Sermon Message for Saturday, February 20, 2021 & Sunday, February 21, 2021
Prayer For Illumination (From Psalm 25:4-5): Show us now your ways, O Lord. Teach us your paths. Guide us in your truth and teach us, for you are our God, our Savior, and our hope is in you all day long. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: John 3:16, 17 (Page 1065) and Colossians 3:17 (Page 1184)
Sermon Message: “Give God Your Best”
What is the best thing God has ever done for you? Perhaps our answer forms the question of, ‘Where to begin?’
There are two prominent answers to my initial inquiry. The best thing God has given us first and foremost is recorded in the scriptures of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The second answer to my inquiry is simple, sincere, and straightforward. The best thing God has given you is LIFE.
Until there is a problem or a threat associated with our lives, we do tend to take life for granted. Likewise, folks may seem to think of God as ‘far off’ or distantly removed from our everyday situations leastwise until trying circumstances arrive.
Lent is to be a time of introspection. Lent may possibly be a time of transformation for any of us as well. Lent remains our spiritual opportunity to grow in faith and in our appreciation of God in life, all of life. This Lenten season, give God your best.
Within the earliest recordings of Holy Scripture, we learn of God striving to remain in relationship with us. God doesn’t just create us, set us in the Garden of Eden, and leave us to ‘figure out’ the rest of our lifetime here on earth. God continues to relate to us, then and now. Like any relationships there are times of disagreements and also of our reasoning together. There are some painful times but also some very memorable, blessed times. God, early on in the Garden of Eden, ‘had it out’ with us. It seems we human beings were striving to be ‘smarter than God’ and do whatever we wanted when we wanted. (A familiar theme still.) Early on in the Bible we read of our getting ‘kicked out’ of the Garden of Eden, and later things became so severe and trying with us, humanity ended up getting flooded, perhaps to cleanse our outlooks as well as our souls.
When we give God our worst, there is still accountability. Although God may see and deal with the worst part of us, He continues to send His best.
God sends not only forgiveness and redemption, He sends ‘love.’ Indicative of that love are promises from God and covenants with God. Following that initial great flood, God gave us a symbol of His love and His promise: a rainbow. To this very day when we see a rainbow, it makes us stop, perhaps smile, and feel the beauty of hope in the midst of life’s rains.
Remember today’s initial scripture, that memory verse we share, “For God so loved the world that He gave----." God gives, God sends His love. It takes many forms. The form of His only begotten Son, the form of faith and forgiveness and of promises and covenants.
As part of your Lenten devotions and disciplines, ponder with me how God has loved you and loves you still. God, our heavenly Father, our Creator, forgives and forgets. For us, forgiving is one thing, forgetting, well that’s another matter, or so it seems. King David in the Bible sinned boldly at times. He and God ‘had it out’ on numerous occasions. Yet when David inquired of God NOT to remember the sins of his youth, God remained loving and faithful with David, even as He does with us.
Jesus teaches us that what we do for others it’s as though we are doing it for him. Do your best to practice forgiveness. It’s not ‘automatic’ for most of us to forgive. Therefore, we have to be intentional about forgiving. Spirituality influences our abilities and our degrees of forgiveness. As David inquired of God NOT to remember the sins of his youth, give God your best by NOT hanging on to the sins in people’s past. Be God-like.
Perhaps you are ‘giving up’ something for Lent. Possibly you are ‘doing something more’ such as daily devotions, regular church attendance, Bible study, etc. Think of those things as ‘covenants’ you make with God. We’ve all learned that covenants are good for us; they benefit us so much more than we sometimes realize. Give God your best dedication, Lenten disciplines, and devotions.
Give God your love. Tell God you love Him, each day, every day, during Lent. Let nothing be assumed between you and the good Lord. Make an effort, an honest and sustained effort, to live the Christian life. Life with God, life through God, and life for God should be our greatest priority each and every day. Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not.
Allow God ‘time’ in your day, each day, every day, during Lent and beyond. Let God speak to you. Remember you have to change some of your busy schedule in order for that to happen. Recall the words of Psalm 46, “Come and see what the Lord has done.” As you and I consider God’s hand in motion, God’s movements in life, hear your Maker’s words: “Be still and know that I am God.” Reflect upon the First Commandment, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.”
The Ten Commandments can also be perceived as Ten Covenants. These covenants are not simply ‘words’ to live by and rules to be obeyed. Think of them as words, good words, and wholesome words for life, better life, and more joy-filled life. These remain guideposts and guardrails aimed at helping us experience the goodness and beauty that God intended. It remains God’s intent that these commandments be inscribed on our hearts, understood with our minds, and lived in our daily lives. Words, good words for navigating life and giving God our best.
Watching the news these days and gleaning awareness from social media makes anyone unsure as to who or what is right or wrong. What ‘acts’ constitute immorality or even illegal designation? It seems so many ‘get away’ with so much. What was previously firm, secure, and well-understood may now be questionable. Trust the Ten Commandments. They remain moral anchors for not only faith, but for life, fulfillment, truth, and living. God gave these to us to help us live our lives towards God’s will in the midst of our deepest struggles.
Remember the first Commandment, “I AM the Lord your God.” He is asserting not only that He is the God of all the Israelite people and beyond. Hear God clearly assert I am YOUR God. We are not ‘numbers’ unto God; each of us remains God’s accomplishment. No matter ‘how’ you may ‘see’ yourself, God sees you as His accomplishment. You may feel ‘not good enough, overweight, unattractive,’ the list might go on and on. God still chooses you, sees you as beautiful and gifted, and loves you. God sees not only what you’ve done and who you’ve been, but also what you can do and who you could be. I’ve seen it happen before, plenty of times over; God decides to honor those whom others have rejected, those too, who believe they are worthless.
The Bible affirms God sees us as His children, His workmanship, and the sheep of His pasture, His beloved. “God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
This coronavirus pandemic has swept over the world. Amid all the dangers, difficulties, and even fears, we need to hear this first Commandment afresh: “I AM your God.”
Give God your best. Today, your ‘best’ just might be all the faith you can ‘muster up’ for yourself, for others, for this world.
Biblical authors often times use human relationships and emotions to describe God. They sometimes compare the love God feels for His people to the relationship between a parent and children, between two lovers, or even between husbands and wives. God is said to be a ‘jealous God,’ who is offended when His people give their love or devotion to another ‘god.’
‘Jealousy’ the Bible speaks of, is not always wrong but quite often deeply loving, protective, and caring. I’ve seen and known parents who were rejected by their kids. I’ve watched the horrific hurt associated with infidelity between a husband and a wife. Relationships can bring pain and heartbreak. This Lenten season, remember God’s heart can also be grieved by our infidelity to Him.
God knows when we worship other ‘things’- other ‘gods’ - in our lives, this will ultimately bring us pain. Sometimes great pain. The Bible refers to these as being ‘false gods.’
Anything and anyone that takes the place of God in our lives is considered a ‘false god.’ That which shapes our identity, our values, and actions while serving as our source of security and hope, can quickly and easily become our ‘false god’ that we worship, pledge our allegiance to, and strive to follow.
Within this book our church is studying, “Words of Life, Jesus and the Promise of the Ten Commandments Today,” author Adam Hamilton shares his insight of knowing people who believe in God but for whom physical fitness has become their true center. He writes of knowing people whose workouts and nutrition plans are what they eat, sleep, drink, and breathe. They devote more money to fitness than to God and spend most of their time focusing on physical gain than on the place of God in their lives (Page 33).
While physical exercise is not wrong, easily enough we can put too much trust in this, expecting it to do what it cannot.
Nor is our ‘god’ to be our belly. Our mind is NOT designed to only be set on earthly things.
Author Adam Hamilton uses an acronym to benefit our understanding and application of the first Commandment: EGO (Edging God Out). He writes, in the end, the false ‘god’ we are most likely to put before the true God is the self (Page 35).
Draw near to Jesus this Lenten season. Give the Lord your best. When questioned as to what was the greatest of the commandments, Jesus answered this way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) These words of Jesus are key to any of us keeping the first Commandment AND to giving God our best!
Don’t be ‘bowing down’ to any false gods in your life. Especially NOT to the ones you may have created. Instead give God your best by looking to the image of Jesus Christ, who is the image of the invisible God. Nor should you forget, you were created in the image of God as well. When you love your neighbor as yourself, others can see God in you.
Giving God your best requires LOVE. Dedicated love, covenantal love, and accountable love.
It’s one thing to ‘say’ we are a Christian. It’s another thing altogether to prioritize God and that which God prefers we love.
Give God your best. Amen.
Sermon Message For Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Prayer For Illumination: (A time of silence.)
Pastor’s Prayer: God our helper, by Your Holy Spirit open our minds, that as the scriptures are read and Your Word is proclaimed, we may be led into Your truth and be taught Your will for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Joel 2: 12-17 (Page 910), and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (Page 970)
Sermon Message: “Lent, a Blessing in Disguise”
May we ‘treasure’ these words of God and store them in our hearts as ‘blessings.’
The season of Lent carries with it reminders of repentance, on our part. It also carries with it guides for prayer, fasting, giving to the needy, and what is to be treasured. This Biblical notion of ‘Treasures in heaven’ can seem far removed from any ‘blessings’ during these next 40 days of Lent.
Within the Christian church community, we tend to speak of these next 40 days as a journey. I’ve been privileged to share in numerous people’s ‘spiritual journey’ across the years. Often, it is difficult for us to see past our circumstances. In doing so, we forget that God is always up to something good, if we will just put our faith in Him. There are many blessings in life that don’t look like blessings at first.
I well recall, some time ago, when this one elderly lady shared with me her sincere and innocent inquiry for God to be a part of her Lenten journey. She said when she woke up on Ash Wednesday, she asked God to be involved in every part of her day. She was about to sit down for a nice lunch with her sisters when she got a call to rush a family member to the hospital. She then had to remain in the hospital waiting area for the better part of the day. For some reason, when we ask God to be a part of our lives, we assume that it’s going to make things nice and pleasant all the time. The phrase ‘blessings in disguise’ goes deeper, far deeper than things just being pleasant or nice. Sometimes the ‘blessings’ aren’t seen or felt initially so. That’s why we sometimes say “blessings in disguise.” The woman’s family member was helped. Her presence brought prayer, peace, and sustaining hope to her family. She realized that’s where God most needed her to be that day.
This Lenten season shall provide some blessings in disguise. It will help us to build endurance, strengthen character, and restore or renew confidence.
Tonight’s service begins the Spiritual season of Lent with ashes. When ashes are given, these words are offered: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Last year’s Ash Wednesday service was nearly the last time of ‘normal’ worship we experienced prior to this Covid-19 pandemic effecting the world. It closed in upon us all rather quickly. Recall how we were being told it might last a few weeks, then a few months, and now it’s been over a year. Across this past year we have endured the rather daunting declaration of our dust-borne origins and dustbin destiny over and over again and in so many ways. While Lent is a Spiritual journey, this past year has been a long pilgrimage through the coronavirus wilderness. This evening I shall ‘impose’ ashes upon the back of your hand as a spiritual reminder. Throughout this past year the ashes of our frail, failing mortality have been imposed on us again and again - and some of these ashes and dust are of our own making. 500,000 – half a million – dead from the pandemic in this country alone, not to mention the millions of family members and friends from whom these loved ones have been bereaved. Thousands more whose lives have been detoured and distorted by the virus and its collateral damage have lost jobs, lost time, lost futures, and dreams.
Ashes are death because that’s what ashes are, the death of palm branches in particular. Yet not death as we commonly think of it. Rather the ashes associated with Ash Wednesday are placed not only as a reminder of our physical limited time upon earth, but more importantly, to serve as a firm reminder that death gives way to life. New life, changed life. Saved life. Our characters are challenged, strengthened, and renewed during the season of Lent.
Jesus teaches us that we are to give to the needy. This is sometimes referred to as ‘alms.’ The Lord assumes that all of his disciples WILL give to the needy. Our ‘challenge’ is not so much in our duty to give, as it remains in our motive behind our giving. Our character is strengthened and renewed by helping others, giving to the needy, supporting the ‘cause’ not for recognition but rather quietly, privately, and mainly out of obedience to God. The church, the Food Pantry, and scores of needy individuals ‘need’ what we can give.
Prayer is a teaching and example of Christ. Pray daily, devotionally, purposefully, and intentionally during Lent. In as much as humans breathe so too do Christians pray. If prayerless then graceless. There is more need for prayer in our world than ever before. There is sincere need for prayer in our back yard, within our church, and community. I advise you, and I, to pray unto God more fully and completely, more purposefully and intentionally, each and every day during Lent. Yet, I must remind us all of Jesus’ admonishments to us all regarding prayer. Don’t be guilty of vain glory and vain repetitions. In other words, don’t make a ‘show’ of prayer. Nor ‘repeat’ the same prayer over and over again as though you are trying to wear God down to get your own way. God isn’t ‘hard of hearing!’ Nor is God impressed by how we bring attention to our prayers. This Lenten season, pray daily, pray often, pray privately, yet specifically and intentionally so. Your Father who sees you praying in private will reward you. Don’t keep ‘babbling.’ Trust that God hears your prayers and sees the sincerity of your heart and soul. In our relating to others, we sometimes go on and on, even repeating ourselves because we think others don’t understand the message nor the fervor behind it. Not so with God. May our spiritual characters become challenged, strengthened, and renewed in and through our prayer life this Lenten season.
Remember, repenting of our sinful nature does certainly build character in our souls. Sometimes our ‘repentance’ is as basic as changing some of the ways we have been doing things in order to obey God and please God more. Repentance further includes confessing our sins to God, asking to be forgiven, and then promising God to lead a better life, not repeating those same sins over and over again.
Fasting, giving up something for Lent, is the humbling of the soul. For sure, it is humbling to challenge ourselves to ‘fast’ to ‘give up’ something for Lent. The Bible teaches us that fasting remains important. Fasting is to be done privately. We must guard against pride associated with bragging or displaying what we have ‘given up’ or ‘fasted from.’
Our characters are strengthened when we fast out of obedience to God, closeness to Christ and desire for further sacredness/holiness, in our lives. Fasting is a form of covenant we make with God. Covenants renew our character as well. From the Bible, and specifically from the teachings of Jesus Christ, we learn that fasting has always been a spiritual guidance for followers of God. Fasting was always meant to spiritually prepare us to see and respond to other duties and further insights. It was never intended for us to brag about nor make us think of how ‘good’ we are. Giving up something that we eat or something that we do, or even something we know right along is a bad habit, remains an act of self-denial and humiliation under the hand of God. Practice forms of fasting during Lent. I am and I will be doing the same.
This season of Lent, and beyond, Jesus Christ invites us, calls us, prescribes for us, to store up treasures in heaven. What does that mean? In part, it means we human beings tend to repeat a fundamental error in our lives that we are guilty of. That ‘error’ is this; we mostly choose the world and what’s in this world for our reward instead of heaven. Jesus makes the point that everything of this world is subject to decay, theft, and vain glory. It’s not necessarily wrong to have ‘treasures’ here on earth. It’s what you do with those treasures and what those treasures do to you that can make them wrong, even a hindrance, to your salvation.
500,000 people in this country alone have left behind all of their earthly treasures. In heaven we are to store up those treasures that matter most; souls we have rescued and helped to save, care that has been given, love that has been shared, lives that have been made better, and perhaps more holy. “On the other side treasures there have I. Treasures that this world and all its’ wealth can never buy.”
I inquire of us all to practice these and further Lenten devotions these next 40 days. Do read, review, and digest the daily devotionals you are receiving from this, our church ‘home.’ Read your Bible daily during Lent. Study the Ten Commandments. They are not the ‘ten suggestions.’
These Lenten disciplines can become ‘blessings in disguise. “Blessings” that shall build character, challenge us, strengthen us spiritually so, and further renew our relationship to God, Jesus, heaven, the church, and others. May we become blessed then with renewed confidence of faith and Christ-shared love. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, February 13, 2021 & Sunday, February 14, 2021
Prayer For Illumination: O God, your Word is more precious than fine gold, and sweeter than purest honey. As we turn to your Scripture, send your Holy Spirit to infuse your Word with truth and grace — so that the good news of your love would shine before our eyes and delight our senses so that we cannot help but respond with wonder, faith, and trust. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Matthew 17:1-13 (page 983) and 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (page 1152)
Sermon Message: “Patient Love”
It is fitting that today’s sermon reflects a message regarding ‘love.’ After all, today IS Valentine’s Day! Don’t forget your sweetheart! Perhaps we all have some good memories associated with Valentine’s Day. Hopefully we have even better memories associated with love. Today’s sermon message begins with a story involving both Valentine’s Day and patient love.
In an elementary school the children had shared in a really fun Valentine’s Day celebration. At the end of the day a teacher was helping one of her kindergarten students put on his boots. The little fellow asked for help, and his teacher could readily see, why. The teacher pulled, and the little fellow pushed, but those boots still wouldn’t go on. Finally, there was ‘some’ success with the first boot. The two of them worked up a sweat getting that second boot on. The teacher nearly cried when the little fellow looked up at her and said, “Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet!”
She looked and sure enough, he was right. Taking them back off was not any easier than putting them on. Being the good teacher she was, she managed to ‘keep her cool’ as they worked together to get them on the correct feet.
But then the little fellow announced, “These aren’t my boots.” His teacher wanted to get right in his face and scream, “Then why didn’t you say so in the first place?” But she didn’t. Her patience prevailed.
Together they struggled to get those ill-fitting boots back off. Then the little guy smiles at her and says, “They’re my brother’s boots. My mom made me wear them.”
Well by now that teacher didn’t know if she should laugh or cry! It took everything she had left inside of her to muster up the strength to work to get them back on his feet again. After all of that the teacher asked the little boy, “Where are your mittens?” He said, “I stuffed them in the toes of my boots….”
There are reasons why the very first word used in the Bible to describe ‘love’ is patience. Love is patient. . .Love is kind. . .
While ‘love’ is a wonderful thing, perhaps the very best of life this side of heaven, patience is seldom an easy thing. Patient love requires some ‘doing.’
I love what I ‘do’ as a pastor. I sincerely do love God and the people the Lord calls me to care for. Even so, there have been ‘trying’ times across these years of ministry. Take for instance, at my previous church this one Sunday, we had some visitors attending worship. They sat in the back. They got there a bit late, so I did not have an opportunity to meet or greet them. Throughout the service they sat in the back of the church talking, even making some sort of hand motions. I was patient. Inside of myself I just figured when it came time for the sermon, THEN they would pay attention. Actually, quite the opposite was true. The more I talked the more they talked and made their hand motions. It was so distracting I finally had to stop and ask if they needed some assistance or something else??? It was then that the one guy stood up, apologized profusely, and explained that his friend was from Romania, and he was translating for him. I welcomed them further, made my own apology and continued on. Plenty of my ‘regulars’ smiled at me.
Patient love requires some thinking things through. Sometimes things aren’t what they first appear to be, so I’ve learned.
One of the most difficult areas to show patience is in our relationships with others. But that is exactly what God’s Word calls us to have in our relationships. Because love is patient.
Some of you receiving this message might be thinking to yourselves, “Easy for you to say, Rev. Tom, but you don’t know what I am going through!” Agreeably so, I don’t know what you are experiencing, but God does. Today, right now, we are here to meet with God, commune with Jesus, and present ourselves to the Lord in such a way that we are open to receive what God inspires within us.
The forty days of Lent begin this coming Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a day to humble ourselves before the Lord and to be reminded ‘from dust we have come and unto dust we shall return.’ We are given a lifetime to love and be loved. We are being reminded TODAY that love is patient. Traditionally, the forty days of Lent are a time of self-sacrifice as we contemplate the sufferings of Jesus. These days ahead are a reminder of our duty, and call as Christians, not to be complacent, but to be active and involved. We know the sufferings of the world and within our relationships as well as our own trials and tribulations. Lent is a spiritual time to benefit us all as we bring glory, honor, self-sacrifice, and worship to Jesus. Our spiritual journey is not to be confined only to February and March for we shall experience sincere cares, concerns, trials, and tribulations throughout the year. Actually, throughout our lifetimes.
Remember, today is Valentine’s Day. Today is also Transfiguration Sunday. We are to recall today how Jesus was ‘transfigured/transformed’ by God’s light shining upon him and God’s voice confirming him to be “His Son in whom He is well pleased. Listen to Him!” When Jesus’s Transfiguration occurred on top of the mountain, Peter was with him. Jesus was transfigured by the light of God. His physical appearance changed by the light of God, the Father upon him. Peter was transformed by the experience. Immediately Peter understood the presence of God was not about him, but about Jesus. Peter knew he needed to wait. Waiting, reminds us still, we need God, so much more than God needs us. The human equation is not complete without the divine factor. We are NOT at the center of the universe, nor is God at our beck and call.
Through the years our culture has taught us that we don’t need to be so very patient. Much of modern technology precludes the need for patience. We can easily enough ‘look up’ most anything on our phones, pay our bills, check on our homes, even order our groceries electronically. Our need to interact, ‘relate’ to one another, is not as enormous as it once was. Or so it seems. Yet the drive to ‘get along’ remains for ‘love’ is still the greatest of all needs.
God says love is patient, for a reason; actually for a multitude of reasons.
Patient love shows up best in people who have been loved patiently. It all begins, and ends, with our relationship to God. We’ve all let God down and probably still do in some areas of our lives. None of us are perfect. How many times has God been patient with you when you’ve failed to acknowledge His will for your life? Nice thing about God, He forgives. Some of us don’t, can’t or won’t. We might extend grace once or twice, but after that, mister, you’re on your own! No more ‘chances!’ Aren’t you glad God isn’t the same way with us as we are with others?
As we begin this journey, this season of Lent, join me in taking a look, a good hard look, at the attributes of God for life and living. Begin with me today by taking a solid and sincere look at how God has sometimes been patient with you. Then take a further look inside of yourself. You can let your assessment be between you and Jesus. I think if we are finding patient love hard to give, it may have something to do directly with how you have received or perceived God’s loving patience with you. “Patience deeply received results in patience freely offered.”
I have a story to share with you of a woman who was transformed by patient love. Week after precious week she came to church filled with despair. She prayed for her husband that God would bring a change into his life. She prayed week after week for her husband. Each week she went back home still feeling this despair. Gradually she began to understand that she was bringing Jesus home with her. The Lord wasn’t just ‘there’ in church. Her husband worked constantly, drank heavily, and was emotionally hurting. That woman wanted to run away and start over. But she stayed, and of all things, she let God begin His work in changing her. She stopped praying for God to fix her husband and started asking Him to change her. She prayed for God to change her to be stronger or perhaps more understanding. She asked the Lord to provide her with much needed insight and perhaps more loving patience. She prayed for wisdom to see if she should stay, or if she should leave the situation. God seemed to shelter her. Even through the pain. Eventually, God seemed to remove the desire for alcohol from her husband. She says it did not happen overnight. For her, she writes, she then needed to ‘get off the fence’ in every area of her life and turn things over to God that she had stubbornly held onto. She journeyed with God into a patient love that transformed her into a closer relationship with the Lord and eventually encompassed her husband as well. Through her patient love and encouragement, that husband accepted Christ as the guiding light of his life. She later wrote of her feeling as though she was now married to what had become a brand-new man.
Patient love from God and through the Lord can change hearts and perhaps bring to life a dead relationship. Their young son was overheard praying, “Thank you, Jesus, for coming into my daddy’s heart and making him nice to me and not mean.”
Not every relationship ends in ‘happily ever after.’ But we do know patient love sure goes a long way in making for God’s will to become a wholesome reality.
The approaching season of Lent is our spiritual opportunity for growth and regeneration. Journeying with Jesus can transform us. Something to consider during the season of Lent; not only should we show patience because God is patient with us, but we also should be patient because people never see Christ in your impatience.
The Apostle Paul tells us to be patient with everyone. We all think that is impossible. "To dwell above with those we love, that will be glory. To dwell below with those we know, that is another story."
Sometimes being critical is a lot easier than being patient. Patience isn’t an easy thing. But God wants us to develop it, or it wouldn’t be a fruit of the Spirit. God shows us His love and patience with us by His timing in our lives. Don’t you think that God would love to give you your heart’s desire when you ask? But God also knows that there are times when He must wait to answer your prayer, because if He answered it when you wanted, it would not be a good thing for you. So, I believe, even God shows patience in answering our prayers. In the same way, by doing that, God is developing patience in our life. You see patience is about trust. We must trust God that He does love us and desires what is best for us, so we must wait and be patient and wait on Him. Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
Do you think ‘having kids’ teaches you patient love? The next time you look at your kids and wonder if they will ever grow up, remember God wonders the same thing about you.
May we commune together with our Lord reaffirming patient love. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, February 6 & Sunday, February 7, 2021
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION: Lord, help us to hear and receive your Word today. May your divine Word mature us we pray. Amen.
SCRIPTURE LESSONS: Psalm 32:8 (page 553) and Luke 15:13-32 (page 1048)
SERMON MESSAGE: ‘The Maturing Child of God’
The familiar narrative of the Prodigal Son enlightens us with the reality of a child who finally seemed to ‘come to his senses.’ We’ve all been around at least a few folks who needed to ‘come to their senses.’
This familiar narrative of the Prodigal Son also enlightens us with the reality of an older child who felt injustice had been done to him, along with strong jealousy, sincere anger, plus deep hurt within. Perhaps you’ve been ‘wronged’ by another who just did not ‘do right’ by you.
This familiar narrative of the Prodigal Son impresses us with insight into a father who forgives, rather quickly. Not only does Dad forgive, he celebrates his son’s return.
In accordance with standards of the world and many contemporary ‘reality’ shows, things should have been handled quite differently. That wayward boy should not have been given his inheritance early, no matter what. Grow up Son! The older brother should have been dealt a different ‘deck of cards’, not expected to ‘swallow’ injustices thrown up in his face! The ‘father’ in this story, according to the standards of the world, should attend parenting classes. Who gives away such large sums of money to their kids?
The ‘ring’ should have gone on the finger of the child who stood by his father all those years. The other son should have been made to work to clear his name, if even that might have helped. Someone should have put their arm around that father and had a ‘man to man’ talk with him. Sounds like they ALL had some growing up to do... Some maturing to achieve! That’s ‘one way’ of looking at this familiar story of the Prodigal Son. When Jesus shared this parable, He was striving to make a point regarding God’s mercy, forgiveness and compassion extended to ALL of us.
Maturing is not an easy thing. Not for anyone. It is a process. Age should have something to do with it, but we’ve all seen where that’s not necessarily true. You’d think that educated people would mature in accordance with their growth of knowledge. One aspect does not necessarily equate with the other. Perhaps we all know someone who had to ‘grow up’ rather quickly. Some say that contributes to a person’s maturity level as well.
Throughout our lifetimes we all have the power to make choices. Good choices and bad choices come to us all. We all have the power and the resources to choose how we shall live, react, and respond. Maturity is the art of being responsible for your actions, being sensitive and considerate towards others and having the ability to change and adapt to circumstances. An emotionally mature person is always adding value to himself and those around.
The Prodigal Son, in today’s scripture lesson chose to be different than his older brother. Maybe those two brothers ‘talked’ prior to the younger of the two taking off with his inheritance. Perhaps the older brother tried gallantly so to stop his younger brother from running off and wasting his life as well as his inheritance, not to mention their relationship and long held family ties. But the younger brother simply did not yield to his older brother, nor perhaps even to his father.
For some folks it’s kind of like life is a ‘dare!’ A dare, which seems to say, “Watch me! I’ll show you” I can do whatever I want whenever I want.” Their defiance often seems unfounded however its’ source is to be found in fundamental human darkness. Some seem to prefer embracing darkness instead of light. Their defiance is actually quite fulfilling, leastwise to themselves, if only for a while.
A sure sign of maturing is contemplating the costs and seeking to perceive what might be the latter results.
I believe we would all be blessed to grow in the Biblical understanding of maturity. While the Bible speaks of wisdom and references plenty of examples of people growing through their life experiences, the deeper meaning of maturity in the Bible is a direct reference to Spiritual maturity. The Bible references progressing towards perfection or a state of full development.
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14)
The maturing child of God keeps growing, learning, listening, and quite importantly so, obeying. When we no longer have anyone above us, we begin to act as though everyone is beneath us.
Consistently I strive to point us all towards Jesus Christ as our greatest example to follow. In the Gospel of Luke 2, we learn of young Jesus spending time in the Temple listening to the learned rabbis, occasionally asking them questions. The maturing child of God realizes how much you don’t know. I continue to learn that some of the most basic lessons of life and the Bible are best repeated and reflected upon routinely. It’s troubling to hear those who proclaim, “I’ve heard that all before.” While I have attained both a Master’s and Doctorate degree in theological education I am the first to admit the Bible still surprises me. The mysteries of God remain immense. I NEED to remain a student for all of my ‘tomorrows.’
Whether we are speaking of spiritual knowledge or daily routine things don’t be a ‘know it all!’ Such souls are boring to be around. Their ‘immaturity’ reveals itself.
I come from a family that often times ‘talked over’ one another. It was hard, at times, to hear what was really being said. In school and in church I learned to listen more and NOT ‘talk over’ other’s conversations. When you and I imagine Jesus with his disciples, visiting at the homes of his friends and speaking with the crowds, we hopefully perceive a kind and patient spirit listening, loving, and providing focused attention. Some of the more favored aspects of integrity seen in people are their abilities to make each person, they are with, feel as though they’ve got the listener’s undivided attention. The maturing child of God continues to practice listening more and talking less. Looking back, has your faith and church influence helped you along in this process? Maturing is a process and a choice we make. Listen more and talk less…Perhaps a Lenten commitment for spiritual growth….
If you had a choice between being around people who are aware and considerate of others OR those who are self-absorbed, self-centered, and inconsiderate, which might you choose? Looking back, hasn’t your faith, your walk with Christ, taught you to become aware of people around you and choose to be considerate of them? Whether in a crowd or alone, whether with family, friends or strangers, the maturing child of God remains consistent in awareness and consideration of others…
Here in church as well as ‘out there’ in the world we have to learn to deal with others and their sometimes rather ‘unique’ and possibly incompatible ways. Not everyone provides for us what we may be needing for the moment or for the long run. Yet we have to strive to get along. Spiritual maturity, grounded in Biblical insights, teaches us that. As a maturing child of God, I trust we’ve all learned and continue to learn not to take everything personally, not to become easily offended. We are ‘in Christ.’ That means we’ve prayed, evaluated, thought things through and aligned ourselves with faith that is confident, mature and proven. The maturing child of God does not take everything personally, does not get easily offended, nor feel a need to defend, prove or make excuses for one’s self.
Be grateful, be gracious, and don’t be complaining a lot. Marks of maturity for the child of God. Recall the Biblical account of the ten lepers who were healed. Only one returned to thank Jesus. Far too many people ‘assume’ what’s given to them. That ‘assumption’ is a mark of immaturity…Every day remains a gift. So too your life, your health, your family, and your standard of living. Yes, even this church is a gift from God.
A long time ago I was taught in church to see Christ in everyone. Sometimes in the stranger as well as my family members. In those who are offensive trust God to help deal with them. My job, and yours remains that of striving to be gracious. We shall only pass through this life once. Give it your best. Offending people don’t last. Neither do offenses. Give your problems to God. It’s the mature thing to do. God alone can make all things to work together for the good.
Easily enough any of us can quickly succumb to the temptation to complain about life, government, politics, our health, or our religion. Complaining doesn’t really ‘become’ us. God doesn’t seem to respond much to complaining Christians. He does respond to those who strive to love beyond what is called for or deserved.
A lot of maturing requires taking responsibility for your own life, health and happiness. We don’t need to overly rely upon others to ‘fix’ our circumstances. Nor should we blame others repeatedly. Move on. Let them move on also. You simply can’t ‘force’ anyone to love you.
Remember this; You ARE a child of God. According to God you have a ‘right’ to be here.
Here is a brief ‘test’ to consider if you are a maturing child of God.
Evaluate the evidence, daily, of God’s working in your life that has changed you and continues to make you a better person and a more caring soul.
Akin to Jesus’ parable regarding the Prodigal Son, I grew up in a family that really could have and sincerely should have functioned better. Let’s just say there was room for growth and more healthy realities. Just like you, I have made choices along the way to strive to be a maturing child of God. While realizing I am less than the Biblical mark of perfection, evidence stands that God has had and continues to have his hand upon me. For you see, just like you, God has worked to bring change to one soul’s life.
God has promised us this; “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you…” Psalm 32:8
Perhaps like the Prodigal we’ve all wondered off the path a time or two and perhaps have even wasted some resource, some love, we now know we should not have. Remember, like the father in today’s narrative, God still welcomes you home with open arms.
Possibly we’ve also needed to point out injustices from time to time, how life has been unfair, akin to that of the older son in today’s Biblical narrative. God will bring justice in due time. Answers shall come. The wrongs will grow to be righted. In the meantime, make room for the words and actions of love to assist and mend.
Being someone’s ‘dad’ or authority figure is no small task. Like the father in today’s story we must choose to become mature enough to reflect the care, love and forgiveness of God that reconciles, heals and brings peace to many.
As you reflect, I am sure you will see evidence, sincere evidence, of God growing you to be a maturing child of God. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, January 30, 2021 & Sunday, January 31, 2021
Prayer For Illumination: Calm us now, O Lord, into a quietness that heals and listens. Open wounded hearts to the balm of your Word. Speak to us in clear tones so that we might feel our spirits leap for joy and skip with hope as your resurrection witnesses. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 40:28-31 (page 720) & Mark 1:21-28 (page 1002)
Sermon Message: “Handling Discouragement”
The Bible bears witness to the fact that many souls dealt with discouragement. The fellow in today’s scripture lesson; the Gospel of Mark 1:21-28, a man possessed by an evil spirit, was so discouraged that he could not see that Jesus wanted to help him, even heal him, of his demons. Jesus told the man to be quiet and then ordered the evil spirit to come out of him. IF WE could just quiet the demons that bring discouragement to our lives that would be a marvelous way of handling things.
Sometimes ‘life’ is discouraging. At times we are discouraged with others. We’ve even experienced being discouraged with ourselves.
The month of January is nearly over. By now the best intents of New Year’s resolutions are far less thrilling and most likely a lot more challenging or possibly have become passive attempts on our parts.
Everyone deals with some form, some degree, of discouragement from time to time. Some, more than others. I think we all have found that nothing seems to take the life out of you more than discouragement. A discouraged spirit is a powerless spirit. It really is an awful feeling. It can feel as though the wind has been knocked out of your soul.
Our economy is changing. Suffering in some respects. Perhaps you also have met those poor souls who previously ‘had it made’, you know, a secure job, decent wage, and some good benefits. The business closed, or the lay offs came, possibly even compromised health was a contributing factor. Sometimes those souls will share their story of how well they ‘had’ been doing but now take on numerous jobs just to make ends meet. These same folks get so discouraged they sometimes cry themselves to sleep, wondering how much longer they can do it? There is discouragement.
A fellow approached me stating he and his wife were happily married for twenty years, or so he thought. He came home one day, and she was gone. There was a note on the kitchen table that read, “I don’t want to be married to you anymore.” It took his breath away. He can’t wrap his mind around it. The guy hasn’t slept in weeks. There is discouragement.
A little girl said she loved where they used to live. She had lots of friends and a great school. Daddy needed to find a job elsewhere. So they moved, far away. Different school, different neighborhood. Different culture. The kids made fun of her accent at school. She can’t find anyone to sit with her and eat lunch. So, she eats her lunch alone, hiding her tears as people walk by. There is discouragement.
Discouragement is an awful thing. It’s like someone or something pulls the rug right out from under you leaving you with nothing to hold onto. Confidence becomes shattered. That sense of well-being you once had is a distant memory. Motivation evaporates. Have you ever felt that way? Do you remember how you ‘got over it?’
Some just don’t. A traumatizing event occurs, discouragement sets in and they’re never the same. Every day becomes a discouragement to them. They can’t get past it! Daily circumstances reaffirm they are a victim. Most relationships further remind them, they are a victim. Conflict affirms they are a victim. Do you know anybody like that? Discouragement is a strong force.
We’ve all been discouraged to some degree. We all know how debilitating it can become. I’ve always wondered why some folks seem to be able to ‘bounce back’ better than others? As a pastor, I know of some folks who have passed through unspeakable things several times in their lives and yet they just keep on going…never ‘missing a beat.’ I also know others who experience one small set back in life and end up living the rest of their lives in darkness.
What makes the difference in how we handle discouragement? Is it genetics? Upbringing? Culture? Mental attitude? Religion? Perhaps a ‘change’ in lifestyle? Maybe that’s it; change.
Isaiah was a prophet of God who not only saw change, he also had a spiritual wisdom to see who and what needed to change. I believe Isaiah can teach us something essential for handling discouragement. Reflect again on his words:
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.”
Now you’re talking! That’s what we need- to run and not become weary, to walk and not faint! To soar like an eagle. I’ve seen eagles fly. They’re magnificent sights! They spread their huge wings, exert very little effort and the wind just carries them along higher and higher as they go! Wouldn’t it be great to live life that way? Strength, insight, and confidence with very little required effort.
The eagle is known for its strength and elegance. Isaiah combines the power of the eagle with a key insight into the power for living. Isaiah shares an eternal truth with us. This eternal truth provides an assured awareness of ‘how to handle discouragement’.…Yet this spiritual wisdom and insight remains so simple and obvious most folks trip right over it. Our unwillingness to accept this truth causes so much suffering and inability to handle discouragement. That eternal truth is this; Anyone who seeks to live by their own power will eventually break down. Isaiah put it this way; “Even youths will grow tired and weary and young men will stumble and fall.” Consider and respond to this strong insight; no matter how young you are, how self-sufficient you may be, or how independent you may feel, at any age, if you try to live life on your own power, you WILL break down. You WILL fail. You Will eventually give out. Living life on your own and by means of your own power will lead a soul into discouragement over and over again.
Do you ‘get’ what the Bible is saying, God is proclaiming and Isaiah is teaching? While we may desire to fly like an eagle we are reminded of what happens when we try to live by our own power we will grow tired and become weary. I think we ‘get’ what the Bible is saying. I think we also ‘get’ that no one wants to be told they cannot stand ‘on their own two feet!’ We don’t like being told we can’t handle life on our own. We don’t want to affirm that we are vulnerable… In life lived so far, we have been vulnerable. It’s challenging to realize we are quite vulnerable with what we are needing to handle today. Most just don’t want to hear about handling discouragements into the future. Some say avoid the subject and perhaps it will go away. Say your prayers and possibly all future discouragements will be avoided. But don’t we know, ‘life’ doesn’t work that way. Not our life on our own nor even our life with God. We all recall times in our lives when we felt ‘like a rock!’ When nothing much ‘got to us.’ We didn’t NEED anyone. Leastwise, that’s what we thought. We want to think we shall be able to handle discouragement if we just ‘buckle up,’ ‘put our minds to it,’ and ‘go it alone.’ We want to be strong. Yet God’s eternal truth remains…Anyone who strives to live by their own power will eventually break down. The prophet Isaiah informs us; “Even youths will grow tired and weary and young men will stumble and fall.” Isaiah, an insightful and wise prophet of God reflects upon that which God has shown him…Isaiah tells us that God gives power not to those who think they are strong, not to those who think they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, get ‘through this alone,’ not to those who are proud of their fragile self-sufficiency. Isaiah says God gives power to those who are weak, the vulnerable, the open, the powerless, the willing, those who are yielding to him.
