Egyptian master because everything he took care of prospered.  (Gen. 39:2-6) We see that God asked Solomon what he wanted.  When he chose wisdom over wealth God gave Solomon wisdom and also wealth and honor – so much that he would have more than any other king. (1Kings 3:13) and Job, while he lost everything when he was tested by Satan, God restored to Job twice as much as he had before the test. (Job 42:10-17)   

God promises that He loves us and will always be there for us.  

Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand

Jeremiah 29:11 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. 

There are promises that took many years before they were kept.  These promises told people in the Old Testament that a Messiah was expected and how it will be when Christ returns and we live forever with God.  

One of these promises come to us in the book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and no one could interpret it.  This made the king so mad that he ordered all the wise men to be killed. Daniel returned to his friends and told them what was going on. “18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision.” (Daniel 2:17-19) The next day, Daniel went and told the king that the dream was a promise that God of heaven would set up a kingdom which would not be destroyed – it would last forever. (Daniel 2:44) 

Another promise about the Messiah is found in Isaiah chapter 9. “For unto you a child is born, to us a son is given.” What a wonderful promise of hope! 

Jeremiah warned his people for 20 years that Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians. God also told Jeremiah that:  

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant

with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. (Jer. 31:31) 

And while it took hundreds of years for this promise to be kept - all the promises that God had made about the Messiah were fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.  He ushered in the new covenant that included all those that wanted to be a part of the kingdom of God.  Anyone who believed in Jesus could have eternal life! (Luke 22:20) 

Sadly, the Jews, who should have seen Jesus and wept because the promises of the Messiah had all come true – didn’t accept Him.  Jesus didn’t fit their idea of what the Messiah would be.  They couldn’t connect the dots between the Old Testament promises and Jesus. So, they went after Him.  Over and over again they tried to show that Jesus was not the Messiah.  

In one incidence Jesus cured a man who had been sick for 38 years. He did this on the Sabbath which was against the law. When Jesus is confronted by the religious leaders He tells them:

24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24). 

During this same incident Jesus tells them:

39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40) 

Jesus is telling people that the prophecies and promises from the Old Testament are being fulfill by Him. He told the Jewish leaders and he told a woman at a well. Not just any woman but a Samaritan woman. The Jews hated the Samaritans so much that they would walk across the Jordan river and go around Samaria rather than go through their country. But here is Jesus – sharing the good news with her so she can tell her people. 

“The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (John 4:25-26) 

God has kept His word. It is something we can trust! He promised a Savior, a Messiah and He sent Jesus to keep that promise.  

Do you believe that the promises of God are true? Do you believe Jesus when He tells us:

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2) 

Do you believe what was said when Jesus ascended into Heaven? 

“10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10-11) 

God sent an angel to John who shared his vision in Revelation and tells us: 7 “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him,…” (Rev. 1:7a) 

Many of God’s promises have already come true. God has shown us that He doesn’t lie. We know there is more than just this physical earth. Right now while we are waiting for all of the promises to come true, we can share in the Spiritual life that Jesus showed us through the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Trust in God.  When you have questions, ask them.  When you are sad, or frightened or when you feel alone reach out to God. When you are happy and blessed, praise God and thank Him. For now, we don’t have all the answers but we will. We know this because we were told: 12 “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) 

God is in control, Trust God! Praise God!            Amen.

Families 9/4/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 3, 2022 & Sunday, September 4, 2022 

Scripture Lessons: Genesis 1:26-28 and Ephesians 2:18-19 

Sermon Message:  “Families” by Elder Laurie Zickgraf 

When God put people on this earth, He made a family.  He made Adam and Eve.  Since the beginning of mankind, our society has been based on the family unit.  The traditional family in the Bible is a group of people who are related to each other by marriage or by blood.  At its most basic it would include a man and a woman and a child or two.  Anyone who lived in the household was considered family. 

Beyond the immediate family you have an extended family.  These are people usually related by blood but don’t live with you and may not be involved in your day-to-day life.  This may include your in-laws, cousins, uncles and aunts, grandparents, and so on.  This can be just a few people or can be quite a large group.  

Every family is different, but every family was created to love, teach, and support one another.   

Family composition and size has changed over the years.  Back in 1850 it was common to see between 6 and 9 children in a family. Grandparents lived with their children and grandchildren.  By 1960 the average number of kids was about 3-1/2, and now it’s down to a little over 3.  Most families don’t live with grandparents or aunts and uncles anymore.  If you watch HGTV, you know that every child must have their own bedroom and bathroom in order to grow up happy.  Nowadays it is not common to see an extended family living together, but if you win the lottery, you will have relatives EVERYWHERE! 

I got to see a large family once.  We had moved to Maryland, and in 2004 I worked with a woman who became a friend of mine.  She told me she once dated a man who was really nice.  They went out a couple of times, started to get to know each other, you know – where did you go to school, where did you grow up.  They had A LOT in common. Ends up, they had the same father! 

Their father had two families!  Neither family knew about the other, and each family had 12 children.  After the shock wore off, the two families decided to blend the two groups together and become one family.  I was invited to a family get together, and there were over 75 people!  They had to rent a church hall so everyone could come for dinner.  It was not a traditional family, but it was a sight to see!  The relationships these people had with each other showed that they loved and cared for each other.  It was amazing. (Oh yes, my friend and her newfound half-brother stopped dating!) 

In a 2010 survey by Pew Research Center in Washington, DC, 76 percent of adults surveyed stated that family is “the most important” element of their life—just one percent said it was “not important” (Pew Research Center 2010). 

President Ronald Reagan once said, “The family has always been the cornerstone of American society.  Our families nurture, preserve, and pass on to each succeeding generation the values we share and cherish, values that are the foundation of our freedoms” (Lee 2009). https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wm-introductiontosociology/chapter/defining-family/

I was watching the news one night and started to wonder – if this world started with 2 people and grew to 2 billion by 1900 and now is up to 8 billion – what happened? Why all the fighting and the wars?  The answer is in the question. It started with 2 people – the next part is what we don’t usually say….It started with 2 people that listened to Satan and not to God! 

In the beginning, everyone was related to Adam and Eve.  We see the original family in the garden, and we’re told how they sinned by not trusting God and allowing Satan to manipulate them.  The problems got worse when they were sent out of the garden. Cain and Abel show us clearly that sin was on the earth.  God tells Cain that ‘sin is crouching at the door; and it’s desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7)  Something we should all keep in mind. 

Sadly, Cain did not master sin and moved further away from God when he killed his brother.  As the original family grew and moved away from each other, they also moved away from the relationship that Adam and Eve had with God in the Garden of Eden.  They made up other gods to explain how and why things worked the way they do.  As people moved away from Yahweh, they became more corrupt and evil.  The Lord saw that “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  (Genesis 6:5) God punished mankind by sending a flood to cover the earth.  

Now many of us know the rest of this story.  Noah was a good man and was told by God to build an ark.  Noah and his family were to use this ark to survive the coming flood. Once the ark was built, Noah, his wife, and their 3 sons entered the ark along with the wives of the sons.  This is 8 people.  Eight people that started with an immediate family that became an extended family and grew into a group of distant relatives that had nothing in common.  This group grew so large because they did exactly what God told Noah to do – “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1b) 

Noah’s 3 sons had 17 children between them.  As their family grew, they started to spread out and moved to different areas. Japheth and his descendants moved to the area around the Black and Caspian Seas.  There is some research that suggests that some of these family members ended up in what we now call China, Russia, and Japan. 

Shem’s family headed for areas on either side of the Euphrates Rives and in the Arabian Peninsula.  This group became the Assyrians, Syrians, and others.  Shem’s line also produced Abraham and Jesus. (Genesis 14:13) (Matthew 1:1-17) 

Ham’s family populated many parts of Africa including Egypt, Ethiopia, and Algeria.  

From the very beginning God gave us families, but He also gave us laws to guide us.  We are not allowed to do anything we want without consequences.  When God created Adam and Eve, He instructed them on what they should and shouldn’t do.  In Genesis 2:17 God tells Adam:  “but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” 

According to Jewish tradition there are 613 laws in the Old Testament. Leviticus Chapter 19 gives us a list of laws that deal with our daily life.  It starts with a statement:  “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” The list goes on: 

Keep the Sabbath, do not look or turn to idols, when you harvest your land do not harvest the very corners of the fields.  This is to be kept for the needy and the stranger.  Don’t be partial to the poor man or the rich man but judge everyone fairly.  Do not turn to mediums; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. At this time in my life I think my favorite is verse 32:  “You shall rise up before the gray-headed, and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.” These rules and laws were to be passed down to the children and to their children. 

Proverbs 22:6 tells us:

Train up a child in the way he should go:  and when he is old, he will not depart from it. 

As the sons of Noah spread out over the earth, they took their families, their animals, their belongings, and something more important; they took the knowledge of God with them.  Noah’s sons and daughters-in-law knew God; they had a relationship with Him when He saved their lives. 

But something happened to the families.  As they grew and spread out, they no longer taught their children or remembered God.  Sadly, once again, men of the earth became corrupt and evil.  They lost their relationship with God and move toward other idolatry and other gods. 

Throughout the Bible we are told of people who knew God, had a relationship with Him, but turned away from the creator of all things.  Has anything changed?  How many people in this day and age have turned away from God and look squarely at this world for happiness and for joy.  

Yes, God made families here on earth, but then He did something miraculous – He sent Jesus to show us how to be a part of God’s spiritual family.  It is not enough to be a part of a physical family here on earth.  We must become a part of the spiritual family who believes in God.  The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  We must remember where we came from.  We must remember that we were created by God and our actions have consequences because we are living in a corrupt and evil world.  

At a time in our history when our attention is being pulled in myriad directions at the same time:  cell phones, TV with a bazillion shows and movies, games and social media, war in Ukraine, the threat of China, world terrorists, inflation, jobs, the price of gas, health problems and the list goes on! 

Are you able to tune all of that out and focus on the spiritual side of life?  Can you look at this world and see what God has made, or do you see things that man has made? 

Let me paraphrase Romans chapter 8 verse 9: 

We don’t live in the flesh, we are not controlled by the sinful nature.  We live in the Spirit – the Spirit of God lives in us and directs us and guides us.  If you don’t have the Spirit of Christ, then you are not a child of God. 

How do you get the spirit of God in you? You ask for it!  You believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He came to show us the way back to God.  When you do this, you will see yourself as a sinner and you will ask for forgiveness.  It’s the simplest thing to do and the hardest thing to do because you have to give up control! 

You have to see how far away from God you really are.  You have to acknowledge that you are nothing without God.  You have to believe this in your heart and in your soul – you have to believe that you can’t save yourself – you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps, or find the right self-help book or a weekend retreat.  You can’t watch a You tube video with the latest person that claims to have seen the light. You have to hear about Jesus and believe! 

Ephesians Chapter 2:8-9 “8 For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast”

When you walk out of the church, being a Christian doesn’t end.  As you go about your business every day - strive to keep your family strong.  Share your faith with family members, sometimes by talking, but sometimes just by being an example of how a Christian lives and loves and cares for others.  If you have a big or small physical family, remember that you are a part of something that can’t be contained by this earth.  You are part of a spiritual family that has a relationship with the living God!  You belong to something amazing and wonderous!  You belong to the family of God - a family that cares about you, who prays for you, and who loves you. 

Always remember that we have hope because we have the promise of eternity that will be spent with our Father in heaven! 

John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 

Amen.

God's Heaven 8/28/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 27, 2022 & Sunday, August 28, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Eternal God, your Word speaks truth into our lives.  When we humble ourselves to listen, you mature us with knowledge and strengthened faith.  Open us to your Word read and proclaimed today, so we might hear and embrace the message you intend for us.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Isaiah 65:17 (Page 748) & John 14:1-4 (Page 1081) 

Sermon Message: “God’s Heaven” 

This past Monday, I was called upon to reference both Heaven and Hell in my life. My dear wife and I attended a class at Sewickley Hospital for those anticipating either hip or knee replacements.  The instructor taught us ‘how it will be’ following surgery.  She said when you climb steps, remember this: “Good leg goes up towards heaven first, followed by the leg you received surgery on.  When descending steps remember: bad leg goes downwards, towards hell, followed by your good leg.” It’s a meaningful reference I am counting upon. 

Typically, when people reference ‘where’ heaven is, they associate it with being ‘up there’ in the sky.  ‘Hell’ on the other hand is often times referenced as being ‘down below’ where fire and brimstone dwell in the center of the earth. 

Heaven is a very common term in the Bible.  You will find it used for the sky, for the space beyond our atmosphere, and for God’s dwelling place.  Jesus frequently talks about the Kingdom of Heaven as a present reality with a future, final fulfillment.  And heaven is frequently associated with the home of believers when we leave this life.  A home in Christ, in the presence of God. 

Across the years there have been numerous ‘jokes’ regarding heaven.  One of our church members shared a joke about heaven I will convey to you. 

A man died and was taken up into heaven.  There he met St. Peter.  After his one-on-one visit with God, the man was being escorted to his ‘home’ in heaven.  He and his escort saw various mansions as they walked along.  All of them were so beautiful and ‘open’ for all to see and visit. All except one. This one ‘dwelling place’ had no windows, and the door was shut tight.  So, the fellow asked why this was so?  St. Peter placed his hand upon the man’s shoulder and said to him, “Oh that’s the Presbyterians in there.  They think they are the only ones up here!” 

What might it be like in heaven?  Some say there are at least three different ‘levels’ to heaven. Here is an ‘attempt’ someone shared regarding these ‘levels.’  The first level of heaven is perhaps for people who have led good, righteous lives.  These people will reside in a place of peace and happiness where they will be reunited with their loved ones who have passed away.  The second level of heaven is perhaps for people who were not perfect but who made serious efforts to live good lives.  These people will be given a chance to make up for their mistakes and to learn about God’s love.  The third level of heaven is perhaps for those who have rejected God and lived wicked lives.  These people will be punished in hellfire for all eternity. 

These ‘interpretations’ do NOT have a sound Biblical basis.  Do recall Jesus Christ’s teachings regarding heaven; “In my Father’s house there are many rooms, many mansions.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you?” 

Things will be ‘different’ in heaven.  Our bodies will be different in God’s heaven.  1 Corinthians 15:35-57 speaks of this new ‘body’ we will be given. 

Think of it this way; when Jesus Christ rose from the dead, many did not recognize him initially.  In part that was because his earthly body was ‘transformed.’  It took even the disciples a while to recognize this new, heavenly body that Jesus appeared in. 

Some folks believe we will be like Jesus when we get our new bodies.  Others insist we will become angels or at least ‘look like’ angels. 

1 John 3:2-3 informs us that we will in some way be like Christ.  Matthew 22:30 informs us that we will be like the angels in heaven. 

More importantly God’s heaven is a place; a very real and certain place where “God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death or crying or pain anymore.” (Revelation 21:4) 

Remember these words of Jesus Christ; “In my Father’s house, there are many rooms, many mansions, I go and prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2,3) 

I believe in heaven and hell.  I believe God has written eternity upon our hearts and a very real and sincere yearning for heaven. As much as there is a God in heaven, there is Satan on earth who strives to deceive good people to do bad things and compromise their lives and the lives of others.  Satan strives to convince us that neither faith nor heaven is ‘for real.’  It’s part of Satan’s nature to lie, deceive, contrive, and cause confusion. 

May we bear in mind what we know to be true in our heart and soul; good people go to heaven.  Bad people go to hell. 

God’s heaven is a place.  In heaven we will meet God, we will sit and talk with Jesus.  One of the things that I and many others look forward to in God’s heaven is having every question answered, every mystery explained and understood.  In God’s heaven we will “see His face.” 

When we pass from this life to the next and enter God’s heaven, we shall look into the face of God and see the fulfillment of everything that we know to be right and good and desirable in God’s universe.  In the face of God, we will see the fulfillment of all the longings we have ever had.  We shall know perfect love, peace, and joy.  We shall know truth and justice, holiness and wisdom, goodness and power, glory and beauty.  

To quote the psalmist, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord to seek Him in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4)  

Jesus came proclaiming the coming of the kingdom.  Matthew calls it the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is a spiritual kingdom that Christ rules over.  A kingdom that includes all the redeemed.  While this kingdom has eschatological ramifications, it is a kingdom with present-day reality. 

This kingdom that Jesus proclaims reflects a dramatic shift in thought.  The coming kingdom had been envisioned as a physical earthly kingdom centered on Jerusalem.  But the kingdom Jesus proclaims was a spiritual kingdom without an earthly center. 

Jesus speaks of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ being present among us. (Luke 17: 21) God enables us to experience and appreciate the kingdom of heaven now.  When we know God in our lives, experience Jesus Christ in our hearts, feel inspired by the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God is in our midst.  The kingdom of heaven is where the poor in spirit are blessed, those who mourn are comforted, the meek inherit the earth, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are filled, the merciful are shown mercy, the pure in heart see God, and peacemakers further become the children of God.  The kingdom of heaven comes in our midst when our persecutions become our blessings and evil intended against us becomes used by God, transformed for a better ‘good’ - a greater ‘way!’  I firmly believe we get ‘glimpses’ of heaven when we witness the birth of a child, the first tastes of Spring, sunshine and rainbows after rain, peaceful sunsets, and hope-filled sunrises.  Where forgiveness reigns and love takes place over evil, there is the kingdom of heaven among us. 

I long for heaven.  Yes, it is written upon my heart and engraved into my very soul.  I long for heaven not because I am at all unhappy here on earth.  Quite the contrary!  I long for heaven when and where I ‘see’ not just with my physical eyes. Heaven for me is not just an extension of my life here on earth.  Of course, God’s heaven is a place where there is no bad health.  God’s heaven is a place where we never grow old.  Spiritually speaking, God’s heaven may be alluded to in the imagery of the 23rd Psalm; a place where we will walk with the Lord in green pastures and beside still waters. If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, then you should sincerely look forward to God’s heaven.  Within your soul perhaps you can begin to ‘see’ a place where there is no more pain, no more suffering, nor even any more tears. 

Here on earth some folks act as though they are our judge, our jury, and Jesus Christ.  In God’s heaven we shall meet the ONE who judges all with compassion, mercy, and love. 

Mostly, God’s heaven is a place of love.  Each person shall be held accountable for how they loved God, others, and lastly, themselves.

There are also many accounts in the Bible of people being given brief glimpses of heaven, such as when Stephen was stoned to death or when Paul was caught up in a trance and saw things that “no one is permitted to tell.” (2 Corinthians 12:4)  These experiences give us just a small taste of the glory that awaits us in heaven. 