Our worst problems and our greatest endeavors fail when we try to overcome by sheer will power. Recall all of those diet attempts. Remember the discouraging results of one’s strong-willed nature.
Isaiah directs us to hope in the Lord or ‘wait for the Lord.’ Some call this ‘faith.’ Please know, ‘faith’ is not a means to an end. It is a way of life. Faith is not crossing our fingers to God and hoping that things just turn out the way we want. Handling discouragement in its many forms occurs best when we stop rushing ahead of God and running from others who can help sustain us, guide us, rescue, and love us through it… Sometimes when we read and study verses in the Bible perhaps one key word sticks out! In verse 31 of today’s scripture lesson that key word is ‘renew.’ “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” Within this portion of the Bible, written originally in Hebrew, the word ‘renew’ literally means ‘exchange.’ To exchange one thing for another. To hand God one thing and receive something else from him, to let go of one thing and receive something different, perhaps more helpful and insightful then we thought of on our won. According to Isaiah, God’s strength comes only when we do this ‘renewing’ this ‘exchanging’ of something from us, within us, a part of us, for something new, different, and special from God.….
When you or I are handling discouragement what in the world do you think we would have to give up in order to gain God’s strength? Can’t we just get God’s strength? Would you believe there are obstacles in our lives that hinder our ability to receive God’s strength? Would you believe there are things that clutter up our souls so much that there is no room for God’s strength? For some it is pride. For others it is control. Still, for some, it is a sinful habit which diminishes them but they can’t seem to let it go.
Some of the ‘basics’ for handling discouragement include ‘taking it to the Lord in prayer, “Don’t worry about anything but pray about everything.” Let go and let God. Ask, seek, and find. Have faith but also reach out and receive others who can assist. Depend upon others. Depend upon God. Remember to become more like Isaiah and strive to ‘see’ the bigger picture. Remember there are ‘demons’ out there and ‘demons’ within. Commit your discouragements to the Lord through faith, abiding and trusting faith.
Remember this, you are not alone. God is the wind beneath your wings. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, January 23, 2021 & Sunday, 24, 2021
Prayer For Illumination: Prepare our hearts, O God, to accept your Word. Silence in us any voices but your own, so that we may hear your Word and also do it; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scripture Lesson: Jonah 3: 1-5, 10 (Page 926)
Sermon Message: ‘Pressing Perceptions’
Perceptions change over time. For instance, if you’ve ever gone back to your childhood home, things undoubtedly look ‘different!’ The physical world we remembered does not now seem quite so large and perhaps overbearing. Actually, lots of things change our perceptions during our lifetimes. Where we live, how we interact with one another, our health, our level of income even our degree of education. Quite importantly, our ‘beliefs’ change our perceptions.
Today we read of a prophet from God who believed that God had sent him to warn the Assyrian people of their need to change. There is more to be shared regarding Jonah. But first, let’s ponder some of the spiritual perceptions taking place back in the time Jonah lived, around the 8th century BC.
Prior to the prophet, Jonah, God had called Moses to lead the people of God; Israel, out of slavery, in Egypt, and into the Promised Land of Canaan. You may recall the Sinai covenant these rescued people had with God. This covenant is more commonly known as the Ten Commandments.
Time and time again the people of God would ‘drift away’ from their perceptions regarding the 10 Commandments. Perceptions of those 10 commandments would become watered down, minimalized, explained away, ignored and sometimes blatantly disobeyed. In turn this led to severe unrest and hurting behaviors among the people. Things would get ‘bad’ as they sometimes do. When things first ‘get bad’ there is unrest, rivalry and conflict that eventually grows over time. In the history of the Bible and in the history of the world, sometimes things become so ‘pressing’ that intervention is warranted.
During our lifetimes we have experienced the goodness associated with living our lives in accordance with the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus Christ. We have also experienced times in our world’s history and in our own lives, when enmity has been so severe intervention has been required. Some of our ancestors survived the Great Depression or times of war. Our nation has a history of contentiousness, demonstrations, and quickness to ascertain that one group is superior or sees things ‘better’ than another.
Religion, in general, is supposed to help unite people’s beliefs in their higher power. The Christian religion has long been a full measure of secure beliefs and foundational truths. Don’t we know though, not all followers of God share the same perceptions?
Back in Jonah’s time varying perceptions became so oppositional that divine intervention was being called for.
The Book of Jonah is one of 66 books which compose the Bible. The Bible is full of indicatives, stories, and narratives. It is also a book of imperatives; commands to repent and to follow and change behaviors. The prophet, Jonah, was called by God to go to Nineveh and command the Assyrian nation to repent. Throughout spiritual history the ‘call’ to repent due to extreme hurt, sin and wrong in the world AND the petitioning for Divine intervention, came to be known as the “day of the Lord.”
Spiritually speaking, the “day of the Lord” is a day of reckoning. Prophets are sometimes sent by God to warn people of this impending “Day of the Lord.”
The prophet, Jonah, didn’t want to go where God called him to go. Perhaps you recall Jonah’s story. At first Jonah ran away from the Lord when he experienced God’s call and directive to go and preach to the people in the great city of Nineveh. He ran to a seaport where he bought a ticket for a ship going to a different port altogether. However, while at sea the Biblical account informs us that God sent a great wind and a violent storm culminating in Jonah being tossed overboard and being swallowed up by a whale. While Jonah was in the belly of the fish he prayed to the Lord. The Lord answered his prayers, the fish expelled Jonah from its’ mouth, and he landed on dry ground.
A second time the word of the Lord came to Jonah and this time his perceptions were different, perhaps more ‘pressing!’
Sometimes our perceptions also become more ‘pressing’ when we’ve been through something great and perhaps tragic. The ‘day of the Lord’ may come upon us at any time and during any season.
There are some further lessons to be learned from Jonah and some spiritual insights to be gained.
Jonah was by most accounts a good man. He was close to God. So close that God called him to go to the city of Nineveh and warn the Assyrian people that unless they change and repent of their wickedness, they would face destruction. God knew Jonah and Jonah knew God. Jonah was less than perfect, as are we in some respects. Truth is Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh and inquire of the Assyrian people to repent not because he feared their destruction. Nor was Jonah fearful of going. He knew and well understood how merciful God really was and Jonah did not want the Assyrian people to be blessed by God’s mercy. Jonah saw them all as being a ‘hopeless case’ and thought they should ‘get what’s coming to them!’ Jonah wanted to keep his closeness to God to himself. He simply did not want to share God with ‘those people!’
Sometimes our most ‘pressing perceptions’ need to be addressed by God. Jonah did not have a ‘corner on the market’ so to speak with God. Surely there are people in our lives, effecting our world, that we would much rather not deal with. Worst still would be our seeking to ‘hold back’ God’s care and message to them as Jonah first endeavored to do.
Our newly elected president has inquired of us to work towards unity. The theme of unity is not something new to this or any other president nor ruler. Unity is a Biblical calling and a spiritual reality.
The Bible is clear; “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” -Psalm 133:1
‘Unity’ is more, so much more than saying or affirming; “I like you. I will tolerate you, or I will at least TRY to get along with you.” Unity, from the Bible, starts with confronting our pressing perceptions that we somehow ‘know God best.” Or the perception that we may THINK God loves us more.
Turn towards the heart of God and perceive. It is not God’s desire to destroy the Assyrians in Jonah’s time nor any people nor groupings of people in our time. Rather, it remains God’s will and design to bring people, all people, and all nations of the world into a larger family of peoples who are returning to their Creator in worship and submission and the recovery of full human joy.
Yes, God still intervenes in life, our lives and in the life of the world. This Biblical theme of ‘the day of the Lord’ is hoped by some to be a time whereby ‘all Hell breaks loose’ and sets things straight…The “day of the Lord” is no less than re-creation itself. Sure, it might take direct intervention of God into human history to bring it about. But when it happens things will be set right. All things. Everything. God may call upon any of us to help His ‘cause.’ We love the Lord, and the Lord loves us. Yet, we must remember, we do not hold a ‘corner on the market’ so to speak of knowing and loving the Lord. Along with God calling others into repentance, even entire nations, God shall gain our attention as well as He calls each of us into repentance.
Some of our pressing perceptions now need to change. Life, recent life has well taught us that. The world and each of us are still learning how our most pressing perceptions need to change. We have been stricken down by a virus that continues to scare us, overwhelm us, convict us, even humble us. Our previous perceptions regarding ‘who’ is our neighbor, around the world or around the corner are constantly changing, for the better. Our nation’s political environment has changed and today we are being afforded a further opportunity to change, to repent from our past and pray for Divine guidance into our future with our Creator is now before us.
Spirituality teaches us, from a Biblical perspective re-creation begins with repentance. When repentance comes it can be a devastating thing.
For many years a consumer mentality has gripped our society. It’s kind of like we’ve been drugged into believing that we are okay on our own, that we have all the means and resources necessary to see us through any ‘jam’ in life’s river. However, in a culture guided by consumption we’re not really going anywhere. We have been led to instead believe we do not need to repent. Leastwise according to modern psychology, but only to obtain. We have been led to believe in our society that we do not need to change our ways, only our strategies. Our pressing perception had been that we do not need some outside power to help us, only to encourage us. For far too long we’ve allowed ourselves to believe in ourselves mainly and adhere to the pressing perception that we are okay on our own. Thank you!
It’s not that our faith has failed us but that we have somehow failed our faith. Our pressing perceptions had been to escape religion and anything at all that might require something more of ‘our’ precious time and further commitment.
As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu put it “the longest journey begins with the first step.” We’ve known for the better part of a year that we need to heal our world, not just our land, from the devastations associated with this COVID-19 pandemic. Deep inside we’ve always known that some of our most pressing perceptions, as incorrect as they may have been and possibly still are, needed addressed then changed.
Clearly the Bible affirms Jesus Christ came to the Jews and the Gentiles, meaning to ALL people. Jonah was guided, somewhat, by his pressing perceptions that he did not want God to be merciful to those Assyrians, just in case they did repent. Jonah was guilty of a do-it-yourself religion. Grace has no place in the self-satisfaction of a do-it-yourself religion. Jesus himself said he did not come to gather the so-called righteous. That is the ones who are satisfied with who they are and where they are at. Jesus did instead say he came to call sinners to repentance.
Repentance leads to re-creation of a soul, a life, a family, a nation, even a world. A re-created life is a healed life.
Maybe you are not guilty of the worst of sins. Jonah was called by God a second time. God’s making use of us is some of the best evidence of his being at peace with us.
May our most pressing perceptions become our prayer that God can and will use us, perhaps even address us, or at least change us, as needed to cause light, God’s light to shine in dark regions.
God perceives us and yet he understands. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, January 16, 2021 and Sunday, January 17, 2021
Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, as we turn to your Word for us, may the Spirit of God rest upon us. Help us to be steadfast in our hearing, in our speaking, in our believing, and in our living. Amen
Scripture Lessons: Psalm 71:1-8 (Page 577) & Romans 8:18, 22, 26-28 (Page 1133)
Sermon Message: The Rock of My Salvation”
They tell me the older you get the more ‘reflective’ you become…Leastwise that’s how ‘they’ say it’s supposed to be. That way of thinking rings true throughout the Bible. David wrote psalm 71 in his ‘older’ years. Wisdom comes with age. Spiritual wisdom comes at any age. While we may not like to hear it, our struggles can serve to produce spiritual wisdom within.
The Apostle Paul struggled greatly in his life. He struggled in his faith and he further struggled with how he could better relate to, even help, others. In his declining years Paul writes to the people of the church in Rome with what may be termed ‘summary insights.’ After years of struggle and multiple hardships plus persecutions abounding, Paul summarizes and shares his insightful spiritual wisdom. He inquires of his readers to “consider their sufferings, for they are not worth comparing to the glory to be revealed to us.” He shares with us his maturing awareness that all of creation has been groaning to understand, to relate and to adapt. Paul then directs us to know and reference the Holy Spirit in our lives, especially so, in our weakness.
David and Paul share something in common. Both communicate a confident faith. In our world right now, ‘confident faith’ seems to be in short supply.
Some fearful realities are taking place right now associated with this worldwide pandemic. Fear of contacting the virus. Fear of passing on the virus. Fear that far too many are not taking serious the virus. Fear of not only contagiousness but also of possible suffering, limited understanding and too many unprecedented deaths. Is the vaccine safe? Will it prove effective? Are there short term or long-term side effects? Will enough people receive it to promote ‘herd immunity?’ What might happen to us if we don’t take the vaccine? How long will we be required to wear masks and limit our activities? Can we count on a return to ‘normal? What might the ‘new normal’ look like? Do lots of folks get ‘better?’ What is the length of your immunity after experiencing Covid-19?
Such questioning can erode away at confidence. Even one’s spiritual confidence. We need a ‘word from God.’ Surely we can benefit from sincere quality spiritual insight.
I find it confusing, at times, to listen to both ‘sides’ of the political atmosphere in our land. For I can see good and bad in both ‘sides.’ Like so many I am saddened by such severe political unrest that has evolved into police and military intervention. Even today, God’s Sabbath, is threatened with demonstrations that could possibly lead to more deaths, further hurt and deeply felt divisions. Fear rules our land and crushes our spirit. Faith must answer problems we never felt would need addressed.
Within Psalm 71 David makes no apology for taking refuge in God. He writes; “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame.” Not only did David struggle inside of himself, spiritually so, he was further being challenged by family, close friends his dear constituents as well as his enemies. David is here declaring, “I am not ashamed of my faith. I am not ashamed of my reliance upon God. I make no argument and take no offence at those who challenge my sincere dependence upon God.”
We may not be kings or rulers but we do have grave concerns that are affecting our families, friends, church, our nation, our world and us. Depend upon God. Do not be ashamed of your spirit crying out to God amidst all of the trials and grave concerns you feel. Don’t be ashamed of your faith nor of your dependence, your reliance upon God. Notice, take quality notice, in today’s scriptures of what David did when he was overwhelmed, confused and fearful; He prayed. His prayer begins with this affirmation of faith; “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame…”Then David shows us something else… He references the righteousness of God to rescue and deliver him. GOD is the standard for righteousness. The foundation for truth and divine help in the most challenging of times. David prays for God to be his Rock.
Throughout human history ‘rocks’ have proven to be among the most lasting elements commonly perceived. In Israel there remains a huge rock formation known as Massada. Some of the ancient Israelites lived on the top of this rock formation within a strong fortress they had constructed. Here in the United States I learn of a large rock formation in Yosemite National Park known as El Capitan. This huge granite monolith is about 3000 feet from base to summit and remains a popular objective for rock climbers.
Our forefathers and foremothers surely must have felt a kinship to the Rock of our Salvation when they constructed this huge stone faced church in the late 1920’s. On a personal note, I was honored to have driven a skid steer machine on the front sidewalk of our church, many years ago, carrying a large slab of granite that literally hundreds have sat on to ponder, pray, meditate and relax. Hopefully, that granite bench shall remain for many more years to come. On the Fifth Avenue entrance to our beloved church there rests a large triangular shaped piece of granite depicting Christ in prayer. On the corner of Fifth and Broadway, the bulletin board used to advertise our church activities is also constructed of hewn quarry stone that shall outlast our lifetimes.
‘Rocks’ symbolize things that are ‘lasting,’ ‘secure,’ and reliable. Thus, when the Bible speaks of God as being the “Rock of our Salvation” or the ‘Rock of our Refuge” this is a direct reference to ultimate security, reliability, and foundational truth.
David ‘prays’ to the Rock of his refuge, his rock and fortress, the one to which he can always go…Hear his prayer; “Deliver me…” Concise words yet meaningful and heart felt words… “Deliver me.” I ask you to turn now to God, call upon our ‘Rock,” our fortress to deliver us not only from evil, in general, but specifically from the contentiousness and fears associated with these days we now live in. Pray, as did David to further be delivered from the hand of the wicked and the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.
Then combine this prayer with your history of trust in God. David affirms his faith; “For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.”
Faith has a history. Count upon your history of faith with God, in God and through God. Therein you shall discover or perhaps rediscover the strength and reliability of God our Rock and Jesus Christ our Savior.
David’s spiritual yet factual reminder; we have relied upon God since birth. It was God who brought us forth from our mother’s womb. Prior even to our awareness we have a strong and confident history of faith with God and through God.
Further follow David’s example, his prayer and affirmation of faith…Praise God. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him for His guidance, forgiveness, past provisions, and history of love.
May your life with God, especially now, become a sign to many. An example that others can and will follow. It’s what you do when God is present in your life…
You are a child of God through the best of times and throughout the worst of times. You remain a child of God all day long. Become a ‘rock’ for others in your life that well illustrates God.
The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit writes; “In life and in death we belong to God.” –Romans 14:8. As an affirmation of faith Paul declares, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Better days ARE coming. We WILL get through this. Every part of life and even our ultimate earthly death we will get through. These are days of what the Bible references as “present sufferings.”
Since the beginning of creation, since the time of our creation, there has been groaning, sometimes even as severely as in the pains of childbirth. As the Bible declares, “right up to this present time.”
Have you ever felt so badly that you just didn’t know ‘what’ to pray, or ‘how’ to pray? Those times happen in every soul’s life. Some of those times are happening right now.
When I preach and further teach you to turn to the Rock of your Salvation, this is not ONLY a call to faith and reliance upon God. This is also a turning to God in trust that you will be prayed for, not only through the prayers of others and your very own prayers. The Spirit is right now praying for, you and me, the Bible assures us. This is especially true when we are in the midst of our weakness.
The Holy Spirit IS praying for us even when we don’t know ‘what’ to pray or ‘how’ to pray. The Lord searches our hearts, knows our souls and experiences with us our concerns, sufferings and even confusions. Trust these next scriptures; “The Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
There will be further infections, sufferings and in some cases deaths associated with Covid-19. This affliction in our world is not over yet. We need to do our parts with daily prayer, care, and following well spelled out guidelines for prevention, treatment and future addressing of this virus.
This week will be long remembered in our nations’ history. Even today there may be rioting, protesting, but also affirmations and possibly blessings. Before this week is over in human history leadership in our nation will transition. Yet there may well be suffering, contention, confusion even further lives lost.
Pray this scripture; “for we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” –Romans 8:28
When life hurts and fear or confusion abounds do as our ancestors did. Turn to the Rock of our Salvation.
God is our refuge and strength a very present help in times of trouble. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, January 9, 2021 & Sunday, January 10, 2021
Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, create in us a new openness to hearing, receiving and living Your Word, through Jesus Christ our Savior we ask and pray. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Exodus 20: 1-17 (Page 75) & Matthew 19:16-26 (Page 986)
Sermon Message: “Lasting Covenants”
Covenants are very important. They are the basis for creating integrity, truth, accountability, and faith in God, in us and with each other.
Covenants may be of a spiritual nature and found within the Bible. Covenants are also something we understand intrinsically so.
For instance we all intrinsically know that we have a covenant with someone else that we shall always be somebody’s child.
You and I have parents. They may be living or dead. Close at heart or seemingly quite far away. Yet we shall always know someone helped God to co-create us. In essence, we belong.
‘Belonging’ is part of everyone’s covenant and communion with God and others…
Another ‘intrinsic’ part of our covenants and us is our love. Each and every one of us chooses each and every day to love. Some are much better at love then others. The point is, we all love. Love is a covenant we make with another. We choose how we love, whom we love and quite importantly, what we expect from others in how they love us.
Love is a part, an intrinsic and vital part of covenants and communion.
Covenants remind a lot of us of promises. We all know how that goes! Promises made, promises broken. Far too many promises, like far too many covenants are made out of convenience or with temporary commitment behind them.
I firmly believe the human soul longs for lasting covenants. The Bible declares, “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” -Ecclesiastes 3:11.
Just like the man in today’s scripture lesson we continue to ask; “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
We long for what is lasting both in this world and beyond. ‘Belonging’ that is lasting is quite fulfilling. Love that is lasting is ultimate fulfillment.
Most, if not many, reach a similar point to that of the ‘rich’ described in today’s scripture lesson. We estimate ourselves as being ‘good’ and ‘doing good’ because WE don’t murder anyone. WE are not committing adultery. WE don’t steal. WE don’t lie; give false testimony (gossip) about others. WE have honored our father and our mother and have done our level best to love our neighbor as ourselves.
But then Jesus speaks to us too, challenging us, informing us, even instructing us, that there is more, perhaps lots more involved in both our covenants as well as our communion. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Who wants to hear that?
Or Jesus’ further inquiry; “Come and follow me.” ‘Follow’ means more, so much more than simply saying ‘I believe in Jesus Christ.’
For as long as people have existed and far longer than our existence, people compromise what they believe in, how they keep their commitments and covenants. Our common philosophy for living seems to be the phrase, “Nothing lasts forever.” Yet God affirms, some things do! It is recorded in God’s Word; “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” -2 Corinthians 6:16.
Have you ever taken notice of ‘how’ the Ten Commandments start out in the Bible? In the Book of Exodus, Chapter 20 they begin with these words; “I am the Lord your God, who brought you OUT OF Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
I’ve never been to Egypt. Came close once back in the mid 1980’s when I journeyed to Israel. So God hasn’t brought me out of Egypt. But it surely can be said of you and I that God has brought us out of slavery (to sin). Sin exiles us from God and the Promised Land God has created for us to live in. As God spoke to the ancients the Almighty continues to speak to us; “I am the Lord your God.”
Yes indeed, we do belong to God. ‘Belonging’ is part of covenants and communion.
Another strong covenant and communion God has with us, a very ‘lasting covenant’ is this; “God so LOVED us that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16.
Love is quite fulfilling. Love is foundational to Covenants and Communion.
Consider some of God’s further teachings on covenants and perhaps even ponder ‘why’ the Almighty has given us these covenants…
“You shall have no other gods before me.” I was given an awareness of this ‘word of God’ at differing times in my life. When I was just a boy my parents would sometimes admonish me with the words; “I am your mother!” OR “I am your Father!” There was strength behind those words. Strength of ‘belonging’ and strength of love. Eventually we all grow and ‘leave the nest’ so to speak. Yet we never stop ‘belonging.’ We never stop being ‘loved.’ As I made my own way through life, or so I thought, I ‘fell in love.’ I well recall something from the Bible spoken at my wedding… “A three fold cord is not easily broken.” -Ecclesiastes 4:12, The ‘three-fold cord’ may be understood to mean my spouse, the Lord and myself. It can also be understood to mean; faith, hope and love. Either way, this is an expression of a lasting covenant and communion.
God reminds us He gave us life. From dust we have come and unto dust we shall return. Therefore, let’s be clear, we belong to God and as such He who created us can and does expect the integrity of obedience to Him and sincere response to His love.
The first four commandments; “No other gods, no graven images, no misusing of God’s name, remember the Sabbath; keep it holy,…” These spell out our duty to God. The first four commandments are covenants for our communion with God. Covenants are very important. They are the basis for creating integrity, truth, accountability and faith in God, in us and with each other.
Your money, your body, your intelligence, your looks, your home, where you live, nor even your standard of living is most important. Nothing is your God. You and I belong to God. We are loved by God. There is integrity in knowing this standard. This is unquestionable truth. This holds each and every one of us accountable. Faith is in God and shared, blessed in us and with each other. You belong to God…
If we cannot ‘keep’ these four commandments as covenants, lasting covenants and live them out as communion between God and us then we surely cannot be expected that we can be true to others if we are false with God…
God is God and we are not. God is to be worshipped as God, unfathomable, unmanaged by us, never completely understood, sometimes mysterious, always affirmed by faith. Do NOT strive to reduce God to ‘how’ we estimate or imagine Him to be. God remains beyond our imaginations. Our imaginations contribute to our understanding and awareness of God, but certainly do not limit nor dictate God for the world or ourselves.
Those that keep God’s commandments, affirm their covenants and commune with the Lord will receive grace, blessing, peace and love.
The commandments are given to us for a reason. Actually for multiple reasons. While we may ‘say’ we know the Ten Commandments and follow the teachings of God, truth is, we all compromise ourselves from time to time. It serves us well to be reminded, to renew our covenants and commune with the Lord.
We have a lasting covenant. God promises to bless His people and be their God if they obey. Covenants are the backbone of the storyline of the Bible. The Bible isn’t a random collection of laws, moral principles and stories. It is a story that goes somewhere. It is the story of redemption and God’s kingdom. God promises to forgive sin and give universal knowledge of the Lord.
Please join me in the honor, the privilege and the integrity of renewing our covenants, lasting covenants with God in Holy Communion….Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday; January 2, 2021 & Sunday; January 3, 2021
Prayer for Illumination- Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: John 8:1-11 Page 1072, Philippians 3:12-14 Page 1180
Sermon Title: ‘Time To Move On’
The New Year typically signals a time for us to move on. We’ve all needed to ‘move on’ at one time or another in our lives. How do you know when it is time to move on? Is it after you’ve felt something pretty strongly, as in today’s first scripture lesson? OR, is ‘time to move on’ more of a self-determination as it seems to appear in the second scripture lesson where Paul speaks of ‘pressing on toward the goal to win the prize?
Faith formulates our time to move on. Lots of folks, probably too many folks, equate faith with ‘feeling.’ That’s really not a healthy way to appreciate the working of faith in our lives. In today’s scriptures the woman caught in adultery ‘gave into’ her feelings. Those teachers of the law and Pharisees had their very strong ‘feelings’ about what was right, wrong and their prescribed punishment for sins. The Apostle Paul seems to want to ‘determine’ his feelings as part of his overall goal.
2021 is a time available for us all to move on. Right now, I am sure there are lots of folks who firmly believe the calendar year changing from 2020 to 2021 will somehow constitute the world being reset. Yet we all know life is a continuum.
2020 had an abundance of negativity associated with it. Presidential impeachment, a world-wide pandemic, contentious election process and results, severe unemployment, multiple business closures, food insecurities plus associated fears and restrictions for us all. Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today. It’s time to move in faith, to new beginnings. I am not at all saying the problems we lived through in 2020 have somehow gone away. God has a way of providing new beginnings from the past happenings.
Today’s scriptural account within the Gospel of John points out some possible insights for moving on. A woman is caught in the act, the sin, of adultery. Her accusers are addressed, her actions are condemned then she is forgiven and told to move on from her life of sin. Some very authoritative and righteous people strive to hold her accountable and punish her for her sins. Jesus calls their prejudice and judgment into question when he inquires of them to go and throw the first stone IF they are without sin. Slowly they walk away. That is, they move on.
‘Yesterday’ reminds us of our sins and our sufferings. Yesterday calls to question our pride, our judgmentalism and persecution of others. It’s time to move on from these and other sins which consumes us.
I am sorry there were so many negatives last year. But now it’s time for us to join Jesus in standing up, straightening our backs and looking life in the eyes. Forgive the sin, Jesus Christ does not want you nor I to live a compromised life. The Lord has a plan, you are part of His time and God’s purpose. It’s time to move on.
Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today…
Sometimes God closes doors because it’s time to MOVE forward. He knows you sometimes won’t move unless your circumstances force you.
That woman caught in adultery would not have moved on in her life nor would her faith become nurtured, blessed and inspiring unless she was forced to deal with it.
The teachers of the law and those Pharisees would have simply gone on and on judging, condemning and punishing people unless God closed the door of their ill felt freedom to do so. Jesus Christ did come. He has confronted those who are harmful and hurting in our world too. The Apostle Paul was quite the persecutor of Christians and of Jesus Christ. The ‘door’ God used for closing so much that was wrong in Paul’s life was actually a blinding light and an inspirational voice of accountability mingled with great love.
While God IS a God of new beginnings please remain keenly aware of this; you can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.
God has wisdom and provides insight for our lives in 2021. Consider a few key Biblical figures whose lives changed and blossomed as a result of moving on with God.
Moses was called by God to lead His people; Israel, out of slavery and into the Promised land. Along the way the Lord God Almighty called Moses to the top of the Mountain and there gave to him the Ten Commandments which we reference and follow unto this very day. Yet when called, Moses hesitated moving on declaring that he was slow of speech. God spoke through Moses when it was time to move on.
David was just a boy with a sling shot. While others made fun of him God called him and used him to bring down the mighty Giant; Goliath. David was just a shepherd boy yet when it was time to move on David submitted to the Lord in his life.
Young Mary, whose life we recently applauded, was humble and inquired of God’s angel regarding her giving birth to God’s son; “How can this be?” Yet when confronted by her greatest fears and her society’s heaviest judgments, Mary realized it was time to move on.
Even Jesus Christ spoke to those nearest to him at his resurrection appearance saying; “Do not touch me but go now to the others and tell them I must ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’
Moving on is not always easy nor is it usually convenient. Moving on, as Paul teaches us, is so much more than a feeling. It remains a goal. A spiritual goal we ascertain from abiding spiritual discernment.
Five key elements of anyone’s spiritual discernment process; 1) Scripture, 2) Prayer, 3) Experience, 4) Tradition, and 5) Reason.
Whatever the subject or scenario in one’s life consult the Scriptures for guidance. Pray about it. Consider what experience has shown you. Give heed to the traditions we affirm. Put all this together and seek to further reason it through. Following this spiritual discernment process has enabled generations of believers to move on.
Let me apply this spiritual discernment process to a typical ‘church’ topic; attending worship.
First, let’s look at the Scriptures. Hebrews 10:25; “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Matthew 18:20; “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Acts 2:42; “The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Pray about going to church. God is in the business of answering prayers.
Consider your church experiences. Some are good. Some, perhaps not so good. Along the way I’ve met scores of people who will NOT come to church because of some person, some church or some clergy from the past. Scores of people tell me of a bad experience they once had with God, church or religion. I wish to say to each of those folks I am sorry that happened to you. God sends Jesus to wrap his arms around us, love us, forgive us, prompt us and even bless us. But we just can’t keep on playing that same old broken record over and over again inside of us. It’s time to move on.
Traditions change. Even within families and entire societies. ‘Going to church’ WAS a former social tradition in our world. Not as much any more. Yet traditions existed for substantial reasons. The ‘tradition’ associated with coming to church remains an open ended invitation. Our beloved church offers two types of worship, a Saturday evening 30 minute casual worship experience plus our Sunday morning traditional worship. A ‘tradition’ becomes such through routine and repetition. I invite and encourage your church attendance to become a welcomed and stable tradition within. Pass it along to your family, neighbors and friends. Church attendance does not hurt but many say it does help.
God blessed you with the ability to reason. Blend reasoning with your spiritual discernment process. Faith is not reduced to reason but faith with no component of reason is amiss.
Scripture, prayer, experience, tradition and reason helps us to move on in our relating to God and others beyond just our feelings.
Living your life as a Christian in 2021 will have its share of blessings but also it’s components of trials and sufferings. A Christian I admire and respect said; “I don’t know why I keep trying. It would be so much easier to give up and live like my neighbors. But I know one bright and shinning morning, I am going to wake up on the other side of eternity and God is going to tell me, “good and faithful servant you have finished the race” and that will mean everything to me.”
Whether it’s moving on from a past relationship, past disappointments, or past sin, remember God has a plan for you. His plan for you is not in the past it’s in the future. Christians are a new creation through Christ. Your old life is gone. Now it’s time to move forward. Imagine if Noah, Moses, David, Paul, and more never moved on from their past. They would not have gone on to do great things for the Lord.
Hear again these words of Jesus; “Go now.” Recall the commitment of the Apostle Paul to move on; “One thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020 & Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020
Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, in you are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Open our eyes that we may see the wonders of your Word; and give us grace that we may clearly understand and freely choose the way of your wisdom; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scripture Lesson: Luke 2:22-40 (Page 1027)
Sermon Message: “Growing Godly”
Senior citizens; those two! Simeon and Anna are both senior citizens who grew Godly through the years the Lord gave them.
There is no known record of Simeon’s exact age. All we really have are today’s scriptures that affirm he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Anna, the scriptures inform us, was 84 years old.
Clearly God has a sincere need for seniors in affirming the life of Jesus Christ.
Simeon and Anna are among the most intriguing and perhaps least mentioned, figures in Luke’s nativity story. They are the only two persons in the Christmas stories who receive Jesus without divine intervention. No angels come to them, they are already in the temple, worshipping God, and alert to the ways God may appear.
Simeon and Anna remind me a lot of you and of people just like you who are faithful about coming to church. I have the greatest respect for those who come to church on a regular basis. I believe Simeon and Anna found what you and scores of others have found, being in the temple, coming to church regularly helps a soul to grow Godly.
I do so enjoy our growing Godly together. Simeon and Anna’s lives well illustrate to us that one of the ways we grow Godly together is through regular participation in worship within the temple, God’s beloved church.
Just a few days ago we shared in divine worship reflecting God’s Christmas. It’s still all right to celebrate, to coast on the glow of the Holy Day. And you’ll be in good company, all of creation, all kinds of people, all kinds of animals, even the weather and the mountains and hills praise the Lord.
The birth of Jesus Christ was such good news. We received good news, of another sort this month. In the fight against COVID 19 two companies have produced and begun distribution of a vaccine to halt this pandemic virus.
Prior to the introduction of this COVID 19 virus in our world, traditionally these days following Christmas are anything but energetic and far less enthusiastic. We’ve referred to this last week in December as a sort of ‘let-down.’ Pastors have generally referred to the Sunday following Christmas and Easter as ‘Low Sunday.’
After nine months of public health measures to help slow the spread of the virus, many Americans are suffering from COVID fatigue. While the number of cases is higher than it was during the first wave of infections, many people are ignoring the urging of public health professionals to continue physical distancing, mask wearing and frequent hand sanitizing. Contrary to the consensus of public health officials, many families gathered over Thanksgiving, giving rise to a “spike on top of a surge” in COVID cases. The story may become even bleaker in the wake of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
As the vaccines roll out there is heated discussion about who should be vaccinated first. “Front line” workers, especially those who work in health care, are to be the first in line per CDC guidance, followed by residents in skilled nursing and long term care facilities. The death rate from COVID-19 in homes for the elderly has been staggering. It is estimated that while only 1% of the US population lives in long term care, the residents and the staff who work there, account for 6% of COVID-19 cases and 40% of the deaths.”
At long last our predominantly youth-oriented culture has transitioned to honoring and caring for the elderly, first, who are so easily victimized by COVID 19. Godly wisdom is not to be associated only with the elderly.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said his greatest fear is that people will not get vaccinated. His words afford a certain wisdom to us all.
Vice-President Mike Pence led by example when he was vaccinated Friday, December 18. The President meanwhile has been out of the public eye since the electors in the 50 states and the District of Columbia cast their ballots in the presidential election.
Old people don’t usually get much attention at Christmas time, especially compared to children. In today’s Gospel lesson it is the old people who are at center stage. There is a special joy that seniors express when they recognize that the world can and will continue without them. When I have walked through the congregation with a newly baptized infant, it’s most often the older people who glow the brightest and reach to the little one’s toes with the greatest enthusiasm. Studies indicate that grandparents tend to worry more about their grandchildren’s spiritual lives than their children’s. This may be for the mundane reason that grandparents may not get to take part in the day-to-day activities of raising their grandchildren. There is likely another reason — grandparents have lived long enough to know what is truly important and significant in living a meaningful, fulfilling life. However, our own children may have benefitted from our helping them to grow in Godly wisdom, our beloved grandchildren give us another ‘shot’ at nurturing faith in those we love.
Simeon and Anna demonstrate a patient faith and wisdom that we hear in Luke’s story they have been amassing for decades, waiting for the fulfillment of God’s plans. Other people of similar age have their own forms of wisdom.
Seniors teach us with their words, their examples and lifestyle the truest meaning of growing godly.
Today’s scriptures begin with some directives for growing godly as well.
Mary and Joseph took their 40-day-old son to the temple for customary purification rites. This was further a prescribed time to consecrate their child to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with the religious customs of the time. In somewhat similar methods for helping our children to grow Godly we bring them to church for worship, we establish, with the pastor, a time for baptism to occur. Later there are opportunities for further Christian education, confirmation, membership and growing to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Every generation needs to help the children in our midst to grow Godly. Pastors continue to ask for your help with this spiritual endeavor.
Scriptures declare; “Train up, start out a child in the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). Quite possibly that’s why you and I are here in church today. Someone started us out in growing Godly and we remain dedicated to the ‘faith.’
There are some fundamentals we all should know, understand and practice as we endeavor to grow Godly.
The Ten Commandments. Know where to find them in the Bible; Exodus Chapter 20. Memorize and ‘say’ the Lord’s Prayer daily. A common memory verse for us all is John 3:16; “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
Grow to know the difference between the Old and New Testament portions of the Bible. Study some portion of scripture daily. Don’t just read scriptures, hear me again as I say, “STUDY” scriptures. Grown to know where to find scriptures for most any subject and occasion.
Pray daily. Pray WITH and FOR others too…
Follow the example of Simeon and Anna; be in the church routinely. Be a part. Serve the Lord, experience Jesus Christ. Share the faith.
Growing Godly is certainly not reserved only to memory verses, rituals and worship attendance. God has a way of growing us that actually transforms us.
Sometimes folks grow to be quite ‘rigid’ even in the attitude and lifestyle associated with their faith.
I recall a woman who experienced a sincere transformation in her process of growing Godly. She was a very ‘literal’ soul. A place for everything and everything in its’ place. Life’s experiences and her job as a journalist had hardened her heart. Leastwise, until she grew a bit older. Previously, she had lived her life selfishly. Oh, there were ‘hit and miss’ examples of kindness and good deeds, but certainly not her lifestyle. Perhaps like Simeon and Anna of old we too eventually reach an age of change perhaps because we wake up to the fact that our years on the planet are numbered. We begin to ‘mellow.’ They say God moves in mysterious ways. This woman came upon a colony of stray cats near her home. They were starving, neglected and sick. She had long favored cats so she could not turn away and started to help. That act of caring for God’s neglected animals began to soften her heart. Something inside of her began to ‘see’ things differently. Then, of all things, her granddaughter was born and the transformation was complete. Every movement of that grandchild’s little hand, every verbal utterance, seemed sacred. Growing Godly for her became a spiritual process and direction reminding her that the iron doors of her heart could never again be closed.