I’ve been blessed to become acquainted with current day folks who’ve experienced a ‘glimpse’ of heaven as well.  From what we read and study in the Bible and glean from people’s more recent accounts, heaven is not at all to be feared but awesomely anticipated.  I for one believe heaven is SO very good, if we were able to really and truly perceive it, we would not want to remain here on this earth for another minute! 

Heaven is the Dwelling of God.  While the church may be God’s house, heaven remains His home. Our best times on earth have been those realities blessed by God, ordered by God, and affirmed through His presence.  I for one want to be with God more.  I want to live with Him after I die.  I want to go home. 

The Bible is further clear; heaven is our home.  We are citizens of heaven.  Philippians 3:20,21 records “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 bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” 

We tend to ‘want’ so much in this life.  But Jesus Christ teaches us: 

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) 

Do you have any ‘treasures ‘laid up’ in heaven?  Are there any souls you’ve helped to rescue?’  Good things you have done?  Love you have shared?  Service on behalf of God you have extended to another soul or a greater ‘cause?’  In God’s heaven you and I have ‘treasures’ that this world and all its wealth cannot buy.  

Let it be your prayer that when the time comes to enter God’s heaven, those gates swing open wide.  Long to hear our heavenly Father say “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter now into that place that I have prepared for you.  Welcome Home.  You are my son; you are my daughter.”  Amen.

The Sabbath Day 8/21/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 20, 2022 & Sunday, August 21, 2022 

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: Mark 2:23-27 (Page 1003) and Luke 13: 10-17 (Page 1045) 

Sermon Message: “The Sabbath Day” 

Jesus was reprimanded for doing good on the Sabbath.  I also recall a time when I was reprimanded for doing good on the Sabbath.  Back in 1982 I was a student pastor at a small white-framed church just outside of New Castle, PA, in the community of Edinburgh.  At the time there were seven kids in our confirmation class.  Because I was a student pastor, I was only at that church on weekends.  During the week I was still attending seminary.  One of our upcoming Confirmation classes was to include a study on the resurrection.  I had two young adults who were also members of that church assisting me with these weekly classes.  One of the kids asked if we could go see the movie “E.T.” which had become quite popular back then.  The other two adults and I discussed how we could assimilate some of the resurrection themes.  That next week, with parental permission and escort, we went to see the movie “E.T.”  Well let me tell you, one of the older members wanted to have me crucified for even considering such a waste of time when kids were supposed to be in Confirmation class, especially on a Sunday, don’t you know! 

She reprimanded me gloriously so.  Thankfully she did not gain much support from anyone else in that small country church. 

Throughout church history the “Sabbath” is known to be a day of rest and a time to be kept ‘holy!’ 

Let’s consider some of the ‘history’ associated with the Sabbath. 

I believe some who are present in church today remember the old blue laws.  When I was a child, most stores were closed on Sunday.  If a store did happen to be open, such as a pharmacy, many sections of that store would be covered over with sheets of cloth or paper to restrict or limit purchases to only necessities.  Sundays were special.  Sunday was viewed as equivalent to the Old Testament Jewish Sabbath Day.  It was to be a day of rest and worship.  In many homes, Sunday was observed with almost the same rigidity as the Pharisees forced upon the Jews.  Today the pendulum has swung almost to the opposite extreme where, not only in our society but also in many Christian homes, there is almost no importance placed on the Lord’s Day.

In accordance with the Bible, the Sabbath is the first day of the week.  From Christianity’s Jewish heritage the first day of the week is Saturday.  The early Christians devoted themselves to honoring the Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, on Sunday. 

Jesus and His disciples were walking through a field of grain on the Sabbath enroute to worship at the synagogue.  The disciples were hungry and decided to pluck some of the grain.  While the Old Testament law regarding the keeping of the Sabbath in no way prohibited picking a handful of grain to satisfy one’s immediate hunger, the traditional law added many rules and regulations that were nothing more than man-made traditions.  Those traditions were rigid concerning Sabbath observance.  The Talmud, the book of Jewish traditions, has 24 chapters listing various Sabbath laws.  On the Sabbath, you could not travel more than 3,000 feet from your house.  You were not allowed to carry anything that weighed more than a dried fig.  You couldn’t carry a needle for fear you might sew something.  Taking a bath was forbidden.  Water might splash on the floor and wash it.  Women were not to look in a mirror; they might pull a gray hair.  Having been observed by the Pharisees, the disciples were charged by the Pharisees with violating two of man’s traditional Sabbath laws; plucking the grain and rubbing them in their hands.  Christ addresses the charges levied by the Pharisees by stating that.“The Sabbath was made for man, not the man for the Sabbath.  So, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27,28)  The sabbath was not meant to restrict necessities.  In affirming His Deity, Christ declares He is Lord and is greater than the Sabbath.  He therefore has the right to overrule man-made rules and traditions. 

On still another Sabbath day Jesus was preaching in the synagogue, the church.  He noticed a woman doubled over who had been that way for eighteen years.  Her contemporaries blamed it on demon possession.  Today, we might call the condition fusion of the spinal vertebrae.  Jesus took the mercy-filled initiative.  Luke tells it:  "When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, 'Woman, you are set free from your infirmity!'  Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God." (Luke 13:12-13) 

The words "crippled by a spirit" remain intriguing in our lives and in our church.  Aren't we all from time to time “crippled by a spirit?”  There are still spirits which can distort us from the way we ought to be.  The Bible warns us of some of them:  "The cravings of sinful people, the lust of their eyes, and the boasting of what they have and do." (1 John 2:16)  It warns us of a spirit of greed which can addict us to wealth and put us in bondage of getting and keeping money. 

Sometimes, too, we get all wrapped up in the fear of what other people will think of us.  That one has kept so many of us as spiritual runts when God would have us be giants.  The spirits called alcohol and drugs.  The spirits of a jealousy which can tear our relationships apart.  The spirits of suspicion which infect working together with other well-meaning and motivated people.  And, of course, there is that spirit of "me first" and self-centeredness which reduces our human nature to one of being bent over in conniving and manipulation.  Then there is the seductive, distorting spirit of power over others.  There are spirits of racism and ugly prejudice as well.

We were not created by God to be possessed and crippled by these spirits which distort our stature.  Today Jesus says to us, as well as to the woman bent over for eighteen years, "you are set free from your infirmity." (Luke 13:12b) 

Especially so on the Sabbath, when we come to church to learn of God’s Word for us, sing His praises, lift up our prayers, and share our strength of faith with one another; Jesus Christ offers to set us free from OUR infirmities.  Freedom; relief from guilt and worry, confidence we are okay, courage to face the future, the stuff necessary to deal with it, and liberty.  So, like that bent-over woman, we can stand tall again. 

The Sabbath was made for rest, for worship, for holiness.  

God created and continues to create each Sabbath for us.  God, in His wisdom, recognizes that we, His children, need time off from the hectic schedule of daily living, time to focus on those things that are of ultimate meaning and worth:  our relationship with the Lord and those bonds of love that link us to family.  Moreover, we need the rest that does restore us in body, mind, and spirit.  For only so will we be prepared, not merely to endure, but to respond creatively to the challenges of this week and every week.  Thus, on this and every Sabbath, we seek God’s presence and guidance in worship - the encouragement of His Word and the refreshing of His Spirit.  Jesus remains Lord of the Sabbath. 

Even as many a Jew in Jesus' day squeezed joy out of the Sabbath, so are we in our day guilty of stripping holiness from the Sabbath.  In our society, it seems that anything goes on this day.  Far from being a day to honor God and so find ourselves refreshed spiritually, it has become a day to pursue one's own personal pleasure.  Instead of building up the total person with such resources of renewal as God can offer, we continue to push ourselves to the brink of emptiness, of estrangement from that which ultimately counts and makes for life, in other words, to the very point of spiritual exhaustion.  Let us come home to our Father each week in worship, in fellowship, in praise, in prayer, and in rest. 

It is vital to our lives that we set aside time for rest and worship.  These are two things we desperately need.  As human beings, our Creator did not design us to work seven days a week.  Our bodies and souls both need rest, and taking off one day out of every seven is good for us.  Those of us with workaholic tendencies may find it difficult to get into the habit of a regularly scheduled day off, but we need it.  It should always be something to which we look forward. 

Every day as believers we should take time to read the Bible, pray, and express our praise to God.  But it is important to have at least one day in seven, which we set aside so that we can have an extended time to worship and focus upon the Lord both corporately and individually. 

What does ‘the Sabbath’ look like in your home?  In your heart and soul?  What might we further glean from God’s Word that will point us in the right direction, the better perspective for 'keeping holy the Lord’s Day' and honoring God with a day of rest?

Throughout history humans have needed and benefited from a time of rest.  Each generation has responded to God’s directive to “keep Holy the Sabbath.”  A consistent insight throughout history has been that of honoring God by worshiping Him on the Sabbath.  This not only honors God; this further provides spiritual nourishment for our very soul, comfort for our anxieties, forgiveness for our sins, fellowship with the family of faith, and all the while calling us to ‘set aside’ time for God in our lives.  Such efforts have and shall continue to provide ‘rest for the soul’ and nourishment for our spirits. 

Also, throughout history, and specifically so during the Lenten season, Sunday, (Sabbath) is recognized as a day of affirming the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Thus Sundays, during the Lenten season, are not to be days of fasting for they are to remain affirmations of the resurrection of Jesus. 

When we assemble together for worship, we are once more affirming the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The resurrection, for many, is thought of either as an event that happened long ago when Jesus rose from the dead OR is considered to be an event yet to occur in the distant future.  Jesus’ resurrection IS affecting us in the here and now.  Jesus Christ is making all things new; our lives, our hopes, our forgiveness, and especially so, our love, and our faith.  Each Sunday should thus serve as a reminder of ‘what’s new, better, and more hopeful’ because of the resurrection touching our lives. 

Across the years much of people’s best gatherings have been on Sundays.  Many a family history is enriched by Sunday dinners and family times.  

If you think about it, going to church, family resting together, and affirming the hope of heaven is a lot of what Sabbath is about.  I firmly believe Sabbath should look like a glimpse of what’s coming, what’s in store, what’s hoped for.  

There’s nothing quite like the Sabbath for restoring the soul, resting the body, nurturing the family, and affirming the faith.  Amen. 

Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures:  Grant that I putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of public worship, and grant as well that my Sabbath upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Salvation 8/13/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 13, 2022 & Sunday, August 14, 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:  Matthew 7:21 & Philippians 2:1-13 

Sermon Message:  “Salvation” 

‘Salvation’ is a ‘church word’ for many.  I well recall a time in our culture when it was quite popular to hear people asking, “Are you saved?”  I still recall lots and lots of people asking me that question.  No matter how many times I affirmed, “Yes, I am,” still, they wished to pursue teaching me what it means to be ‘saved.’ 

‘Saved’ or ‘delivered’ from our sins is but one component of salvation.  

Some equate ‘salvation’ with being ‘born again.’  In essence this means coming to know and accept Jesus Christ into your heart as Lord and Savior.  ‘Rebirth’ is believed to take place when one confesses their sins to Jesus, asks to be forgiven, affirms belief in Jesus, and inquires of Him to come into their lives, dwell within their hearts, and inspire one’s mind as Lord and Savior.  For some, this ‘born again’ experience helps to change one’s negative and sinful behavior.  Sad to say we have all likely met a few folks who ‘say’ they are Christian, can affirm they have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but don’t ‘act like it.”  That is, they still evidence hurtful and sinful actions in their lives and towards others.  Thus, we read, reference, and strive to better identify with today’s scripture lessons. 

“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 1:12-13) 

The ultimate concern of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is salvation.  Look back to the story of creation.  In the beginning everything was good.  But Adam and Eve sinned -- they ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  They decided to think for themselves -- no God was needed to separate right from wrong, order from chaos, provide wholeness ... salvation.  But they were mistaken.  This was the way Israelite mothers and fathers explained to their children why so much was wrong with the world.  Human arrogance upset God's good order, and the Genghis Kahn’s and Adolph Hitler’s and Saddam Hussein’s and Vladimir Putin’s of this world have offered stark and tragic testimony to that ever since. 

But the ancient Hebrews believed more.  They knew that God would not leave the world in disarray, nor would God leave the covenant people to fend for themselves.  When the psalmist declares, "The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation," (Psalm 118:14) it is an affirmation that God delivers the people from all sorts of disasters -- slavery in Egypt, wars with the Canaanites, bondage in Babylon.  Indeed, one who followed Moses, one of the great heroes of ancient Israel, the one who further led the people into the Promised Land, was named Yeshua; Joshua, the Hebrew word for salvation.  There is little or no concern with life after death in the Old Testament.  Salvation is here-and-now, protection from enemies, a restoration of order. 

By the time we get to the New Testament, we find another powerful personality named "Salvation"; Yeshua, which Greek turns into the name, Jesus. In the announcement of his coming, the angel told Joseph, "You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)  Indeed, there were all sorts of little boys being born around the time of Christ whose Jewish moms and dads named them Jesus in the hope that their son would be the promised Messiah, the Deliverer, the salvation of Israel from the bondage of Rome, the one who would restore God's good order.  Life after death was still no issue. 

As Jesus began his ministry, something new became apparent.  The salvation he was offering was much more than political deliverance for the chosen people.  He said that he had come "to preach good news to the poor ... proclaim release to the captives ... [restore] sight to the blind," (Luke 4:18) "to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10)  To the woman he healed of a hemorrhage, the blind man who could now see, the leper who had been cleansed, he said, "Your faith has saved you."  Salvation was not a promise of pie in the sky, by and by, but a restoration of order in the here and now. 

By the time we come to the end of the Bible, the book of Revelation, we find more clearly than anywhere else that salvation, restoring order, goes beyond this life.  In its complicated but beautifully poetic way, Revelation affirms to the early church, people who were in danger for their very lives because of their commitment to Christ, that God will deliver, will save God's people, and will make creation good again:  no more hunger, no more thirst, no more tears, no more death.  Salvation. 

The Christian message is that God's plan is salvation.  As the gospel writer has it, "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:17)  Salvation is forgiveness and hope.  Salvation IS closeness with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Salvation is making a sick creation healthy and whole again.  Salvation is the promise of heaven, a new heaven and a new earth.  We are born again, born from above, and re-born within ourselves as Jesus Christ is welcomed, accepted, affirmed, and followed. 

We commune today with Jesus.  He IS our salvation. 

We ‘commune’ with Jesus in the bread and cup of today’s communion meal.  We further ‘commune’ with Jesus in how we live out our salvation.  Today’s scriptures direct us to have tenderness and compassion, be like-minded, have the same Christ-like love for one another, and be of one mind in Christ.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but to the interests of others.  BE LIKE CHRIST.  Let people SEE Christ in you; then they will know of your salvation.

As the Bible further decrees, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2: ff) 

What does it look like in a believer’s life to “work out one’s salvation with fear and trembling?” 

A few personal examples.  The first one is kind of funny. 

At our house, my beloved REQUIRES that I wear one set of slippers around the house and an entirely different set of slippers when I take the dogs outside.  Every now and again I forget.  When I do, I come back inside with some ‘fear and trembling’ because of the ‘wrath’ that is about to follow. 

On a more solemn note; I grew up under the influence of an alcoholic father.  I watched, first-hand, his abuse, verbally and physically, of our family, including myself. 

In part, ‘salvation’ for me means being ‘saved’ from ever becoming an alcoholic.  Some children of abusive alcoholic parents become alcoholics and abusive in their adult years.  

While some of you might ‘enjoy a beer’ now and then, I never acquired a taste for it, never will, and don’t want to.  I refrain from anything that might put my life, my ‘self’ out of control and possibly even mildly abusive of another soul. 

For me, this becomes a further dimension of ‘working out my salvation with fear and trembling.’  When I see my physical size and know of my mental capabilities, plus the position and title God Almighty has called me to, I am fearful and do tremble with the thoughts of ever misusing any of God’s blessings or what He has ‘saved’ me from. 

Our world today still very much needs a savior.  We need salvation.  We should be fearful and tremble at the realities of war, violence, abuse, neglect, prejudice, and hatred in our world.  

As we commune with Jesus today and He with us, ask Him into your heart, accept Him in your life as Lord and Savior.  

We are ‘saved from’ and by the grace of God; we are ‘saved for’ more, so much more goodness and grace from God Almighty flowing through each and every one of us.  Amen.

My Soul Waits 8/6/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 6, 2022 & Sunday, August 7, 2022 

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 130: 5-8 (Page 618) and 2 Peter 3:8-15a (Page 1227) 

Sermon Message: ‘My Soul Waits’ 

There is this ‘funny-silly thing’ I sometimes do with family and close friends.  For instance, we went with our grandchildren to Rita’s ice cream store a while back.  The line was so very long, and the sun was beating down on our heads.  There were two serving windows open, so I thought to myself, “Oh the line will go fast.”  Suddenly, without notice, one of the two server windows closed, and one of the staff disappeared.  Immediately I realized this process was now going to take twice as long.  Perhaps I was bad, possibly a bit sarcastic, when I said to my family, “Oh don’t worry, we can out-wait them!”  A play on words that doesn’t seem to help very much. 

Waiting is difficult.  In our age of instant gratification, we find it very hard to wait.  To try to avoid waiting, we have drive-in restaurants, drive-in cleaners, and drive-in pharmacies, all designed to get us what we want, when we want it.  Yet, we cannot avoid waiting. 

We wait for people to answer the phone.  We wait at traffic lights.  We wait to have our vehicles fixed.  We wait for babies to come and for suffering loved ones to die.  We wait in doctors' offices and for lab reports.  We wait at hospitals for news about how surgery has turned out.  We wait to hear from loved ones far away.  We wait for loved ones to arrive. 

Waiting is difficult.  We tend to be impatient, some more, some less.  One woman sensing her problem of impatience, prayed, "Lord, give me patience, and give it to me right now." 

Some years back I met a fellow who just hated to wait.  Waiting was a form of hell to him.  His teeth would clench, his face became red with apparent rising blood pressure.  Oh so quickly his perception of the situation narrowed, and his temper would erupt!  Lots of times he embarrassed his wife, his friends, and himself at the things he said and done when he had to wait. 

Several times a week I am forced to wait -- at supermarket checkout counters, on I-79 traffic snarls, at the bank, and sometimes at the gas station.  These daily waits can get to any of us if we’re not careful. 

Some situations of waiting are more ‘acute’ than others…the waiting of a childless couple for a child to come, the waiting of a single person for marriage to come or whatever is next, the waiting of the chronically ill for health or death, the waiting of those who are scarred, emotionally so, for peace, the waiting of those in dead-end jobs for a break-through, the waiting of unhappy marriages for something to ‘change for the better!’  One of the worst ‘waitings’ is for the lonely seeking solace to belong to somebody. 