We shall gain Godly Wisdom from this worldwide pandemic. In general, all of us have been humbled to realize we are NOT quite as entitled as we once believed we had a ‘right’ to be.
Simeon reminds us all of another far-reaching Godly wisdom. Those and those only, can with courage see death, and look it in the face without terror, that have had by faith a sight of Christ.
Simeon took Christ in his arms and embraced him. Anna spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel.
Within this portion of Luke’s Nativity story, we have Godly wisdom from the examples of two who nurtured faith all of their lives.
Simeon embraced the Christ. Anna never stopped talking about this child, this Messiah.
Where has Godly wisdom lead you? The New Year is now before us. May we approach it in Godly wisdom even as we seek to embrace Jesus and share with others, our most precious faith. Amen.
Sermon Message for Christmas Eve 2020
Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God - you have made this night holy by the gift of your son, born of the Holy Spirit and of Mary. Upon him rested all your grace, through him has come all your mercy. Let his light shine within our hearts tonight even more brightly than it shines from the candles in this place. Help us to hear your word and to celebrate your everlasting love through him. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 9:2-7 (page 687) & Luke 2:1-7 (page 1026)
Sermon Message: “Making Our Way Home”
Our traditional Christmas Eve scriptures point out that Jesus’ first ‘home’ was a manger in a stable reserved for the animals. The scriptures declare that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. His parents returned to their ‘home’ in Nazareth so Jesus grew to be known as “Jesus of Nazareth.’ I’ve wondered through my years of researching and preaching on this portion of Holy Scripture IF someone were to ask Jesus; “Where you from?” he’d most likely have answered; “From Nazareth.” That’s where Jesus grew up. “Home’, initially so for Jesus, was a stable, a manger in Bethlehem of Judea. “Home’ was not the physical place of his birth. It was where his family was.
Some say there is a ‘homing instinct’ inside of us all. Within the natural world around us we see that ‘homing’ instinct in birds, in migrating salmon and certain other species. Somehow, Christmas seems to trigger the ‘homing instinct’ more vigorously inside of us. Of all the times and seasons of the year, the Christmas season seems to be the most important time for people to be “home.” Perhaps you recall with me that musical selection of this season; “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”
The world likes to move “home” at Christmas time. Yet, Jesus wasn’t “home” for that very first Christmas. Isn’t it ironic that a holiday which draws us home had its start with the story of a family far from home? Joseph and Mary were away from their home in Nazareth, on a restless trip to the far south of Palestine. The little Lord Jesus was born in a stable that he would probably never see again in his life. The shepherds left their hillside shacks to make a midnight trek to Bethlehem. The Wise men traveled far from home to bring Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Bethlehem’s boy found “home” to mean being with the people you love.
“Home” is where we find hope, peace, joy and love. “Home” helps us to feel “in-touch” included, accepted, and appreciated for who we are. Home is a place of safety and security. Our “Home’ is our sanctuary. Like you I’ve known times of feeling ‘alone’ or away from home even in the midst of a crowd. Perhaps a sadness comes over us, a feeling of loneliness, a sense of distance from what’s ‘going on,’ in the world near us.
In the year 2020 many a soul has experienced a need and desire to make our way “home.” Some media declarations affirm 2020 as the year we decided to stay home. Christmas, this year is widely anticipated by many. For those who cannot get together with family, with friends, and attend social events due to the COVID-19 19 virus, for those afflicted by illness, even death due to COVID-19 19, 2020 has been a disaster. Yet for those who cannot wait for Christmas to come because it affirms the end of 2020 and for hope associated with a vaccine to stop COVID-19 19, Christmas remains a blessing. We need Christmas this year. More importantly we need ‘God’s Christmas!’
God has a way of helping us to see things differently, better, more hopeful and with a full measure of peace. His kind of peace…
Long will the world remember 2020. I must tell you one ‘unique’ Christmas gift I am getting. While I sincerely appreciate this Christmas gift, I hope and pray I never ever get another one like it. I am receiving an ornament for my Christmas tree at home. Yes indeed, tomorrow morning I will open this gift and have full disclosure, well in advance of what it is. My new, one and only Christmas tree ornament is made of ceramic. There are two Santa faces on this ornament resting upon the letters 2020. What’s so ‘unique about this particular ornament for this ‘special’ year is this; those two Santa Claus faces have my name and my beloved’s name written on them. Those two Santa Claus’s have a red tassel cap and white beards. Those two Santa Claus faces are covered by….a mask! Those numbers I mentioned underneath the Santa Claus face; 2020; the first number ‘2’ is red, the ‘0’ is green, the second number ‘2’ is red, the second ‘0’ is not really a ‘O’. Rather it is a roll of toilet paper, partially unraveled. At the end of the unravel is a small bottle of ‘push lever’ hand sanitizer…Never seen anything like it. Hoping I never see one again.
Some say 2020 was a disaster we need to eventually ‘come home’ from. Others see blessings.
This time last year our Christmas Eve service was well attended. This year, we had to open up our adjoining Chapel to make room for; “Social Distancing.” It’s a blessing to see our Chapel opened once again on Christmas Eve. Last year we had both a chancel choir and a bell choir. There has been no chancel choir in this church since last March or early April due to our need for proper social distancing. Tonight, we appreciate the ringing of the bells and musical selections from a deeper set of values inside us all.
Last year we came to church, sang Silent Night by Candlelight, and put everything away for another year. When we dug out the candles for tonight’s Christmas Eve service we did so with hope, anticipation, and thanksgiving unto God. Last year I was fully honored to preach the Christmas Eve message, publish a few copies of my manuscript and rest assured I had done my best. Since early April, each and every week, including tonight’s Christmas Eve worship service, the weekly sermon is preached, video-taped, sent out by US mail, via email, through You Tube and hand delivered, allowing God’s message to reach more people than ever before. I for one am so very grateful for that.
I like ‘coming home’ to God. They say, “Home is where the heart is.” Our faith ‘home’ has well carried us through the dire challenges of 2020. Tonight, it just feels ‘right’ to make our way ‘home’ to God’s church, to the Holy Family, to the trust we invest in God’s provisions and future answers to our most enormous questions, fears, and doubts.
2020 has been described by some as a year of darkness. Hear afresh tonight’s scriptures; “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. God has enlarged the nation and increased our joy.” (Isaiah 9:2,3)
The Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke could be viewed from one angle as a disaster but from another angle it seems to be a blessing. Imagine with me tonight, what it might have been like for Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary starting out on an eighty-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. What a difficult trip it must have been. Every step was another movement AWAY from ‘home’ in Nazareth. Once they arrive in Bethlehem there is seemingly no place to call ‘home’ at the local inns. So, they do their best to make ‘home’ a stall with the animals out back. Surely, Mary must have yearned to be back ‘home’ with her family for the delivery. Even her surroundings were now quite unfamiliar. There they were, Mary and Joseph far from home, alone, not knowing a single person and their precious little son, this child whom the angel Gabriel assured Mary would rule his kingdom in such a manner that it would never ever end, her precious longed-for child was born in less than hygienic and comfortable surroundings….Oh, by the way, they did have some ‘visitors’. Cattle, oxen, and a few rough looking smelly shepherds came down from the hillside. No dignitaries. No parents, relatives, or dear family friends. No mid wife nor familiar physician.
Consider more deeply some ‘good news’ associated with this far away from home birth…To this day it symbolizes and speaks to us that God shares His good news, ‘speaks’ His good news, ‘calls’ His good news in a special way to the poor, despised, and outcasts of society, even to lowly shepherds tending their sheep on lonely hilltops.
You were not alone either during 2020 when the familiar, the normal, all that we had previously known as ‘home’ was called into question, compromised, and sometimes even feared.
Now we are making our way home. Part of our job, our Christian responsibility in doing so, is to learn from Joseph and Mary’s example, trust those prophetic words of Holy Scripture from the Book of Isaiah and allow God Almighty to lead us.
The world was humbled when Jesus Christ was born. I do declare, this COVID-19___0 19 disaster, this world-wide pandemic has further humbled us all. For many, if not most ‘home’ just might be considered a return to normal… leastwise what we felt ‘normal’ was.
Like Mary and Joseph of old, even when we return to some semblance of ‘home’ it shall be different. We are now forever changed.
Viewing people from masks has made a mark on us. Those of us who wear glasses have grown in that lousy awareness that they ‘steam up’ when you breathe through your mask. Oh, but now we no longer just ‘assume’ who we see each day. Not our families, friends, health care workers nor even strangers among us. We have grown to be aware in a more appreciative way.
Out of necessity we value life more and appreciate ‘getting through’ ill health, especially that attributable to COVID-19.
God has well shown us through the years that ‘appreciation’ is an attribute, a necessity for making our way home. There is now a new and fresher ‘light’ shining in the world’s darkness. Even beyond our own darkness.
At first it felt like such a disaster when we could no longer do ‘what we wanted to’ nor ‘when we wanted to’ nor ‘with who we wanted to,’ for COVID-19 19 required shutdowns, restrictions and scores of protective measures. Now we live in a world that is far less ‘entitled’ and far more humbling.
This Christmas: God’s Christmas is about making our way home. Go home tonight and be close to those you love. Sleep in humble, heavenly peace. Trust now, with hope, that God will see us through. Know that your life will never be the same, but it can become better, more Godly, far more loving.
God alone has a way of making disasters blessings. Joseph and Mary did not understand that at first, but they grew into it as they made their way back home. So, will you. So, shall I.
God’s Holy Word teaches us on this Holy Night that our true home is with Him in heaven. Many a good soul we have known and loved are right now with God experiencing the best Christmas ever. Sometimes you sort of get a ‘feel’ for that home of ours in heaven when you pause, light a candle, and sing Silent Night. God comes to us tonight asking for the gift of our hearts. Guiding us by His Holy light to be, to further become a ‘home’ for those others who are making their way home.
With the angels let us sing…Amen
Sermon Message for Saturday, December 19, 2020 & Sunday, December 20, 2020
Prayer For Illumination: O Lord, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, and strength to follow on the path you set before us; through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Luke 1:26-38 (Page 1025) & 1 John 4:7-12 (Page 1230)
Sermon Message: “Heaven is Calling”
It’s nearly Christmas! Don’t you just love this time of year? Songs of angels and stories about heaven coming down to earth. Children, grandchildren, and lots of adults gaining in excitement and wondrous anticipation of Christmas. Our gifts reflect our love and our welcoming of Jesus Christ in our lives, our homes, and His church.
Love comes down from heaven. God sent his angel, Gabriel, from heaven, to call upon a young Jewish girl by the name of Mary. I’m not sure if you are interested in the meaning of people’s names or not. The ancients placed importance upon the naming of their children knowing their ‘name’ represented their dreams, hopes, and perhaps inspired awareness for their children’s lives.
The name ‘Mary’ signifies exalted. Recall from our religious education that Mary was a humble young woman. ‘Life’, back then, caused folks to remain humble. People were keenly aware that life was brief, all sorts of illnesses and horrific diseases, such as leprosy, could easily afflict anybody. Death was a common visitor. Mary was also likely aware of folks who exalt themselves; filled with pride and self-centeredness. Religion was strongly about appearances instead of an indication of sincere faith and heart-felt actions. Many looked at their ‘lot in life’ and appealed to their government, their religion, their leaders for more provision as well as further protection. Far too few looked beyond ‘self’ to the ‘greater picture’ the larger ‘view’ and ‘calling from heaven’ to see, hear, listen for the wisdom, the greater vision and awareness of the will of God and the Almighty’s guidance for life and love benefitting generations to come.
Mary did not ‘see’ herself as some ‘pure and righteous’ soul. In her humble nature Mary wondered and sometimes pondered how strange it is that God should love impure dust and ashes. We too should affirm and humble our spirits to heaven’s call that we are also to remember ‘from dust we have come and unto dust we shall return.’
Mary knew something special in her ‘expanding faith’ that we would do well to affirm and incorporate within our hearts and souls. It was this basic knowledge, this spiritual revelation, heaven’s call upon our spirits: God loved us FIRST.
I’ve listened to people speak of love for one another and to one another. I hear husbands and wives, and parents and children sometimes say, “I love you!” Quickly the other responds, “I love you more!” Another ‘love statement’ is, “I love you to the Moon and back!” Folks, that’s awesome and meaningful love! Hear again God’s good news. Receive it into your heart. Perhaps it shall even ‘humble’ your soul into such a ‘state’ as was Mary. God’s declaration to us all, right here, right now, and for all of our ‘tomorrows’ and that of our children and our children’s children is this message from the Almighty, “I loved you first.” The psalmist declares, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well.” -Psalm 139:13,14.
Heaven is calling to remind us of not only where we hope to be going, but also quite importantly, where we have come from. God gave us life. God gave life to this world in a new and special way when He sent the angel Gabriel from heaven to announce unto Mary that she was being called from heaven to carry life, a LIFE that would change the world. Heaven is still calling us to God’s design, plan, and purpose for our lives.
Angels, unlike pizza delivery drivers, don’t ring doorbells or knock before entering. That seems to be the general policy throughout scripture, and it is probably for the best.
Think about it. . . if Mary had one of those fancy video doorbells, do you think she would have opened the door? Imagine waking up late at night and spotting an angel at your front door. The angel would not even have the chance to utter his famous opening line: “Do not be afraid.” If Gabriel had knocked, he may have received the same treatment any of us might give to the sales rep pedaling vinyl windows.
But Gabriel is not God’s direct marketing agent. He does not appear to be offering an investment opportunity or selling cleaning products or vinyl windows. In fact, Gabriel is not selling anything. Confused and bewildered, Mary’s only question is about logistics. “How can this be?” she asks. Mary had good reason to ‘ponder.’
There are questions we may be ‘pondering’ as well. Far reaching questions. Just this week we see on the news and hear further reports that people are rolling up their sleeves and being injected with a vaccine against a disease no one even knew existed last December. Millions do not trust in the vaccine, which has received emergency approval from the FDA. There are good reasons why trust has not been earned among some groups. Like Mary, many are pondering.
Luke’s story reminds us that Gabriel is not sent to recruit Mary. Instead, she is summoned to believe in the impossible, and called to trust a message far more complex than anything we can imagine. Her trust must go beyond trusting that the coronavirus vaccine is safe. It must go beyond trusting that the government’s intentions are honorable. This isn’t about accepting election results; it is about accepting her election by God. Mary’s consent must go beyond our innate illusions of invulnerability.
Mary is called to trust in the old, old story of God’s steadfast covenant. She is called to trust in the inscrutable way God works in the world. It is the way that God worked through her soon to be husband’s ancestor David. Closer to home, it is the same way her cousin Elizabeth was called to trust.
This Advent, angels will not be knocking on our doors. But when they show up, they will bring God’s message. Like Mary, we too might be pondering today: how can this be?
Mostly when we consider Mary’s response, we might equate her inquiry with being a form of doubt, disbelief, and at minimum, some form of confusion. Mary was a soul that pondered. I inquire of you to ponder in your soul today Mary’s response “How can this be?” perhaps NOT the language of distrust but of a desire to be further instructed? Friends, it’s OK to wonder. It’s solid that we too should ponder our faith as well as our faith responses to heaven’s call.
‘Trust’ is huge! An endeavor for every generation of people with God, one another and sometimes even with those whom we love the most. Trust becomes a part of every ‘love.’ Trust is foundational for love to come, to exist and to continue. Yet trust is not easily earned. Even during a global pandemic.
Millions of doses of the corona virus vaccine are making their way across our country and into the arms of many fellow citizens. I believe the government refers to this as “Project Warp Speed.” Eventually, distribution efforts associated with the vaccine may become more complex than Santa Claus’ annual trek across the globe. Already we are learning of reports regarding the mixed trust from the public regarding these vaccines.
Like Mary of old, many are pondering and wondering. Some are even doubting and skeptical.
Angels may not be knocking at our doors this Advent. But they may show up as healthcare workers prepared to inject us with hope. When it is ‘our turn’ the message may seem startling to us as well. We also may be pondering and inquiring “How can this be?”
Is our response to any of heaven’s calling the language of distrust or our desire to be further instructed?
Do remember that just a year ago, way before stay at home orders, face masks and social distancing were on our radars, Dr. Anthony Fauci made it clear that effective vaccines are imperative to public health. In December of 2019 Fauci wrote, “Misinformation is threatening to erode the public’s trust in vaccines.”
Admittedly trust issues remain a grave concern in a time of despairing bipartisan politics, increasing negative Corona virus afflictions plus deaths, generations of racial injustice issues and a fearful changing economy. Increasing numbers suffer from ‘Food insecurity.” These concerns need to continually be addressed. A new administration and a hopeful vaccine will not ‘clear up’ everything. Nor did the angel Gabriel’s visit set everything right for now or forever.
Mary came to realize that which we too realize; heaven is calling but we must believe.
Beyond statistics and beyond fears and ponderings we must choose anew to invest in love. For love came down from heaven in the form of a baby, tiny, innocent, and wrapped in hope for one, for all, forever.
Is God ‘so loving us’ now that He is sending us hope?
God loved us FIRST, and God loves us STILL. Love is natural and essential to the divine Majesty. For GOD IS LOVE.
Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, and we are born of God and know God.
Heaven is calling us to love in deeper and more meaningful ways then perhaps we previously needed to. Others need the love of our help and the help from our love.
Pray to the God who loves you. Speak with the people who share God’s love with you. Seek discernment for trust regarding vaccines, care of others, praying for our government, supporting our beloved church, and perhaps being an angel as well as an agent of trust.
Sermon Message for Saturday, December 12, 2020 & Sunday, December 13, 2020
Prayer For Illumination: Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Luke 1: 46-55 (Page 1025) & 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (Page 1189)
Sermon Message: ‘Joy in Your Soul’
Last week I shared with you in the sermon message some scriptures I have memorized. I affirm they are written on my heart. Those scriptures were the Apostle Paul’s inspired words to the Philippians. Chapter 4, verses 4-7. “Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again, rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but instead pray about everything. And the peace of God that passes all understanding will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.”
“Rejoice in the Lord always,” sounds quite similar to today’s scriptural reference to “Rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
When I woke up this morning, placed my feet on the floor, and looked outside, I WAS able to say, “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it!” (Exclamation point at the end of my sentence). However, just a few days ago I awoke, and my leg was giving me pain, the day looked cold, dull, and dreary. There was ice forming and freezing rain turning to snow, coming down. That day I found myself saying “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it?” (Question mark at the end of my sentence.)
I don't know that I've ever met anyone who was genuinely able to be joyful always; to pray continually; and to give thanks in all circumstances. It just doesn't sound human, although it does sound saintly. Perhaps those who are so close to God that the Almighty fills their inner being, really are able to be joyful always; to pray continually; and to give thanks in all circumstances. The rest of us are bound to have ‘off days’ once in a while. And according to our personalities, some of us will be "off" more often than others.
In the Bible, Mary ‘sings’ of a joy felt in the depths of her being “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”
Perhaps if we find ourselves to be in a more ‘humble state’ we shall experience some degree of this ‘joy’ which Mary and the Apostle Paul testify to. Those two, I must say, had ‘joy in their souls!’ I’d like you to have that too. I certainly wouldn’t mind receiving more joy as a nurturing spiritual present this Advent season. Let’s try considering some degrees of joy, some sincere elements of joy we have or may still experience.
Young Mary found herself to be pregnant, but not in the usual way. She was conceived by the Holy Spirit while engaged to be married to Joseph. Becoming pregnant to anyone but your beloved spouse back then was unacceptable. Social standards disapproved. Spiritual laws condemned. Women who became pregnant beyond the acceptable means could be stoned to death.
Our standards today are extremely ‘relaxed’ in comparison to those effecting Mary in her world. Upon initial awareness and review Mary surely must have felt extremely challenged to ‘rejoice.’
This past week 16 Pastoral letters were sent out to various families of our church. I compose such ‘Blue Christmas’ letters and mail them to families who have lost loved ones over the course of the past year. I offer, care, prayer, support and some practical guidance as well as spiritual care and comfort. Upon our first awareness of sad and perhaps dire circumstances, it’s extremely challenging to rejoice when it’s your first Christmas without a special loved one.
Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel and shown, that God was with her. Gabriel informed Mary that she would be blessed, remembered and give birth to the Son of God.
While it is a ‘Blue Christmas’ for more than 16 families acquainted with our church there remains divine intervention to bring hope, to extend God’s peace, and to afford Christian joy. God the Father in heaven sent us His Son on Christmas day in the form of a baby in a manger. Pure innocent love came down from heaven to us. Trust that our loved ones in heaven are now with Jesus experiencing pure innocent love, perfect health and peace like none other. Further pray for those you may know who are ‘blue’ this time of year. Covid-19 has caused anxiety and promoted depression in many a good souls. Many have felt the effects of this ongoing pandemic. When Jesus Christ was born the political environment was self serving instead of people oriented. This ongoing pandemic, political unrest, and loss, calls to question the spiritual directive placed upon our souls to “Rejoice always.”
A visit from God, divine intervention in Mary’s life, did bring hope, extended peace and promoted a resounding joy. Mary couldn’t contain herself. She went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. They did not set down together for a cup of coffee or tea…Nor did they share a small glass of wine as might be customary in the day. Mary could only SING! Today’s words of Holy Scripture located in Luke 1:46-55 are known as the “Magnificat.” They were a song of joy from the heart of Mary!
Have YOU ever experienced something sacred that caused you to sing? Some scholars affirm that Mary could hear music and the words just blended.
Every now and then in a believer’s life we can hear music sent from above and perhaps felt within. Those moments and occasions are special. Some more notable than others. One week ago Friday, just prior to folks arriving for our Living Nativity a few of us paused and pondered. The respectful knowledge of fifty years that our church has been sharing in the Living Nativity was moving within, to say the least. More importantly though, I found myself and others just quietly respecting, some even swaying a bit as we too felt cradled by God’s presence. I cannot suggest that others ‘heard music’ or not during those quiet pre-carillon moments but I sure did. It’s a common music that floods my soul and brings deep felt joy to my being during other sacred times as well. Softly and gently I felt it. My soul heard it, reverberating within; “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”
Sometimes I ‘hear’ that music when I look out at this worshipping congregation, when I bow at the funeral home or cemetery to commit a loved one’s soul back to heaven. Oh there have been those precious moments when I held my sleeping child and now my grandchildren. Even when I witness my beloved wife breathing in peaceful deep sleep. Countless are the times when music floods my soul following a time of counseling with a troubled soul. Blessed do I feel when I hear God’s music as I step down from this pulpit or stand behind our sacred communion table to administer the Sacrament. When I place the waters of baptism on the head of a child or even an adult, desiring to be known, loved, protected and saved by Christ, something inside of me sings. I pray you keep your spirit open and receptive to the presence of the sacred even during the most challenging of times.
We continue to learn a lot from Mary, from the joy in her soul. Review again and study Mary’s song found in today’s Holy Scripture lesson. Like Mary, when God visits us in His myriad of ways, we too tend to have low thoughts of our merits and high thoughts of God’s favours.
Mary went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. She went to have her faith confirmed. That’s something we do by coming together for ‘church,’ for worship each week. God nurtures us during worship, we confirm faith with one another. This weekly gathering brings joy to the soul.
Advent means coming. Jesus is coming still. God’s Christmas is now just a few weeks away. Christmas is not complete without Easter nor is Easter complete without Christmas. Each year I encourage us all to decorate our trees with at least one cross, reminding us of the fact, that deep spiritual knowledge, Jesus Christ was born, He lived, He died, He rose again from the dead. The grave did not hold him. Nor does the darkest and most trying challenges quench our salvation nor extinguish the joy in our soul altogether.
Mary affirmed in song; “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”
Soon my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, soon, there shall come further joy in our soul. Soon there shall come music that many will hear from heaven. God has been mindful of the humble state of our world, our nation, this church, community and our spirits regarding all that has challenged and restricted us this past year. If anything will bring change to this world-wide pandemic and contentious political environment it shall be a true state of humility. God calls upon the world to be humble. Readily any soul might contribute their thoughts regarding how humbling it has been to wear masks, practice social distancing and bear with this pandemic for nearly a year. The Lord seeks to hear from us, not so much what we may feel entitled to but more so what we shall reverently call upon Him to complete in this His world. We must pray for God’s guidance upon our government and our leaders. God historically has dealt with kings, rogue rulers and dictators. As found within Mary’s song; “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. We have also felt joy in our souls when leaders have served the people instead of mainly themselves.
What is it that your soul hungers and thirsts for? Peace? Justice? Salvation? Hope? Goodness. Hear again Mary’s song; “He has filled the hungry with good things. He has helped His servant, remembering to be merciful, just as he promised our ancestors.”
If we ‘present’ ourselves to God rest assured God will send ‘presents’ much needed ‘presents’ into our world that shall bring joy to our soul.
Mary ‘pondered’ things in her heart. In closing I wish to share with you something I’ve pondered in my heart for over 30 years. I shall also share with you the related joy in my soul. My kid is in her mid thirties. When she was growing up her babysitter; Alice, attended a fundamentalist church. Each summer Alice inquired if it would be OK for Bonnie to go to their Vacation Bible School. Initially this was a lot of fun for Bonnie. I remember the first time my little girl came home and told me “Daddy I was saved tonight. I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart and soul!” The second night Bonnie came home and said the same thing. Every night that week she came home and was ‘re-saved.’ The following year Bonnie was invited to attend the same Vacation Bible School and she again came home being ‘saved’ each night. At one point she said to me, “Dad, you are a minister. Do I have to get ‘saved’ every night? Am I really that bad of a soul?” We had a nice long talk and Bonnie ‘progressed’ away from that Vacation Bible School. HOWEVER, there did come a time a while later, maybe a year or two later when Bonnie approached me about her salvation and knowing Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. This was neither a coerced nor youthful process on her part. My child changed forever. Now here is the joy in my soul; I know to this very moment that this beautiful person, whom I perceived with amazement when she was born, knows Jesus Christ and always shall. Should I die tomorrow my child’s soul shall live faithfully now and into eternity. There is no greater joy in one’s soul than the joy of salvation.
Mary and the Apostle Paul teach us well how to have ‘joy in our soul.’ Strive to rejoice always and do pray continually. Give thanks to God for in all circumstances we can rest assured God is working together for the good of our soul. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, December 5, 2020 & Sunday, December 6, 2020
Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, in you are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Open our eyes that we may see the wonders of your Word; and give us grace that we may clearly understand and freely choose the way of your wisdom; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 40:1-11 (Page 718) and Mark 1:1-8 (Page 1001)
Sermon Message: “Communion & Peace”
The first scripture lesson from Isaiah 40 begins with the words; “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” Within our approaching and unveiling Christmas season one might draw comparison to a song of the season; “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Specifically, to the chorus; “O Tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.”
The second scripture lesson from Mark 1 reaffirms that God will send a messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way AND prepare the way for the Lord. The word “messenger” in the Bible could mean a prophet, a specific person or group of people, OR it could also mean an angel. Messengers sent from God might remind us of some familiar Christmas music such as “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
Comfort and angels are appreciated. Both call us towards closer communion with God. Both enjoin us to know peace.
Throughout history God has sent messengers to communicate His wisdom, His will, His comfort, joy, peace and protection, as well as His love.
While I am no angel, I do remain one of God’s messengers. Perhaps the good Lord has also called upon you to ‘message’ another with something from God…
This reminds me of a story I once read regarding a fellow who was sent by God to ‘message’ another. The one he was sent to ‘message’ was a very belligerent fellow. I don’t know if the good Lord has ever enlisted your help or not to deal with someone who is belligerent but listen briefly to this story and see if it just might make you ‘think!’ Gaylord Kambarami, the general secretary of the Bible Society in Zimbabwe, tried to give a New Testament to a very belligerent man. The man insisted he would roll the pages and use them to make cigarettes. Mr. Kambarami said, “I understand that, but at least promise to read the page of the New Testament before you smoke it.” The man agreed, and the two went their separate ways.
Fifteen years later, the two men met at a convention in Zimbabwe. The Scripture-smoking pagan had been saved and was now a full-time evangelist. He told the audience, “I smoked Matthew, and I smoked Mark, and I smoked Luke. But when I got to John 3:16, I couldn’t smoke anymore. My life was changed from that moment.”
God’s book is more than just words on paper. Its truth will stand forever.
There is communion, comfort, and peace to be found in God’s Word, the Bible.
One of the many things I encourage and ‘message’ folks to do is memorize scriptures. Easily enough these days we can ‘call up’ a daily devotion on our phones and computers. When seeking an appropriate scripture verse for whatever subject might be needing our attention and response we can simply “google” the subject and corresponding scripture verse. I’ve even seen some folks have scriptural references tattooed on their bodies.
But it wasn’t always that way. Long before the technology of today, prior to mass production of texts, well before the advent of paper, people wrote on papyrus. It was a pithy water plant used for making rope, sandals, boats and also for either painting on or writing upon. The ancients often wore a strip of folded papyrus that had a prayer or a scripture written on it. These were meant to protect or to heal the individual wearing them. Kind of like a charm to protect from evil and injury. Also known as ‘amulets.’
Somewhere in the late third or early fourth century an amulet recorded these words; “Read ‘The beginning of the Good News’ and See!” This was followed by the words of the first two verses of the Gospel of Mark. “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,” as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.,”—a voice of one calling in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”
During the time of Jesus’ birth and life here on earth he wore swaddling clothes and a white robe. At the same time, his cousin; John the Baptist wore clothing made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. Folks of the third and fourth century often wore folded strips of papyrus with guiding words of scripture imprinted. These ‘amulets’ were believed to be worn around a person’s wrist and palm of their hand. You and I wear Christian jewelry such as Cross necklaces, Cross earrings and some even bear Christian tattoos. All of these items symbolize the spiritual call and communion with Christ to ‘prepare the way.’
Today, as never before, we need our way prepared for us. Tomorrow, more than ever, we need to prepare the way of the Lord. We need communion and we need peace.
‘Communion’ may be thought of as the bread and wine combined with spirituality we share through Jesus Christ. “Communion’ further means spiritual fellowship, sharing faith and Christian bonds.
“Peace” may be thought of as the absence of war, an agreement to end hostilities, freedom from fighting and disagreeing, but also calm, serenity and what we term ‘peace of mind.’ The Bible speaks of Peace With God and the Peace OF God. ‘Peace’ in the Bible refers, in part, to a mental attitude of tranquility based on a relationship with God in the Christian way of life. There is a personal peace with God which comes when a person accepts Jesus Christ as Savior. There is the peace OF God which is available on a daily basis as the believer participates in the Christian way of life according to the plan of God.
In the Christian Way of life, peace comes through fellowship with God and daily growth, advancement in spiritual things which brings stability, a relaxed mental attitude, orientation to the plan of God, occupation with Christ, and the ability to employ faith-rest principles in all areas of life.
Consider one aspect of God’s ‘faith-rest principles’ we all can apply to our lives for communion, comfort and peace. Holy Scripture. The apostle Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious (do not worry) about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7) Personally speaking, I have these very words imprinted on my heart, committed to memory and etched on my soul.
The blessed apostle goes on to say; “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. “Philippians 4: 8-9)
Have you perceived in your communion with the Lord, God sends blessings and God also sends peace? More often we seek the blessings which we believe will lead us towards peace. In the spiritual way of communion God most often leads a heart, a mind, a soul towards peace first. That takes place so the believer can appreciate the blessings, the communion which follows.
Lack of peace or loss of peace requires an adjustment to the plan of God. As the Bible points out foundationally that includes repentance for the forgiveness of sins and baptism into a new and changed life. Peace begins with confession of our sins and also confession of Jesus Christ as being our Lord and Savior. When we commune with Jesus in these ways and in sacramental ways we shall experience faith-rest, a relaxed mental attitude, and spiritual peace in the new situation.
Love was not placed in your heart to stay but to be given away, to be shared. Peace stems from spiritual communion. We all know, communion was always meant to be reproduced and shared with many.
Today’s sacrament of Communion prepares the way for the believer to be drawn closer to Jesus Christ. It begins, per usual, with an invitation to prepare for peace to be found, restored and experienced. We are invited to repent of our sins and become further baptized into a new way of life with God through Jesus and Christian teachings.
Isaiah cried out, “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people. Speak tenderly….” This reminds me of still another Christian hymn; “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling.” Come home now to communion. Come home this Advent/Christmas season to peace. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, November 28, 2020 & Sunday, November 29, 2020
Prayer For Illumination: Guiding God, without the presence of your Holy Spirit, we are hopelessly lost on this Advent journey. Come to us in this place as we gather to hear your Word. Open our hearts to receive your Word and our minds to understand it. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Mark 13:24-37, Page 1018; Hebrews 10:23-25, Page 1211
Sermon Message: “What Are We Hoping For?”
God wants us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” God further inspires us to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.”
Are you ‘hoping’ for a white Christmas? I am hoping for Covid-19 vaccines to start becoming available in the next few weeks. I am hoping that the numbers of cases and the numbers of deaths will go down sooner then that. I am hoping for the hand of God to move in this current Presidential transition occurring in our land. I am hoping, and praying, that God will use even the most challenging of people and circumstances to bring about His kind of reform inside of our world, our nation and within each of us.
I am hoping that you, and me, will perceive the reign of God in 2021. I am hoping for our anchors to come, to strengthen, to guide us, to save us from further hurt, pain and suffering.
A prevailing attribute of the reign of God, an anchor for our soul is the characteristic of humility. If 2020 has taught us anything then we should be hoping for a true and sincere spirit of humility to come. Jesus Christ is the most humble person we know. May we pray to be more like Him but also to learn to depend upon Him, perhaps more then ever in our lifetimes. Scriptures remain clear; “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10). Easily enough as the answers come for Covid-19, for Presidential elections and as we anticipate Christmas gifts, any of us can begin slipping backwards into feelings and attitudes of pride and entitlement. Thanksgiving Day may be over but the season of giving thanks remains year round. God expects gratitude, humble gratitude, coupled with humble and sincere actions on our part. Let’s hope to remain humble and where needed to become humble. This is both a faith anchor and a life anchor.
I am hoping that people will be more kind. The reign of God in this world, inside of each of us, ‘shows up’ in humility, kindness, healing, feeding, tending, visiting and justice.
The Bible teaches us how to live not only good lives and moral lives but also spiritual lives in close association with God Almighty. “Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (I John 4:7).
It’s not wrong to hope for more love to be ushered in through more kindness. Be kind for sometimes, the Good Book declares, we are “entertaining angels unaware.” (Hebrews 13: 2)
Lots of pain and suffering occurred in diverse forms during 2020. We who are Christians have an on-going responsibility to bring hope into people’s lives. Another way we can do that is to bring healing. Denial, apathy and anger heals no one and nothing. You say a prayer asking God to show you how you might do your part to help others, even our nation and oh so many Covid-19 victims, and I promise you God will answer your prayers.
There remains a lot of hungry people in the world who are hoping to be fed, someway, somehow. Their quest for nourishment is not just for food and water, clothing and shelter, but also for peace and trust following a year of fear. You who are spiritual feed others with the hope that stems from faith. God knows you can do it if you try.
Jesus is known as the Good Shepherd. He once said; “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17) “Feeding God’s sheep, those who need God the most but seem to lack an ability to come close and relate to God, need some ‘tending.’ Recall when you were needing and benefitted from being ‘tended to.’ ‘Tending’ is a spiritual quality that brings hope.
In these days of social distancing and government guidelines plus advisories to limit our gatherings, there has been a steady and sadly hurtful rise in loneliness and just simply missing others. Visit one another. Neither by breaking the rules nor by ignoring the guidelines, but again I say, you pray about God providing creative ways for you to visit someone who just might benefit or even truly need a visit and God will certainly answer your prayers.
What ARE we hoping for? God’s Word teaches us “the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Holy Spirit intercedes with God on our behalf.” (Romans 8:26,27). Prayer leads to hope and hope calls us to prayer.
Sometimes in a believer’s life you just ‘feel’ as though something is wrong. Something is just not right. Perhaps you cannot exactly ‘put your finger on it’ yet you know, something or someone needs to be prayed for, prayed about. We need the anchor of prayer when and where justice isn’t being conducted. It is good to hope for justice. Our ‘hope’ can begin with prayer, should begin with prayer, then conversing with others, seeking the Lord’s wisdom, turning to our shared faith, reading, reviewing and reflecting on God’s Word and taking a well discerned course of action.
What is it that we are hoping for? Though we speak of His Second Coming and anticipate celebrating His birth once again this year at Christmas, we are currently living within the reign of the Risen Christ. The reign of God remains an anchor for our greatest and even for our gravest of hopes.
Today is the first week in the church season of Advent. Some of the themes or topics we will be reflecting upon these next four weeks include hope, peace, love and joy. Each week, as worship begins, we will light another candle in the Advent wreath. The candle of hope, the candle of peace, the candle of love, the candle of joy and on Christmas Eve, the center Christ candle. This is a familiar tradition we tend to follow. Lots of folks are ‘hoping’ for traditions to take place once again this year. However, with Covid-19 advisories and restrictions our coveted traditions are somewhat compromised. Let’s be a bit more ‘real’ here; the season of Advent is rather strange in the year 2020.
Last year at this time we were not so concerned with wearing masks, social distancing and frequent washing of our hands. This year I think you and I can confidently expect a spike in Covid-19 infections starting about ten days from now. Allegheny County is currently experiencing a spike however; the ‘news’ reports there are still hospital beds available in Intensive Care Units.
Here in our church we shall continue practicing social distancing, wearing of masks and frequent washing/disinfecting of hands. Did you know we even have to be careful with the proper use of the “candle lighter thingies?”
Society seems to be hoping for our President to accept reality and for Covid-19 vaccines to become widely available.
God informs us, in His Word, to be hoping for Jesus to come and to hold on to the ‘hope’ we profess in our shared Christian faith.
The world had been ‘hoping’ for a Messiah to come, to help them, to make things better and perhaps ‘right’ years prior to the birth of Jesus Christ.
We share a somewhat similar ‘hope’ for our Messiah to come, for Jesus Christ to help us, to make things better and perhaps right.
This season of Advent is a countdown to Christmas. But have you noticed that even our countdown of shopping days until Christmas is compromised this year? Traditionally the malls would be occupied to overflowing. On-line purchasing prevails this Christmas season.
Advent and what makes Christmas ‘Christmas’ will be different this year. We are indeed hoping and longing for something, anything that can lead us to “peace on earth, goodwill to all.” Our typical insights and epiphanies of “The Reason for the Season” may be in short supply.
In this long season of Covid-19 we are indeed hoping for successful vaccines to become available right up to the time of God’s Christmas and beyond. The 2020 Presidential election turned out to be quite a long deliberation. Many are now becoming ‘hopeful’ for a smooth transition between all those who govern. While we need this kind of hope more importantly we need that kind of hope that comes into our world as an infant. Hope that grows and spreads and feeds us even in our despair and confusion. We need the hope of Christ’s coming in the here and now.
May our hopes become our prayers this Advent season. Pray that our Congress will pass some further sort of economic relief package. Many folk’s unemployment benefits are scheduled to run out right after Christmas.
Jesus Christ was born a baby in a manger. Innocent love has always brought hope to anyone’s soul. Search for that love in the midst of this Advent/Christmas season. Seek the Lord’s presence in every area of your life through prayer. Pray daily. Pray sincerely. Pray specifically. Then listen. Listen well. Listen attentively. God will come.
Since Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, we have been waiting for His Second Coming. Today’s scripture lessons are a pointed reminder and directive to hope for the Lord’s return. In accordance with the first recording of those scriptural affirmations people back then really believed Jesus Christ would return to earth again within their life times. Generations have come and gone and still Christ has not returned in a glorious Second coming. Gradually we have needed to accept that His Second Coming may not occur within our life times either. Each generation of people, similar to us, sees catastrophic events, experiences dire circumstances and issues forth declarations that ‘now’ would be a good time for Jesus Christ to return to earth. Those who suffer the most perhaps pray the hardest for that event to occur.
Advent is a season of hoping, waiting and anticipating. Advent marks the beginning of the Church Year. The word ‘Advent’ means, “coming;” but what is it exactly that we are hoping and waiting for?
Many are simply hoping for 2020 to be over. I don’t think anyone could count the numbers of Facebook posts and ironic observations about the year 2020. Remember, we experienced the first worldwide pandemic in more than 100 years. We’ve had a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, unprecedented wildfires in the American West, a rough recession, stock market upheavals and quite awkward elections.
The comfort and joy many are hoping for may be in imagining that when we turn the calendar from 2020 some kind of ‘reset’ will occur within the universe. I am kind of hoping for a time when we will no longer need to speak of terms like “lock down,” “quarantine,” “social distancing” and the news of the day being a blur.
Throughout human kind’s history with God we’ve seen and well appreciated the hand of God upon us, the Spirit of the Lord among us and the love and faith of the Savior inside of us. God has been good about sending signs, messages and answers to provide us with much needed hope. That hope showed up in Biblical accounts of prophets sent to communicate God’s answers and guidance to our heaviest situations. The presence of prophets is still among us. Leastwise we see, through the eyes of our hearts, God’s wisdom for living, trusting and hoping. Praise God for “HOPE!” Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, November 21, 2020 & Sunday, November 22, 2020
Thanksgiving & Christ the King Emphasis
Prayer For Illumination: God, source of all light, by your Word, you give light to the soul. Pour out on us the spirit of wisdom and understanding, that our hearts and minds may be opened to know your truth and your way. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Matthew 25:31-46, page 994 and Ephesians 1:15-23, page 1173.
Sermon Message: “ThanksGiving/ThanksLiving”
The apostle Paul writes; “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” “Seeing” with and through the ‘eyes of our heart’ will give us the best Thanksgiving ever. For through faith, ‘thanksgiving is thanks living.’
Thanksgiving is something all of the world can see and experience. Thanks Living comes from faith affirmed and put into action…
Today is Christ the King Sunday, in the Christian Church. Today is the Sunday just prior to Thanksgiving throughout the land. Common to us all is the heritage, the history, the memories we associate with our National holiday.
I remember in my growing up years doing some similar things that I see our Day Care children doing here in our church. Perhaps you recall drawing an outline around your spread-out fingers to form the shape of a turkey on colored paper…Those paper turkeys would be colored with crayons, eyes and beaks added to them, and perhaps even our names written on them.
Possibly you also recall learning of those early Pilgrims having a thanksgiving meal with the Native American Indians they befriended. Thank God for helpers then and now. President Abraham Lincoln instituted Thanksgiving as a national holiday when our country was going through its greatest adversity with the Civil War. Speaking of wars, the hymn; ‘Now Thank We All Our God’ was written by Martin Rinkhart while he was serving as pastor in Germany during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), in a city that was besieged a couple of times, struck by plague, etc. At times that pastor had to perform up to 50 funerals a day!
Jesus’ parable concerning the sheep and the goats has often times been used as a proverbial ‘club’ over people’s souls to condemn them while reminding them of their guilt associated with NOT doing as they should. Yet a further understanding and awareness of this teaching parable of Jesus Christ is the insight from the Lord that to whom much is given, much is required.
The Church season of Advent starts next week. The word, ‘Advent’ means ‘coming.’ Throughout this approaching Advent season, we shall spiritually reflect upon the ‘advent’ the ‘coming’ of Christ as the Incarnation. Today’s scriptural reading from the Gospel of Matthew may well be perceived as an admonishment. I inquire of us to further ‘perceive’ these scriptures through the eyes of your heart. Hopefully you will become spiritually aware of simple love the Lord is inviting you to participate in. ‘Seeing’ where there is a need, a ‘hunger’ and giving what’s helpful and essential to fulfill, to strengthen, and to complete. Quenching the thirst of those who crave the basics. Helping beyond ourselves and our own, aiding the strangers with the simple gifts of food, clothing, and shelter. During this time our world is at an all-time ‘height’ of awareness concerning sick, possibly sick, and dying, the Lord calls upon us to be praying for others, helping others, providing for others, walking with others, sharing with others. Jesus’ parable reminds us that HE is in others and as you help, as you provide simple love in these ways, you are not only ‘thanking’ Him but your faith efforts become real life examples of thankful living. Jesus Christ is ‘incarnate’ within you.
The approaching season of Advent shall re-inform us of the incarnation of God in life. Our lives... Yes, the United States of America IS a blessed nation. We are right on the edge of at least two vaccines being readied to treat the Corona Virus. Our nation may be in the midst of political instability but soon, very soon, we shall transcend our greatest differences even as our greatest ‘causes’ prevail. God Almighty has always used the worst of circumstances and the more challenging persons to transform not only themselves but also their world around them. I guide us all to be thankful for this spiritual process of God. Trust God this Thanksgiving season and beyond. REMEMBER you; I, our culture and our nation did not become excelling overnight. While many still affirm rugged individualism, the truth is we are all ‘products’ of benefitting from one another, needing one another and our LONG history of seeing God’s providence at work.
When I think of Thanksgiving and thanks living, I recall an American hero of sorts. One who overcame great ‘odds’ yet through it all gained superior ‘sight.’
Today’s scriptures coupled with this American hero’s ‘sight’ from the ‘eyes of her heart’ re-informs us that we really aren’t ‘rugged individualists’ triumphing over every obstacle on our own.
Helen Keller was born both deaf and blind. She writes, "I had once believed that we were all masters of our fate -- that we could mold our lives into any form we pleased. I had overcome deafness and blindness sufficiently to be happy, and I supposed that anyone could come out victorious if he threw himself valiantly into life's struggle. But as I went more and more about the country, I learned that I had spoken with assurance on a subject I knew little about. I learned that the power to rise in the world is not within the reach of everyone."
Jesus Christ has been ‘incarnate’ in us throughout our lifetimes. As the Lord proclaimed, ‘I was hungry, I was thirsty, a stranger, in need of clothing, sick and restrained.’ Surely, we have all experienced these things. Some, more than others. May I remind us all as we set around our tables to ‘give thanks’ there are still those experiencing these things. Jesus’ parable calls us to account for the blessings we have. To whom much is given, much is required. Because Jesus Christ is ‘incarnate’ within us, we grow to know the blessings we have received are not to be used simply for ourselves but for others.
The ‘eyes of my heart’ have well lead me to see, we are blessed to be a blessing.
Another word for thanksgiving is gratitude. The ancient Greek philosopher, Cicero, affirmed that gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but is the parent of all others.
Jesus’ words, his parable regarding the sheep and the goats helps us to ‘see’ with the eyes of our hearts, the Lord’s expressions of gratitude for feeding the hungry, providing drink to the thirsty, comfort to the stranger, help for the sick and kindness to the imprisoned and restrained. Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father Almighty, King of kings and Lord of lords expressed gratitude for those who cared for Him.
This same Jesus reminds us that we who are His followers should not think it enough to simply have warm affections. Jesus prays for us to be enlightened, to have clear understanding of ‘why’ we are thankful, to ‘whom’ we are thankful, and the actions, the ‘thanks living’ of our faith.
This Thanksgiving will be more challenging than most. We are restricted in both our travels and our gatherings. Even families must remain separated to some extent. It’s a huge challenge to feel, let alone express ‘gratitude’ for this Corona Virus pandemic as we set around our thanksgiving tables. There remains a great challenge to accept the huge differences resulting from our more recent presidential elections.
We who affirm and trust in the providence of God can rest assured this Thursday that we remain ‘in His hands.’ We need to focus not only on sickness and elections but also on life, love, memories, and happy insights.
I have something ‘light and lively’ I wish to teach you and offer you to share with those you will be eating turkey with. It’s regarding our president….Not our current president nor even our president elect, but something regarding one of our former presidents. If you decide to eat a turkey leg this week perhaps my little illustration will come to mind.
In George Washington's day, there were no cameras. One's image was either sculpted or painted. Some paintings of George Washington showed him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back while others showed both legs and both arms. Prices charged by painters were not based on how many people were to be painted but by how many limbs were to be painted, as these were more difficult to put on canvas than faces. Arms and legs are "limbs," therefore painting them would cost the buyer more. Hence the expression, "Okay, but it'll cost you an arm and a leg."
Our salvation has cost Jesus more, so much more than an arm and a leg. Thanks Living can also be quite costly. As we gather around our tables, we may have just a bit more insight into this Covid-19 pandemic and hopeful outcomes with promising vaccines. At our table gatherings we may also share in some further insights regarding our nation’s presidential elections. In addition to these subjects may we further recall our loved ones and our health. Smile at some precious memories you share and perhaps ponder in your heart of hearts.
‘See’ Thanksgiving this year, as the Bible declares, through the eyes of your heart.
The world may be full of drudgery and fear right now yet I ask you to trust in God, come home to Jesus, invite the Lord to be at your table, with your family and in your meal. In addition to this week being Thanksgiving’ today is Christ the King Sunday.
When things aren’t going ‘our way,’ and life is unsure it’s so good to have an anchor. Consider some markers of the reign of God we see with the eyes of our hearts….Humility, kindness, feeding, tending, visiting and justice.
Thanksgiving is about ‘giving thanks’ family gatherings and eating way too much food. Thanksgiving beyond the meal and the day is about thanks living all year long.
We display harvest items here in church as part of our Thanksgiving. Pumpkins and Fall leaves, sometimes corn stalks and ears of corn. All these things symbolic of the harvest God has provided. God continues to fill us with good things. We shall see an end to this pandemic. Vaccines are coming. Presidential election results will soon be firmed up. The Almighty is still in the process of transforming us as a nation and ‘we’ as a people.
Typically at Thanksgiving time, we take complacent pride in thinking the harvest is for us; but in God's view, we are the harvest. That certainly changes our perspective, doesn't it?
Jesus Christ died for us in order that we might live…Perhaps the two greatest blessings of thanksgiving; love and life. Amen.
A CALL TO PRAYER
Several months ago, when it was really hot, I was watching some old movies. One of my favorites is Yankee Doodle Dandy, a movie that was released in 1942 with Jimmy Cagney as the song and dance man George M. Cohan. If you’ve ever seen Jimmy Cagney as a gangster, you should watch this movie - even if you just watch James Cagney floating down the stairs in the White House – it’s amazing. The man can dance.
Yankee Doodle Dandy is a not completely accurate story but it’s a great movie to watch if you like the old patriotic songs. We celebrated Veterans Day this past week and I started thinking about what was happening while they were making this movie. It was 1941/1942 and Germany was working toward their ‘final solution’ by taking over the world one country at a time. America was trying to stay out of the war but when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Sunday December 7th,1941, that all changed.
I enjoy reading and watching movies about WWII. One reason is because I am in awe of what the Allied Forces did during that time. It was a time of horrific tragedy and incredible heroism. It was also a time that many people and countries came together to fight for a common cause. It was a time when Americans were proud of our country.
It was also a time when faith in God was celebrated. Church was somewhere many people went every Sunday. I remember growing up and going to church – we then stopped at the local store to buy Islay’s Chipped Chopped Ham for lunch. We had to go straight to the store from church because they were only opened for a few hours – it was Sunday and almost everything was closed. Back then stores were closed because of the “Blue Laws”. These laws started in Pennsylvania in 1682 when a prohibition was passed that prevented people from working or having fun on “The LORDS Day”.
At some point Pennsylvania even allowed churches to put chains across highways so traffic would not be near the church on Sunday. I wonder what would happen if we got some chains and blocked off 5th Ave next Sunday. We might make the evening news.
Sunday was a day for church, family, quiet relaxation and prayer. In the 70s the Blue Laws were found to be unconstitutional and a way of life changed forever.
But back in the early 40s this is how people thought and lived. They respected God and church and believed in Judeo – Christian ethics. We were a country that “was endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” These were not just words but deeply felt beliefs that were shared by many.
When men and women went to war, they went to protect this country and to protect our way of life. Their faith was born in them and strengthened throughout their lives. Without this foundation the outcome of WWII would have been very different.
They say there are no atheists in foxholes. A good example of this might be the Miracle of Dunkirk.
In May and early June of 1940, the German army was advancing on the Allied troops in Dunkirk, France. The troops were stuck on the beach with the sea at their back. I bet every soldier on that beach was praying for divine intervention. The Germans were marching toward victory against the allied troops when miraculously they suddenly halted their advance. For three days the Germans consolidated their troops and supplies. They spent three days getting organized. This gave the Allies time to organize an evacuation. Hundreds of naval and civilian ships and boats crossed the English Channel and rescued many soldiers from the beach at Dunkirk. They were able to save more than 330,000 Allied troops. Without this miracle England would have not been able to continue to fight and hold out against the Germans. Is this an example of Answered Prayers? You bet it is.
But now, all that has changed. No longer is it clear who is the bad guys. We are no longer facing a common enemy. We don’t even know who the enemy is sometimes. Our lives in this country changed when China announced a new virus. Many of us didn’t think much about it at first but then the Coronavirus spread around the globe with amazing speed. Countries like Italy went on lock down to limit their exposure. Too many people lost loved ones and hospitals in many areas around the world were overwhelmed by the number of sick and dying. Many people have been unable to be with sick relatives because the hospitals won’t allow visitors for fear of spreading the disease, nursing homes went into lock down to protect their patients. People have lost their jobs due to stay in place orders and the closing of ‘non-essential’ workplaces. These events have led to fear, anger, isolation, unstable home situations, money worries and depression.
On top of all this, a tragedy happened on May 25, 2020 when a gentleman by the name of Mr. George Floyd was killed by policemen. This horrific event started protests and riots that haven’t been seen in this country since the 60’s and 70’s. I listen to the talking heads as they all try to tell their side of what is happening in this country and why. Everyone blames the other side and the violence, the destruction, and the killing go on. Too many people have been hurt.
Maybe this is the time when we should look at our world; really look at the changes in this country in the last 60 or 70 years. Fear has caused people to say we are in the ‘end times’ as predicted in the book of Revelation. I remember reading that many people thought WWI and WWII were the beginning of the ‘end times’. At some point they’ll be right but are they right this time? Is this the beginning of the end? I don’t think it is.
Throughout history - tragedies, both natural disasters and man-made events have made us think of the end times and wonder. When you read Revelation, you can name almost any point in history and say – it fits, we are in the end times.
I wonder if there’s not a simpler explanation. As a country we have forgotten many things. We don’t pray in public anymore and many don’t know how to talk to God on a daily basis. As Christians we’re different. We know that God has given us instructions on how to live. He has given us a book to read, to study, and to use every day. God has asked us to pray, to talk to Him every day and lean on Him for guidance and support.
There is a spiritual war going on around us as well as a physical battle for morality and basic human rights. Make no mistake, this battle has already been won by God. God won the war when Jesus died on the cross for us. When we are in heaven with our Father, we will see that God is in charge. But for now, we must wait for God’s plan to come to fruition. Until that day, we must remember to pray and listen to God through His Holy Word.
Think about what is going on in this country and then read Ephesians 4: 31-32.
“31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Watch the news and re-read these verses. Then do it again.
This is a wakeup call to all of us. Now is the time to put on the Armor of God, not to be wrapped up in fear. Now is the time for hope, not depression and despair. Now is the time to remember that we are Christians. Now is the time to pray. Pray for our country, our leaders, our families, our neighbors, our church, and ourselves. Pray for strength and perhaps most importantly say the Lord’s Prayer that reminds us that we should ask for “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Don’t try to figure out God’s plan. Trust that there is a plan, and everything is in God’s hands.
In 1941, on the evening of ‘D-Day’, President Roosevelt wrote a special message for the American people. This message was distributed ahead of time so that people could read along with the president when he read the message on the radio.
What is so amazing is that the President of the United States wrote a message in which the second paragraph reads: “And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer”:
I would like to read to you the last paragraph of this prayer.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
It is amazing how well this prayer fits what is happening in our world today. As we go about our business this week let’s not listen to those who tell us faith and God are old ideas. Let’s not listen to those who spread fear and hatred. Let’s listen to our Father in heaven who loves us enough to send His Son to us so that we might be saved. Let’s listen to Jesus as He teaches us to love one another. Let’s build up a strong foundation of faith and love for God that no man can tear down.
Ephesians 4:17-32 17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
The Armor of God
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
The D-Day speech by FDR can be heard at: https://www.historyplace.com/speeches/fdr-prayer.htm
My Fellow Americans:
Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt - June 6, 1944
Sermon Message for Saturday, November 7, 2020 & Sunday, November 8, 2020
Prayer For Illumination: Guide us, O God, by your Word, and Holy Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover peace; through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Joshua 24: 15 Page 237, Matthew 25: 1-13 Page 993
Sermon Message: “We Belong to God”
In life and in death we belong to God. We belong to God in the joys of wedding celebrations but also in those disappointing times when we ‘lost out.’ Kind of like the wise and foolish virgins. We belong to God when we make good decisions to follow Him, but we also belong to God when we make poor decisions regarding our following Him. We still belong to God even when we make NO decision whatsoever.
In a somewhat similar analogy, right now, you and I remain American citizens. We belonged to America when we voted. You remain American citizens regardless of how you may have voted. We still are American citizens even if we decided NOT to vote at all.
Assuredly some folks may feel like the bridegroom who celebrates his good news and abundant joy. Those who perceive this presidential election as a victory may well be feeling as though they deserve to be invited into the banquet, the victory celebrations. Yet we recall, there were those who were shut out, not allowed in. Those whose preparations, or lack thereof, just weren’t sufficient to ‘win the day.’
God has always called forth and set aside people, to communicate the Word of God and the worthy relationships we must have with God during all times and throughout every season of life.
Regardless of your overview of this past election, in truth and in reality, you, I and candidates from both ‘sides’ still belong to God. Today the Lord Jesus Christ invites us into further ‘communion’ with him.
Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins is perhaps familiar to many. This parable may be seen, in part, as a metaphor for being prepared to receive Jesus into our lives when he comes. We need to be ready for the Lord’s movement, presence, call, or return at any time. This same parable teaches a fundamental lesson that lack of preparation, for whatever might come, can result in severe disappointment. ‘Lessons’ come to us all from the Lord throughout our lifetimes to teach us and prepare us how to relate to God, self, others, and things… God’s lessons further teach us how to deal with things that are ‘challenging’ to say the least.
Today, Jesus Christ offers us his presence in a holy and sacred manner we describe as ‘Communion.’ Within communion, sacredness is present. Oh of course you can minimize communion by saying it’s just a little wafer of bread and a tiny sip of grape juice found in what looks like a K-cup. You can say it doesn’t really matter much rather you ‘have communion’ or not. Similar to the parable Jesus employed in the Gospel of Matthew; know that you have been invited to the banquet. The Lord’s Table has been set and is prepared. Are you prepared to participate in this sacred event? Have you confessed your sins and humbled your heart? Or is your mind somewhere else altogether, still focusing on what bothers you the most?
Consider with me a bit of the spiritual significance associated with Jesus’ parable today. It was at a wedding in Cana of Galilee where Jesus shared his first miracle, changing water into wine. Miracles still occur. What might the Lord Jesus ‘change’ within you today? Perhaps as you attend his banquet called ‘Holy Communion.’ The wedding Jesus drew analogy to was an acknowledgement of the kingdom of heaven in their midst. Some could see it because they were prepared. Still others could not for they had failed to prepare. Yet they felt entitled to the same benefits as those who had worked to earn blessings bestowed. The wedding banquet can further be seen as a metaphor for spiritual peace and tranquility even in the midst of great trial and disappointment.
Long before the time of Christ walking the face of this earth God set aside a man by the name of Joshua to communicate the Word of God and the worthy relationships we must have with God throughout all times and every season of life. Joshua realized something you and I well realize from living our lives. We still have to choose whom we relate to and ‘how’ we relate to one another. Especially, ‘how’ we relate to God.
Joshua made it easy. He ‘spelled it out’ directly….You might choose to relate to this, that, something else or even another ‘god’ of some sort, but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.
‘Serving the Lord’ is required of us whether we are in the banquet hall celebrating or feeling left outside in the cold perhaps because we just don’t understand what happened. Whether we are experiencing great joy or huge disappointment God still must be served.
Serving God is not some terrible burdensome chore Christians must bear. Serving God is simply fundamental to understanding the banquets and the disappointments and everything in between.
Through it all, we belong to God.
Not all ‘wedding banquets’ end up in happily ever after situations. Some would say once the party is over the hard work of relating to one another begins. Marriage takes work. All meaningful relationships require work. We do belong to God. We are not mere ‘possessions’ but children of the Almighty. Not only did our Creator ‘make us’ but also the good Lord loves us.
God loves us so much that He helps us to ‘see’ beyond the best and the worst this life has to offer.
Speaking of weddings and wedding banquets, I knew a man and his wife who had a successful and fulfilling marriage. They loved each other to the end…I was ‘there’ for their 25th wedding anniversary and again for their 50th wedding anniversary. Oh don’t get me wrong, sometimes they’d fight like cats and dogs but they didn’t just ‘survive’ they actually thrived! When I’d visit with them typically, they would interrupt each other and both would end up speaking to me at the same time. A few minutes into ‘refereeing’ them things would calm down and the conversations would increasingly become not only peaceful but meaningful, reflective and most times ‘teaching moments’ for the three of us. I drank it in. Those two taught me to be prepared for things, especially for whatever might come in a relationship. More importantly though they taught me to see the meaning of God in something as simple and sincere as how they related to one another even in the midst of some very real challenges. They had their share of marital bliss but also an abundance of strong-willed head-butting stubborn scenarios. Thinking back, I now know and understand, as a seasoned pastor, that no amount of pre-marital counseling could have prepared those two for all the ‘stuff’ I saw them go through. Heart attacks and heartaches. Kids, grandchildren, deaths, divorces, lay-offs, but also trips abroad together, marvelous vacations, family gatherings blessed by memorable times shared with loved ones who in turn helped them create very fulfilling memories. Their main ingredient, the ‘glue’ that got them through was their deep seeded belief that they belonged to God. Each one grew to know no matter how the next ‘challenge’ might turn out somehow it was just going to be ok because they belonged to God. They trusted that God would hear their particular need, hear their particular disappointments, perhaps with the other, yet God would ‘sort it all out’ and not only bring them together but keep them together.
The more important ‘lesson’ I learned from watching and interacting with that couple as well as with all of you is this; because we belong to God, like Joshua of old, we choose to love and serve the Lord. Our highest celebrations and our gravest disappointments just don’t hold a candle to the communion we have with choosing to serve God. Because we belong to God we work hard, strongly and intentionally at getting our relationships and understandings of those relationships ‘right.’
In life we ‘grow to know’ God will sort things out in the end. We simply don’t need to be ‘in control’ of everything nor everybody. Even when our sincerest relationships push us into grave challenges and deep disappointments, we rely upon the Lord to see us through, establish his justice and change us, perhaps even reform us to become better people for his presence, leading and guidance.
Joshua’s call to choose whom we will serve makes us humble before God while opening us afresh to listen and hear that still small voice of God genuinely guiding our lives.
We who belong to God are not prideful owners of distinction and entitlement. Rather, we are people who choose to humble ourselves before the Lord. We have come, honorably so, to commune with Him and others. First and foremost, we are dedicated to God and strive, in our daily lives to serve Him.
Because we belong to God, we adhere to God’s teachings that we really are to love one another and must sincerely choose to strive to ‘get along’ with others, perhaps even when the ‘other’ rubs us the wrong way. We are God’s people. His children. Now and forever.
We belong to God not our possessions. That’s why Christians find it not just OK to share and contribute to God’s ministries and Christ’s missions, but as we mature in our faith we simply and sincerely find such giving of our time, talents, prayers, work and finances, to be actually enjoyable, freeing and rewarding in ways not well understood by our non-Christian friends and family.
This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Be glad for we still belong to God. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, October 24, 2020 & Sunday, October 25, 2020
Reformation Sunday and Covid-19 Pandemic Reflections
Prayer For Illumination: O Lord, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, and strength to follow on the path you set before us; through Jesus Christ, Amen.
Psalm 91 (Page 593), 2 Timothy 4:7 (Page 1199), I Corinthians 15:50-58 (Page 1155)
Sermon Message: “Pandemic Reflections”
Covid-19 is not the first pandemic in the history of our world. While plagues and pandemics are mentioned throughout portions of the Bible there are more ‘current’ pandemics. Back in 1918 the world experienced the Spanish flu pandemic. It lasted from February 1918-April 1920. The Spanish flu infected 500 million people, about a third of the world’s population at the time. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. Mainly, it was a non-pharmaceutical pandemic, meaning there were no ‘medicines’ readily available for treating the Spanish flu. Some scholars reflect that it was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.
Today, I wish to share with you, on this Reformation Sunday, portions of a sermon message from a pastor who lived through that pandemic. I believe his sermon discourse may help to ‘reform’ us spiritually as we deal with our on-going Covid-19 pandemic.
Presbyterian Pastor; Francis J Grimke, was born in 1850 and lived on this earth until 1937. He lived to be 87 years old. A ripe old age back then. His sermon message was delivered in the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church, Washington D.C.; Sunday, November 3, 1918.
As I share with you significant portions of this 1918 sermon, simply substitute references to the Spanish flu with the words; Covid-19.
Pastor Grimke began his sermon in this way; “We know now, perhaps, as we have never known before the meaning of the terms pestilence, plague, epidemic, since we have been passing through this terrible scourge of Spanish Flu with its’ enormous death rate and its’ consequent wretchedness and misery. Every part of the land has felt its’ deadly touch—North, South, East and West—in the Army, the Navy, among civilians, among all classes and conditions, rich and poor, white and black. Over the whole land it has thrown a gloom, and has stricken down such large numbers it has been difficult to care for them properly. Our own beautiful city of Washington D.C. has suffered terribly from it. As a precautionary measure it became necessary to close schools, theaters, churches and to forbid all public gatherings. At last the scourge has been stayed and we are permitted again to resume the public worship of God.
I have been thinking and asking myself some questions…What is the meaning of it all? What ought it mean to us? Is it to come and go and we be no wiser or none better for it? Surely, God had a purpose in it, and it is our duty to find out, as far as we may, what that purpose is, and try to profit by it.
Pastor Grimke goes on to say he was severely moved by the ease with which large portions of the population might be afflicted, even wiped out despite all the resources of science. Although every available nurse and physician have been at work day and night thousands have died. The death toll continued. How easy it would be, writes Pastor Grimke, for God to wipe out the whole human race if so desired.
Pastors strive to get folks to think about their faith and discernment of God’s ways. He further observed and inquired why it was that some who were afflicted by the disease recovered and others did not. Pastor Grimke, in his sermon then referenced Psalm 91. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. He is my refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust. He will deliver me…He will cover me….Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror by night nor the arrow that flies by day., nor the pestilence that walks in darkness….”
Pastor Grimke was honest in his preaching. An admirable quality. He readily affirmed he did not know nor understand why these verses of Psalm 91 seemed to imply immunity yet, they failed to…Faith is never ‘all-knowing’ yet remains recommitting one’s self to trusting our Higher Power…
Within his 1918 sermon message this pastor well observed that extraordinary exercises of power were resorted to for the public’s interest…
The power was granted and submitted to for closing up theaters, schools, churches, in forbidding gatherings of any large size in private and public places, effecting even the numbers who could attend funerals. But then Pastor Grimke affirmed something strong and deeply faith related in his sermon message. He preached the message that good is coming. God will help in the end. All the churches, as well as the community at large are going to be stronger and better for this season of distress through which we have been passing.
The pastor noted the foolishness of even considering there being any difference between the white person and the black person. There was no advantage during the pandemic of 1918-1919 of one’s color of skin. If anything, Pastor Grimke affirmed, perhaps God was striving to beat some sense into the white man’s head regarding racial equality among all! The greater lesson he felt God was teaching was this; the inspired word of God where Jesus declares; “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows after me will not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.” Pastor Grimke referenced the folly of stupid color prejudice. He went on to say in his sermon message this colorphobia has brought so much evil, so much sufferings and so much heart burnings to those who are victimized by it… That pastor preached the firm Biblical truth that ‘love’ according to Jesus Christ, is the first and greatest commandment of God. And the second is like it; ‘Love thy neighbor as yourself!’ It will be better for us here and it will be better for us in the hereafter to learn this lesson and learn it well.
Pastor Grimke noted in his 1918 sermon how moved he was to see the high estimation of the Christian church by the people. Large numbers of people regretted the closing of the churches. Everyone in the community ought to have a church home, and ought to be found in their church home Sabbath after Sabbath.
The pastor addressed the very real and present topic of death. He noted that while the pandemic lasted people’s thoughts of death and eternity were constantly before them. Day after day the newspapers reported the numbers afflicted as well as the latest numbers of deaths that had occurred. Remember, it is through death that the gates of eternity swing open. We don’t in general think much about either death or eternity. But now we are forced to. Death and eternity remain subjects of vital importance, involving the most momentous of consequences. After death comes judgment. The books will be opened. God shall summon us and we must render up our account. God has been reminding us of this account which we must render. He is prompting us to think about eternity.
We are accountable for our sins. God gives each soul free will. Our fate is in our own hands. Repent of your sins. The wages of sin is death. Choose life over death. Choose faith and Christian living. Choose love, God’s kind of love for all…
Remember, you have come out of this pandemic alive while thousands have perished. Are you going to spend the rest of your life in service to sin and Satan or in the service of God? You know what you ought to do. Therefore, do the right thing!
Pastor Grimke concluded with his other thought that came to him in connection with this epidemic. That being the blessedness of religion! There remains a prevailing sense of security with a true, living working faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—in the midst of life’s perils. There comes a secure sense of being anchored in God and in His precious promises. While the plague was raging, while thousands were dying, what a comfort it was to feel that we were in the hands of a loving Father who was looking out for us, who had given us the assurance that all things shall work together for our good. We knew that come what may whether we be smitten or not by the pandemic we knew it was going to be alright... Even if death came, we knew it would be alright. Faith affirmed in the Apostle’ Paul’s writings; “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge will award me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” –II Timothy 4:7,8.
It is a good time for those of us who are Christians to examine our hearts and see the extent to which our religion has been helping us to spiritually see our lives. We now need to see whether our faith is resting upon Christ, the solid rock, or not.
Our spiritual review will reveal our spiritual condition. We may ‘run down’ but we need not, should not, ‘run out.’
We ought to come out of this pandemic more determined then ever to run with patience the race that is set before us, more determined then ever to make heaven our home. I trust this purpose. Let us all draw near to God in simple faith. Let us reconsecrate ourselves, all of us, to Him, let us all make up our minds to be better Christians. –
Pastor Francis J. Grimke
November 3, 1918.
Sermon Message for Saturday, Oct. 17 & Sunday, October 18, 2020
Prayer For Illumination: Send the light of your Spirit upon us that we may see clearly who we are called to be, who we say we are, and who we truly are. Open our eyes that we may see how to make these one. Amen.
Psalm 99:1-3, 9 page 596
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 page 1186
Matthew 22:15-22 page 990
Sermon Message: “God and Country”
It seems as though Jesus was being forced to make a choice between God and country. Leastwise he was being ‘pushed’, confrontationally so, to speak his thoughts on the subject. When asked about whether or not it was right to pay taxes Jesus found himself trapped right in the midst of one of those ‘religion and politics’ discussions. Lots of folks want to avoid the subjects of religion and politics altogether. After all, these two subjects do tend to ‘polarize’ people.
Currently, our nation IS polarized in responding to this Covid-19 pandemic and getting ready for an election. Where do we ‘draw the line’ between Caesar and God, Church and State?
Many of us have lived long enough to know some American Christians who have fought in wars and others who have been conscientious objectors. Some American Christians demonstrate against police violence, others faithfully assert the duty of faithful Christians to support all police officers.
Different people have different opinions regarding what is appropriate behavior and beliefs for Christians and for Americans. The story is an old one even though the pandemic and the election are relatively new.
Challenging discussions regarding God and Country and Christian’s ‘appropriateness’ is as old as the faith.
Protesting is not something new. I recall the protests of the 60’s and the 70’s. Protests against the Vietnam War. Protests for civil rights, equal opportunities, equal pay, and equal voting privileges for all Americans.
Seminaries teach and train their students for the ‘field of ministry’ in local churches and beyond. Pittsburgh Theological Seminary taught myself and scores of others to become, as the Bible declares, similar to the disciple John; a “voice crying out in the wilderness; prepare the way of the Lord!” (Mark 1:1-8). The ‘way of the Lord’ is not a national way nor an ethnic way, nor even a regional ‘way’ they taught us. We were thus taught there is to be a distinction between God and Country. Religion and politics are not the same. Nor is faith and patriotism. Some of my fellow seminarians took this teaching a bit farther. Within the local churches where they were called to serve they removed the American Flag. Some giggled as they reminisced that many in their congregation never even missed the American flag when it was gone. While ‘they’ thought they were making a statement that God, faith, and the Christian religion, is distinctly separate from the nation, politics and patriotism, what they mostly discovered was apathy…
Somebody from this church told me when I first started here that this church building was constructed from building plans of another church exactly like this, but much older, in Germany. I never researched the authenticity of this. When I was told that, I thought, wouldn’t it be something to conduct a pulpit exchange between a church built exactly like this one somewhere in Germany and this church, here in the United States of America? I further realized that IF I were to participate in a pulpit exchange in Germany they might be proudly displaying a German Flag where our American flag is displayed.
As pastor, my only ‘disappointment’ with both the American Flag and the Christian Flags in our church is their hiddenness. Draped on stands, as they are, we don’t get the full benefits of the Stars and Stripes nor the Christian Cross and related symbolism on our Christian Flag. I choose to remain patriotic and seek to blend God and Country into my mind, my heart and soul.
Jesus did NOT instruct his followers nor his enemies to turn their backs on Caesar but instead to give God that which is God’s and give Caesar, that which is Caesar’s.
There’s a part of me that will certainly be glad when the election has arrived. Finally, we will have an outcome and all of the contentiousness will reach some conclusion for our country. There is a sincere part of me, and I am sure, of you as well, that will be glad, rejoice and praise God Almighty when this Covid-19 pandemic finally ends.
I believe we are setting our clocks ‘back’ on November 1st. I think we’d do well to set them forward. Six months seems about right for me…
Surely Jesus experienced a sense of despair as people tried their best to ‘test him’ regarding his sense of ‘God and Country.’ Perhaps we who are followers of Jesus Christ are also being ‘tested.’ Yet, this is NOT a time for Christians to despair. While many may feel as though Christianity doesn’t matter much to most, I remind you the world is watching how Christians act and react to God and Country these days. People are keenly observing how our faith helps us deal with Covid-19 and associated fears we may be experiencing. Are we sincere examples of Christianity? Our faith further teaches us that we are not to impose our views. Instead God reminds us to set an example of what faith can do, what faith looks like, how faith feels.
As the Apostle Paul long ago wrote to the Thessalonian Church, may we in the Coraopolis Presbyterian church, and beyond, hear, learn, digest and demonstrate as well the role of faith in our lives and in our participation, even now, with God and country…Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit inquires us to remember your work produced by faith. Your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus was being judged when questioned, in a despairing way, regarding his awareness and response to God and country. They were watching Jesus.
We, as Christians, are being judged by how we handle Covid-19, the election and scores of subjects. Become a model of faith. You have it in you. I know this to be true. Live your life, as did Jesus, respecting God and country. Giving to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and giving to God your heart and soul your life and faith.
Faith is first. Whether we are in Germany or Coraopolis, faith is foremost. Heaven is neither German nor American. In heaven all will see Christ, know Christ and dwell peacefully together. The Bible remains clear; we are citizens of heaven…(Philippians 3:20).
May it be said of us as it was of those who belonged to the Thessalonian Church; “Your faith in God has become known everywhere.”
God and country may complement each other and co-exist. Yet there shall always remain a clear distinction between the two. Through the years I’ve seen whereby churches and individual Christians have been tempted, seductive even, to force one’s faith on others. But it really is un-American, and un-Presbyterian, and un-Christian to do so. Jesus makes it clear that we live in two realms. Faithfulness requires a clear faith identity and self-understanding. Pay your taxes, so they don’t distract you from living the faith we know in Jesus Christ. Vote for whoever our next leaders will be.
Soon we will ‘receive the offering.’ The offering reminds us all that we have so much to be grateful to God for. God gave us life, time, talent and abilities to earn a living and wisdom to not just survive but to thrive…It is not only right but good that we ‘give back to God’ through our tithes, gifts and offerings each week. Our faith life and our standing with God become more balanced and peace filled when we do. Likewise, Jesus teaches us we should also pay our taxes. ‘Paying taxes’ reveals that we have been a part of a great nation, established ‘under God.’ In this great land we have been afforded multiple opportunities to earn money. While paying taxes is not the most comfortable thing we do it remains a validation that we have not only survived but also thrived as Americans…
God and country was a test for Jesus and so it is for us as well. Shall we overcome fears with faith? The pandemic hovers over us…Will we continue to trust God for eventual answers and refrain from judging who caused this, why it continues and who is being victimized and why?... Will you get out and vote, thus participating in patriotism? Will your faith effect your voting? Soon, we will need to know if our faith is sufficient to accept the outcome of this election regardless of who wins or loses.
Our country is not our ‘God’ but God does reign over our country. No one is our ‘God’ even though some may act like it at times. God is God. Jesus is Christ, Messiah and Savior. Follow the words, the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. Give to God that which is God’s and unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.
Know the difference between God and country. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday; October 10, 2020 and Sunday; October 11, 2020. Communion weekend.