Waiting is the common denominator of us all.  Some who are wealthy or perhaps in positions of authority can cut through some of the ‘red tape’ associated with waiting.  But for most of us, we just have to deal with the problems and the challenges of waiting.  Waiting is generally a negative experience, but there is one kind of waiting described in the Bible, which is good.  It is called waiting for God. 

The psalmist of old speaks of this kind of waiting -- waiting for the LORD:  "I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope." (Psalm 130:5)  I invite you to read Psalm 130:5 as your memory verse for each day this week.  It will enrich your life. 

How does your soul ‘wait’ for the Lord?  Waiting for the Lord is rewarding. 

Waiting for the Lord means at least three things:  help, humility, and hope.  First, when we wait for the LORD, we realize our need for help with our sins and our suffering.  The context for waiting for the LORD in Psalm 130 is the realization of a need for help.  We do not know why, but we do know that the psalmist got in touch with his sin and realized what his iniquities were doing to separate him from God.  He saw his need for help with his offenses.  Whether it is our sins or our suffering, or both, our soul benefits from waiting for the Lord. 

In Psalm 130:1-4, the psalmist writes:  “Out of the depths I cry to thee, O LORD!  Lord, hear my voice!  Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!  If thou, O LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” 

Have you ever experienced a sleepless night?  Have you ever experienced a sleepless night when troubles seem too many, fears are plentiful, and you feel so all alone?  Akin to the Psalmist we cry to the Lord from the depths of our souls.  There are those times in every person’s life where we become helpless.  It is hard to admit that we are helpless.  It is hard to admit that we have done wrong or that the suffering we’re enduring is just too overwhelming!  It is difficult to face the fact that we are out of control and that we need God, but that is the school of life in which we can learn the greatest lesson of all -- that God is willing to help us with our sins and with our sufferings.  The psalmist wrote of crying out to the Lord from the depths of his soul.  He learned a valuable spiritual lesson.  We sometimes have to discover that we are ‘out of control’ and learn to depend upon God.  That dependence is called waiting for the LORD. 

We don't know what suffering the psalmist was experiencing, but we know that he was suffering greatly.  Perhaps it was a cry for help from spiritual, psychological, and physical suffering which caused him to cry out for help, to cry out from the depths.  This is often the case with us as well.  We too need help with our sins and suffering.  But we need more.  If we just discover our helplessness, we will stay far short of the full meaning of waiting for the Lord.  We may wind up in the never-never land of hopelessness. 

Second, when we wait for the LORD, we have to learn humility.  Humility means turning from the realization of our helplessness to someone who is stronger than we are.  The psalmist puts it this way:  "My soul waits for the LORD." (Psalm 130:5) 

Several friends who are recovering alcoholics have told me that they did not start on the path to health until they confessed that they were helpless in their struggle against their illness and then turned to God for help.  That turn is possible because God turned to us through Jesus Christ. 

Saint Paul describes our need for discovering our helplessness and our need to depend on what Christ has done:  "While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." (Romans 5:6 RSV) 

Turning to Christ who died for us is an act of humility.  On the cross, Christ did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  He died for us to give us help while we are helpless.  He died to give us what we cannot accomplish, the forgiveness of our sins. 

Humility means not only realizing our helplessness, but also turning to someone higher than us to resolve our sin and suffering.  Just to realize our helplessness against sin and suffering may leave us in the never-never land of despair.  We must turn in humility to the One who can help us. 

Humility is not looking at ourselves poorly or lowly.  Humility is a clear view of oneself in relation to others and above all, to God. 

The Christian faith doesn’t ‘make sense’ to some.  For instance the Apostle Paul, having endured great suffering, shipwrecks, prison time, and severe rejection wrote of ‘rejoicing in our sufferings!’ 

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5, RSV) 

Consider a further spiritual insight; When we ‘wait for the Lord’ something changes inside of us. God forges us into the person He wants us to be.  God’s timing for this change is not our timing.  When our soul waits, it's not just something we do until we gain what we want or hope for.  Waiting for the Lord is part of the process of becoming what we hope for. 

Waiting for the LORD means humbly trusting him for forgiveness and in times of suffering. 

Quite important, when we wait for the LORD, we discover the best thing for all:  hope.  Hope is what can happen when we realize we are helpless with our sins and suffering and then humbly turn our problems over to the LORD. 

Waiting for God means hope.  The psalmist says:  "In his word, I hope." (Psalm 130:5)  He also says, "O Israel, hope in the LORD!  For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plenteous redemption." (Psalm 130:7)  Waiting for the LORD means discovering God is redemption, which gives us hope. 

This kind of waiting with hope can result in renewal.  Isaiah 40:30-31 describes renewal and hope this way: “Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up on wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.” 

In our day of instant gratification where we don't want to wait for anything, it is good for us to learn to wait for the LORD and thus renew our strength and find the focus of our hope. 

Scriptures describe Jesus as “Light shining in darkness.” (John 1:5)  To the soul that waits for the Lord all things reveal themselves, provided they have the courage not to deny in the darkness what they have seen in the light. 

Remember this too: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.  The Lord is not slow in helping, caring, redeeming, or reforming us.  REALIZE WHY the Lord is patient with YOU. “Because He is not wanting anyone to perish, but for everyone to come to repentance.  The day of the Lord WILL come.” (2 Peter:3 ff) 

“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.” (2 Peter 3:15a) 

There is a wisdom to waiting, a clear spiritual wisdom.  May we choose to be holy, living godly lives as we look forward to the day of the Lord. 

When someone tells you, “I cannot wait,’ smile inside of yourself knowing, “Yes, I can out wait them!”  My soul waits for the Lord!  Amen.

Grow To Know Faith 7/30/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 30, 2022 & Sunday, July 31, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: 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 taught your will, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Luke 12:13-21 (Page 1043) and Colossians 3:1-17 (Page 1184) 

Sermon Message: “Grow to Know Faith” 

Jesus Christ found himself in an awkward situation.  He was right in the midst of preaching to a very large crowd of people, and this guy just interrupts him.  “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  I can’t imagine what that must have been like for Jesus. 

Jesus, the Master, was preaching to a crowd of people instructing them to rely on the Holy Spirit in times of peril, and this guy just abruptly interrupts him.  It was common practice to take unsettled disputes to respected rabbis.  Jesus must have had that reputation.  However, there is a time and place for everything.  This man should make an appointment to discuss such a personal matter.  Instead, he interrupts the Master in mid-thought.  This behavior speaks volumes about him.  "Hey, Jesus, I really don't care to hear about the Holy Spirit.  I really don't care that there are thousands of other people listening to you.  I want you to drop everything and take care of my issue."  We all have encountered people like this.  They live in a world bounded on the north, south, east, and west by themselves. Perhaps the crowd just sighs, for this is not likely the first time this guy has complained about his brother and his inheritance.  Jesus, however, does not want to get sucked into the fellow’s family fight over the inheritance.  Few things are more dangerous than an outsider wading into another family's battle over money.  Wisely, Jesus sidesteps the guy's demand.  "Friend, who set me to be judge or arbitrator over you?"  Then the fellow sits down.  He is disappointed, but everyone knows he will continue to complain to anyone who will listen.  Jesus gets back the crowd’s attention by speaking of how material possessions do not ensure happiness.  Many things seem to be happening in this narrative.  Perhaps Jesus is asking the fellow and all of the crowd, and us, to grow to know faith.  Perhaps Jesus perceived the fellow’s problem to be with greed, not failure, to share on his brother’s part.  Perhaps he was a soul that just could not get enough. 

Jesus would sometimes ‘preach’ making use of parables; short stories with surprise endings that illustrate life’s principles.  Jesus tells the crowd a parable about a rich man whose farm yielded an abundant harvest.  Notice he did not build additional barns to store the abundant harvest.  Perhaps money was no object, so he tore down his existing barns to build bigger ones.  The farmer goes on to dream about a coming day when he will ‘take life easy, eat, drink, and be merry.’  But God said to him, “You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.” 

Sometimes we wait too long, work too hard, and prioritize the wrong things only to find out we lose our health, our family, our job, our career, or even our lives. How do you wish to be remembered?

Years ago, after officiating a funeral service, this one guy spoke to me afterwards, sharing his rather ‘unique’ story.  It seems that back then someone misunderstood what had happened to him in an automobile crash, and somehow an obituary notice came out regarding him.  Even though he was still very much alive! He read his own obituary and was saddened by how he was ‘not’ remembered.  Sad but true. His story brings to mind another true story, that of Alfred Nobel.  Alfred was a famous Swedish scientist born in 1833.  Quite a gifted man intellectually so.  By the time he was 15, he could read, write, and speak four languages besides his native Swedish.  Alfred Nobel discovered a functional use for nitroglycerin, which led to the development of dynamite.  He became both rich and famous from this discovery, and he also found an abundance of oil on his land that he was able to sale at quite a profit. Alfred Nobel was one of the richest men in the world.  Akin to the fellow in Jesus’ parable, Alfred Nobel thought to himself, he could sit back, relax, and enjoy life.  Alfred's serenity came to an abrupt halt one day when he picked up the morning paper and read the headline, "Dynamite King Dies."  The story was about him.  That story, plus the accompanying obituary in the paper were erroneous, for he was very much alive and well.  Nobel decided to read the article, however, in order to know what people would think of him after his death.  Besides all the normal facts and dates of an obituary, he read a description which labeled him "the merchant of death."  The expression disturbed the scientist greatly.  Certainly, the comment came in reference to his association with dynamite, but this did not lighten the blow.  Nobel realized at that moment that the life he had led was not one for which he wanted to be remembered.  He could not change the past, but with God’s help and guidance, he certainly could change the future.  He changed his Will leaving his vast fortune to a committee which each year would select people who, in theory and in practice, had made positive contributions to the furthering of humankind.  Among those annual awards is the famous Nobel Peace Prize. 

Is the life you lead one for which you want to be remembered?  Do you know who you are, or is life more a masquerade?  Do you understand how much you have, or are you never satisfied with what life provides?  

Death is not mentioned as a punishment for greed in today’s scripture lesson as told by Jesus.  

The life of Alfred Nobel and the surprise, yet inaccurate, announcement of his death in the daily newspaper raised heart-searching questions for him.  We can read in the Bible ‘instances’ of people, even entire groups of people, who never thoughtfully reviewed their life nor how they might want to be remembered.  This ‘review’ should be an on-going process each of us has with God. 

Some folks end up ‘reviewing’ when it’s entirely too late.  Even as Jesus stated, your life or my own might be required of us today.  Jesus is not warning us that we are going to be punished with death.  Instead, he inquires of us to ‘think things through’ and grow to know death can happen to any of us at any time.  It certainly will happen to all of us sometime. 

Jesus teaches the fellow who interrupted him that greed can lead to idolatry among other things.  We all need to grow in faith to understand and implement the teachings of Jesus Christ in our lives.  

Christianity is a religion of faith.  This ‘faith’ we refer to is not something just automatically poured into us.  We have to grow, continually so, to know faith. 

Bluntly, the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, informs us that we NEED to put to death some things.  Things such as sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed.  He further writes, “Because of these things the wrath of God is coming.”  Faith keeps us informed.  Faith helps us to grow.  Faith further warns us of what might be coming if we choose to do wrong things in this life.  

Death is not referenced only as a physical event in the Bible.  We can become ‘dead in sin’ that separates us from God and one another.  We can become ‘dead in our sinfulness.’  We can become so very busy in our self-established priorities that we end up forfeiting love, life, and enjoyment with our family, our friends, and our church.  

Scriptures teach us to “die to our sinful, earthly nature and set our minds on things above.”  Put our faith into action.  As we grow to know ‘faith’, we are further required to rid ourselves of such things as anger, rage, hatred, slander, and filthy language.  Do not lie to each other.  You are a Christian.  ACT LIKE IT! 

Because you and I have grown to know faith, we are new, different, and hopefully ‘better’ in how we represent Jesus and care for others, not only ourselves. 

Do keep some ‘reminders’ to help you as you grow to know faith. The apostle Paul speaks of his having a ‘thorn in his flesh’ that kept reminding him to grow in faith while remaining humble in the same.  Some scholars think that perhaps Paul’s ‘thorn in his flesh’ was some type of eye fungus that appeared from time to time. 

Choose to deliberately keep something that reminds you of what has caused you to grow to know faith. 

In my garage at home there hangs in one corner a very old, ragged, and musty coat.  Years ago it was given to me by a man who stepped into my life when I needed a father and a friend the most.  He encouraged me in the faith.  He pushed me to grow to know how to apply faith into my life, my job, and especially so within my family.  For a lot of years that coat served me well as something practical to be worn when I went anywhere.  Eventually it wore out, and I outgrew it.  But I just knew I wanted to hang onto it.  Once or twice a year, when no one is around, I grab that old coat and dust it off with my hands.  I can’t get it on any longer and have begun to realize that it is falling apart.  Patty suggested I throw it out for it’s not even a candidate for Goodwill or St. Vincent DePaul.  That old coat remains one of my greater treasures for it keeps my heart and soul humble with appreciation for love, friendship, encouragement, and care bestowed upon me by those who did not ‘have to.’  

Faith is a choice we all make.  God gives us free will to choose.  He also touches our hearts in oh so many ways.  As Jesus was teaching the crowds so long ago to rely upon the Holy Spirit, he teaches us still to do the same. 

As you pray to God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, ask for the divine favor and blessing of growing to know faith in all its completeness and practicality for life here and in the hereafter.  Pray, not always seeking more, but pray seeking to thank God for what you have.  Grow to know faith by recognizing and sharing your blessings instead of demanding more and more. 

I found this illustration that just might help: some children were assisting their father who was a junk or should I say ‘scrap’ collector. In this one woman’s large yard there were a few items that quite possibly could have been items donated for scrap.  They rang the doorbell, and this distinguished, elderly lady answered the door.  Politely they introduced themselves, and she invited them in for some warm hot chocolate and shared with them a plate full of cookies.  Their father waited patiently, trusting all was going well.  Quickly the hungry kids ate and drank. Then in amazement the little girl says, “Wow, are you rich lady?”  The lady replied, “No, just comfortable.  Why do you think I am rich?”  “Because” said the little girl, “your cups and saucers for our hot chocolate match!” 

My dear friends, as we grow to know faith, stop and consider what we do have and how we shall share our blessings with others so that we will be favorably remembered on earth and in God’s heaven. 

Some very basic ways we can incorporate inside of us to grow to know faith are pointed out in today’s scriptures:  “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another, if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” 

Grow to know faith.  May we be remembered for our faith and for our love.  Amen.

Unanswered Prayer 7/23/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 23, 2022 & Sunday, July 24, 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 121 (Page 616) & Luke 11:1-13 (Page 1041) 

Sermon Message:  “Unanswered Prayer” 

“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!” (Luke 11:13) 

God is portrayed as a loving Father in heaven who cares for us.  We may also understand from today’s scriptures that our heavenly Father hears and answers our prayers. 

I cannot remember when I first became a Christian.  Some can, but I cannot.  I’ve always been a ‘Christian.’  I’ve always been acquainted with God and grew to know and well appreciate that God’s hand is upon me.  I’d go so far as to say God and I have always been ‘on speaking terms.’  Yet there are times when it really seems as though my prayers are unanswered.  Perhaps you’ve experienced ‘unanswered prayers.’ 

Across the years there have been some precious ‘insights’ as to why God does not answer our prayers.  Some time ago, a Sunday School class was discussing unanswered prayer.  The folks were discussing and sharing their thoughts; simple basic wisdom. One fellow says, “I believe God answers every prayer.”  A second fellow quickly concluded, “Sometimes the answer is ‘no!’  As a pastor, I’ve also seen where God seems to be saying “Wait” OR “I’ve got something better in mind” OR “Chill!”  Along the way I can’t help but think that God must sometimes scratch his head and say, “Are you out of your mind?” 

I do know that God is loving.  He cares.  There are some reasons, or should I say ‘insights’ as to ‘why’ prayers are sometimes unanswered. 

Lots of folks like to blame God for unanswered prayers. 

I spoke with a fellow regarding some very heavy grief he was experiencing.  Also, his wife and their daughter were so saddened.  Their dog died.  He was the family pet, companion, innocent love, and enduring guardian for the family.  The guy just could not, would not, be comforted.  He just could not understand why God did not answer their prayers for their dog to live.  Our first conversation entailed mostly listening and offering a brief prayer.  The next day I at least was able to learn the doggie’s name. A few days later he was able to answer my inquiry as to how old their dog was….17.  A small dog which, in actuality, lived significantly longer than most dogs of this breed.  But the guy kept insisting on his grief, as well as, his proclamation that he just could not understand why God ‘took his dog from him!’ 

Eventually our conversation included some basic insights into the ‘course of nature’ which teaches us we all have a limited lifespan on this earth, even our pets.  Further insight involved a beginning awareness that a loving God did not wish for this precious, innocent animal, their beloved pet, to suffer.  So instead of viewing the situation as though God ‘took their pet’ from them, we began to agree that God lovingly welcomed home an aging, suffering pet. 

I’ve seen scenarios where the innocent dies young.  The good person suffers.  Accidents occur.  Violence hurts.  I’ve been called and privileged to walk beside folks whose lives were literally turned upside down, and there were no thoughts of awareness as to why somebody’s prayer, somewhere seemed to have gone unanswered. 

I’ve learned in my walk with God not to demand answers but to seek them.  I’ve learned to trust in Jesus.  I KNOW that God is far wiser than am I.  Mostly I continue to grow to know God holds me, God holds US, in His hands. 

Yet there are some significant ‘insights’ we can ‘think about’ today as to why God may not answer our prayers. 

James 4:3 informs us that we sometimes do not receive because we ask with wrong motives. Folks, it’s wrong to ask God to strike someone down because we had a fight with them OR because somebody has something we want. God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. 

Within today’s scripture lesson from Luke 11, Jesus teaches, he informs us, that sometimes we don’t receive because we don’t ask.  Some folks think God should just bless them regardless.  God wants to hear from us.  God desires for us to ask; then we will receive.  Our relationship is not to be ‘assumed.’  

Think of it this way also: IF prayers are answered because we are obedient and do what is pleasing in God’s sight, then it stands to reason those prayers will not be answered if we are disobedient and do NOT do what is pleasing in God’s sight. (1 John 3:22) 

If God hears us when we pray according to His will, then He does not hear us when we ask things contrary to His will. (1 John 5:14) 

Throughout my life of faith, I have learned a lot about unanswered prayers.  In my life I personally remember God using unanswered prayers to make me more like Christ and to build spiritual growth.  Some prayers He answered at the last minute to build my faith and trust in Him.  Follow Jesus’ advice to keep on praying.  Sometimes we get discouraged because He doesn’t answer right away, but continually knock on His door.  God knows what is best.  Never lose hope and always seek God’s will and not your own. 