Prayer For Illumination- God of light, may the brightness of heaven shine through the scriptures today, and shine in us as we listen. May your Spirit speak to us and teach us to be citizens of your realm that is coming into being among us. Prepare us to come with joy to the feast you have prepared, through our Lord Jesus. Amen.
SCRIPTURE LESSONS: Matthew 22:1-14 Page 989 & Ephesians 4: 1-6 Page 1175
SERMON MESSAGE: “The Church Anybody Can Attend’
The wedding banquet has very ‘special’ meaning in the Bible. Weddings provided sacred occurrences for sealing nuptial covenants, affirming vows and receiving the blessings of the wedding couple’s parents. Ancient Jewish weddings were sometimes accompanied by readings of poetry as well as sundrous scriptures. The wedding banquet was a celebrative continuance of the sacred occurrence. Consider too, our Biblical teaching that Jesus’ first miracle occurred at a wedding in Cana of Galilee where he changed water into wine, following his dear mother’s request. Today, we read of a parable, a story with a deeper meaning, Jesus told, comparing a wedding banquet to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus speaks of a king who ‘threw a wedding banquet’ but none of those he invited would come. So he opened it up to others, all others. Eventually the banquet hall was filled. When guests attended a wedding, back then, especially a royal wedding, they were given specific ‘wedding clothes’ to wear when they arrived. The king noticed that one ‘guest’ refused to put on the offered wedding clothes, possibly a robe. This angered the king so he instructed his attendants to throw the guy out!
Here was a wedding anyone could attend yet many refused to attend and at least one guy couldn’t be bothered with whatever might be ‘expected’ of him.
The ‘wedding banquet’ Jesus spoke of in his parable is a further teaching regarding Jesus’ envisioning of the church. The wedding banquet, in Jesus’ teaching parable, was a place where anybody can attend. The church, that Jesus envisioned, is also a place where anyone can attend. But not everyone does.
This mentioning of being required to wear wedding clothes may seem a bit strange to us. Tradition was when guests arrived at a royal wedding they were expected to wear wedding clothes the host provided. This was possibly a robe of some sort. The ‘symbolism’ of the ‘wedding clothes’ in Jesus’ parable signifies changed/transformed lives. Such transformation is still something that happens to a soul that becomes part of God’s kingdom, His ‘church.’ We do become more loving, kind, understanding, even more forgiving. Church people are to be more spiritual.
I’ve been blessed to meet some genuinely spiritual people across the years. People who love the church and are so eager to invite others to ‘the banquet.’
Many years ago I accepted a call, an offer, to work 15 hours per week as a student assistant minister at the Emory Church in the Highland Park area of Pittsburgh. Mary, a kind and gentle soul, was a member there along with her dear husband; Bob. Poor Mary struggled with weight issues. Her life was focused mainly on caring for her beloved husband during his final years. Even in the midst of her busyness Mary always made time to come by the church and ‘see what she could do.’ She was always there for worship and often times for fellowship, some meetings, and of course always for work projects at the church. Mary was such a good soul. She had not only a ‘zest’ for life but also an eagerness to tell others about her church…I remember Mary enlisted lots of folks to come to that church. Some of which I am certain neither the senior pastor nor myself could have reached. People she met at the grocery store, on the bus, nurses who ‘came by’ to care for her husband, her doctor, neighbors and of course several of the homeless from the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh. They came often times bearing some little ‘token’ that Mary had given them…An old bulletin, a prayer card, a previously used Bible, an artificial flower, even some tiny, perhaps insignificant object Mary ‘came up with’ from a flea market or the local ‘junk store.’ Point is, she made it all count and she made each invitation count. Most Sundays Mary would catch either the senior pastor or myself and introduce us to her newest friend(s). Over the years that church blossomed. It wasn’t so much the numerical growth that was interesting to the senior pastor, others or myself. It was the open arms policy and caring love Mary shared with everyone she could regarding ‘her faith and her church.’
Mary was like some sort of angel among us for a time that opened the doors to that large magnificent church through her ‘ways.’
Emory Church was a good experience for me. I was only there for two years but certainly learned a lot. Located in the Highland Park area of the city Emory was a ‘melting pot’ of diverse peoples. Racially and economically mixed. People from all sorts of ‘lifestyles’ and backgrounds. Through the years I’ve always been impressed in my head and blessed in my heart to see this parable of Jesus lived out in the ‘Mary’s’ and the churches I’ve served.
Think about it. You and I come to this church with people of differing age groups, various racial and economic backgrounds and we commune together as brothers and sisters in the Lord. That’s what faith communities do.
There’s something else ‘faith communities,’ (churches) do…Similar to Jesus’ parable where he references the need for wedding clothes to be worn, God seeks to transform our outward appearance into something more meaningful for His banquet, His church.
When God ‘clothes a soul,’ transforms a heart, He does so by invitation and by our responses. The Lord ‘calls us’ into a new life, a greater life, a more meaningful loving and spiritual life. The Christian life is a life of communion with God and others through spiritual development and maturity…
Spiritual maturity, the Bible teaches, is evidenced in a banquet, a church, the kingdom of God where many are invited to come. Spiritual maturity further recognizes that while many are invited, not all come and not all are chosen.
Failures to respond to God’s leading in life have sometimes resulted in what Jesus refers to as ‘darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Perhaps we’ve all lived through some challenging church experiences as well.
God desires for His church to be a place where anybody can attend. Most churches seem to end up being a place where only those ‘like us’ can attend.
It’s what’s ‘in the heart’ that matters most.
The Apostle Paul recognized that being a part of Jesus Christ’s church is a ‘calling’ not a social affirmation. Thankfully, we’ve all grown to realize and understand that our church membership is also a ‘calling’ not a social status.
The Apostle Paul declares we are to therefore live a life worthy of the calling you have received. It is a sacred blessing to be a part, a member of a Christian church.
In order for you to feel comfortable attending here, in order for any others to feel comfortable attending here, God calls us to be ‘completely humble and gentle.’ Pride does not fit in a Christian church. Nor does assertive, controlling or manipulative behavior. This is further true in our homes as we seek to ‘commune’ with our families.
Churches where anybody can attend have a lot of patience. It’s needed to get along and to come along side those who need what ‘church’ has to offer. Patience is a valued virtue with our families, our co-workers and strangely so, even with ourselves.
Jesus well taught us that the greatest thing we can do, by far, the greatest command from God Almighty is to love. Today’s scripture lesson further points out that love is characterized by making every effort to keep unity through the bond of peace.
Last week was World Communion Sunday, a time for Christians to affirm that Holy Communion is the fundamental unity we have with Jesus Christ and one another. Communion always affirms that we transform ourselves into a humble bond of peace with God and with others.
Holy Communion reminds us that WE are to be a church where anybody can attend. We may not be exactly like one another. We may even think, feel, dress and act a bit differently than others. God designed us that way. God further designed us to answer and affirm His communion call to love one another even in the midst of our diversity.
Come now and share in Open Communion in this church of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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 Lesson: Colossians 4:2-6
Sermon Message: Our Prayer Life”
There are very few days in our lives whereby we do not pray. It’s common among us and within us all to pray… Perhaps you are a person who ‘prays’ the Lord’s Prayer each day. I know, I certainly do. Our ‘prayer life’ is a sincere part of who we are. Lots of people pray. Some, pray ‘out loud.’ Some quietly, even silently. Some recite specific prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer. Others recite certain scriptures as a form of prayer, such as the 23rd Psalm. We can pray together or alone. The Bible teaches us that where two or more are gathered together He is present. (Matthew 18:20)
The Apostle Paul inspired by God’s Holy Spirit authored several ‘Books’ of the Bible. Paul is well known as somebody who understood prayer and its power. Paul had an abundant ‘prayer life.’
I don’t think you; I or anyone else for that matter can be a good Christian and NOT pray. Jesus sometimes made use of metaphors or analogies when he preached, spoke to his followers and shared His messages regarding the Kingdom of Heaven. Allow me to share with you a simple, yet sincere analogy today regarding our prayer life…You cannot have a good marriage if you don’t talk to your wife/husband. In the same way, you cannot be a good Christian and NOT pray. Prayer is a fundamental line of communication between God and His people, between God and those who love Him.
Some folks just won’t pray because they fear God will not answer them. Leastwise, not THEIR way. Among the saddest realities associated with our prayer life is not unanswered prayer but unoffered prayer.
The greatest example and teaching we all have to follow is Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus told us ‘to’ pray and ‘how’ we should pray. Jesus’ primary teaching and example being ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ “Our Father, who art in heaven…”
Within today’s scripture lesson from the Book of Colossians 4:2-6, the Apostle Paul instructs us to ‘devote yourselves to prayer.’ That means to pray often, daily, routinely, at many times, in all seasons. Continue earnestly in prayer. Be ‘steadfast.’ PERSISTENCE is something Jesus spoke of and instructed others to do in prayer. “Ask and it shall be given unto you…seek and you shall find…” Jesus Christ instructs us to ‘not lose heart.’
There’s a difference between persistent prayer and a long prayer. You don’t have to pray on and on in order to be persistent. Don’t ‘give up’ when you pray…Some folks ‘give up praying’ because they say they just don’t ‘feel’ much like praying. They say there’s no ‘joy’ in it….
‘Life’ isn’t based only on our ‘feelings.’ Nor is our Prayer Life based merely on how we may ‘feel.’
A major breakdown in religion has been the common desire for everything faith related, including worship and prayer, to be appealing, good feeling, convenient and entertaining. It’s kind of like we are asking God to ‘hold our attention’ instead of us sincerely praying to gain, humbly so, God’s attention for our lives, our family and our world.
Satan, has been known throughout history and currently, to entice people to ‘give up’ when something presents itself inconveniently so. Prayer, like reading and studying the Bible, must be practiced ‘religiously’ so.
God teaches us that prayer is our relating to God. A relationship requires time effort, energy, devotion and persistence. Many have found the less we read the Bible, the Word of God, the less we desire to read it. The less we pray, the less we desire to pray.
Abraham Lincoln once declared; “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
Prayer isn’t just ‘something we do’ when things go wrong. It’s to be a part of the ‘passion’ of our lives. Jesus wasn’t lazy about prayer. It’s something He was always doing. Read the Bible and learn that Jesus seemed to pray about everything. Prayer brought Jesus unmeasured power and unexplainable peace. Jesus Christ ‘prayed from the heart.’ You understand the difference between praying from the head and praying from the heart. Prayers from the ‘head’ are those kind that we just ‘say’ in repetition. You know, over and over again, sometimes not even ‘thinking’ about what we are saying or praying about… Prayer is not a ‘magic mantra’ we keep saying to gain God’s attention or to ‘get our way.’ Our prayer life is our conversation, our ‘relating’ to God. We don’t repeat to our spouses over and over again that we love them all the while reminding them to do for us what we want and need. In analogy, employing the use of metaphor, our prayer life is also a relationship of conversive love and making our joys, needs, wants and even confessions known…
It’s just so natural in a relationship to be thankful. Don’t you just ‘love it’ when things do work out? When solutions come? When fulfillment happens and enjoyment is such you not only smile, but also feel this huge genuine peace inside…
My favorite scriptures are also found in the Apostle Paul’s writings. In the Book of Philippians chapter 4, the apostle Paul writes, “Don’t worry about anything. Instead pray about everything. Tell God your needs and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers. If you do this you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.”
Expressing thankfulness in both our marriages and our prayer life does some basic things…It affirms dependence, demonstrates relationship, and generates humility. Pray and be thankful.
In our prayer life we don’t just pray ‘to’ God, ‘through’ Jesus and ‘for’ ourselves. Jesus teaches us to pray ‘for’ others. This may be referred to as ‘intercessory prayer.’ The Apostle Paul asked the Colossian believers to pray for him. He wanted them to pray for him with purpose. He did not ask them to pray for his legal situation nor that he might be released from prison. Paul wanted them to pray that God could open a door, provide a way, for him to speak the gospel. Paul wanted God’s kingdom to expand. Like Jesus, he was concerned about others, their souls, their salvation their transformed life with God… I’ve found situations with people I’ve cared about whereby I felt lost for words regarding ‘how’ I should pray for them. Follow the Apostle Paul’s guidance; pray for their salvation, their soul and God’s transforming power in them. Pray that life for you, for I, for others might be lived in accordance with God’s will… Jesus Christ, at His worst, prayed for God’s will, not his own, to be done. So should we…
Our prayer life should contain prayers not only for our families, our well-being and ourselves. When you pray do NOT forget to pray for those who are lost and possibly heading to hell. You may be the only ‘prayer’ they’ve got!…
When we pray for others and not just ourselves, we become more like Jesus. ‘Intercessory prayer’ enables God to grow us more, show us more, and use us more. We really must pray for others…
Some things happen when we pray. Whoever and whatever we pray for deepens our relationship with God and our partnership with the Lord. When you pray you start to become aware of how God might use you to help answer the prayer, maybe in ways we haven’t thought much about. You understand and relate to ‘how it is’ when we pray. Most often we have to wait for God to respond. Recall what we were taught in Sunday School…When we pray God has three answers; Yes, no and wait. The ‘yes’ and ‘no’ part are no-brainers. ‘Waiting’ can be tough. Remember, God is NOT on out timetable. Prayer forces us to be on God’s timetable. Many have matured through prayer to gradually see things God is doing. Prayer opens our eyes to see things we are blinded to without prayer. Remember, prayer is communication. We speak to God. God answers us, speaking to us, showing us.
Faithful prayer has a way of aligning our heart with God’s heart. Prayer changes us…Prayer helps us to move forward. Prayer engages God, enables God’s people and enlarges His kingdom. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” Once we have prayed we are ready to do anything.
Our prayer life. It’s what we do, who we are and what we are about in our relationship to God, self and others. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, September 26, 2020 & Sunday, September 27, 2020
Prayer For Illumination: O God, source of all wisdom, we thank you for your word come to life in Jesus, and for your word shared aloud with us, and with generations of people of faith. Open our hearts and spirits, our minds and our lives, to your guiding wisdom today and always. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Psalm 139:1-14, 23-24 p. 621, Matthew 5:1-12 p. 968
Sermon Message: “Search Me, O God and Know My Heart”
Sometimes a heart can’t help but wonder how things are going in our relationship to God. David, the inspired author of the Psalms wondered about that. So, it was, he inquired of God to “search him, and know his heart.”
Today’s scriptural lesson from the Gospel of Mathew is known as “The Beatitudes.” These ‘Beatitudes’ are teachings of Jesus Christ. Actually, they are from a sermon he once preached when he walked the face of this earth. The “Beatitudes” are referenced in the Bible as a series of ‘blessings.’ ‘Blessed’ are the poor, the people who mourn, the meek, the people who are seeking integrity, those who show mercy to others, those who have a good heart, a kind and pure heart, the peacemakers AND those who are insulted or persecuted!
Perhaps many a soul appreciates reflecting upon these ‘Beatitudes’ because we can identify with them.
Jesus said; “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” To be ‘poor in spirit’ means to be humble. It further means to acknowledge that we need God in our heart. Ask God to search you and know what’s in your heart. Sometimes our heart hurts from some pain we feel or possibly due to some sin we are involved in. At other times we just know from having tried for so long to live life ‘our way’ that we need God in our heart to better live life His way.
‘Poor in spirit’ begins with acknowledging God created our inmost being; He knit us together in our mother’s womb. We are, as Psalm 139 affirms, fearfully and wonderfully made and know that full well. When God searches our heart, we know we belong.
As God searches our hearts are we ‘poor enough in spirit’ to be seen as depending upon God while helping others to feel loved, respected and equal to each of us?
Sometimes a heart can’t help but wonder; “Why do I experience such ‘poorness’ in spirit?” Search me, O God and know my heart…
Jesus said those who mourn are blessed and will be comforted. Of course, death is the more common loss we mourn. There are lots of other realities, which cause mourning inside of a soul. Loss of love, compromise of faith, sin, pain, suffering, significant change, needless change, hurt, harm, loneliness or loss of innocence. Even the everyday realities which cause a soul to feel significant disappointment promote mourning for what was better, right, alive, healthy and hopeful.
Jesus declares we are blessed to mourn for we will be comforted. Ask the Lord to search your heart. As the psalm declares, “Even the darkness will not be dark to you.” Sometimes a heart will wonder why do I mourn so?...Jesus promises, you and I, will be comforted…
Sometimes its best to just quietly submit one’s self to God and keep choosing to be gentle with others, all others. Jesus calls this being ‘meek.’ Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. I’d settle for possessing more patience, faith and a forgiving spirit. God speaks of the promise of life. When we are meek we have a tendency towards promoting health, wealth, comfort and safety in this world. To ‘inherit the earth’ further implies blessings of heaven above and blessings of the earth beneath.
Sometimes a heart can’t help but wonder why is it best that I remain quiet and gentle? If I am not meek then perhaps, I further need to ask God to search my heart and know my soul.
This life does have its’ share of hardships. It’s best that we learn, early on, how to handle them. Jesus says we can suffer hardships if we have a good conscience. Place your hope in God. When dealing with hardship plead your case with God. Ask and you will receive. Come, says Jesus, all who are weary and heavy laden. There is rest for your soul as you pursue the blessings associated with hungering and thirsting for righteousness. In due time your soul will be satisfied. In wisdom and in kindness Christ shall appear.
Sometimes a heart can’t help but wonder why it takes so long to ‘get through’ things? Why do so many of our hardships endure for what seems like forever? Its good to read and re-read Psalm 139 for it teaches us much about God searching us and knowing us. This we can trust…Little is much when God is in it. It’s good to strive for health. Especially so to strive for spiritual health and well-being.
As God searches my heart, I’ve come to realize I have received blessings I don’t deserve. God’s kindness shown to any of us is a divine mercy. The Lord’s Prayer speaks to our souls; forgive us our debts/sins/trespasses just as we forgive others. Treat us mercifully God just as we mercifully treat others. Work at having a heart for others. Do sympathize with others. You are not in this world alone. You are not the center of the universe. Nor am I. Others have needs. Many have challenges, hardships, heartaches, and sins to be forgiven and need; great need, for the grace of faith, godly faith in their lives. Pity others. Feel their pain. Help the ignorant and the careless. Jesus teaches it’s more blessed to give than receive.
My dear friends, we do not know how soon we may stand in need of kindness and therefore should be kind.
Sometimes we all question and need to examine how ‘good’ is our heart? There is a physical heart, inside of us. There is also that ‘heart’ which exemplifies one’s innermost being. One’s ‘heart’ includes our emotions, intellect and quite importantly, our conscience. When we pray we are opening our heart unto God. Meanness, self-centeredness and hurt directed at others darken the heart. So do sins of the flesh. It’s good to ask God to help us think things through. It’s healthy to ask God to help us ‘clean up our act!’ Confession remains good for the soul and for the heart. Pray; ‘Create in me a clean, a pure heart, O God.’ Jesus was right, blessed are the pure in heart for they see beyond sin, self and others. The pure of heart see God…
I wish to share with you an early Christmas message; Peace on earth, good will towards all. Sometimes a heart can’t help but wonder why peace seems so pervasive. Some of our happiest times occur when there is peace. Jesus reminds us that we are blessed when we have a peaceful disposition. The blessed ones are pure towards God and peaceable towards others. Peace requires work. It entails love that is intentional. The kind of love that doesn’t measure the lack of fairness nor the inequality one might experience even amidst our most significant relationships. A requirement for peace is keeping one’s eye on the bigger picture, sometimes ‘holding one’s tongue, refraining from anger and revenge. Being a peacemaker starts with trusting God to make things right now and in the hereafter. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God,” he was informing us that peace is basic. Peace is foundational. Peace restores hope and even lost innocence. Ask God to search your heart and know YOU initiate peace. You don’t wait for life and others to first become ‘fair.’ You don’t wait until justice is served. Peace is a decision each of us must make to move on, forgive, love, assimilate, welcome and trust God. Blessed are the peacemakers. Woe upon the peace breakers!
Sometimes a heart can’t help but wonder why we end up getting persecuted, insulted and even lied about. It takes some very real ‘soul work’ and ‘faith investment’ to comprehend Jesus’ teaching that we are blessed when persecuted, insulted and lied about.
Persecution can take the form of nasty nicknames, discrediting declarations, insults even physical afflictions. I’ve long wondered why some folks will ‘put others down’ in order to ‘build themselves up?’ Words can be so cruel. People can use words that have such a negative and hurtful impact upon others. Even mocking can be a form of persecution. Far too many cause others to feel ‘small,’ ‘less than,’ insignificant and dumb. Haven’t we all seen that folks will go to any and all extremes to persecute others?
I ask you, are the current political ‘ads’ just pointing out the differences between our candidates or are they stooping to persecute others in order to win political office?
Ask God to search your heart, to know you, what your motives are and how you should best handle persecution. When you or I are persecuted, Jesus says we shall be blessed if we choose to not seek vengeance, nor return injury for injury or persecution for persecution. Instead if we concentrate on how we might love with the love of the Lord, we can be blessed by God. Remember Jesus also was persecuted, insulted, mocked and abused because of his lifestyle, his love, and his care for the ‘little guy’ and his abiding belief in the kingdom of God.
Look around and learn from the people you admire most as Christians. Follow their lead, copy their example, and promote their kind of faith whenever and wherever you can.
Jesus says great is your reward in heaven…
Remember; God knows you. He knows when you rise and when you lay your head down to sleep. He knows when you sit and when you stand. God is quite familiar with all your ways. Before you speak, he knows what you’re about to say. God protects you from all sides. He ‘hems’ you in. This, my dear friends is wonderful knowledge. No matter how close or far we may be to God, He is ALWAYS with us. You ARE fearfully and wonderfully made. God doesn’t make junk. You are certainly NOT a mistake! God has a plan for you and the Almighty has ordained your time, your purpose and your days here on earth. Don’t choose to live wildly, sinfully or carelessly lest you shorten those days and compromise God’s ordained plan for you. Free will remains our choice to follow God or fall away from God.
Sometimes a heart can’t help but wonder how things are going in our relationship to God. Pray the prayer written in the Bible; Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, September 19, 2020& Sunday, September 20, 2020
Prayer For Illumination- Gracious God, give us humble, teachable, and obedient hearts, that we may receive what you have revealed, and do what you have commanded. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Exodus 16:2-15 Page 71, Matthew 20:1-16 Page 987
Sermon Message: ‘Complaining or Concentrating?’
“Complaining’ is just human nature. These two differing texts from the Bible confirm that for thousands of years people have complained and complained and complained some more. Current research indicates that the average person complains nearly 15-20 times per day. God knows whiners whine, always have and always will. That doesn’t make this ‘attribute’ of ours ‘right.’ Quite the contrary… God continues teaching us to concentrate rather than complain.
I am as guilty as the next person for complaining. Just the other day, on the way to go shopping with Patty, I was in a hurry to ‘get where we were going.’ I complained to my beloved; “Why is it that when you’re in a hurry all of the traffic lights are red and you have to set and wait?” When you stop and concentrate, even briefly, on what’s happening, you realize most things aren’t as bad as you complain they are. I gradually became thankful for the time we had spent together.
Complaining, in general, does make things look worse than they are. When people complain they focus mainly on what’s wrong. Things might be fine in many parts of the family, the job, the church, even in the world, but complainers only talk about the problems, annoyances and ‘pet peeves’ they perceive.
So, when we ‘point out’ what’s wrong, what could be different, better, or done my way, are we complaining or concentrating?
Psychology advises us that ‘complaining’ is just a simple, yet sincere part of human nature. Concentrating, requires some effort. It requires focus. The ‘job’ of spirituality is to get people to concentrate on what matters most in God’s universe and within the Christian believer’s life…Far too many of our complaints stem from our assumption and belief that we are the center of the universe. Me, myself and I are what matters most. Yet today’s teachings from both the Old and the New Testament reconfirm that ‘relationships’ are more important than our definitions of ‘what’s fair’ or what’s most important. The Bible affirms what’s most important IS our relationship to God and God’s relationship to people, to all people, even to people we don’t think deserve a relationship, even a hearing with God. The Almighty always has, always will establish that these relationships are most worthy of our concentration.
Within the first text from the Bible; Exodus 16:2-15 we perceive that God wasn’t happy when those Israelites complained so much as He led them from slavery, through the desert, provided for them each day and night and into their promised land. They repeatedly bellyached to Moses. I am stunned every time I read the story of the exodus. How can the people of Israel complain like they do? How could they be so ignorant, so stupid, and so forgetful?
The God of the universe had just tossed around the most powerful man on the face of the earth like a toddler with a rag doll. God didn’t just humble Pharaoh; he broke his spirit and revealed Pharaoh’s impotence. A slave people and their God left him and his nation in shambles. This display of power sent vibrations throughout the world, inspiring fear and awe. Yet Israel’s response to this spectacular deliverance from Egypt is not mainly praise, worship, and wholehearted trust. Instead, Israel responds with grumbling — complaining, murmuring, quarreling. “No water, Moses! Where’s the beef, Moses? I have blisters on my feet, Moses. Who died and made you, boss? Are we there yet, Moses?” Spiritual amnesia set in quickly and covered the eyes of Israel’s hearts. So soon had they forgotten God’s gracious and miraculous deliverance?
Like them, how quickly we too forget what God has done good in our lives, how the Lord has provided, what all we should be thankful for and trust. Some do refer to this as ‘spiritual amnesia.’ It can be a deadly disease…God delivered those ancient Israelites ‘from’ what had enslaved them ‘into’ God’s promised land of provisions, love and care. The people of Israel, on the heels of unthinkable miracles, with their pockets full of Egyptian jewelry, grumble at their less-than-five-star accommodations in the desert. This wasn’t just headache-induced grumbling or low-blood-sugar complaining. This was faithlessness. It is the heart that says, “I know better than God. If only he would listen to me and follow my plan!”
Sometimes complaining is just a bad habit we’ve gotten ourselves into. One could say those ancient Israelites, as they journeyed through the wilderness were just ‘concentrating’ on having their needs met. Truth is whatever they may have initially been feeling they had transformed into habitual complaining. Breaking habits, even the habit of habitual complaining takes concentration.
A few spiritual ‘antidotes’ for our tendencies to complain include; remembering, realizing, and appreciating.
Moses was strongly disappointed that the people whom he had freed from slavery just did not seem to remember, nor care to remember, what God had done for them. They complained, even suggested they would have been ‘better off’ had they remained slaves in Egypt. Like them we too often long for the ‘good old days’ the ‘glory days’ of old. We too tend to easily or even conveniently forget what God has done in our lives, for our world.
Moses strongly encouraged the people to remember God in their lives. Remembering the hand of God, the presence of Christ, the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit is a sincere antidote to complaining and spiritual amnesia in its many forms.
Those ancient Israelites complained about ‘not having enough.’ They wanted meat, not manna. They wanted ‘more’ not just ‘enough to get by on.’ God consistently met their needs, but seldom met all of their established ‘wants.’ Upon faithful and sincere reflection, you and I have the very same reality occurring. God has met our most sincere needs but not always our ‘wants.’ This sustainable truth helps us realize where we should most concentrate…
Once remembering occurs, after reality sets in, then we are better able to appreciate what God has done, what God is doing, and what God shall be doing into the future.
Covid 19 has surely caused many a soul to complain…This pandemic can be identified as another ‘wilderness’ of sorts. While any and perhaps all of us can easily recall how things were prior to Covid 19 all the complaining in the world isn’t going to change the reality of Covid 19’s presence and effect upon all of our lives. Concentrate on remembering God’s helping presence. Realize we have gotten through so much with God’s provisions of strength, help and insight. Our faith has necessarily become stronger. The less we choose to complain and the more we concentrate the better has become our outlook and sustainable values.
The focus of many complaints today are with our President; Donald Trump and with his opponent; Joe Biden. I attempted to ‘Google’ the president’s approval rating. It changes often. Then I remembered that President Barrack Obama’s approval rating was highly questioned and also changed daily. Complaining about ‘who’ our leaders are and ‘how’ they are leading has been our pastime for decades, actually for centuries. We want to remember campaign promises and seek to complain when we do not see them fulfilled or even with ‘how’ they may or may not be fulfilled. Yet for each complaint we have there is also a corresponding reality of some good each president has done or is still accomplishing. Concentrate on the greater realities, the larger perspective and this maturing will serve as an antidote against complaining so much and our developing spiritual amnesia.
I am aware that any of us tend to complain when we think or feel as though life is unfair. Today’s scripture reading from the Gospel of Matthew serves as a vivid illustration of this. Jesus tells the story of a landowner who hired workers at different times throughout the day. Yet at the end of the day that same landowner paid everyone the same wage. Those who worked the longest and the hardest complained that ‘it wasn’t fair!’ The landowner challenged their thinking and complaining. He asked them to remember what they had agreed to. He made them realize they were not the boss, he was, and thirdly he helped them to appreciate they all worked that day. Many were cared for.
Remember, realize and appreciate. Sustainable values that serve as wholesome and healthy antidotes for anyone’s spiritual amnesia.
Sometimes we even complain when we pray. Like those workers Jesus spoke of we ‘tell God’ what’s not right and who’s not fair. When we pray, as we access God in His heaven with our complaints instead of with praise and thanks giving we hinder spiritual progress in Kingdom Living. This becomes ‘distorted prayer.’
I think we’ve all been around people who complain too much and seldom seem to concentrate on what matters most.
My parents were wise with us four boys. We’d complain and seek to point out what wasn’t fair. One of their wholesome responses was assigning us four boys a task to be done. When any one of us dared to complain that one of our brothers wasn’t doing their fair share my parents would speak to us all and say; “The work has to be done. Get it done. It doesn’t matter who does the most or the least amount of work. Just get it done and stop complaining.”
Our elders and ancestors have well taught us to appreciate more and complain less. Their ‘tool’ for appreciation seemed to be a greater presence of humility and a far less sense of entitlement. They had a way of ‘making do’ of ‘getting by’ and not feeling entitled but appreciative for what they DID have…Looking back many of them just didn’t seem to need as much as we believe we need. They just didn’t feel entitled to so much. They did ‘make do.’
God has been with us, just as He was with those ancient Israelites. Jesus is teaching us still, just as he did those early crowds of believers and his disciples. Let’s take a moment and look back on God’s fingerprints all over your life:
Remember how God has protected you from making shipwreck of your life. Remember how God graciously let you grow up in a godly family. Remember how God awakened you to the ugliness of your sin. Remember how you walked away from that terrible car crash. Remember how your wife, sister, or mom survived breast cancer. Remember how you had mentors and key friends guide you in your faith. Remember how God sustained you during that season of unemployment. Remember how God miraculously healed you. Remember that impossible prayer request that God answered. Remember how you had no money and an envelope just showed up in the mail with exactly the amount you needed. Remember how the gospel came alive, as it never had before.
The ‘credit’ in life’s relationships with God and others belongs neither to the critic nor the complainer but to the person who tried, who loved, who lived valiantly and faithfully! Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020 and Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020
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: Ephesians 6:1-3. P. 1177, Psalm 68:5 P. 575, Romans 6:23 P. 1131
Sermon Message: “Truth or Consequences”
Truth is there are consequences associated with our actions or lack thereof. Early on we learned that IF we were defiant of our parents we’d end up ‘paying the consequences.’ God’s Word informs us of a deeper spiritual truth; honoring our parents is not only the right thing to do, it will also benefit us with enjoying a long life here on earth. The Bible teaches us to care for others. Being a father to the fatherless and a defender of widows is a spiritual truth. If we do choose to care for others there will be positive, even healthy consequences. Choosing NOT to care for others will result in loneliness, neglect and further sinfulness. Clearly, the Bible teaches us that whatever our sins may be, they end up leading us towards death instead of into life.
Perhaps some of my listeners can recall a wild and wacky TV game show known as ‘Truth or Consequences?’ Contestants on that TV show were selected from the audience. They could either tell the truth (answer a question) OR be forced to pay the consequences (perform a stunt). The TV show; ‘Truth or Consequences’ had a ‘run’ from 1956-1988. I still recall Bob Barker hosting that show.
Some of life’s most important lessons regarding consequences, have been learned in church. I, for one, remain so grateful for that. You may recall some important lessons you learned in ‘church.’ A Sunday School teacher, of years gone by, wanted to teach her children about sin, forgiveness and consequences. She gave each child a beautiful and highly polished piece of wood with the instructions to take it home and whenever they did some act or spoke some word that they felt was hurtful and bad, they were to drive a nail in the board. Weeks rolled by and finally came the Sunday when the boards were to be brought back for examination. Of course, all of them had a generous supply of nails and they did talk about the things that brought them about. Now, said the teacher, let's talk of forgiveness. When she was through, each child was to take a hammer and pull the nails out one by one. Then the lesson was clear. God did forgive, but the consequences could be seen in the nail holes that marred the board.
There are many who imagine that when they repent, forgiveness then means that God will step in and make all things right and they will escape the consequences. God’s mercy and love are extensive. However, the hurt we may have caused, the damaged done will take some ‘doing’ to be ‘made right!’
We do suffer consequences, self-chosen and self-generated. No doubt God grieves when he watches what we do to ourselves. He is there in both love and judgment seeking to turn us around before we make a mess of things.
The Bible teaches us much about God. Some folks feel as though the Bible is quite hard to read and somewhat confusing. There are parts of it that are challenging. There are more understandable parts to the Bible then there is confusion. Several parts of the Bible are so crystal clear with their rational disclosures. For instance, today’s initial scripture lesson found in the Book of Ephesians 6:1-3. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Here we find a crystal-clear directive from God…These words describe what is ‘right.’ Today’s scripture lesson continues with these words; “Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise----SO THAT it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
Good choices will result in good and beneficial consequences. Bad choices will result in more dire consequences.
A simple lesson with a great spiritual reward. Follow God and you will be blessed. Choose NOT to honor and obey and your consequences will be compromises to the well- being of your life…
Sometimes the ‘truth’ associated with God’s teachings are a bit hard to follow. My parents were not always agreeable with ‘how’ I chose to ‘honor and obey’ them. Perhaps you faced a few ‘challenges’ of your own with your parents at some time. My parents did not want me to move away from the locale we were from up in the Indiana, Latrobe, Derry area of Western PA. God had other plans. I chose to ‘honor’ my parents by at least remaining within the Western PA area and continuing to care for them through their declining years. I chose to ‘obey’ God, my heavenly Father as well.
Hopefully a ‘truth’ associated with God has produced favorable ‘consequences’ in your life as someone’s child…Many do love and favor the wisdom found in the Old Testament Book of Proverbs. Within Proverbs 22:6 we receive this ‘truth.’… “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it.” Would your parents be ‘proud’ of the ‘way’ you have chosen to follow in the Christian faith? Truth is early childhood Christian education is essential. There are positive outcomes for faith training. There are negative consequences for failing to provide Christian education early on.
As earlier referenced within this message some ‘truths’ from the Bible are easier to follow than others. Our nation has been challenged for some time with political scenarios. For numerous years our Congress evidenced strong bi-partisan stalemates in their governing. These past few years bi-partisan emphasis has been fiercely evident between the Democratic and Republican parties. Now we enter election times and daily perceive attack ads on our prominent candidates vying for President and Vice President of the United States of America. Some of the ‘truth’ we have seen across the years has produced ‘consequences’ few are proud of. Legal proceedings, rulings and benefits for the citizenry are stalemated or lost altogether when parties consistently stalemate against each other and refuse to take action that could well benefit those they have been called upon to govern. Blaming one another has enflamed constituents throughout our great nation. Yet God has a message for us all. God declares His ‘truth’ that is sometimes a hard pill to swallow.
Submission to governing authorities remains a truth of God’s Holy Word. Within Romans 13; 1, 2 we are called upon to be subject to the governing authorities for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
God remains the ULTIMATE authority in heaven and here on earth. Today’s second scripture lesson found with Psalm 65:8 affirms, “The Lord is “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.” In clearer terms; God cares for the marginally related, for the weak, the powerless, those having little or no hope. ‘Truth’ throughout history reveals that when governing authorities and those who would become governing authorities prioritize and represent the cares, the on-going needs of the poor, the needy, the disenchanted, the consequences are beneficial to the people, the constituents are most blessed. May we pray and vote for those candidates who shine with God like qualities and care for even the least of God’s children. Remember God sent Jesus to the poor, the needy, the outcasts, the sick and the sinners. Truth is when those, such as these, are cared for and well governed the consequences are spiritual blessings to all.
God governs with authority, but also with love. God has always had a way of caring for and protecting His children. Thus, the world goes on, ever evolving always growing.
Within the words of one of our patriotic hymns; “God’s truth is marching on!” (Battle hymn of the Republic). There is truth and there are consequences…
God says “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.” This is God’s truth. Consequences for worshipping other ‘gods’ entails punishment. When our money and our possessions, even other people become more important than God, negative and hurtful consequences are sure to follow.
God says “Do not misuse the name of God.” God’s middle name is NOT ‘Dam.’ Truth remains God will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name. God calls you his son and daughter, his child. He calls you by name. (Isaiah 43:1). God has numbered the very hairs on your head. (Luke 12:7). He speaks of and seeks your worth. Truth is when we, and governing authorities, care for others the consequences are beneficial for all. Misusing of names is wrong.
God says “Keep the Sabbath holy.” Rest, even as God did on the seventh day. Follow this truth or reap the consequences of exhaustion, fatigue and dullness of spirit…
Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t be jealous of what others have. These are but a few of God’s teachings, God’s truth from the Bible illustrating to us what constitutes ‘sin’ inside any of us.
There’s a very strong ‘truth’ regarding sin in life…Our third scripture lesson for today reveals this spiritual truth; “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
‘Death’ isn’t only one’s physical passing from this life to the next. There is spiritual death, psychological death, relationship death, even emotional death.
Truth is if we sin something will die or at least lead us towards death. The consequences of sin are some form of death.
We’ve possibly met parents and their children who have not spoken nor visited one another for months even years. We know of politicians who govern with little concern for the ‘little guy.’ There are those folks who love their money and their possessions above all others, even God…Far too many folks feel as though there’s nothing wrong with adultery and other human designs so long as you ‘get away with it.’ Marriages continue to be broken. Children become hurt. Many scarred…
Some of the worst ‘hurt’ God feels and perhaps you and I have also experienced is when others who should care, just don’t. Not only do they choose not to care or love. They are just passive, apathetic. In the Book of Revelations God decries against those who are lukewarm. (Revelation 3:16). He declares because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
The truth is sin, in its’ many forms, leads to death in its’ various forms.
There is a healthy ‘truth’ that produces wondrous consequences I wish to share with you…. God sends His love. He cares for you even when you are among the least of his children. The truth and consequences of our God among us now is peace, hope, guidance, love and forgiveness. God affirms in His Word; “So it is with great confidence and boldness that we can proclaim that His truth is surely ‘marching on.’ And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” (Isaiah 65:24)
Truth and consequences…
Sermon Message for Saturday, September 5, 2020 and Sunday, September 6, 2020.