God’s will is about the advancement of His kingdom, not necessarily just OUR agenda. 

Matthew 6:33 - “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” 

Proverbs 16:2 - “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” 

Proverbs 21:2 - “A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart.” 

Sin separates us from God.  Some sin is unconfessed.  Some sin is a continuing rebellion against God and His wisdom. 

1 Peter 3:12 - “The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers.  But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.” 

Folks, it’s simply wrong to think only about me, myself, and I.  There are needy throughout our world.  Sometimes we close our ears to the needy. 

Proverbs 21:13 - “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.” 

God is not a ‘convenience peace’ in our lives.  Perhaps you are not having fellowship with the Lord. Maybe your prayer life is non-existent, and you never spend time in His Word.  

John 15:7 - “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” 

Quite possibly your prayers are not being answered because the Lord is protecting you from danger that you do not see coming. 

Psalm 121:7 - “The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life.” 

Doubting is never a good thing when it comes to prayer.   

James 1:6 - “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” 

Jesus instructs us to “ask and we will receive.  Seek and we shall find.  Knock and the door will be opened unto you.” (Luke 11:9,10) 

On the other hand, there are times when God doesn’t answer so we can grow in humility.    

James 4:10 - “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” 

Truth be told, there are times God doesn’t answer because of our pride.   

James 4:6 - “He gives us more grace.  God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 

Some folks just pray for attention. Those prayers tend to go unanswered. 

Matthew 6:5 - “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them.  I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.” 

Sometimes we ‘give up’ on God.  You must persevere.  

1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 - “Pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  

Galatians 6:9 - “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Luke 18:1 - “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” 

Lack of faith contributes to unanswered prayers as well.  

Hebrews 11:6 - “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” 

Jesus made a ‘Big Deal’ out of forgiveness.  If you won’t forgive others, you make it hard for God to forgive you, hear you, and answer you. 

Mark 11:25-26 - “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” 

Sometimes God says no or not yet.  Sometimes too the good Lord is making you rely and trust in Him more.  

Proverbs 3:5-6 - “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”   

Our awesome Lord is in control and God has something better for you.  

Romans 8:28 - “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  

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.” 

1 Peter 3:7 - teaches us that we are not supposed to treat our spouses badly for we are heirs together of the grace of life.  “Give honor to your spouse that your prayers may not be hindered.” 

When you pray, WAIT for God’s timing.  

Isaiah 55:8 - “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 - “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:  a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.  What do workers gain from their toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.  He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” 

Amen.

Humbled By Grace 7/16/2022

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

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:  Philippians 2:1-11(Page 1179) and John 3:16, 17 (Page 1065) 

SERMON MESSAGE:  “Humbled By Grace” 

The hymn is entitled ‘Amazing Grace’ for a reason.  The man who wrote this familiar and long-loved hymn experienced God’s grace in SUCH an amazing way, it humbled him.  The fellow’s name was John Newton.  Though he was brought up in the church as a child, he became a calloused man full of anger, pain, and uncertainty.  Because of that, he experienced many troubles. 

At one time, John Newton was a commander of a slave ship.  He would anchor his ship off the coast of Africa and pack it with slaves.  They were ruthlessly chained side by side, row after row, one after another, just like a can of sardines.  Many slaves died on the long voyages and were thrown overboard for the fish to eat. 

During a raging storm at sea, John Newton finally gave his life to Jesus Christ.  Over the next few years, God brought people across his life in order to disciple him.  He later became one of Britain’s most powerful evangelists.  Feeling guilty about his past slavery involvement, he triumphantly fought against the slave trade.  He wrote many hymns during his ministry years, but the one that became most notable was ‘Amazing Grace.’ 

Have you ever been humbled by grace?  God’s grace can occur in lots of differing ways. 

There is a Common Grace we receive.  If you have ever seen a beautiful sunrise or sunset that seemed to have ‘taken your breath away’, perhaps your mind felt humbled by a common grace God gives to all people.  Matthew 5:45 declares, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” 

God loves everyone.  So, there is a common grace that He gives all people whether they acknowledge Him or not.  ALL people can become humbled by the many means of God’s common grace. 

I suspect John Newton, who authored the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, experienced Saving Grace.  This is different from Common Grace.  Scriptures record, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)  By His saving grace, God has paid the ransom for everyone who will receive His gift of salvation.  This alone is overwhelming and quite humbling.  I pray you have been blessed to know individuals who came to know and experience Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Their lives are changed.  What occurs is incredible.  If you experience ‘Saving Grace’, your heart is humbled, and you truly do become a ‘new person.’  We must pray for more and more people to become aware of who God is, know Jesus, and receive Him into their lives and within their hearts as Lord and Savior.  Jesus is for real.  Jesus Christ is God’s grace embodied for all to experience.  Two verses of scripture I ask you to incorporate into your life and share with others: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Do recall this scripture verse from time to time and share it with others.  The other verse of scripture I ask you to ‘remember.’ John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.”  Grace that is humbling. 

Not all ‘salvation experiences’ take place inside the church.  I think I’ve shared with you all before regarding my father, God rest His soul.  My Dad was a rough alcoholic.  While many condemned my father, God sought him out.  He experienced God’s Saving Grace at an AA meeting.  I thank God that he did. 

A ‘church term’ that not everyone is familiar with is ‘sanctification.’  In essence this means to make something better, holy, pure, separate from the rest of the world.  After affirming God in your life and asking Jesus into your heart, God begins to work with you to make your life better, purer, and changed for the good.  When God has His hand upon you, things begin to change.  This ‘change’ - this grace - is so good it is humbling. 

At a former church I served, this fellow and his wife were pretty faithful attenders.  Truth be told their steady attendance was a bit ‘challenging’ to lots of the folks in that church for HE was a constant criticizer.  He criticized the building, the choir, and the deacons when they served a meal, how others dressed when they came to church.  He criticized how warm or cold it was in that sanctuary.  He criticized everyone from the humblest Sunday School teacher and custodial staff on through the membership and of course, the pastor.  We had more than one ‘Come to Jesus Meeting.’ 

Suddenly both he and his wife were just ‘gone.’  Several of us tried calling but could only get so far as their answering machine.  They were not even seen in the neighborhood grocery store.  One day, while working in my church office, I received a phone call.  That same fellow asked, quite humbly so, if he could please come by and ‘talk’ for just a bit.  Somewhat reluctantly I remember saying, “Yes.” 

For the better part of two years, he had been unraveling his family, his marriage, their finances, and even his health due to on-going, untreated alcoholism.  To make a long story short, he knew he needed to make amends with a lot of people before his life and redemption could go on.  For the next two years, right up to his passing, he was a model Christian and truly did bring his family to see and experience how God can ‘sanctify’ a soul that is willing to be helped.  Our church family was amazed by the lasting change in that man’s life. 

Everyone needs to make some change to improve things in their lives and in their walk with God and among others.  This is where we have to choose of our own free will to not only ‘change’ but also learn to ‘obey’ God in our lives. 

You play a part in your purification through obedience, but ultimately you have to count on His sanctifying grace and know that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” (Philippians 1:6)  Perhaps God has ‘laid it upon your heart,’ ‘inspired’ you to swear less, take better care of your body, rest better, be kinder, or do some good for another.  If you have seen any of this happen in your own life, then you’ve been humbled by grace. 

It seems that every ‘now and then’ something ‘good’ comes our way, often times unexpected.  This is God’s provisional grace.  I trust you have seen where God takes care of all our needs.  Maybe not our ‘wants’ but certainly our sincerest ‘needs.’  Sometimes when we are driving, those ‘instances’ occur whereby we know if not for the grace of God, we could have hit something or someone, caused an accident, or been harmed.  At other times folks have shared with me they received money unexpectedly, just when they truly needed it.  Possibly a phone call or an email message comes from a friend or family member just when most appreciated.  The point being, God has a way of providing for all of our needs.  He alone can cause all things to work together for the good.  In the Book of James 1:17 it is recorded, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”  When you get a better job or an unexpected gift, count it as grace from God.  Such grace, when it comes, is humbling. 

Have you ever paid much attention to miracles in your life?  Actually, they are ‘all around’ and do occur often.  

Each day is a miracle.  The abilities to love and be loved are further miracles.  Every time a prayer is answered, that’s a miracle.  We associate ‘miracles’ sometimes with dramatic occurrences.  But most everyday miracles are quiet, perhaps private, and thus become sacred to the person receiving them.  I am sure each of us could spend some time in reflection and humbly realize some everyday miracles of God’s grace moving in our lives. 

Through His grace, God still does miraculous things every day.  He doesn’t have to do this.  He does it because He is full of grace. 

God supplies us with serving grace.  Every believer is freely given spiritual gifts to serve others and bolster their faith.  1 Peter 4:10 tells us, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”  We each receive serving grace.  The grace to serve others.  Sometimes we don’t act on grace or from grace.  There are times in everyone’s life where we act upon pride instead of grace for ourselves and unto others.  

A funny story: A computer whiz, a minister, and a Boy Scout were the only passengers on a small commuter plane when suddenly, the pilot rushed back into the cabin and told them there was a mechanical problem, and that the plane was losing altitude.  He opened the storage compartment and discovered that it contained only three parachutes, meaning that they were one short.  Then he quickly announced, “One of them needs to be mine, so I can tell the investigators what happened and prevent future problems with this model aircraft.”  Having said that, he took a parachute, opened the door, and jumped. 