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: Matthew 5:6, Page 968, Psalm 23, Page 548.
SERMON MESSAGE: “Fill My Cup, Lord”
Today’s scripture lessons are familiar to many. From the Gospel of Matthew, we learn of one of these ‘blessings’ from Jesus. This series of ‘blessings’ known as the ‘Beatitudes’, Jesus preached as part of his famed and familiar ‘Sermon on the Mount.’ The 23rd Psalm, affectionately known as ‘The Shepherd’s Psalm,’ has been memorized by many, well received by most, and has comforted many a soul.
The Psalmist declares; “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint me head with oil; my cup overflows…” These are words, powerful words, meaningful words, regarding God’s abundant provisions. I am not merely referring here to material goods and possessions but rather to ‘provisions’ that are spiritual, meaningful, life sustaining and lasting. Life with God is such a blessing, meaningful and fulfilling.
I inquire of you to consider what life without God might be like for a moment or two. Listen and consider a totally ‘different’ rendition of the 23rd Psalm (God missing/forsaken rendition)…
“I have no Shepherd, I constantly want. In discontent, I graze in parched fields; I can find no water to quench my thirst. My soul is weary; I wander in the paths of sinfulness, seeking pleasure. When I walk in the darkness of danger and death, I am afraid; I am all alone. No power or principle gives me comfort. There is no nourishment to strengthen me against my enemies. There is no ointment for my head. My life is empty. Even though God's goodness and mercy have been available all the days of my life, I shall be banished from the house of the Lord forever."
David, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, didn’t think that way. He said, “The Lord is my shepherd… You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
A ‘cup overflowing’ had special significance back in Bible times. Some commentators suggest that the Psalmist; David, was also drawing insight and familiarity from the Arab Nomadic tribes of Bedouins. According to these desert dweller’s ‘law’ certain rules of hospitality were to be applied. If a traveler were received into the Bedouin Shepherd’s tent and especially once his host has spread food before him, he was guaranteed immunity from his enemies. To sit as a guest at the table of such a host was to be assured of food, housing, fellowship and protection. A table that had been prepared was a public announcement that no one was to molest THIS guest. The greater the influence/prestige/power of the host the greater the security. When a guest’s head was anointed with oil - it showed he was highly honored. And when a cup was offered to a special visitor it wasn’t half-full… it would be running over showing the prestige of the guest.
“Fill my cup Lord!” That’s what David was boldly saying God would do for him. David had come into the TENT of this great shepherd, and David knew that, once he was there, he’d be provided for and protected.
This is a repeated theme in David’s songs. In Psalm 27:5 David wrote “For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.”
Within Psalm 61:4 he wrote: “Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!”
Now what’s interesting, is that not everybody thinks about God that way. David’s God CARED for him, and LOVED him, and PROTECTED him.
But it’s obviously not the way a lot of people think about God. Why is it that folks do NOT feel nor believe that God Cares for them? Loves them? Protects them? Well… because folks usually don’t live their lives the way they should. They believe God is easily angered with them… Many believe they’ve given God plenty of reasons for Him to be angry. Far too many don’t think He’d care to help out in their lives… because they KNOW they DON’T deserve that! More than enough folks these days, just don’t think much about God nor even believe there IS a God. Folks rest mainly in themselves, their accomplishments and fought for entitlements…
I trust that you and I are people who desire for God to ‘Fill our Cup!” Our ‘cup’ is filled with goodness and mercy, all the days of our lives. Our ‘cup’ is filled with loving kindness, blessings and forgiveness. Our ‘cup’ is filled by God with meaning and fulfillment.
I must tell you of a cup I have owned for years and years now but have never used. I must tell you of a song in my heart that I sing to the Lord privately from time to time.
While attending Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1979 there was a smaller ‘store’ which offered us our text books for purchase, Bibles, of course, and several ‘religious items’ pertaining to aspiring preachers. At this Cokesbury store I bought my first preaching robe. It was black with some red tubing down the front. Still have it. Just don’t use it much since attaining my Doctorate degree and accompanying ‘new robe.’ Also, back then, at the urging of my family, friends and support group, I purchased this cup. It is silver on the outside and gold lined on the inside. Folks back then, informed me over and over again that this would be my main ‘cup’ during my years of serving God and the people as a minister. I remember wrapping it in this old cloth I had ‘washed up’ back then. I then placed my ‘cup’, this Communion Chalice, inside of this brown cloth bag. Across the years I would anticipate using my ‘cup’ for communion services but pretty much every church I’ve ever served or preached at had it’s very own communion set which was their preferred ‘cup.’ So it was, I kept my communion cup packed carefully away for years now… Someday I shall retire. When I do I plan on drinking from my ‘cup’ in a private communion service with God from time to time, where I shall give thanks all the days of my life for how He has filled my ‘put away cup’ to overflowing with countless blessings and numerous good things across these blessed years of sacred and holy ministry.
This sacrament of Holy Communion is among the more awesome honors and blessings we can experience. I have been touched by God in these services of communion beyond what my words could ever convey…
We affirm a ‘shared faith.’ We share God’s love, care, protection and forgiveness among other things. We grow, in part, by learning from one another and how ‘others’ have listened to God, learned from God, been guided and inspired by God. I learned from another minister some years ago, a song he had written. This is a song I personally ‘sing to the Lord’ from time to time. Allow me to share with you the setting for his ‘inspiration.’
Pastor Richard Blanchard served as a United Methodist minister for forty years. Due to a sever lung condition he was left with only one third of his normal lung capacity. Pastor Blanchard was waiting for the arrival of a couple for marriage counseling. They were late for the appointment. Not just a little irritated, the pastor sat down at the piano to kill some time while the minutes ticked away. He wasn’t in the best ‘frame of mind.’ But it was precisely then that the idea for a gospel song came to him. Pastor Blanchard later wrote; “When I was not in the mood to be used by God, God was in the mood to use me.” The song he was inspired to write is entitled; “Fill My Cup.” It is based upon the Lord’s encounter with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in a place called Sychar. (John 4:5-42). The woman at the well was indeed searching for something. Searching for happiness, for meaning, for contentment. But so far she had been looking in all the wrong places. She had been married five times and was currently living with a sixth man. (vs, 17-18). Jesus offered her an answer to her life long quest. “I will quench your thirst with ‘living water.’
The Spirit of God is sometimes symbolized or pictured by water numerous times in the Bible.. Jesus Christ proclaimed, “He who believes in me, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38-39).
Reflecting on the Word of God Pastor Blanchard penned these following words, the song I sing from time to time. A spiritual message and blessing for us all on this communion Sabbath.
Our ‘cup of communion’ reminds us, like the woman at the well, we are sometimes seeking for things that can not satisfy. Millions in this world are looking for satisfaction in the pleasures earthly things cannot afford. NOTHING can match the soul satisfaction found in Jesus Christ…
The Lord IS our Shepherd. He prepares a table before us. He anoints our heads with oil. Our ‘cup’ overflows. Today’s communion cups are certainly not overflowing with wine nor grape juice. They are however, overflowing with love, forgiveness, provision and protection. Our cup overflows because it is filled with the presence of God. This, above all people, places and things, satisfies our souls. Today as you commune with me and together we commune with God pray this prayer, “Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up Lord, come quench this thirsting of my soul. Amen. …
Sermon Message for Saturday, August 29, 2020 & Sunday, August 30, 2020.
Scripture Lessons: Luke 18:9-14, Page 1051 & James 4:6-8a, Page 1218
Sermon Message: “Saints and Sinners”
Just when you think you have things ‘all figured out’ life throws you a curve and you have to start over again, reevaluate and adapt to a new way of looking at things. Today’s scriptures present that type of scenario to us. Jesus’ famed parable about the High and mighty Pharisee versus the low-down tax collector make us stop and think about who the saints are and whom the sinners might really be.
Jesus’ parable might fit any of us. A ‘parable’ is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels. One of Jesus’ most famous parables is The Pharisee and the Tax Collector from Luke 18:9-14. In this parable, Jesus addressed those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (v. 9). To illustrate the folly of trusting in one’s self, Jesus contrasted two men who went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee (the religious elites of the day) and the other a tax collector (the supposed great sinners of the day).
The Pharisee trusted in himself, thinking that he was righteous because of what he did for God, all the while looking down on the tax collector (vv. 11-12). On the other hand, the tax collector was justified before God because he relied, not on himself, but on the merciful, righteousness of God (v. 13). Jesus concluded by stating that the tax collector “went to his house justified, rather than the other” (v. 14a) The reason for this is because, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 14b).
To help us see how we can so easily express the same attitude as the Pharisee, I wish to share with you a few retellings of the ‘The Pharisee and the Tax Collector’ set in modern terms and situations. It is my hope, that these will challenge you to examine your heart as they have my own.
The Fit, Athletic Woman and the Slightly, Overweight Woman…
Two women go to the grocery store to do their weekly shopping, one is a fit, athletic type with a normal BMI and the other was slightly overweight. As the two women waited in line to check-out, the fit, athletic woman prayed, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other women, lazy, unhealthy, poor homemakers, or even like this heavy-set woman in front of me. I work out three times a week; I take care of Your temple by carefully watching what I eat; and I only feed my family good healthy foods.”
But the woman who was slightly overweight, humbly prayed, “God, thank You for all that You provide for me and my family. We don’t deserve it.”
I tell you the slightly overweight woman went to her house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts herself will be humbled, but the one who humbles herself will be exalted.
The Man with the Older Truck and the Man with the Newer Truck
Two men stop at a red-light, one in an older model, high-mileage Chevrolet truck, the other in a brand-new, Ford F-250 Super Duty, Crew Cab truck. As the two men waited for the light to turn green, the man in the older model, high-mileage truck prayed to himself, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other men, materialistic, covetous showoffs, or even like this man in the lane beside me. I’ve worked hard to earn what I’ve got; I’ve never wanted to be rich; and I don’t act like I’m better than anybody else.”
But the man in the new truck, humbly prayed, “God, thank You for all that You have richly blessed me with. I don’t deserve it.”
I tell you, this man who humbly prayed and thanked God went on his way justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
The Home-School Mom and the Public-School Mom
Two moms take their children to the park to play, one a home-schooling mom, the other, a public-school mom. As the two women watched their children play together, the home-schooling mom prayed, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other women, selfish, unfit mothers, poor homemakers or even like this woman who ships her kids off to public school. I raise my own kids; I protect them from worldly influences; and I ensure that my kids have a godly, Bible-based education.”
But the public-school mom, humbly prayed, “God thank you for my children. Please help me be a godly mother.”
I tell you, this mom who humbly prayed went home justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts herself will be humbled, but the one who humbles herself will be exalted.
The Professed Christian and the Effeminate Looking Man
Two men go to a fast-food restaurant for lunch, one a professed Christian, the other an effeminate looking man. As the two men ate their lunch, the Christian prayed, “God I thank you that I’m not like other men, irreligious, sexually immoral, or even like that gay-looking guy over there. I’m a born-again Christian; I go to church 3 times a week; and I publicly uphold marriage to be between one man and one woman.”
But the effeminate looking man quietly prayed to himself, “God, have mercy on me a sinner. Please lead me in Your ways.”
I tell you, this man who prayed to be forgiven went home justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
The Dressed-Down Christian and the Dressed-Up Christian
Two Christian men go to church and sat on same pew, one a younger, dressed-downed Christian, the other an older, dressed-up Christian. As the two men sat on the same pew, the younger, dressed-down Christian prayed, “God I thank you that I’m not like other Christ followers, ritualistic, traditionalist, or even like this guy sitting on the other end. I’m authentic; I’m sold out for You; and I don’t put on a facade by dressing-up to worship You.”
But the older, dressed-up Christian quietly prayed to himself, “God, I’m not perfect. I have failed Thee often. In Your steadfast love, have mercy on me a sinner.”
I tell you, this man who confessed to God he was not perfect left the church service justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
Sometimes we are saints. Sometimes we are sinners. Jesus points out our ‘sin’ can be something as real and sincere as our attitude, our outlook towards another soul. Worse still is when we estimate ourselves to be saints who are ‘better than’ those sinners.
Jesus makes a sincere point that we are ALL in need of God’s grace and mercy. Jesus inquiries of us to think about our relationship to Him and unto the Father in more humble ways.
Spiritual Pride is a sin. From today’s Gospel message, Jesus teaches us two characteristics of spiritual pride…1) Passing judgment on the tax collector and everyone else. 2) when prayer is all about us; our good works and righteousness.
Biblical scholars through the centuries have written their comments regarding the self-righteous Pharisee. He presents himself as a person God should be glad to hear from instead of humbly approaching God.
On the other hand, the tax collector was considered a low-down scoundrel in his culture back then. They ‘earned’ that reputation because they often times ‘cheated’ on people’s taxes and worse still they worked for the foreign government; the Romans who were occupying forces back then. Jesus though, points out the tax collector’s humble attitude as he prays unto God and seeks forgiveness.
Sometimes it’s not ‘who’ we are, but ‘how’ we approach God and see ourselves that matters most.
Easily enough we can estimate ourselves to be saints when we are really being sinners.
Ask yourself, do you really live in the ‘fear of God?’ Or is that something you perhaps ‘explained away’ some time ago?
Something spiritual you and I both know is this; God’s presence is like a mirror that reflects the state of our soul.
Jesus further teaching is clear; don’t brag or judge others. ‘Judging’ can show up in things such as tale bearing, gossip, criticism, backbiting, condemnation, allegations etc.
Today’s teachings from the Bible remind us that we can be saints or sinners. Sometimes we are one, sometimes the other, hopefully not both at the same time.
Scriptures from the Book of James provide us with our much needed and well appreciated spiritual reality that “God gives us more grace. God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” May we submit ourselves then to God. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, August 22, 2020 & Sunday, August 23, 2020
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: Colossians 2:6-9 Page 983, Matthew 16:13-20 Page 983
Sermon Message: “I Am a Christian?
Easily enough any soul receiving this sermon message might affirm; “I am a Christian.”
I sometimes ‘smile’ at what some folks believe ‘makes them a Christian.’ Our beloved church is located on a main road going through Coraopolis. There are hundreds and perhaps thousands of vehicles that pass by this church each and every day. I’ve met more than one person who has seriously said, “I am a Christian because I drove past the Presbyterian Church in Coraopolis.” I’m sure their ‘intent’ runs a bit deeper than that, but you get the ‘gist’ of their identifying themselves as being a Christian.
Some folks believe ‘being a Christian’ means you ‘go to church.’ Not everyone who attends church is a Christian. People come to church for various reasons. Many come to worship God and to be renewed for the week ahead; some come because they are facing a difficult decision and are hoping for some insights. Others come because it is the thing to do, it is a good place to make friends and business contacts, or they come to keep a spouse happy. Still others come because they want their children to learn Christian values. And if you are a young person, perhaps you come because your parents make you. By making you come, they are fulfilling the promise they made the day you were baptized. There is a good chance that we all have mixed motives for coming to worship, and that is fine. We are glad that you are here, whatever your reason, and we pray that the Holy Spirit will touch your heart this day.
Many will say, “I AM a Christian.” There are some basics associated with ‘being a Christian.’
1. Do you pray daily?
2. Do you live by the Golden Rule?
3. Do you try to keep the Ten Commandments?
4. Do you attend worship every week?
5. Do you tithe ten percent of your income?
6. Do you serve on a committee or sing in the choir?
7. Do you do volunteer work in the community?
The most important question is this; “Who is Jesus to you?” Being a good person, living a moral life and helping others helps to identify your Christianity are strong ‘characteristics’ associated with being a Christian. The spiritual foundation for being a Christian is KNOWING ‘WHO’ Jesus Christ is then living that belief, and understanding, at all costs. To say “I AM a Christian’ is to affirm how the reality, presence and belief in Jesus Christ affects not only our personal life; how we spend our time and money, how we get along with others, but also how we view ourselves and our future life.
There lived a man born to an unwed mother in a stable and placed in a manger whose earthly father was a carpenter. History records that he healed the sick, sought out sinners, preached about the kingdom of heaven and proclaimed Good News to the poor.
When this Jesus walked the face of this earth some of his peers said they never heard anyone speak like him. (John 7:46). He spoke with authority, not pride, nor control, but with an authority that came from outside and beyond himself. (Matthew 7:29). Jesus was able to do things that no one else ever could. He did all things well…(Mark 7:37).
You may well recall from your Christian education background that even in Jesus’ ‘day’ many who saw what he did, and heard what he said, did not believe him to be anything more than a ‘good man!’ Back then some thought he was the reincarnation of one of their more famous people who had died such as John the Baptist or one of the prophets; Elijah or Jeremiah. Folks tended to sometimes believe that way, back then…In other words people, back then, were not real sure who Jesus was but they did know, for sure, that he was a great man…
Jesus WAS a great man. Historical evidence supports that he was a remarkable healer, a charismatic leader, a great teacher, a martyr, a model and a friend. He IS all of these things but so much more. Think about it, other great men are not remembered so long nor have they inspired so much art, music and literature.
We have all sorts of knowledge regarding who Jesus WAS. But who IS Jesus now? Who is Jesus in today’s world, in your world, in your heart, soul and life???
Today’s scriptures from the Book of Colossians issues a warning NOT to be ‘taken in’ by ‘hollow and deceptive philosophies which depend upon human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world.’
A few examples of what that means…
1) Some say Jesus was just a good man who lived a long time ago. This might be referred to as ‘the historical Jesus.’
2) Some affirm Jesus to be God’s Son but ‘out of touch’ with today’s realities. This might be referred to as the ‘irrelevant Jesus.’
3) Lots of folks turn to knowledge, academics, the marvels of technology and modern medicine in lieu of their belief, trust and affirmation of Jesus’ living presence within their lives.
4) Sadder still, way too many folks trust their own thoughts, philosophies, beliefs, traditions and even conversations with others so much more than they do this spiritual ‘entity’ called Jesus Christ.
Check yourself to see IF you are a Christian according to sincere spiritual guidelines.
As the Bible inquires today have you received Jesus as Lord in your life?...
Do you ask Jesus to live inside of you and through you? Do you ‘base your life’ on Jesus? Are you rooted in him and built up in him? (Colossians 2:6,7).
Is your faith strengthened in Him and overflowing with thankfulness? (Colossians 2:7)
“I AM a Christian?”…That can be a strong affirmation of faith. Yet, at the same time it is a solemn question we must ask ourselves throughout our lives. Please spend some quiet time collecting your thoughts today, tomorrow and for the rest of your tomorrows.
Ponder your faith relationship with Jesus. Is your faith something that was ‘once important’ perhaps when you were small or a bit younger? Kind of like how some folks believe Jesus was ‘once’ an important figure in history…
Do you turn to Jesus daily/often or perhaps feel such ways are for the young and naïve or for the elderly and those nearing life’s end? Jesus IS ‘relevant’ to ALL…
When things ‘go wrong’ in your body, your life or this world do you depend first and foremost on the news? The academics? Modern technology and modern medicines?
HOW you choose each day to live your life and relate to God and others is a very big disclosure of whether you are what you believe you are or not; a Christian…
“I AM a Christian?” Good question for all of us…
I believe Jesus was at times ‘curious.’ One day he was with his disciples and began asking them “Who do people say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13). As noted earlier, some folks back then thought Jesus was a reincarnation of good folks who had passed away such as John the Baptist, the Prophets; Elijah or Jeremiah or perhaps another. Pretty soon Jesus’ curiosity turned into His straightforward inquiry; “What about you? Who do you say that I am?”
I shall always revere the apostle Peter’s response…“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” IS JESUS THAT TO YOU? Not just ‘historically.’ Not only academically.’ Not just according to tradition nor only because of one’s going to church even for years. WHO is Jesus in your heart, in your soul in your daily life?
There remains many ‘types’ of Christians. I sincerely believe we shall benefit from considering ‘healthy Christians.’
Here a but a few ‘healthy affirmations’ when we inquire of ourselves; ‘I am a Christian?’...
I affirm and choose to believe Jesus was not only a ‘good man’ he was the ‘best man’ that ever lived; both in history and present day. This remains a healthy affirmation for all of us.
The question arises; “I am a Christian?” Healthy faith responds “Yes Lord!” meaning Jesus is Christ IS Lord in our each of our present day lives and within this world. Even in the midst of this strong virus; Covid 19.
“I AM a Christian?” Healthy Christians combine faith with knowledge, academics, the marvels of technology and modern medicine. We tend to believe that God sent all of these things, works through all of these things yet calls upon each and every one of us to trust Him above and beyond only these things.
When trials and tests come, healthy Christians turn to the Lord, call upon Him, submit to Him, love and trust Him. Then, when answers come, they return to the Lord Jesus Christ to give glory, praise and honor…
Central to our faith is our deep-felt affirmation that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is the Son of God. Our Father loves us.
Now consider this question; in the eyes of God, the things you do, how you treat others, can you say without a doubt; I Am a Christian???
IF we ARE a Christian then our lives are being transformed, changed for the better continuously. Others like to be around us because of what they see in us. Our ‘light’ shines. The light of Jesus Christ. Our lives are not supposed to cast a darkness on anyone. Rather we should be good to be around. Folks should trust us. Like us and love us.
Christians are a blessing not a curse nor a detriment to others. Christians believe in such a way that others see and they too want to believe.
When Peter affirmed Jesus Christ as the Messiah the Lord spoke to him saying, “Blessed are you Simon Peter, this was revealed to you by God. Jesus went on to say directly, upon this kind of faith, this ‘rock’ I will build my church.
May your Christianity, the evidence of your faith plus your actions answer the question; Am I a Christian. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, August 15, 2020 and Sunday, August 16, 2020
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: Hebrews 13:1-8 P. 1214, Luke 14:1, 7-14 P. 1046.
Sermon Message: “The Light of Humility”
Some humility brings light to our lives. You may not initially agree with me but do ponder today’s message and see what God reveals…
Consider these scriptures from the Gospel of Luke we just shared. Jesus was at a wedding feast. What we might refer to as ‘the reception.’ Guests are coming in and choosing to seat themselves in places of honor perhaps near the bride and groom, the parents, and immediate family. Many desired to be recognized as ‘honored guests!’ Jesus makes use of the occasion to give a little ‘speech’ of his own, reminding folks about being more humble and advising them to begin by setting at the lowest places of honor instead of the highest. Just imagine if you were setting there on that occasion and find yourself being sort of reprimanded and challenged by the outstanding clergy of the day…It must have been humiliating…
However, if you were a guest, back then, or are simply reviewing this teaching from the Bible today, on second thought, it all makes perfect sense! Jesus was a teacher, among other things. This ‘lesson’ that he taught all those centuries ago still rings true for us.
Humility is not usually a welcomed ‘blessing’ in any of our lives. Quite often humility is associated with one’s being humiliated at the expense of others. Such humility is kind of a ‘darkness’ in any of our lives. Yet God has a way of turning darkness into light.
The Bible affirms that people tend to love/embrace darkness instead of light. Today’s scriptures concerning guests seeking positions of honor speaks of prideful desires and humiliating results. Jesus sheds ‘light’ on the subject instructing folks to not assume the higher position but instead choose a more humble approach. You may be honored instead of humiliated if you do so.
Has it ever happened to you? Have you ever been asked to ‘please move’ because you were in the wrong seat? It is a bit humiliating but, after it occurs, it does start to ‘make sense.’ God encourages us today, along with his Son; Jesus, to ‘spiritualize’ some things in our lives which may at first seem humiliating, but later make perfect sense in our faith and even provide ‘light.’
Maybe there is some ‘light’ associated with humility. Consider some other ‘humiliating’ teachings that bring ‘light.’
When someone insults you do you ever ‘come back at them’ with a nasty insult of your own? Insults are humiliating. Jesus teaches us to ‘turn the other cheek.’ (Luke 6:29). That’s hard to do. It gets worse when they give you a shove or put down somebody you love or something you really care about. Jesus does instruct us to ‘turn the other cheek’ and to pray for our enemies, we’re even supposed to ‘bless those who persecute you!’
Jesus, is not teaching passiveness nor acceptance of wrongs inflicted. He IS teaching us a better way of handling such times, persons and occasions. His way brings ‘light.’
I’ve always admired folks who figure out how to spiritualize those times and occasions which can be downright humiliating. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to be spiritual.
Folks sometimes share with me their awkward work experiences. This fellow told me of a woman who kept ‘putting him down.’ Eventually, he’d had enough! He said he could have ‘come back’ at her with similar insults and injuries but he chose not to. He said his faith ‘kicked in.’ Her words and actions were increasingly humiliating. At long last he spoke to her with firm resolve. Never threatened her in any way, just met her eyes with resolve. She knew he ‘meant business’ when he said; “That’s enough! I will pray for you.” Then he walked away. He recalled Jesus’ instructions and sought to ‘spiritualize’ his response and resolve. It did bring light into a dark situation. The woman did some changing inside herself as well.
Sometimes the light of humility entails living out what the Bible teaches; that we do not seek revenge, that we may not carry out punishment assertively so, against another, but meet them with firm resolve.
The ‘light of humility’ is a more ‘spiritual’ way of looking at things and for handling all sorts of people and scenarios in our lives…
Because God knew there would be humiliation, He gave us guidance for handling the same. Not only did the Lord give us guidance, He also shows us where there can be ‘light’ coming from humility. Sometimes this ‘light’ exemplifies itself in wisdom or perhaps in patience, mostly in better and more appropriate ways of dealing with humiliation.
Some folks are easier to love than others. The Bible commands us to love others as ourselves. I’ve heard folks say to me, “Well, I’ll do my best to love them with the love of the Lord but I don’t have to like it!” It’s true, you can ‘love’ somebody but not ‘like’ them.
Today the Word of the Lord instructs us to “keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.” (Hebrews 13:1) Endeavoring to love someone you just don’t like is humbling and sometimes humiliating. Even husbands and wives understand there are certain ‘imperfections’ in others that can make them ‘hard to love.’ Whether we are in our homes, here in this church, at work, school, shopping or wherever we may be ‘love’ remains a choice and an effort. A blessed effort at best. A humiliating even hurting effort at its’ worst.
Love is messy. Always was always will be. Love is the greatest blessing and at the same time it can become the most humiliating reality.
‘Love’ was never designed to be perfect all of the time. Leastwise, not this side of God’s heaven. Love requires work, lots of energy and effort. Sometimes, even in the best of relationships the messiness of humiliation will occur between folks. So, in general, God decrees, “Keep on loving one another.” Love as family...Yes, there are those times when boundaries must be drawn but most often God’s command to keep on loving others provides a soul with a sense of His light in the midst of the darkness associated with humiliation…
I trust we have a sincere spiritual maturity to further understand the more we grow in our devotion to God and our love for God, the more we will grow in ‘how’ we love others.
Many parents raised their children to ‘beware of strangers.’ Yet today’s scriptures speak to us to ‘show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.’ We can’t be too ‘careful’ in these days and times. Policies, procedures, guards and guidance are all ‘in place’ for reasons. God has always bestowed honors upon his hospitable servants. Sometimes beyond all of their thoughts, unawares. Sometimes there is ‘light’ in the humility of caring for strange souls…
There are some ‘duties’ associated with being a Christian. For instance, caring about, feeling sad ‘with,’ sympathizing ‘for’ those who are in bonds of all sorts and facing adversity can be humiliating as well. May I remind us all, WE are the body of Christ. As such the light that shines in darkness is our love, our sympathy our paths of care and reform in other’s lives. We DO bear each other’s burdens. I fully realize and appreciate that you have certainly helped to carry mine. Light shines even when burdens are shared by others who care with the love of God.
God requires marriage to be kept pure. That is a ray of God’s light shining in the darkness of a world that far too often compromises sacred norms, vows and values. A further light being this, clearly the Bible decrees God will judge those who defy the marriage bed.
Sometimes it becomes humiliating to be around folks who have more than we do. God reminds us, God encourages and instructs us in His Holy Word to be content with what we do have. Furthermore, we are to be content in all environments and situations because we KNOW God is with us and will never leave nor forsake us.
Humility need not always be thought of as a bad thing. There is sometimes light found in and through humility. I am convinced that true humility can be seen in both the great and the small. There is no command in the Bible, of which I am aware, that requires us to be poor, powerless, and hopeless in order to be humble. I have had my fill of those who put on "airs" that are meant to convince all of us just how pious and humble they are.
I’ve met some humble people. You and I enjoy being around ‘humble souls.’
Jesus Christ is the greatest example of a humble person. This same Jesus was often times faced with humiliation in his life. Perhaps his awareness of being humble and facing humiliation were inspirational to the Beatitudes, His famed Sermon on the Mount. It was there that Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:9-11
Humiliation is hurtful, degrading and dehumanizing. It can make a soul feel unloved, rejected, sad and even confused. I pray each of us will spend some time reviewing inside of ourselves when we have humiliated someone else. Too often we affirm God’s directives apply to others but perhaps not unto us. Confess your sins to the lord, Change for the better so that not only your soul can grow but equally important so that other souls feel loved and affirmed.
Humiliation IS a form of darkness. The Bible does not speak favorably of humiliation. However, I believe God does enable us to perceive light even in the midst of humility.
That light comes from God. It comes from remembering how God has spoken to us, trained our hearts and directed our minds to deal with humility and humiliating circumstances. During humiliating times, it helps to remember a few things.
#1 You are a child of God. You have a right to be here. You are no less nor any better than others.
#2 People may put you down, humiliate you and do all sorts of things to you. But they cannot take away your spirit for that comes from God, belongs to God, is sustained by God and will someday return to God.
#3 Quote scriptures to yourself when dealing with humility and humiliating circumstances and people. In addition to today’s scripture lessons I have listed several scripture quotes towards the end of the bulletin to help you with that. Jesus quoted the Psalms and other scriptures when humiliated. So, should we.
# 4 Spiritualize to the very best of your ability what God would have you to think do and say when dealing with humility.
I sincerely believe light; God’s light can shine and will shine through even the roughest and most trying times of humility. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, August 8, 2020 & Sunday, August 9, 2020
Prayer For Illumination: Dear Lord, help us as we read these scriptures together. Come, bring your understanding and reveal your truth. Come, open our minds, hearts and souls to all that these words of life offer us.
We long to be continually challenged, transformed and renewed by your word. May we hear your voice of life as we read and draw close to you. Amen
Scripture Lessons: Psalm 27: 13, 14 Page 550, Hebrews 10:36 Page 1212
Sermon Message: “Patient Endurance”
The Bible is referred to as ‘the Good Book’ for reasons…There is much ‘good news’ and ‘good advice’ and ‘good sayings’ and ‘good teachings’ to be found within the pages of Holy Scripture. The Bible is one of those books that you can read, put down for a while, come back to it and still learn something new, fresh and meaningful. Today I’d like to talk to you of a further meaningful insight into God’s Word; the Bible…There are times, in any of our lives, when some portion of the Bible ‘comes to mind’ or, as we are actively reading it, we find some word or verses of scripture seem to ‘stand out’ or even ‘jump out’ at us. Today’s scriptures ‘stand out’ proclaiming our need to wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart and also persevere.
In essence the clear spiritual message is God’s call to patient endurance. I’ve found in my life repeatedly, that God will sometimes call something to mind as a kind of spiritual preparation for what’s coming. Perhaps this spiritual process occurs in you from time to time as well.
In all of our lives there is an ongoing need right now for patient endurance. Lots of folks are disheartened by all of the social restrictions associated with Covid 19. Alongside of that are the ongoing realities associated with people’s lives, their families, their work and their goals.
Today’s scriptures may be seen as Life Verses for us to follow.
“I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take courage and wait for the Lord…Persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” Strive to remember and record these words of scripture in your heart and within your mind…
Patient Endurance is understood to mean; being capable of bearing or enduring pain, difficulty, annoyance, provocation, misfortune, delay, hardship, etc., with fortitude and calmness and without complaint, anger, or the like. It further means the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions; stamina: lasting quality; Continuing existence; duration. Capable of calmly awaiting an outcome or result; not hasty or impulsive.
Prior to all of the Social Restrictions associated with Covid 19, when we had to be confined to our homes due to inclement weather, we’d sometimes say we get ‘cabin fever!’ THIS Summer, seems to have a ‘fever’ of its’ own as well. It’s been hot and humid for weeks now…This warm stretch seems to be going on and on. After a while you start to feel as though you’re ‘going through’ the motions to patiently endure what’s taking place…
Parts of the lawn need cut while other parts are just plain dead, cracked and dry. You still have to get up, get moving, get groceries, go to work and so on. Even in the midst of this ongoing heat and humidity meals still need cooked… Sometimes I think I’d just like to throw my hands up, shrug my shoulders, order some ‘no contact’ pizza and watch mindless TV…
I used to ‘get that way’ more often, but then I chose instead to ‘get through’ these and other struggles with God’s Word. When I read the Bible, I learn of other folks and their need for practicing patient endurance. The cousin of Jesus; John, sent ‘word’ asking ‘how long must we wait for the Messiah to come? Jesus, enduring His pre-crucifixion trial asked the Father to please take away his ‘cup of suffering.’ Job, lost his family, his cattle, his belongings and his health and needed to ‘patiently endure.’ Those ancient Israelites returning from slavery in Egypt were required to ‘patiently endure’ their wilderness experience. David, inspired by the Holy Spirit who penned the psalms patiently endured his trials even as he called upon the Lord repeatedly. Today’s scripture lesson from the Book of Hebrews issues the spiritual call and guidance to “persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” The list goes on and on of folks from the Bible who needed to enlist ‘patient endurance.’
People then and now sometimes enlist in a ‘pity party’ as an alternative to patient endurance. Those ‘parties’ are short lived at best and not all that beneficial.
I trust that God has ‘patient endurance’ with us. I further trust that we are called upon, by God, to have patient endurance with others. Sometimes that’s quite challenging to do.
Years back, while raising my daughter; Bonnie, I would sometimes have to practice ‘patient endurance’ with her, as I am sure any of you have done with your children. A small but memorable example…One day I was baking a cake in the oven. Bonnie had helped me to combine the ingredients and ‘scoop’ the batter into the pan. Then I warned her, as I routinely did, NOT to come near or ‘touch’ the oven door to look at the cake because the oven was ‘really hot’ and she’d get burned and cry…Mostly, Bonnie would ‘listen,’ but every once in a while she’d become defiant and do things I just knew would hurt her.
She went to ‘check on the cake.’ I yelled “NO BONNIE!” She looked at me defiantly. Again, I said, “No Bonnie!” I soon realized she’d need to ‘find out for herself’ and I needed to patiently endure. She soon cried when her little fingers got some minor ‘boo-boo’s.’
Patient endurance is sometimes similar to what our world refers to as ‘outcome-based education.’ The ‘lesson’ relates all the way back to the Garden of Eden. God said to Adam and Eve; enjoy my garden, just don’t eat the fruit from this one particular tree…It seems folks choose, of their own free will, to be defiant. Adam and Eve were defiant and ended up suffering for their defiance.
Struggles with defiant people are recorded throughout the Bible. Struggles with defiant people are recorded in our hearts and minds, even felt within our souls.
Learning to patiently endure trials in our lives or even in others, is one thing. Patiently enduring defiant behaviors in others is another thing altogether.
It seems God became upset when Adam and Eve defied Him and His specific instructions in the Garden of Eden. He confronts them, holds them accountable, decrees what their punishment shall be then He moves in compassion to care for them, making them clothing and guiding them towards their new future. In other words, God redeemed them. It wasn’t free and it certainly wasn’t pretty. Innocence was lost. A new reality with increased responsibility and solemnness came to be.
When we ‘defy’ a similar process takes place… A ‘confronting’ of the problem does occur even when we try to ‘sweep it under the rug’ so to speak. Accountability comes, sooner or later, and punishment is sure to follow. Punishment may or may not be from us. Punishment does occur either in the short term or in the long run or both. I’ve seen where some of the worst punishment is what we bring upon ourselves…
Our world continues to learn if we ‘defy’ social distancing, wearing our masks and washing our hands, the numbers of Covid 19 cases will increase. If we disregard and disrespect God’s commandments and further teachings our sinfulness will produce punishment.
My child got a ‘boo-boo’ from the hot oven door…. God proclaimed to Eve pains in childbearing will be severe. Labor to give birth will be painful. God proclaimed to Adam he will work hard by the sweat of his brow and garnering his food will be challenging. God reminds us, from dust we have come and unto dust we shall return.
Both Biblical scholars and psychology instructors tend to associate our ‘defiance’ with our ‘God complex.’ ‘Defiance’ has something to do with self-centeredness, entitlement, feeling superior, smarter than God, and rationalizing our behaviors. My folks taught me to beware of those individuals who think they are the only person in the world and don’t much consider the outcome their actions, their words, may have upon others.
“God’ is not something to be ‘explained away,’ rejected or ignored. God is real. This IS His world. We ARE His creation.
Patient endurance calls all of us to stop and think about what we are saying, doing or even thinking…
Yes, even God hurts when His children are defiant…Yet there remains accountability. God knows some folks will not listen to either reason or instructions. Such were His children; Adam and Eve.
Parents understand this process too. We know our children will sometimes have to experience ‘boo-boo’s’ in life in order to learn what NOT to repeat. Don’t we all know, some ‘boo ‘boo’s’ are far longer lasting than others.
Patiently we continue to learn to endure the results, the accountability, the restrictions, the outcomes from that which any of us choose to do wrong. Our defiance may not be well thought out but our ultimate responsibility for our actions certainly will occur. The perceivable result of defiance is ‘distancing’ between one’s self, God and others.
Adam and Eve felt estranged from God. My child looked at me strangely every time I’d raise an eyebrow when she was about to do something defiant or hurtful. Surely, we all have experienced the ‘gap’ that occurs from defiance.
God still offers and teaches patient endurance. When we realize our nakedness, He clothes us still. When we finally become cognizant of our wrong doing He sets us straight then forgives and guides us in a new and better direction.
Practicing patient endurance means, we need to become more God like and forgive, guide and redeem. These spiritual outcomes we simply label as being ‘love.’
Love one another with the love of the Lord. Choose to do so…Eventually your spirit and my own will grow confident through patient endurance, that we shall see the goodness of the Lord. Remember this you are a child of God. You ARE a Christian, first and foremost. Act like it, Live like it. Turn to God and trust in God for all things to work together for the Lord. When trials come and trying people seem to prevail wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
Patient endurance occurs best when we turn to the Lord, trust Him and place our faith in Him. Strive to live all of your life doing the will of God, trust the Bible’s promise that eventually you will receive what he has promised. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, August 1, 2020 & Sunday, August 2, 2020
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: Matthew 14:13-21, Page 980
Sermon Message: ‘Communion Miracle’
Our calendars have just turned over to August, 2020. I recall about a year ago, I believe it was late August or early September, we held our annual picnic outside on the church lawn. Perhaps some of you remember it. Tables were set up, all in a row. Paper plates and plastic utensils are at the ‘beginning side of the first table. This is followed by lots and lots of home-made ‘dishes’ prepared by various members of our church family. Towards the last table were the salads followed by the desserts. We’ve grown to ‘perfect’ the process of how to host a church picnic or a ‘pot-luck’ meal. We had to learn NOT to have all beans and no meats. Nor should we mainly have desserts and little or no ‘main course.’
With careful planning and preparation those picnics and pot-luck dinners were ‘pulled off’ with great success. Makes me hungry just thinking about them. Even in the midst of Covid-19 we are still hoping to provide another church picnic in early September.
What if I were to suggest that we meet right after this service and share some food and fellowship? That might be a pretty tall order since we did not really PLAN anything nor have we prepared anything…Even if we ‘sent out’ to McDonald’s or Anthony Juniors this would still be a pretty tall order and take some time to set up, order, pick-up, distribute, eat, enjoy, pick-up and clean-up. Yet that IS what seems to have been happening in today’s scripture lesson. The Feeding of the Five Thousand appears to be an impromptu meal, ordered by Jesus. SO much more than a church picnic…
Consider just a bit of what was happening at the time…Jesus had become quite the controversial figure. He was teaching, preaching and sharing numerous miracles with the common people. King Herod became aware and was feeling terribly threatened by this ‘Jesus’ who because of his growing popularity was quickly becoming a threat to Herod’s reign. Herod heard more and more of who Jesus was and ‘what’ Jesus was doing…So in Herod’s way of thinking he estimated that Jesus was actually John the Baptist whom Herod had killed, but was now somehow reincarnated in this person; Jesus. When Jesus ‘got word’ of all this he became concerned thinking that ‘he’s next!’ Herod wanted NO competition! So it was Jesus withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Crowds of people learned of this and kept following Jesus till they ‘caught up’ with him.
Sometimes prudence calls us away to a remote or solitary place as well. Yet, I inquire of us to notice what happens next…Jesus sees this immense crowd and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
There’s some sort of miracle happening here, even in this early portion of today’s narrative from the Bible. Jesus, upon seeing the large crowd, has compassion on them and then he helps them! It’s one thing for anyone to have pity on another or even on large numbers of people. It’s another thing all together to not only have pity/compassion but to also actually help others.
The disciples were more often quick to show their discretion than to exhibit any zeal. SO it is in today’s Gospel lesson we learn that Jesus heals their sick then provides a miracle to feed five thousand plus people…
Healing is a miracle. I’ve received some such miracles in my life. Perhaps you have also. Maybe not ‘all at once,’ but gradually, with patience and with further help.
Tenderness, such as Christ expressed for the large numbers of hurting, needy and hungry people was a further miracle. Jesus, all along, expressed more tenderness toward the people than his disciples did. Sometimes we all need reminded of this spiritual lesson and truth that we are to become more like Jesus and less like all of the others…
I need to further remind us that Jesus was a man. He had flesh and bones, feelings and needs just like any of us. At the end of the day Jesus too was hungry. Not only the disciples and the large crowd. Remember when whipped, when nailed to the cross, Jesus bleed and he hurt…He was Son of God, but also in human form…Jesus had a body and Jesus’ example reminds us too that we need to depend upon him for the supply of our bodily wants. Jesus teaches us still to ‘seek first the kingdom of God.’ If we do this, if serving God and seeking first his kingdom is our chief care than we may depend upon God to add other things to us as he sees fit.
Those early disciples and that large crowd of people numbering five thousand, plus women and children, were surely seeking the kingdom of God and the ministry of Christ. It was a good sign to see so many coming to Him…It was a miracle that so many came to Jesus, followed Him and sought to hear and receive what he had to offer.
I’ve observed lots of souls across the years seeking to follow Jesus. Some are asking, even pleading with the Lord to give, help, provide and guide. I have further observed the truly ‘neat’ miracle that God sometimes uses ‘us’, the little we have, and creates something ‘good’ something ‘special,’ something even ‘great’ from it…
I like ‘remembering’ things from the Bible. It nurtures my faith and strengthens my soul. I recall reading in the Bible where God provided manna, from heaven, for the people wondering in the desert to eat. They were escaping from slavery in Egypt. I recall reading whereby Jesus, in an upper room, sat at a table, not too different from the one in every church, and says to his people, then, and to us now, even in the midst of our greatest accomplishments along with our brokenness, fears and sinfulness, “Take, eat.” God then and God now is concerned about us. He seeks to feed us sometimes in mysterious and perhaps unusual ways. The Bible is real. Christ does have compassion on our predicament.
My problem, and perhaps at times, your problem as well, is knowing the compassionate thing to do is not always the practical thing to do. In today’s Gospel lesson the practical thing to do, even as Jesus’ chosen disciples recommended to him, was to send people away. I admire and respect that the disciples came to Jesus, spoke with Him and reported to Him.
Sometimes the Lord’s instructions are a bit hard to follow. In essence Jesus responded to his disciple’s ‘practicality’ by instructing them to ‘work with what you’ve got!’ Jesus meets them where they are and directly inquires, “What have you got?” The disciples respond five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus instructs; “Bring them to me.”
It’s been a hard lesson for me to learn and re-learn at times that Jesus is not interested in the boundaries associated with our budgets. He seems to remain all the more interested in people growing in faith and trusting in His power. Budgets are but a barometer of how people are growing in the faith and trusting in his power.
I sometimes wonder about that when I consider this church’s Day Care ministry, or the Coraopolis Meals on Wheels program or even our West Hills Community Food pantry spanning years of helping to feed bodies and souls…
Perhaps today during communion the Lord is asking you how much faith do you have? “Not much” some might reply. Jesus says to you and to me, “More than you think!”
Jesus is still saying to us, “You provide the bread and I’ll provide the miracle.”
Perhaps the focus on today’s scripture lesson does not need to be so much on the loaves and the fishes, but on the hearts and the souls of the people gathered. Perhaps there’s ‘more to this story’ then just the miraculous multiplication of loaves. Possibly selfish people became generous people. Some say the crowd may have had ‘some’ food’ carried, wrapped up, under their cloaks and in the presence of Christ they opened up and began to share. We may never know for sure. Myself I shall always seek to trust that God can provide and sometimes He will call upon me to use what little I have to make something more for others to benefit from.
Today, following communion you can do some little thing…share a word of hope. Lend a helping hand. Although this may seem quite small in the midst of the overwhelming vastness of problems our world now endures, whatever the deed, God will bless it and spread it. Scientists, right now, are bringing even their smallest bit of information, insight and testing results to further develop a vaccine to combat the Covid 19 virus. May we ask God to bless the little and bless the world with a miracle. Right now in some part of the world somebody may be writing a note, structuring a poem that shall become a song we can all sing in our hearts. It begins with the smallest of efforts and becomes blessed into something more. Perhaps something great.
Come to God, humbly, and He will lift you up miraculously in His time and His way.
Communion Miracle….a small piece of bread. A tiny cup of juice. And so much more to consider…Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, July 25, 2020 & Sunday, July 26, 2020
Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, in you are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Open our eyes that we may see the wonders of your Word; and give us grace that we may clearly understand and freely choose the way of your wisdom; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Romans 8:26-39 Page 1133, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Page 979
Sermon Message: “Do All Things Work Together For The Good?”
These readings are the Word of God! Thanks Be to God!
Today’s scripture lessons seek to teach us that all things work together for the good and furthermore that God’s kingdom is among us…
Years back, in the mid 1980’s there was a couple I grew to know. We shared a common babysitter for our children back then. The couple was so enthused to share with me the ‘news’ they were ‘expecting’ again. At long last their second child was born, but there were ‘complications.’ Their second child passed. I officiated the funeral. At the time it certainly did not ‘feel’ as though things were working together for the good nor that the kingdom of God was near.
Another true story; a two year old little boy was left alone frequently to care for his one year old sister. This went on for quite a long time. Eventually they were removed from that environment by the authorities and later placed in Foster Care. The negative effects from their trauma lasted for years. I doubt they felt as though things were working together for the good. They had very little understanding of the kingdom of heaven among them.
One additional true story; a young woman married her high school sweet heart. They had a child together. Both had full time jobs and pursued further education. Years went by and the woman felt all along that they had a good marriage. As it turns out her beloved husband had been ‘stepping out’ on her for several years and on numerous occasions. The ‘problems’ that ensued required years of ‘fixing’ for that woman and her child to ‘make sense’ of things and adjust. Initially when this awareness happened it surely did not feel as though things were working together for the good nor did the kingdom of heaven feel remotely near.
A ‘common thread’ among these scenarios was the numerous ‘platitudes’ offered by people and sometimes by the ‘church.’ “Oh don’t worry, everything will be alright!”
“If God brings you TO it He’ll certainly bring you ‘through it.’” These and several other ‘responses’ were supplied.
Our first scripture lesson for today; Romans 8:26-39 contains a specific verse of scripture I wish to call to your attention …It is perhaps one of the most misinterpreted verses of scripture. The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit writes; “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NRSV). Often, we think of this as only good things happen to those who are called according to God’s purpose — and no bad things happen to us if we are faithful. We only need to look at scripture and the individuals in scripture to know this is not true. In my own life, illness, death, pain has regularly been present. That doesn’t mean that I am not faithful, or that God is punishing me somehow. Rather, I look back and with a little hindsight see the presence of God in each of those times — not causing them but carrying me, accompanying, and loving me through those times. God can use everything in our lives for good — to help us turn to God, to help us love God and our neighbors in new and more compassionate ways. The clouds do sometimes have silver linings — and even when they don’t, the rain — and the reign of God, can nourish us.
Do you believe the kingdom of God is among us? How have you experienced it? Our second scripture lesson presents several ‘metaphors’ regarding ‘what’ the kingdom of heaven is like. Let me share with you now one example that ‘comes to mind.’
There was a businessman who’d made a lot of money working in the city. For a decade, he was fulfilling his dream of success and fortune. His family had a nice place to live. His kids went to great schools. He seemed to have it all. However, his wife, who’d been born in a small town, didn’t like the city. She endured ten years there but longed for her dream house in the country. The kids liked the idea of living in the country, too. None of them complained, but he knew what was in their hearts. One day, out of the blue, he came home early and called a family meeting. He told them he’d given his notice. He was giving up all the city offered, and the family was moving to the country. “Why?” he was asked. The answer was simple. “Nothing is more important than the ones you love.”
We are Christians. As such, we remain aware of missions and missionaries. Some missions, such as Meals on Wheels and the Food Pantry remain ‘just around the corner’ so to speak. Other missions and missionaries are located throughout the world spanning a very lengthy and sometimes quite costly history…I read of a missionary; Jim Elliot; who died in Ecuador in 1956. He gave his life trying to reach the Auca Indians who’d never heard the gospel of Jesus. His journal was discovered later where, on October 28th he had this entry, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.” Elliot and four others gave their lives because they loved Jesus and the Auca people.
That’s the nature of the kingdom of heaven. The value of the kingdom is seen in these parables and how people would give up everything to get it. Is anything more important to you than the kingdom of heaven?
Serving the Lord as a pastor I am of course interested in the stories as well as the histories of other pastors. Thomas Rinkart was a German pastor and musician who served the Church in 1637 in Eilenburg, Germany. In that year, 8,000 people died in that city of disease, including Rinkart’s wife. He preached at 200 burial services in one week. Rinkart wrote a hymn text during this plague, which is familiar to us. “Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices. Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices.”
Today’s scriptures inquire; Who will separate us from the love of Christ? The Apostle Paul responds; no one and nothing. If God is for us, who can be against us? Such sentiments are reassuring during our time of much uncertainty and pain. And yet, these scriptures tend to ‘sting’ a bit in this season of suffering and upheaval. Nothing separates us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord, but COVID-19 keeps us apart from those we most long to embrace. No calamity can prevent us from knowing and receiving the love and grace of God, and yet racism and its centuries long impact festers and hurts, divides and persists. The coronavirus kills people. The economic realities injure many. Are these verses from Romans only nice words that help alleviate our stress for a moment or two? Or are they true?
Does Jesus' descriptions of the kingdom of heaven help us in the midst of trials and suffering…? Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed." Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast." Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field." Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea."
These are NOT spiritual ‘platitudes’ NOR cute ‘sayings’ from the Bible. Rather these are rich and complex teachings from Jesus Christ. Spiritual metaphors…These contain themes such as the smallest of things coming to have huge impact, hidden realities that end up making a big difference, surprising outcomes, exponential growth and persistent effort emerge from these images. Mustard seeds get planted and tended. Yeast gets added to other ingredients; there is kneading and also waiting. Treasure must get dug up, unearthed and recognized as something of worth. Nets must be cast, repeatedly, hauled up over and over again, their contents made ready for consumption. The good, life-giving end does not come without energy, patience and days of no or very mixed results. All things work together for good and this is God's ultimate doing, but we are gifted with the responsibility to participate in that good's emergence…
The young couple that lost a child did grow beyond that hurting traumatic time. Their one remaining child was ‘all the more’ appreciated. Their marriage ‘grew up’ in ways no one would have expected. Furthermore, they attended a grief ministry support group and later lead similar groups themselves.
The two year old and his year old sister did go to foster care, were later adopted and became blessed to receive years of follow up care regarding their earlier trauma. They are doing quite well today.
The woman who had married her high school sweetheart became blessed later in life to marry a fellow who is not only ‘true’ to her but stands by her and as she says, ‘brings out the very best in her!’
Life isn’t always fair. Sometimes its’ actually quite messy. I’ve learned, walking with Jesus, living, teaching and preaching the ‘way’ of the Christian life people just don’t benefit much from slogans and cute sayings nor ‘platitudes,’ that are mostly false assurances at best.
‘Church’ should help us think through and live in the midst of that which overwhelms us. ‘Faith’ must become ‘sight’ that aligns with real hope. So I say to you, as Christians speak and act in ways that demonstrates the truth, the deep spiritual truth that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord…
Be the ‘church.’ Sow the smallest of seeds; a call, a note, a conversation, a commitment, a donation, a prayer, a stand. We, the ‘church’ are to scatter these seeds widely, generously, over and over again individually and as a church. There remains mystery; wholesome and sincere mystery of the ways God blesses, reforms and can use things to work together for the good.
These ‘metaphors’ of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ enables us to envision what a good society looks like, at least what it ought to be. We are both invited and called by God to keep adding ingredients into the mix, work these ingredients into the dough, let them rise then knead them some more until the bread of life emerges from formerly disparate parts and all are fed.
Keep digging until you find the hidden treasure underneath what looked like desolate land and depleted soil. Like archeologists of the holy we excavate the landscape for things of worth that reveal what is truly valuable: people, relationships, creation, beauty, mercy, truth, kindness, joy, love.
We are the people called to keep casting the nets and fishing for people - all kinds of people whom God will sort out, people who need to know that Christ is for them and we are, too.
Do all things work together for good to those who love God? We trust and believe the answer is yes, a resounding ‘yes’ embodied in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. Yes, all things will work for good because God is working all things out. Yes, and we know what the kingdom of heaven is like. We know God's will for this earth is like that of the heavenly kingdom. We know that the smallest of God's seeds result in large, sheltering, life-giving trees for all nations and every creature. We know that God's power is often unseen, embedded in all that feeds and nourishes us. We know that we must get our hands dirty if we are to discover the beautiful, priceless treasure that lies underneath the world's grit. We know that fishing requires effort, repetition, patience.
We who follow Jesus Christ are not to be about control or slogans. We are about daily cultivating a society that reflects the goodness of our God - sowing, kneading, searching and fishing until everyone knows that nothing can separate them from the love of God.
Sermon Message for Saturday, July 18, 2020 & Sunday, July 19, 2020
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: Isaiah 40:3-5 Page 718, Mark 1:9-13 Page 1001
Sermon Message: “Covid 19, God In The Wilderness”
Do you all remember how Covid 19 began? I don’t refer only to its inception in China and spread throughout the world. Rather, how do you and I recall the beginning phases of ‘frustration’ associated with our introduction to the realities of Covid-19?
Our frustrations with Covid 19 started with toilet paper disappearing off shelves…Now, several months later we are still trying to decipher what this virus is, how to deal with it, where it may end up going and even the Spiritual meaning behind it. I’m certain you’ve received an over abundance of news reports and have possibly sorted through tons of information on your computer, in the newspaper and even in conversations among friends.
Some spirituality might suggest we are living in the ‘End Times’ just prior to Jesus returning back to earth and the world as we’ve know it coming to an end. Our spiritual review of pandemics and catastrophes through the centuries informs us that times such as these are more often used by God to bring about strong, sincere and lasting reform to the world. While we are still quite in the midst of this Covid-19 worldwide pandemic perhaps we can benefit from pondering some spiritual insights.
Perhaps you have never seen our calendars so cleared of planned events, even historical/traditional happenings. We are now reduced to emails, phone calls, social distancing and careful encounters wearing required masks. We feel our mortality. Anxiety comes creeping in or overwhelms us like a hidden wave. Many folks have shared with me they feel stripped bare, frustrated and at times disoriented wishing they could escape to somewhere else or perhaps push a button making everything STOP or at least be placed ON HOLD!
A sure Biblical insight we can all gain is this; the COVID-19 pandemic is a wilderness moment for the world. “Wilderness” is described as a desolate place. Analogous to a barren desert, where life is challenging. A Biblical example you may recall; when God sought to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, Moses lead them through the wilderness, the desert. Those wilderness years for the ancient Israelites were learning years, times of reform and callings towards new and firmer covenants with Yahweh. God did eventually lead them into their Promised Land.
Wilderness moments can look and feel like death. Yet they can also be where God meets us. During these current times it’s easy to feel disoriented, abandoned, alone and forgotten by God. Furthermore, what we are seeing, hearing and experiencing is causing us to lament the situations of people experiencing job losses, poverty, business closures and hard to attain health care. Lots of folks, for lots of reasons, feel ‘displaced.’ One cannot help but wonder, will our world, all of us affected by Covid 19, ever arrive in a ‘promised land’ of our own? We should be feeling pain and frustration dealing with Covid 19. We should be questioning how, why and when? We are Christians and as such our ‘job’ our ‘calling’ the very presence of God inside of us, should be causing us to question why is there this suffering, injustice, sin and death? Hear again God’s Word in today’s first Scripture Lesson; Isaiah 40:3-5 “A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. “Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
The wilderness becomes a time to ‘clear the way’ for the Lord…
In the Bible, the wilderness is also the place where salvation dawns. The place that gives way to a land rich in water and life, a place of submission and of reform. Throughout the Biblical accounts people who travel through the wilderness do arrive in the Promised Land but only in God’s time and on God’s terms.
The primary purpose of a ‘wilderness experience’ is to increase one’s ability to trust God. A further purpose of the wilderness experience is to strip away confidence in self and replace it with confidence in God.
The Hebrew word for wilderness is Midar. A very quiet place… The word ‘wilderness’ is mentioned nearly 300 times in the Bible. So you see, it IS quite important. Even Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was called out into the wilderness for some forty days. Recall also, God provided for the Israelites when they journeyed through their wilderness, the desert, prior to coming to their Promised Land. God the Father provided for His Son Jesus even as the Savior journeyed through his wilderness. You can trust and be assured God will help you, and me, to journey through this current wilderness...
God has historically well used desert/wilderness times to offer people a chance to get to know God better or perhaps for their first time. In seasons such as the one we are in right now we find ourselves stripped of many comforts, from a false sense of control and from any other delusions we may have of being ‘independent’ from God and all things relating to God. Biblical history reveals God often used the wilderness as a time and place for people to be tested and reoriented towards God. While the wilderness is known to be a place of desolation it has been further known by the people of God as a place of divine presence and provisions.
While God did not necessarily ‘cause’ Covid-19, I praise Him for the spiritual insight that He is well using this pandemic as a time, a chance, a break, an opportunity for all sorts of people to further get to know God.
Our lives may be stripped of many comforts but God IS meeting us in the wilderness even when the wilderness looks and feels like death.
There are certain ‘themes’ associated with one’s journeying through the wilderness. ‘Orientation, to Disorientation, to Reorientation.
We initially became ‘oriented’ to restrictions, oh those increasing and changing restrictions. We became oriented also to fear and loss of so much control in our everyday lives. That led to us feeling ‘disoriented’ to our desired sense of normalcy, security, hope and routine. Now, it seems, we are entering the ‘reorientation’ phase of this wilderness experience, slowly returning to church, restaurants and other public ‘outings.’ We are also seeing where people are getting tired of this wilderness experience we are living through and are now trying to ‘distract themselves,’ by beginning attempts to embrace more and more entertainment, striving to frequent bars, and minimizing the needed restrictions associated with wearing masks and social distancing. We don’t all do real well with waiting for things to return to ‘normal’ as we recall it. We are not real ‘good’ at moving through loss, dealing with lament and grief. Our best ‘attempts’ to distract ourselves away from the pain, suffering, restrictions and fears associated with Covid 19 are short lived at best. We must also consider Jesus, who after being baptized and blessed by God the Father, was prompted to go out into the wilderness. Jesus too became somewhat ‘disoriented’ to all that was happening to him. Jesus was brought to the top of a high mountain and told to worship Satan. It was a ploy, a test aspect of the wilderness experience, to possibly bypass suffering, to get back to the good life without pain.
As we further reflect upon the life, teachings and example of Jesus Christ we of the Christian faith may benefit from thinking about a few questions; 1) Do you think ‘some’ pain helps us to grow? 2) Does God sometimes uses ‘loss’ to reorient us to become more like His Son; Jesus? 3) Most important; is it possible this pandemic might reorient one’s trust in the power of a good and loving God? The way you or I answer these and similar questions, has everything to do with how this troubled season, this current wilderness experience will shape you or me now and in times to come, with whatever the wilderness may bring.
When folks, in the Bible, found themselves in similar circumstances to what we are now experiencing, they did wonder if God abandoned them. They would further wonder at times if perhaps God brought them out into the wilderness to abandon and kill them.
God then and now, has consistently intended the desert, our wildernesses, as becoming a place to save us. For it is in our wilderness experiences that we come to see God’s power and receive God’s comfort in many forms. While journeying through the desert that which is not ‘of him’ diminishes and dies away.
Admittedly, it’s hard for us finite human beings to even begin to understand how the providence and goodness of God interacts with the evil of this Covid 19 virus. Yet we know and affirm this trust, posit this faith, that with God all things come to work together for the good. Make no mistake this IS a trial. God is making use of this trial to sanctify and lead us closer to Him. The word ‘sanctify’ means to purify or to make holy. This wilderness experience known as Covid-19 will either draw us deeper into the story of a good God who saves or cause us to turn our backs on faith, religion and God in favor of our own kingdoms of control. Satan offered to Jesus when the Lord was in the wilderness, a chance, and a means of bypassing suffering to get to the good life without pain. Satan tempted Jesus. God teaches us, even now, that we simply must journey through the wilderness if we are to ever see what’s ahead, for things to become better, to achieve some semblance of ‘The Promised land’ and one day again experience some aspect of heaven here on earth.
Part of this wilderness experience we are in right now is wearing masks and social distancing. We cannot shake hands nor hug like we used to do so freely.
This current wilderness experience has taught us a newer and deeper meaning of words such as ‘essential.’ Beyond food, clothing shelter and even toilet paper God desires for us to see faith as being essential, now more than ever. God in the wilderness associated with Covid 19, well reminds us of the essential aspect of His presence being sought, received and reorienting us towards a more meaningful, basic and secure life. Church will never be taken for granted as it had been for so long. In the wilderness we realize not only our limitations but we also feel our mortality. Covid 19 is real. Deaths have occurred along with millions who have suffered from this pandemic disease.
God reminds us still, you and I must journey through the wilderness to reach the Promised Land.
This wilderness is the place you must go through to get to the place God is calling you to. This is a life lesson that you and I will appreciate and reflect upon for a lifetime. This spiritual wisdom and insight is good not only for our souls, for life and living but also for salvation and whatever God makes new in this old world, the nations, the people, our families and our friends. Fellowship with the Almighty IS occurring perhaps more then any one of us realizes. Things ARE different.
What I am about to say may sound strange but ponder these words and see if they eventually ‘ring true’ within your heart and soul…This wilderness is also a part of the Promised Land. In your life you will have wilderness, times of hardship, losses, challenges, tears as well as times of waiting, or of simply not being in the place you want to be. Remember then this truth: In God even the wilderness can be part of the Promised Land.
Like it or not we are in the midst of a worldwide wilderness experience. Look around, look inside and see where God remains present in some familiar and even in some non-familiar ways. Within the wilderness we experience people, places, our food and of course our fellowship differently.
I believe you and I are ‘smart enough,’ spiritually in tune enough to see Covid 19 is not ending just yet. Nor will it end until more and more people have more and more opportunities to rest reflect and reconnect with what matters most; God, people and faith.
Those ancient Israelites wandering through the desert coming out of slavery in Egypt and moving increasingly closer to their Promised Land wondered time and time again ‘how long will this last? How much further will this wilderness extend?’
Things never will be the same because of Covid 19. But with God, eventually they can become better.
God is in the wilderness. Rest in His arms. Trust in His provisions. Seek His presence and provide yourselves and others with the manna from heaven called faith, hope and love. May God bless and be heart centered with you. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, July 11, 2020 & Sunday, July 12, 2020
Prayer For Illumination: Draw us close, Holy Spirit, as the Scriptures are read and the Word is proclaimed. Let the word of faith be on our lips and in our hearts, and let all other words slip away. May there be one voice we hear today — the voice of truth and grace. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Matthew:14: 22—36 Page 981, Hebrews 12:1-3, Page 1213.
Sermon Message: “Faith Outcomes”
We’ve ‘had faith’ all of our lives. Leastwise, to some degree. Because of ‘faith’ we learned ‘how’ to walk, ride a bike, drive a car and so on. More importantly our ‘faith’ associated with God, taught us long ago that Jesus loves me, yes, I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong!
There are good outcomes that come to a soul from ‘having faith.’ Our scripture lessons reveal some remarkable ‘faith outcomes.’ Peter got to walk on water, towards Jesus, because of his faith. Shallow or frozen water is about all any of us have experienced regarding OUR walking on water.
It certainly must have taken a lot of ‘faith’ to get out of that boat and walk on the water towards Jesus. Peter was a pretty ‘courageous’ person so his faith must have been ‘right up there.’
Faith is about believing and trusting and then doing. ‘Faith’ HAS been with us, all of our lives. Spiritual Faith IS with us even now. This type of faith is what holds the future. Spiritual faith must be developed across years of living and relating to God and one another. Growth and strength of the mind, the body and one’s soul remains a sincere ‘faith outcome.’
Let’s consider a little of where our faith ‘comes from.’ We learn ‘faith’ at home, here at church, through prayer, study and reflection of the Bible and we have need, honest sincere, real need for faith in our everyday lives. Within today’s initial scripture lesson, it seems as though faith came from a miracle. Jesus was walking on the stormy water. He spoke to those disciples in the boat not to be afraid. He then invites Peter to come to him. Pretty soon he rescues Peter from drowning as he strives to walk on the water towards Jesus…Miracles all around! Jesus walking on the water, Peter walking on the water. The audible voice of God through Jesus. The Lord’s rescuing a drowning man.
Is that what ‘makes faith? Miracles…If so, I think we could all readily agree we need to see more miracles in this world. Especially so during these days of Covid-19 and racial protesting.
OR might it be that ‘faith’ comes prior to miracles? Is it faith that helps to make miracles? We have all ‘lived by faith’ to certain degrees throughout our life. I find that in everyone’s life, in each and every soul’s ‘walk’ with God, there is a story to be told and an outcome realized by faith…
Looking back there are at least two versions to the faith story, as told in today’s first reading from the Bible regarding Jesus walking on the water.
Consider with me now the disciples’ version of this story regarding Jesus walking on the water and Peter coming to meet him, on the water…
It was the next night. They had gathered together as usual. Peter, of course, was running late. A crowd of friends had joined the group for dinner. Then Matthew brought up the story. “Last night Peter made a fool of himself again.” A voice rang out, “What did Peter do this time?” The crowd started laughing. Phillip spoke up, “Well we were all out in the boat when a fierce storm arose. It was about 3:00 o’clock in the morning and we saw what appeared to be a ghost. Then a voice spoke and we realized it was Jesus. He was actually walking on water. It was amazing!” James interrupted and said, “Then Peter opened his big mouth and asked if he could join the Master. He’s always trying to be the Lord’s favorite.” John added, “Yeah, but remember what happened next. Peter got out of the boat and almost immediately started to sink. Of course, Jesus rescued him by reaching out, grabbing his arm and pulling him up. But then he rebuked Peter for his lack of faith.” The other disciples and the group of friends roared with laughter. “Peter messed up again,” one said. Another replied, “He’s always finding a way to fail Jesus.” Then Andrew concluded, “My brother was lucky that Jesus was able to rescue him in the middle of that terrible storm last night. Hopefully he learned his lesson. Maybe next time he’ll stay in the boat with the rest of us.”
For some folks their ‘faith outcome’ becomes rational thinking coupled with critical insights hoping to ‘teach’ a wondering soul.
…Listen now to Peter’s version or the ‘rest of the story.…’
“I was on my way to dinner with the other disciples when I ran into an old fishing buddy. I was so excited about what had happened that I had to tell somebody. I started telling him the story: “You’ll never believe what happened last night. I was in a boat with the rest of the guys at about 3:00am. The winds and the waves started to rock the boat back and forth. We were caught in the middle of a terrible storm. Then out of nowhere we saw what appeared to be a ghost. The figure was walking on the water. Then we heard his voice. It was the voice of Jesus. He told us not to be afraid. So, I said, “Master, if it is you, then tell me to come to you on the water.” He told me to get out of the boat and come. So that’s exactly what I did. Before I knew what was happening, I was actually walking on water. It was amazing! Then all of a sudden, I realized I was in the middle of a huge storm. I started watching the waves instead of Jesus. Then it happened. I started sinking under the water. Immediately I cried out to the Lord and begged him to rescue me. He reached out his hand and pulled me back up. He asked me why I ever doubted Him and encouraged me to have more faith next time. The other disciples just watched from the boat. I can’t believe they didn’t join me. Sure, I started to sink because of doubt, but at least I can say I’ve walked on water! Maybe they’ll learn from my experience and get out of the boat next time.”
Given similar circumstances, what might your faith outcome have been? Would you have gotten out of the boat or chosen to remain in the encompassing vessel?
Akin to each of those disciples (including Peter), what story about ‘faith outcomes’ do you have to tell?
Jesus often told stories in ‘metaphor’ as a means of getting his listeners to ‘think.’ I believe the Bible still addresses us in a similar fashion.
A common ‘faith outcome’ for us all is the challenge to ‘get out of the boat’ so to speak… This is a spiritual metaphor challenging you and myself to listen to Jesus, ‘get out of the boat’ and ‘walk’ where you never thought you could go…Sometimes, it requires taking a ‘step in faith’ to follow the example of Jesus.
So, let’s ponder some ‘faith outcomes’ from around 3:00 am in the morning when Jesus walked across the water to meet his disciples and Peter got out of that boat to also walk on water. Once again, I proclaim, there were ‘miracles all around’ that early morning; Jesus walking on water, Peter walking on water, the audible voice of God; through Jesus, a man being rescued from drowning. Was it those miracles that brought about faith OR was it faith that brought about those miracles?
Think about it; Jesus walking on water and Peter walking on water were both miracles. However, without faith neither of those miracles might have occurred.
I believe faith has always been required for miracles to take place. I think miracles, in and of themselves, are ‘faith outcomes’ realized.
For instance, the world in which we live, this planet we affirm God created in the midst of such a vast universe, requires faith for us to acknowledge and even begin to understand where this all came from initially. Spiritual faith still teaches us that what is seen was not made out of what is visible. An initial ‘faith outcome’ is trusting in what God has made out of nothing… This vast universe right down to our tiny part of the world is a now realized miracle. Faith enables the realization of the miracle. Faith reminds me, I really don’t have to have all of the answers for all of the questions in order to believe in God and follow Jesus.
Faith enables us to realize things that make little or no rational sense. For instance, if I am given $100.00 and then choose to give Ten of those dollars back to God through His church, rational thinking teaches me I no longer have $100.00 but only $90.00. Spiritual faith has taught you and I that we are blessed by what we give away more than by what we keep unto ourselves. One of my personal ‘faith outcomes’ is seeing God’s blessings come to me, often times in ways I never thought of, as a result of giving some portion of what I have; my time, my money, my love to God, His church and his people.
Faith outcomes stem from putting one’s faith into practice. Spiritual faith has provided us all with not only financial blessings but more importantly with the greater gifts of all; faith, hope, love and peace.…A very special peace, what the Bible references as ‘a peace that passes human understanding.’
Faith gives us the miracle of our families, our homes and our lives. Faith affirms we shall not be alone but shall instead be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.
Some of the ‘miracles’ the ‘faith outcomes’ associated with our families include safety, love, care and concern. Companionship and love, reminds us to ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.’ Self-centeredness hinders. Sin compromises covenant, dedication and devotion. Faith calls forth dedication and devotion to those you love. It also calls forth protection and providing ‘for’ one another. That which hinders us and sin that entangles us distances us from God and one another. A precious outcome of faith is seeing and doing what’s right with God and for others.
Growing up on welfare when times were tough and life was so trying my parents would sometimes say this life is such a ‘rat-race.’ At times it certainly felt as though the ‘rats’ were winning! Christianity isn’t just a ‘belief’ system. It is a faith-outcome that guides ALL of our lives giving us hope even in the midst of dismal circumstances.
Our faith in Jesus Christ has enabled us all to persevere in this life and run the race that God has set before us.
A wondrous faith outcome is to not grow weary and lose heart. Our faith, my dear friends will show us not only the way the truth and the life. Our faith will lead us home.
Sermon Message for Saturday, July 4, 2020, and Sunday, July 5, 2020
Prayer for Illumination: Holy God, Word made flesh, let us come to this word open to being surprised. Silence our agendas; banish our assumptions; cast out our casual detachment. Confound our expectations; clear the cobwebs from our ears; penetrate the corners of our hearts with this word. We know that you can, we pray that you will, and we wait with great anticipation. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Ephesians 5:1 Page 1176, John 15:9-12 Page 1082
Sermon Message: “Love, With the Love of the Lord”
On this 4th of July weekend, we should be reviewing our freedoms in their diverse forms. There is freedom from tyranny (cruel or oppressive government rule), freedom of religion, freedom to be equal in the eyes of God and another specific ‘freedom’ that stems from God; the freedom to love…
Recently a poem was shared with me that I believe warrants mentioning. It could have been appropriate for Father’s Day but I believe this spiritually inspired poem is a wholesome message for all times and all seasons as we consider ‘love.’ The author is Antoinette Doyle. Her poem:
From the Father’s Heart
Do you know what love looks like? It looks like scarred hands and feet, a lanced side. It looks like a thousand lashes that were not yours to bear. It looks like silence in the face of ridicule and acceptance of humiliation. It looks like hanging on a cross, nailed there by the very people you love. It looks like forgiveness with your dying breath for the very people that killed you. It looks like the risen and glorified Christ. It looks like a heart turning to Me (God) in awe and joy. It looks like the adoption of a deprived orphan. Love looks like My (God’s) face, unveiled. Love is a high call, a moment by moment choice through all the highs and lows, for beloved family, for friends, for the outcast, for enemies. Come and follow Me, My people. Follow the path of love…A beautiful poem…
Perhaps you recall some significant times of ‘love’ in your life. More specifically I challenge you on this 4th of July weekend to recall that kind of love that has led you towards a greater freedom in your heart, within your soul, throughout this life and well into eternity.
Mine is the privilege and high honor to touch people’s souls and in turn, effect their lives. I wish to convey to you a story I seldom share concerning a soul I was privileged to assist in saving…Delores and I worked at Torrance State hospital, for the mentally challenged, back in the 70’s. She was a nurse. I was a psychiatric aide. Fancy title I had for a meager position. The State hospital was ‘unionized’ so of course we had our routine coffee breaks and meal times. Delores’s nick-name was ‘Chickie.’ I guess there was some further story behind that nick-name but I just don’t well recall. Chickie was an attractive young black lady. We shared the ‘break-room with all of the other staff at the hospital where we worked. Every now and then we ended up setting, just the two of us, drinking coffee and discussing religion. That was our common bond. God and religion. One day she surprised me and said that although she went to church regularly, she never felt the ‘call’ to become ‘saved.’ So, she inquired what that meant and then asked if she could think about it for a few days…. So, we talked about acknowledging you are a sinner. Affirming you need forgiveness. Accepting Jesus Christ into your heart as your Lord and Savior. Living your life in a loving fashion for God and towards others. After a few days went by Delores and I were working ‘2nd shift at the hospital and found some quality talk time to once again discuss ‘being saved.’ She boldly affirmed; “I want to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Let’s pray together.” I lead, she followed. Sorry to say there were no bells, no parting of the water, no shouts, wind movements nor foundations shaking. Just a simple, serene and quiet smile as she gently squeezed my hand following prayer. She didn’t speak much about her ‘salvation’ experience after that so I just wasn’t sure what she was further feeling. One day she invited me to her black church for worship. I was not Reverend Tom back then. Just simply Tom Petrosky, an employee at Torrance State Hospital. Delores introduced me to folks at the beginning of that service. Though I was the only white person in that congregation I felt so welcomed, loved and affirmed. But then it happened. She nodded to her pastor, he nodded back then Delores stood up in front of that church to give her testimony. She openly affirmed that I had been a significant part of her coming to know Christ as her Lord and Savior. She further affirmed that she was ‘saved’ in part through my efforts. She then sang a song she had dedicated to me. I have not heard it since and cannot well find the same rendition of it on my computer today. The words to that tune are these; “I love you with the love of the Lord, yes I love you with the love of the Lord. I can see in you the glory of my King and I love you with the love of the Lord.” I was humbled then and I remain humbled now. Not so much the occasion nor those circumstances but the words to that song have challenged my life and guided my personal soul through these years of life, love and ministry….