The computer whiz said, “I should also have one of the parachutes, since I’m probably the smartest man alive, and the world needs my brilliance.”  So, he quickly grabbed one, opened the door, and jumped out. 

The minister turned to the Boy Scout, and with some sadness in his voice said, “Son, I’ve lived a rich life, but you’re still young and have your whole future ahead of you.  You take the last parachute.  I’ll go down with the plane.  I’m ready to meet my Maker.” 

But the Boy Scout answered, “It’s okay, Reverend.  The genius just took my backpack.” 

Humility is God consciousness.  Pride is self-consciousness.  All sin begins with pride. 

True humility is God-consciousness.  Pride is self-consciousness, and it begins as you take the eyes of your heart off of God and begin to look to yourself.  All sin comes from deception, and pride is the beginning of deception.  Pride can begin unnoticed as a subtle distraction that causes you to take your eyes off God and begin to focus on something else.  As the eyes of your heart lose focus on God, your imagination begins to wander into scenarios that trigger emotions, and soon your mind is on a journey of introspection, which does not include God.  Pride is when you consciously or unconsciously begin to believe that the universe revolves around you.  This can lead to any type of deception followed by sin. 

Humility keeps you focused on God and His ways.  Humility helps you see the big picture, which is that the universe is vast and revolves around God.  This gives you a more accurate perspective and helps you keep your confidence and trust in God as you look to Him and depend on Him for everything. 

The greatest grace God has given us is Jesus Christ.  Stay close; stay very close to Jesus and follow His examples.  He chose to be a servant.  He obeyed His heavenly Father, even unto death. 

God’s grace is available and is even being ‘presented’ to us each day, every day, in many forms.  Pay attention to grace.  It’s so good, it is humbling.  Amen.

You Reap What You Sow 7/9/2022

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

COMMUNION SUNDAY 

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 Lessons: Luke 6:37-38 (Page 1033) & Galatians 6:7-10 (Page 1171) 

Sermon Title: “You Reap What You Sow” 

"You reap what you sow" is a proverb that says future consequences are inevitably shaped by present actions.  ‘Proverbs’ are sometimes best explained and better understood with illustrations; life examples. 

A very young boy had a special place all his own.  It was up in a very old fruit tree in the middle of his back yard.  That tree had long branches and plenty of leaves, but it had not produced any fruit in years.  Way up in the branches there was this perfect spot for a little boy to sit and dream away the hours. 

Up in that tree he was a space ship commander, traveling to galaxies unknown; he was Tarzan, living in a jungle; he was a philosopher solving the riddles of the ages.  He didn’t just go there to play.  He also went there when he felt mistreated or misunderstood, or just when he felt like being alone.  Little boys sometimes feel that way.  It was his hideaway.  His ‘special’ place. 

You can probably imagine how he felt when he heard his father telling his mother that he was thinking about cutting down that old tree since it had not produced any fruit for years. 

The little guy was ‘up against it!’  IF he told his father not to cut the tree and told him WHY, then his secret hideaway would not be a secret any more.  So, he came up with this wonderful plan.  There were a number of apple trees nearby in a field.  He and his best friend got a whole bushel basket full of apples.  That evening while his parents were busy inside, he and his best buddy climbed the tree and tied the stems of the apples to almost every limb on that old fruit tree. 

The next morning his father went out and looked at the old tree and was amazed to see that it had big fat apples.  The little boy was so anxious to hear his father’s reaction.  His father came back into the house and said to his mother, “You aren’t going to believe this, but a miracle took place last night.  That old fruit tree is full of apples.  There are fat juicy apples on almost every branch.” 

His wife said, “That’s remarkable!”  “Yes,” the father said, “and it is even more remarkable because that’s not an apple tree.  It’s a pear tree.”

Apple trees don’t produce pears.  When you sow apple seeds, you expect apples.  When you sow pear seeds, you expect pears.  When you sow wheat, you expect wheat because we learned a long time ago that what you sow is what you reap. 

Sometimes teenagers ‘come into their own’ and truly believe they have found a ‘unique’ and ‘better’ way than most adults.  Within every culture there arises a time when youth, transitioning into adulthood, must spread their wings, try flying, so to speak, and become their ‘own person.’  I think we all at one time or another sought to ‘sow our wild oats.’  A wise man told me during my adolescent years, “you can’t sow wild oats and expect to reap Quaker oats!”

Charles Reade, an English Novelist and dramatist back in the 1800’s, was known to have said, “You sow a thought and you reap a deed.  You sow a deed and you reap a habit.  You sow a habit and you reap a character.  You sow a character and you reap a destiny.” 

The better religion is that which is ‘lived’ in our lives and throughout our life choices.  Our religion reveals what we sow and evidences what we reap.  ‘Religion’ must be ‘real’ or it becomes a deception instead of a way, a good and wholesome, healthy way of life.  We may deceive others, even ourselves, but we cannot deceive God.  For God sees into the heart and soul of each person.  Since God cannot be deceived, He certainly will not be mocked. 

You reap what you sow is more than a nice proverb for us to ‘think about.’  This remains a divine imperative.  Even Jesus Christ teaches this spiritual truth through varied examples. Jesus told us “Not to judge and we will not be judged.  Not to condemn and we will not be condemned.  Forgive and we will be forgiven.  Give and it will be given back to you.  A good measure pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” 

Notice we ask for ourselves in proportion to what we give to others.  We ask God to forgive us our wrongs even if we don’t deserve it just as we forgave our brother his wrongs even though he may not deserve it. 

In the same way, when we sow the grace of giving to others, we will reap a harvest of gifts from God.  If you sow charity, you will reap charity.  If you don’t reap charity on earth, you definitely will reap it in heaven. 

People sometimes say to me, in a very sad way, ‘families’ aren’t what they used to be.  No, they are not.  Families are evolving.  Yet families remain the basis for how we live, interact in the world, love, and grow. 

It remains within the family that we learn how to ‘get along’ with others.  

Jesus’ teaching to not judge others so we won’t be judged, don’t condemn others so we won’t be condemned, forgive and we will be forgiven, begins at home with the family.

A young couple had been married for a while and decided they would like to visit and ‘get to know’ each other’s extended families.  They were sadly amazed when they visited some of their extended family.  They found that whoever they were visiting readily ‘put down,’ ‘judged,’ and ‘condemned’ other family members who lived a distance away.  Eventually they saw what this led to. Each family became more isolated from other relatives.  There were less ‘visits’ between families, some episodes of hurt and degrees of stress, when it came time to deal with ‘family matters’ such as funerals, milestone birthdays, and anniversaries.  If you sow judgment, you will reap judgment. 

It's true, we really do reap what we sow.  You do not plant beans and expect beets.  The truth is equally applicable to the spiritual realm.  You cannot sow apathy in spiritual matters and expect to reap depth of resource to draw; anger and expect to reap peace; impatience and expect to reap perseverance; covetous and expect to reap content. 

Do not be deceived - God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us 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. 

On the other hand, God teaches us what we ‘should’ sow, what we ‘must’ sow in order for us to reap benefits for life, for love, and for eternity. 

A farmer was asked how many bushels of seed corn does it take to plant one acre.  The farmer replied, “Less than a half bushel.”  He was further asked how many bushels of corn did he expect to harvest from each acre, on average.  The farmer replied, “170.” 

You will always harvest way more than you sow.  It takes less than half a bushel to plant an acre, really, one bushel will plant 2.5 acres.  Now, the farmer expects an average of 170 bushels per acre.  That means for every bushel of seed planted, he’ll see a return of over 400 bushels.  For every single seed planted, he’ll get 400 back.  You see, the great principle of sowing & reaping not only tells us that we will reap what we sow, but also that we will reap more, much, much more than we sow.  Our actions will have huge consequences to come, good or bad, 400-fold. 

And that is what Paul reminds us of today.  He writes, "Do not be deceived."  How many of us are deceived this morning?  How many of us are fooling ourselves into thinking that what we do doesn’t matter?  How many of us are fooling ourselves into thinking we don’t have to do anything?  Paul continues, “A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”  And as we were reminded this morning, not only will we reap what we sow, but we will reap it 400-fold.

Paul continues, “Let us 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. 

Brothers and sisters, what we do today will have a huge effect on the future.  What you do in your lives will have a huge effect on your life.  What we do now, as a church, will have huge effects on the future of Coraopolis Presbyterian.  With that in mind go forth and live your life with a farmer’s mentality.  Live your life like you are planting seeds every day with the harvest in mind.  Live your life like you are planting seeds on purpose, with the future always in mind.  Live your life as the apostle Paul challenges us today, not hesitating to do goodness. 

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Freedom of Those Who Hope In The Lord 7/2/2022

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

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: Isaiah 40:28-31 (Page 720) and Galatians 5:1, 13-25 (Page 1171) 

Sermon Title: Freedom of Those Who Hope In The Lord 

The 4th of July is celebrated here in the United States as ‘Independence Day!’  This is the day that we acknowledge the signing of that renowned article that set into motion the founding of this great country of ours, a country based on freedom. 

One legend declares that when the first draft of the Declaration of Independence was being signed, John Hancock, one of the biggest signatures, was supposed to have said:  “Gentlemen we must be unanimous; we must all hang together.” 

After hearing this, Benjami