I inquire of you, what does it mean to ‘love another with the love of the Lord? How do you and how do I see the ‘glory of our King’ in another? Easily enough we could respond with the simple affirmation; “Well we just need to love people.” I agree with that yet I think we all know some folks are a lot harder to love than others. Jesus speaks about love, the Bible teaches about love, God commands love because loving others is NOT always easy. But it gets easier when you choose to learn how to love people with the love of the Lord…
To ‘love people with the love of the Lord requires following God’s example…The Bible teaches us to ‘Follow God’s example, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a sacrifice.” Many scholars agree the ‘world’ has grown in its’ feeling ‘entitled’ to so many things, so much lifestyle and our on-going quest for happiness and fulfillment. Small wonder that the word ‘sacrifice’ is not much appealing these days. Doing ‘without’ so that others might ‘do better’ is an example of love Christ set for us. Sometimes we have to ‘sacrifice’ some measure of ourselves in order for others to feel loved and accepted. Jesus sacrificed himself not just for those who deserved what he had to offer. Jesus sacrificed especially so, for those who do not deserve.
Since the beginning of time people have made ‘bad choices’ in their lives. We say and do things we know we really should not. Things that hurt us and others. When you love someone with the love of the Lord you help them by ‘being there’ for them as much as you can. You assist them with helping them to know what’s good, healthy and best. We know we must set boundaries over and against their inappropriate behavior so as not to foster entitlement nor sin. Then, we pray…We pray for them to be protected. We pray for them to make good choices. We pray they will turn to God and respond to God in their lives. When we find ourselves being the ‘one’ doing the hurting, we apologize, confess and strive to make things better and right.
Not everyone is receptive and appreciative. Like Jesus, we strive to love others not just because they deserve it but more importantly because Jesus inside of us encourages it. I know it is hard but sometimes we strive to love another soul even in spite of themselves.
People are sometimes defiant! They may ‘know better’ yet continue in a strong-willed path over and against God, others and sometimes themselves. Look around and easily see lots of folks practicing behaviors that we both know will ‘catch up’ with them eventually and perhaps even now. Remember these teachings from God; “Love each other as I have loved you.”
Consider how God has loved you…He has sacrificed some portion of Himself for you. God has been abundantly patient with you. Especially when you have made bad choices or chosen to be defiant. God loved you when you didn’t deserve it. God doesn’t just ‘give’ you another ‘chance.’ He offers to you throughout your lifetime multiple opportunities to get right with God, respond to God, and enables you to help yourself become a better person and a saved soul.
Theologians throughout the centuries have discussed ‘why it is’ that people don’t do so well ‘loving with the love of the Lord.’ What they have summarized repeatedly is the truth that we humans most often put ourselves first. We place God and others sometimes far below us. Christianity teaches us that our greater freedom is in loving God, others and then ourselves. Culture decrees love is me, myself and I.
IF you desire to ‘love others with the love of the Lord’ then become insightful. Desire wisdom and strive for knowledge. Ask Jesus Christ into your heart and soul so that it is the Lord who governs and guides your thoughts, your actions, your love…
Grow to know the Bible. Don’t just read it, study it. Become familiar with it. Look up things in the Bible. Attend Bible studies. Become involved in friends, family and groups of people who challenge your awareness of the Bible and expand your horizons. Biblical knowledge will touch your soul, expand your mind and establish your morals. Our attitude changes inside when the Word becomes flesh within.
Study the ways of faith. Christianity has been around for a very long time. It will be here long after we have left planet earth. Faith teaches us how to live as well as how best to believe and to love. Lead another to Christ. God in a person’s life is the better source of accountability for long life, good life and for eternal life. How we love matters not only now while we are here on earth. How we love opens the door to eternity.
Sometimes it’s so hard to love, even with the love of the Lord, simply because we just don’t understand why people do the things that they do. Instead of becoming crippling and judgmental strive to become aware, even psychologically so, of why people do the things they do. Psychology provides us insight. Such insight may not ‘fix’ every single person but it will help the person inside of you to love better while understanding more.
Jesus Christ IS our best example to follow. He changed water into wine and he can therefore change sin, inside any of us, into salvation. Jesus Christ still changes lives. Practice spirituality, faith living, in your life. Follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. It remains Jesus who teaches us much about forgiveness. Even challenges us to forgive as we wish to be forgiven. Jesus knew lots of situations will require forgiving the wrong doer over and over again. So, it was he instructed us we need to forgive people not only seven times but seventy times seven! When you or I strive to love another with the love of the Lord it may require lots of forgiveness lots of times. Not just one time.
When Jesus had neared the end of His earthly ministry among us, as the Bible declares; “He set His face towards Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51). In other words, He became resolved and moved on. Some folks want to ‘hold onto things’ and keep going over them again and again. While that may be good for initial insight, explanation and forgiveness holding on too long, living too much in the past, hinders growth, reconciliation and love. As the Apostle Paul counsels; “Choose the better way of love.” (I Corinthians 13:13)
Seek to see ‘the glory of our King’ inside others. Sometimes that’s pretty self-evident. At other times you really have to ‘look really hard’ to see it. I saw ‘the glory of my King’ in the changed life and saved soul of my friend Delores all those years ago. Her faith as well as her life became Godly directed ever since. I saw ‘the glory of my King’ when my father’s bottles of beer and excessive glasses of wine transformed from an abusive alcoholic to wholesome care for his family and taking much better care of himself while sincerely affirming Christian faith living. We readily see ‘the glory of our king’ in our children and in others whose lives are humbled by faith realities.
Striving to love others with the love of the Lord remains a free will choice as we answer this calling from God inside of us all.
Come now and commune with the love of the Lord. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, June 27, 2020 & Sunday, June 28, 2020
Prayer For Illumination: Draw us close, Holy Spirit, as the Scriptures are read and the Word is proclaimed. Let the word of faith be on our lips and in our hearts, and let all other words slip away. May there be one voice we hear today — the voice of truth and grace. Amen.
Hebrews 11:1 (Page 1212); James 1:2-18 (Page 1216); Romans 12:2 (Page 1137)
Sermon Message: “Faith That Makes a Difference”
The ancient philosopher, theologian, and priest, Thomas Acquinas, declared:
“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”
Many of us have said, in no uncertain terms; “Faith makes all the difference in the world!” We have further inquired of one another even in our Christian fellowship; “Where would I be without faith?”
The Bible declares; “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” -Hebrews 11:1
I’d ‘love’ to have that spiritual confidence and hope in my life, consistently. I trust you would too. However, when things sometimes don’t go according to plan, we lose faith, not only in ourselves but also in any potential outcome in our lives. We may not say we have ‘lost our faith altogether,’ yet some forms of compromise certainly can happen to anyone’s faith. When we experience life’s monumental failures, it’s easy to lose hope, and even faith.
But faith is never lost totally. For the Christian believer, it can only be compromised partially and temporarily. Faith will always ‘make a difference!’
Faith, is deep-rooted in its’ essential expectation of good things to come. Faith is more than just being hopeful. Hope stems from our mind. Faith comes from the heart, the spirit, from one’s very soul. It is not easily explained away by reason or logic, nor can it always be understood through a single dimension.
Living in this midst of Covid-19, social protesting and our own everyday realities we see that while life can be hard at the best of times, faith is the knowledge, deep down inside, that things will get better. It’s kind of like taking the next step when you can’t see the entire staircase. I believe life would fail to have reason if we didn’t have faith.
Faith reminds us that we really can expect that things will turn out all right for us no matter what the situation might be. Faith, is just as important as the air we breathe. While the oxygen in the air nourishes the body, faith nourishes the heart and the soul. It’s the energy that courses through every single fiber and cell within our beings. It’s part of our bodies, our minds, our thought processes even our very souls. Faith is fundamental to our existence.
Jesus Christ teaches us that faith can move mountains. Not any ordinary form of faith but faith that comes from God, with God and through God.
Unfortunately, some folks don’t believe in things they cannot see. Some folks choose instead to explain things away mainly through a cause and effect rational thought process.
Faith enables us to ‘see’ things differently. Through different ‘lenses.’
I have truly and sincerely found that there is an enormous level of importance and evidence for one’s ‘having faith’ and for the ‘difference’ it makes…Faith isn’t just a notion that some people hold onto in tough times. While life is precious it can also be remarkably difficult at times.
The human mind is an incredibly powerful entity. We can use our minds for good or evil. When ‘troubled’ the human mind can move away from positivity and health. Lots of situations and schools of thought will inform us, abundantly so, of what’s wrong. When called upon and employed by us, faith helps us replenish and believe in what’s healthy, possible and right. Faith makes the difference in helping us to ‘see’ where and perhaps ‘how’ things can get better. At least where things can be or should be. Faith makes a genuine difference in assisting us to posit what’s healthy instead of consistently reminding us of what’s wrong. Christian faith is the true, utter, deep down belief in your heart and your soul that things will improve, and that you deserve the very best in life.
Perhaps we have all heard the ‘saying’ whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Some folks have somewhat sarcastically responded; “Well just how ‘strong’ am I supposed to become?” There’s a powerful story in the Bible called the Book of Job. It’s a story about a man named Job who was as good of a soul as one could be. Job believed strongly and sincerely in God and held his faith high. As the story goes one day the devil paid God a visit. Their topic of discussion became Job and his faith. The devil reasoned that Job was faithful because he had been blessed with so much in life. Family, money, land and respect. The devil proposed that should God take away any number of these things from Job, he would no longer be the faithful man that God held him up to be. The devil claimed that Job would then curse God.
Sometimes we are the devil’s advocate and affirm that others might have ‘faith’ only because they have so much ‘blessing’ in their lives. As the story unfolds Job does experience trials, one right after another and each one seemingly more severe than the previous. Job lost everything he had worked so hard to create over the years. His livestock, all his money, his family, his friends and yes, even his health. However, even when Job’s wife told him he should curse God, Job didn’t. He remained faithful. After all those trials and perhaps tests, God restored all of Job’s worldly possessions, family, and health. Not only were things ‘restored’ God multiplies what Job once had many times over.
Faith still does make the difference when it seems life’s circumstances are striving to kill us or at least what’s most important to us. Times might be bad, and you just may want to ‘throw in the towel.’ But never lose faith. Faith is a choice we must make to believe in God above, God within and God’s presence through the end. Many of us have found a person without faith is likened to a stream without water-they would simply cease to exist.
Christian faith does make the difference in that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Going through life and all of its ups and downs can take a toll on us. It’s gotten so bad at times that folks will even question their very existence. But through all the trials and tribulations we might face, it’s faith that gives us that helping hand. There is much to be learned and wholesome spirituality to be affirmed in the Book of James. This servant of God; James, knew what it meant to ‘meet various trials!’ But James had also learned that difficulties could produce steadfastness or patience, though the natural reaction is annoyance or bitterness. He never tells us to pretend that a trial is nonexistent. Instead this spiritual author; James, instructs us to recognize and ‘rejoice’ that any problem can be the occasion for God to work in us and through us in a way that He otherwise would not. Faith that makes a difference sees tests as perhaps a call to believe in the goodness of God, and to trust that God is not only willing, but also able to accomplish His purposes, no matter what befalls us. Faith that makes a difference helps us to discover our purpose in life.
In today’s scripture lesson from the Book of James, chapter one verse 2 declares these words; “Because you know…” Friends we ‘DO KNOW’ something more in this life then do non-believers. We know there’s a greater purpose as well as an ultimate meaning to our lives. Faith makes that difference. Christians aren’t nearly as surprised as non-Christians regarding trials and tribulations ‘because we know’ THIS is precisely where our understanding about God grows even more. The more understanding we have of God the greater our awareness, understanding and endurance of trials and tribulations in our lives and the lives of others in this world.
The Apostle’s Creed, affirming faith in Jesus Christ through the ages, declares in one portion; “He (Jesus) descended into hell, but on the third day he rose again from the dead.
We further recall from our study of Holy Scripture that Moses had a mountaintop experience with God causing his face to shine, to glow with the holiness of the occasion. Yet Moses’ life was not free of trials or tribulations. The point being, trials and testing we may experience always have a purpose, eventually. We further mature in our faith to realize and accept that before God brings you to the peak you must first go to the pit. Faith that makes a difference matures the soul…It has endurance as well as a certain ‘firmness’ in the miles of trials. Everything in life is far easier to get through when we have faith. Faith that makes a difference is a guiding light.
Even when we have no reason to believe that things will get better, it’s through faith that our situations do improve.
Faith makes a difference in how we allow stress, anxiety, and fear to run our lives. There’s a clear and documented connection between stress and the increased likelihood of disease and illness. Faith that makes a difference grows to know and trust that whatever your situation is, deep down in your heart and soul you aren’t ignoring your problems, you simply and humbly affirm it will improve.
Faith that makes a difference has well taught many a soul, humans weren’t made just to survive but to thrive. Faith will get you through. Faith will inspire you to search for, see and embrace health in all of its God manifested forms.
Much of the pattern of this world calls us away from faith. Especially so from faith that makes a difference.
God declares in His Holy Word; “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 prefect will.”
Faith that makes a difference…All the difference in the world! Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, June 20, 2021 & Sunday, June 21, 2020
Prayer For Illumination
God of our Fathers and Mothers, God of us all, send now your Holy Spirit upon us to quiet our hearts, care for our souls, and open our minds to the Word of God and thy Divine message, we pray. Amen.
Psalm 103:13-17, page 599 Ephesians 6:1-4, page 1177 Matthew 12:48-50, page 978
Sermon Message: “The Best Father”
WHO is the “BEST FATHER” you may know? Our assessment of the ‘best Father’ changes over time…
When we are around 4 years of age we believe “My Daddy can do anything!” At 5 years of age, “My Daddy knows a whole lot!” At age 6, “My Dad is smarter than your Dad!”
At age 8, “My Dad doesn’t know exactly everything.”
At age 10, “In the olden days when my dad grew up, things were sure different!”
At 12 years old, “Oh well, naturally Dad doesn’t know anything about that. He is too old to remember his childhood.”
At 14 years old, “Don’t pay any attention to my Dad. He is so old fashioned!”
At 20 years old, “Him? My Lord he’s hopelessly out of date.”
At 25 years old, “Dad knows a little about it, but then he should because he’s been around so long.”
At 30 years old, “Maybe we should ask Dad what he thinks. He’s had a lot of experience.”
At 35 years old, “I’m not doing a single thing until I talk to Dad.”
At 40 years old, “I wonder how Dad would have handled it? He was so wise and had a world of experience.”
At 50 years old, “I’d give anything if Dad were here now so I could talk this over with him. Too bad I didn’t appreciate how smart he was. I sure could have learned a lot from him.”
As a Father, there’s nothing I want more than to love my children in such a way that they still benefit from me, from my love, long after I’m gone…
I have done my best and continue to do my best to love our children and our grandchildren in ways that shall have an impact on them for not only years, but also for generations to come.
God reminds me, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him…His righteousness is extended to his children’s children.”
My friends, IF, by our examples, our teachings, our advice, our love, and our sincere actions, we help our children to respect and love God THEY shall receive God’s mercy. The mercy of God is protection, divine love, provision, and forgiveness and care…Surely you and I, want for our children to have these benefits and blessings of God. That which is ‘of’ God and comes ‘from’ God is even better than life itself for these blessings, these mercies outlast life…
Mine has been the blessing of watching my children teach their children about God. On a bit of a humorous note, my daughter will sometimes smile, perhaps a bit nervously so, when my grandchildren ‘by-pass’ her to talk to ‘Grandy’ about things pertaining to God.
I trust you well recall from your Christian background that children are to obey their parents and furthermore, as the Bible directs, “Honor your father and your mother so that you may enjoy long life on earth.” This is a direct teaching for children. Admittedly there have been times when I struggled with this directive from God. Especially so when I observed my parents doing some very wrong and hurtful things. Obedience in the Bible is not prescribed as ‘blind obedience.’ To bring one ‘honor’ does not mean approving wrongful behavior, sinful actions even within our parents. ‘Honor’ is more a reflection of living out the ‘good’ you’ve seen in your parents, imitating their good example, and giving them a little glory and praise from time to time.
A second portion of God’s teaching for children and parents is this; “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4).
The word ‘exasperate’ means to irritate intensely or to infuriate. I have seen fathers, and mothers, do this with their children…I become ‘exasperated’ when I see a father, in front of his children, ‘make fun’ of another because of their size, how they think, the color of their skin, ethnic background etc. During my early adulthood I still recall ‘standing up’ to my parents when they exasperated me due to their prejudicial, sarcastic even ‘caustic’ remarks.
Spiritual wisdom has taught us that we need to grow with our children. Times are changing and we need to do some changing with the times as well. We have a lot to learn from our children in many areas. When our children were young, they spent lots of time listening, observing, and growing…from us. When they are ‘raised’ we need to spend lots of time listening, observing, and growing…from them…
A diminishing remark parents will sometimes say to their adult children is “Well if I were you!” This is oftentimes followed by unwarranted and perhaps unwanted advice being given. Perhaps, a less ‘exasperating’ way might include listening more, abiding patience, asking ‘What do YOU think?” then saying something like; “Well here’s another option you might consider…”
“Fathers, do NOT ‘exasperate’ your children,” is a direct teaching from God to parents.
As parents, we can expect and sincerely hope our children will continue to “obey” us in where we have taught them good manners, what’s good for health and spiritual living.
Notice too, God’s Word has its’ temporal promises as well as its’ spiritual. Give your children a good education. Remember to treat your children well for they are ‘pieces of yourself.’ Bring them up as men and women, as good people, as Christians. Please let them have a religious education. This is SO very needed and highly beneficial yet missing in far too many families today. Honor your parents and do not exasperate your children so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.
Today is Father’s Day. I realize some folks feel awkward on Father’s Day and on Mother’s Day. Awkwardness may occur if you’ve ‘lost’ your mother or your father. It may also occur if you had bad things happen to you because of your parents. It can further occur if you did not have one or both parents in your life. GOD IS our heavenly FATHER, MOTHER and CREATOR and SUSTAINER. GOD…so LOVED the world that He sent His Son Jesus. God declares, whoever believes in His Son and follows HIM shall be saved and inherit eternal life in God’s heaven …
Haven’t you noticed in reading and studying the Bible, Jesus didn’t so much ‘preach at’ people? He just talked to them…Most of what He had to say was plain, easy, and familiar, well suited to the people’s capacity and care. I’d like to be that kind of father. That kind of preacher and friend. Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart, in my heart…
Jesus loved his family. He respected his mother; Mary, and his earthly father; Joseph. Yet Jesus continually responded to that ‘higher calling’ he followed throughout his life. At one point he ‘stood up to them’ letting them know he had to be about his (heavenly) Father’s business…
My friends, today IS Father’s Day. A day set aside to honor our fathers. The Bible teaches us we can honor our father by obeying the good, solid, and sincere things we have seen inside of them and learned from them. We can honor our fathers by living out our faith, putting our Christian education into daily practice.
On this Father’s Day and beyond, remember too Jesus’ inquiry and further teaching…
“WHO is my mother and WHO are my brothers?” Jesus Christ said, “WHOEVER does the will of my Father in heaven are my brothers, sisters, and mother.”
Perhaps you had ‘the best’ parents in the world. Perhaps YOU are thought of as being the best parent that ever was!
Perhaps you are the worst parent in the world... Perhaps you aren’t thought of as being much of a parent at all.
Perhaps you are close to your parents.
Perhaps you are estranged from them.
God reminds us today, informs us still, that when we are close to God the Father and Jesus the Son, then we are near to a human and divine bond that becomes greater than the best love or the worst behaviors we may have felt from others, even with our parents.
The Greatest Opportunity, the ‘Best Father’ is the one who knows God, does God’s will and seeks to live God’s love for His children bringing peace, brining hope, bringing health and security, joy, happiness and forgiveness. Bringing life…
I have learned as a ‘spiritual father’ to many, there are lots of opportunities where we work, in our lives, here at our beloved church, to be near to God.
Jesus was close to his family but perhaps at times taken for granted. In analogy, sometimes the nearer the church the further people are from God…
Like you, I learned a long time ago, to be the Best Father, I had to first become the Best Son. If we honor our parents, we tend NOT to exasperate our children and then things do go well plus long life on earth is enjoyed more. There really is a sincere spiritual connection in all of this.
Appreciate God the Father. He’s the BEST! Be a good Father, Become the BEST. Remain a good Son or Daughter. The Christian life is THE BEST way to live. Amen.
Sermon Message for Saturday, June 13, 2020 & Sunday, June 14, 2020
Prayer for Illumination: Guide us, O God, by your Word, and Holy Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover peace; through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Scripture Lesson: Ephesians 4: 1-6, Page 1175
Sermon Message: ‘Because I Am a Christian’
Does being a Christian make any difference in your life? It really should be making a difference in how we relate to God, to self and to others. The ‘difference’ should be happening 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In other words; all of the time!
A ‘Christian’ is a person who believes in Jesus and follows the religion that is based on Jesus’ teachings.
Some folks feel as though ‘being a Christian’ means we were born in a ‘Christian’ nation or that we come from a ‘Christian family.’ Still others believe being a ‘Christian’ means you have a deep personal relationship with Jesus. The word ‘Christian’ is mentioned at least 3 times in the Bible.
Followers of Christ are called ‘Christians’ because their behavior, activity and speech are like that of Jesus Christ.
Being a Christian is like ‘being in love.’ It’s a work in progress, never stagnant, always being improved sometimes tried and tested.
Most folks affirm, ‘because I am a Christian’ I know the difference between right and wrong. Not only do you and I know the difference we ‘do what’s right!’
‘Because I am a Christian’ I do believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit… Christians know the difference between ‘God’ and other realities that strive to be our main focus and greatest importance in our lives.
You and I can readily say; ‘Because I am a Christian’ we do not let money or pleasure or relationships or material goods or status be more important than God and Jesus in our lives. We are followers of Jesus Christ and we believe fundamentally so in God who made us, sustains us and who will one day call us home to His heaven.
False teachings about God, concerning Jesus, the importance of power, prestige and pleasure of all sorts do not easily sway a Christian. God’s Word, the Bible, the presence and the teachings of Jesus Christ continue to teach us to recognize falsehood.
You and I know people who believe ‘getting ahead’ at any and all costs is their presumptuous philosophy for living. Or perhaps stepping on the backs of others to ‘climb the ladder’ so to speak is their ‘way of life… Because I am a Christian I believe and live my life striving NOT to be an ‘opportunist’ who simply uses others for my personal gain. For example; A coin collector had been looking for some rare coins. A recent widow asked the coin collector to ‘take a look’ at her late husband’s coin collection and make her an offer. The collector did evaluate and realized the collection was worth several thousand dollars. He knew he could have easily made the woman an offer for a few hundred dollars and she would have gladly accepted. The collector later shared his thoughts. He said, “Because I am a Christian I could not ‘rip off,” that is, ‘take advantage’ of another person even though the opportunity had presented itself to him.
I’ve always believed that God is ‘there’ even if no one else knows or sees my actions.
Assuredly our respect, our fear of God, influences our Christian faith, our actions and responses. More importantly the ‘presence’ of God inside of us motivates us more than anything else to ‘be’ a Christian. God, Jesus, the Bible and the inward flow of the Holy Spirit. That ‘presence’ of God is sometimes simply described as ‘love.’
I’ve found, as I trust you have found, that God’s love inside of us has enabled me to love people I never thought I could love. I’ve been able to tolerate, communicate with and forgive folks I would not consider doing if I were not affirming that I AM a Christian.
Do you still recall the narrative from the Bible regarding the Good Samaritan? Jesus tells the story of a man walking from one town to another. Along the way he is attacked by robbers. They strip the man of his clothes, beat him and leave him half dead. A priest happened along but chose to pass by on the other side of the road. A Levite passed by and also stayed on the other side of the road. A Samaritan saw the man, took pity on him and helped the victimized man.
Think about the characters in Jesus’ story. The man who was walking between towns represents you, me or any other innocent soul for that matter. The robbers represent people who believe; “What’s yours is mine and I’ll take it if I can.” The ‘opportunists’ of this world… The priest and the Levite represent so-called ‘Christians’ but are actually people who think and believe, “What’s mine is mine and I won’t be sharing any of me with you.”
The Good Samaritan is a mature Christian. He loves with the love of the Lord. He chooses to help, to put himself out, even pay some of the victim’s expenses for care BECAUSE the Good Samaritan personifies what it means to be a Christian.
Because I am a Christian we care, we help, we support, we put out the effort to help sinking and damaged souls.
A lot of ‘Good Samaritans’ were called upon during Covid-19.
For years I have observed church signage which reads “All are welcome!” I do sometimes wonder though if that is really true inside ALL of our churches? Or does that signage mean, “If you are ‘like us’ then you are welcome.”?
Because I am a Christian, I must mature to realize that while others are ‘different’ from us that does not simply mean ‘they’ are all wrong and ‘we’ are all right. Our world is currently in the midst of crying out for equality, recognition and understanding of our ‘differences’ as never before.
Our words and our actions flow from love for our fellow believers. We ‘say’ we are a Christian. We prove that we are by our love and our actions…
Jesus Christ did not design His church to be ‘high and mighty!’ Rather, He establishes His Church to be humble and holy.
Hear again these teachings of God from the Bible regarding being a Christian… “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received from God. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit. You and I are called to one hope, one Lord and Savior; Jesus Christ.” Do these scriptural characteristics describe your life as a Christian? Can you live your life saying to God the Father and Jesus, ‘Because I am a Christian, I choose to live a better life? Because I am a Christian I choose to live a life worthy of the calling I’ve received from God? I choose to be humble so I can listen, learn, and appreciate God, others, what I eat, how I live and how others may be trying to care about me, even in their own way…
Being gentle is a choice you make…because you are a Christian.
‘Patience’ isn’t just a value and a virtue in heaven and especially so here on earth. Patience too is a choice you must make each day of your life because, as you and I affirm, “I am a Christian.” …
The Bible references ‘bearing with one another.’ It isn’t easy to ‘put up with’ people you disagree with. Some whom you just ‘can’t stand.’ But here in God’s House. Here in Jesus’ Church we seek to save the lost and welcome the sinner all the while knowing none of us are 100% saints 100% of the time. Because I am a Christian I must choose to bear with one another in love.
Remember this; because I am a Christian physical violence is frowned upon….
In the eyes of God we are ALL His children. As the old Sunday School song affirms; ‘red and yellow, black and white we are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.’
The ‘one hope’ God has given to ALL people, throughout the world, is belief in His Son Jesus Christ, following His Son’s teachings and living the love His Son has taught us.
There’s a difference between ‘saying’ I am a Christian and living the life of a true and sincere Christian. Mature Christians remain involved in the church. Theirs is a vital connection to the local church. We come to realize we cannot grow to our full potential apart from that vital connection to the body of believers. Each of us MUST find our place of mutual service and encouragement.
Because I Am a Christian I live my life with an eternal perspective. That changes things. That changes me…We must purposefully strive to attain continual spiritual growth because we KNOW this life is temporary.
Have you also noticed that Christians control their tongues? Good control of speech is the mark of a soul on the path to maturity!
The world is watching us. They are ‘checking to see’ if your life and your actions as well as your love is better, different and good because you are a Christian. How you live your life, because you are a Christian, paints a picture of how others may or may not live their lives AS a Christian.
Generally speaking, there is a wisdom poem accredited to both Maya Angelou and Carol Wimmer. It appears that Carol Wimmer (1988) was the original author. Perhaps you’re acquainted with this meaningful poem, simply entitled, “When I Say I Am a Christian,” on the next page.
When I Say 'I Am a Christian'
When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not shouting "I am saved"
I'm whispering "I was lost!"
That is why I chose this way.
When I say... "I am a Christian"
I don't speak of this with pride.
I'm confessing that I stumble
and need someone to be my guide.
When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not trying to be strong.
I'm professing that I'm weak
and pray for strength to carry on.
When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not bragging of success.
I'm admitting I have failed
and cannot ever pay the debt.
When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not claiming to be perfect,
my flaws are too visible
but God believes I'm worth it.
When I say... "I am a Christian"
I still feel the sting of pain
I have my share of heartaches
which is why I seek His name.
When I say... "I am a Christian"
I do not wish to judge.
I have no authority.
I only know I'm loved.
Where is God in the midst of this Corona Virus? Is Jesus in Jerusalem or perhaps among us right now? This is Palm Sunday. Undoubtedly this Palm Sunday is ‘different’ from any other Palm Sunday you or I have ever participated in. ‘Life’ since the Corona Virus pandemic has changed, as never before.
Yet God would have us to remember His Palm Sunday, that very first one, and today’s Palm Sunday, are still about a festival of life! Maybe it does not seem that way nor even feel much that way with all of our Social Restrictions and actual cases of illnesses and even death.
Remember, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to celebrate life God the Father had given Him up to that point; to celebrate life soon to come, that although quite challenging, would become more redemptive than anything the world had ever known; and thirdly, Palm Sunday symbolizes then and now, life with God in His heaven that is yet to come.
Since the season of Lent began I have felt inspired by the Holy Spirit to share messages from the Bible pertaining to the ‘I Am’ sayings of Jesus Christ. “I Am the Bread of Life.” “I Am the Light of the World.” “I am the Door of the Sheep.” “I Am the Good Shepherd.” “I Am the True Vine, and you are the branches.” Today’s message is also a reflection on the words of Jesus: “I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
During Jesus’ earthly ministry he once asked Peter this important question: “Who do YOU say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-20).
During these days perhaps we should be asking ourselves a similar question. Who do WE say Jesus is in the midst of the Corona Virus Pandemic?
In the past we were granted the privilege and blessings of even our holiest of days being routine, traditional, and honestly, quite comfortable.
Since 1979 I have comfortably stood inside a church, written a full-fledged sermon and delivered the same from God’s pulpit. Even more blessed was I across those years to have scores of people sitting inside of the church I was serving as I delivered the Palm Sunday message.
Today, for the first time, that comfortable reality has become so different. I’ve found myself saying in these past few weeks over and over again, “Well if the people cannot come to church, then let’s take the church to the people.”
I am so very grateful that a ‘way’ has been found to get God’s Word and message ‘out’ to you all. Please, I ask, if possible, share this message with others in order that they, too, might be blessed and feel closer to God.
That first Palm Sunday crowd may have been a bit similar to us. Within their past they had grown comfortable with the on-going presence of Jesus Christ living among them, teaching within their temple, walking among their streets, and helping their families. Jesus was even able to challenge long-standing, awkward traditions and help to make things better for people. Those ‘ancients’ had grown to know Jesus and to love him. So much so they ‘lauded’ his arrival into Jerusalem.
They were people much like us. Not ‘made of money’ nor well known among the elite. But they were the ‘salt of the earth.’ Jesus’ presence among them had transformed them to further become ‘the light of the world.’ You’ve seen that change inside of yourself as well from all of
Do you remember the last time that you cried? Do you remember why you were crying? Perhaps you cried when those reports came across the TV screen of the impending worldwide Corona Virus pandemic. Or possibly when you learned that doctors in Italy finally were forced to decide who to treat and whom they would have to allow to die. There are lots of reasons to cry in recent days. Truth is there may be more crying before this is all over.
A further question for you to ponder: when was the last time you felt God crying with you or for you? Perhaps, like myself, you had a particular time in your life where God seemed to be absent because you hurt so badly. This season of Lent reminds us of Jesus’ final words from upon the cross. Hear again some of his heart-wrenching words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I say this to you today, when Jesus Christ, God’s dear Son was hurting and dying, when I felt so alone and was hurting so badly from my accident, when you and I have wondered greatly and pondered much with seemingly small or no answers, it is then that today’s words of scripture should touch our hearts, speak to our souls, and remind us of our faith. Jesus wept. That means God cries. When terrible hurt, pain, and suffering is occurring the world over because of this Corona Virus outbreak, God still FEELS our pain, suffers with us, and sometimes just plain cries.
When you cry, it’s sure nice to have someone comfort you, maybe give you a hug and some tissue. THAT is the church’s job today amidst this Corona Virus pandemic. Be a comforter in whatever way you can. Akin to Jesus Christ, our greatest example to follow, memorize scriptures and draw comfort, strength, guidance, and direction from them. This measure will help you to feel better after a while. Share some scriptures with others; help them also to feel God’s loving presence, care, and closeness. Please, during these concerning times, let another soul know you are praying specifically for them.
All human beings have the ability to cry. It just doesn’t matter how old, how young, or how “in-between” you are. There are lots of reasons why one might cry: sadness, physical pain, fears, happiness, joy, and even being overwhelmed with gratitude. Sometimes when we, like Jesus, cry, it isn’t just because we are sad for ourselves; sometimes we are also sad for other people.
It’s okay to cry some, these days. We read in the Bible the many stories of wonderful miracles that Jesus performed in his lifetime. Today’s scriptures further reveal a spiritual lesson we all need to identify with today; Jesus wept. He was a human being too. He experienced everything that we experience: hunger, anger, pain, sadness, and happiness. Jesus was ‘close’ to Mary and her dear brother, Lazarus. Poor Lazarus had died, and Mary was crying. Jesus saw Mary crying, and this greatly disturbed his spirit. He was sad for Mary’s sadness at her brother’s death, and he was sad because he, too, loved Lazarus. Jesus joined Mary in her humanity. Jesus wept. Jesus joins us today, right here, right now.
If you are human, like me, you’ve come to realize that when we are crying and sad, we can feel very alone. Sometimes a soul just can’t come up with all of the right words to communicate why we are crying, or we just might be too overwhelmed to talk. Yet our tears speak for us and to the people around us who love us. I’ve had folks rub my back or give me a glass of water, pass me a tissue or a comforting smile of understanding and awareness. In those moments it begins to feel like everything just might ‘get good again’ or take on some semblance of ‘being okay!’ These are the times, precisely now, that we all need to feel the love of Jesus very close to us. Remember today’s scripture lesson. Let these scriptures serve as a firm spiritual reminder that even in our most difficult moments, we are never alone, and we have a savior who understands how we feel because he’s been there too.
Further, needed, spiritual guidance comes to us today, this Fifth Sunday in Lent from the Gospel of John. Hear, receive, and ponder these words of God found in John 15:5-6a, 8, 12, 15. “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers. This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. I call you friends.”
Are you and God ‘on speaking terms?’ Does the title to the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” apply to you and the Lord? Friends shall always remain important, to all people of every age.
A little boy was being interviewed before starting school. It went something like this: “Any brothers?” “No,” he answered. “Any sisters?” “Nope.” “Do you have any pets?” “Well, not yet.” the little boy answered sadly. But pretty soon he looked up with a smile on his face and said, “But I do have some friends.”
Jesus spoke to his followers as “friends” because of the love he had for them. Jesus’ love, then and now, is to extend beyond the church to encompass the entire world. Amidst all of the church closures in recent times, one of our members texted me this message: “The Church of Jesus Christ remains open. The buildings are closed.” Let us remember that and stay connected with Jesus and one another.
My sincere belief remains this: the world is our parish. If folks cannot get to church, now or even later on when things return to a sense of normal, then bring the church to them. Share God’s love. Share Jesus with others. You are a walking and talking Bible that someone is reading each and every day. Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches.
During times of crisis it’s helpful to remember our roots and secure our foothold once more upon the foundations, the anchors that sustain us. Have you ever noticed that here in the Presbyterian Church of Coraopolis, throughout this building there remain depictions of vines grafted into this physical structure? Look to the front of our grand sanctuary, and you shall find wood engravings of vines. Lift your heads towards the upper portion of this great church’s walls and embedded in plaster are gold and brown depictions of vines. Similar depictions can be found in the Chapel, the Upper Parlor, and still other places within this spiritual edifice. Our forefathers and foremothers desired for all persons back then and for future generations to come to realize this foundational message from Jesus Christ: “I am the vine and you are the branches.”
As Pastor, my direct spiritual advice is to stay connected to the vine. Stay close to Jesus. Draw near to God perhaps as never before in your life. The world needs this NOW. As do You. As do I.
I feel God’s inspiration. I also feel human pains, fears, sadness, concern, and sorrows. My humanness leads me to care mostly about what my ‘self’ needs and wants and isolate from the world. Such a focus inside any of us, such behaviors and thoughts distract us from the things God wants for our lives. IF we choose to focus mostly on ourselves, then we are going to thrive on the fear that we are out of control, and no one can help us, except maybe, ourselves. Jesus Christ well teaches us, and God’s Word repeatedly informs and instructs us that such focus more often leads to sin and selfishness.
We, as human beings, must choose to BE spiritual and to let spirituality/faith lead us. There IS a powerful connection between God and us when we choose to have faith in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, in the Bible, in the branch, and with the vines. Someone who remains focused on their spirit and their faith stays connected with God. I am finding, and plenty of others are sharing with me, their fear lessens exponentially when we grow to know and truly believe that God is also in the fight with us against this Corona Virus, and God has control to mold the worst cases into wholeness.
Living as vines connected to the main branch Jesus Christ, we can choose to live as mere humans focusing on the physical and living with fear of our mortality and weakness, or we can choose to focus on the spiritual, and celebrate a life with resurrection as the final act.
Every day you and I are being saturated with the physical evidence of why we need to fear. Since creation people have struggled with choosing to focus on the physical side, mainly, or the spiritual side, progressively.
The Christian faith appeals to many because of its emphasis on hope and striving to see the good news amidst the fear and hopelessness. Every day more and more states, including our own, are announcing that citizens need to stay home and shelter in place. A small bit of ‘good news’ is these efforts seem to be working to help fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus. With less people traveling around the infection rate significantly decreases. This sincerely has helped hospitals to keep up with the demand of sick patients. Studies, statistics, and research reveal this to be helpful and true. Each of us must sincerely do all that we can to keep infection rates down. The term “social distancing” has been used to describe the practice of staying 6 feet away from another human, not touching surfaces, and avoiding crowds. The term “social distancing” does mean physical distancing, yet we still need social interaction with one another throughout the world. Today I thank God for the miracle of technology that allows me, in this manner, to socially and spiritually interact with you as your pastor. “Together” has always been a spiritual calling from God to His people. Currently our being ‘together’ is restricted to videos, e-mails, and US mail. I’ll take what I can get and use everything possible to maintain and enhance faith and spirituality with you.
Faith is working; yours, mine, and ours. We realize Jesus IS the vine, and we are the branches. While this infringing Corona Virus is making a strong, bold, and sometimes fear-filled message, rest assured, Jesus the Good Shepherd, is with us, among us, and helping us.
Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, His disciples gathered together in the Upper Room. They locked the door and ‘sheltered in place’ due to fear. Jesus came among them.
Ask and invite Jesus to come among you. Pray for Jesus to be present with someone you know ‘sheltering in place and overcome with fear.’ The world coaches us to survive physically, whatever it takes. Our faith instructs us to pray sincerely, trust immensely, and choose faith over fear.
We are Christians. Jesus Christ IS the Vine. In Holy Confidence hear him say to you today: “I AM the Vine, You Are the Branches.” He knows you, loves you, and is caring for you. Our faith is not an insurance policy against any and all harm. It IS a covenant with God that enables us to look forward to life with God, both here on earth and after our passing, however far away that may be. Your faith is strong. So too is your peace. Amen.