Schapville Zion Presbyterian Church.
Schapville Zion Presbyterian Church.  

Pastor's Study

 

Sermon The 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, “It Happens While We Sleep” Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43          08/20/17

It is my custom on Sunday afternoon is to sit down with the readings for the next week’s sermon and just read through them.

So, with echoes of “Blood and soil,” and “Jews will not replace us,” still in my head, I read these words: “27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

In the Middle-East there is a weed which, in its early stage resembles wheat so closely it is impossible to distinguish the weed from the wheat and that by the time they reach the point where you can see the difference their roots are so entwined that pulling up the weeds will tear out the wheat as well.  What is true of the plant life seems to be true in even more dramatic ways in human beings.

So, I prayed, are we then to just to allow evil to rise in our world?  And then, I went back re-read the passage, and these words popped out at me: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.”

How does this happen? How is it that God’s good plans for us and for our world are so often upset?  In our parable, the owner of the field said, “an enemy has done this,” and Jesus explained that the enemy is the devil.” 

How does the enemy bring this about?

How does evil so often corrupt all that is good in our world, our government and in lives?

It is while we are sleeping evil takes root and grows in the world. 

Not physical sleep but the other kind of sleeping, the sleep-walking that we humans do in life when everything is normal.

A friend came to me and said her husband had asked for a divorce.  She couldn’t explain why her marriage failed.  All she said was, “I saw no signs, I thought everything was fine. I must have been sleeping.” 

How many times have parents shared that their teenager was deep into drugs, not knowing how they got there.  She or he was quiet we never saw any sign of trouble.  Parenting is difficult at best and parents find themselves sleep walking, so distracted by making a living and planning for the future that they lose the very one who, for them, symbolizes the future.

I too struggle with sleep walking.  Few if any of the failures in my walk with God have come during a time of hellish attack.  My most difficult moments happened while I have been sleep walking. Anton Chekhov put it in these words, “Any idiot can face a crisis; it is the day to day living that wears you out.”  That’s because we tend asleep walk through our day to day living while a crisis shocks us wide awake and into action.  To borrow an old army saying: “there are no atheists in fox holes.” 

Beloved, like you, I prefer pleasant days over days of trouble. 

But I have come to realize that I must be more alert during the pleasant days,

else I will lose my soul to the comfortable sleep walking of ordinariness.

The story Jesus told is so earth shattering in its scope.  The field Jesus said is the entire world. 

There have always been hate groups who lead people into evil actions.  Since the 90’s these groups have grown in both number and influence in the United States.

In the twentieth century, there were over 50 incidences of genocide, the systematic murder of a specific people.  The worst was Adolf Hitler, he methodically and brutally attempted to destroy the Jewish people in Germany, while America was sleeping walking its way out of great depression.  Looking back, hindsight is always 20/20, we wonder how we could have missed the signs.  How could a civilized world could have allowed such horror to happen.  And on Saturday of last week, men carrying torches, Nazi and white supremacy flags marched through the college town of Charlottesville Virginia, shouting “Blood and soil,” and “Jews will not replace us”.  How did we get here?  More importantly what do we do about it?  How do we, as Christians respond to these sorts of actions? 

Jesus has some insight for us with these issues of hate in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus reminds us: 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  To God’s glory we should take stands.  As the church, we have the most powerful weapon against hate and that is love. 

Jesus follows with these words; “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”

We are not to respond to evil with evil but to evil with good.  When Jesus coming down from the mountain, he was met by disciples who could not heal a demon possessed boy.  They asked him why, Jesus replied: "This kind can come out only by prayer."  So, pray for our nation and pray for those who feel so alienated that they have been caught up in hate groups.

I don’t have all the answers but I know this:

The one who sows the good seeds is the Son of Man, and that is Jesus the Christ.  There is no more loving care-taker than him.  The enemy is the devil, enough said as to the opposition.  The issue of evil is of such enormity that it won’t all be settled until the end of the ages.  Evil enters the world when good people are sleep walking.  How is it that something so seemly simple and normal as sleeping is the tipping point?

Amen.

Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

 

Sermon

“The Seed, the Soil and the Sower, part 3,” Matthew 13: 1-3a, 7-9, 22-23, page 690, The 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time 08/13/17

Today we continue with our series, looking at these parables.  Looking at them from perhaps a different perspective that we had not considered before.

We have been making our way through the first parable we have talked about seed that falls along the path, seed that though lands, fails to make much of an impression.  We have also spoken of seed that lands in rocky soil, shallow soil.  Seed that makes an enthusiastic impression and then fades away.  This morning we turn our attention to seed that falls among the thorns and seed that falls on good soil.  Let’s return to the gospel of Matthew 13, verses: 1-3a, 7-9, 22-23, found on page 690 in your pew Bible, hear now the parable of the sower, part three:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

One   The gospel of the Lord.

All     Praise to you Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

 

Jesus said, sometimes, the seed of the Kingdom falls among thorns.  If there is a season of soil of which we should most aware, it is the season when the seed in sown among the thorns.  This is a time when a person hears the word, but “lets the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it.”  There is no age at which we are immune to this peril.  Every age has its distractions.  But we are most vulnerable to worries of this life and most susceptible to the deceitfulness of wealth between the ages of twenty and fifty. 

These are the years when life is full of decisions, concerns for our future, and financial wellbeing.  What type of education and/or career path?  Should there be a marriage?  Do we have children, how many?  How do we prepare financially for the future; college for the kids and retirement for us?  If these weeds don’t choke out the best of God’s seed, nothing will.

I know this is a hard word to hear.  Our list of weeds is made of good things, things that we are encouraged to plan for, to think about and to accomplish.  Seeing these things as weeds is necessary for staying true to the gospel.  That which distracts from the best becomes, by that very fact, a weed.  Look at the parable, it only has two options, the kingdom seed and weed.  There is no provision for other nice plants.  This is what Jesus was warning us about when he said, “We must be ready to hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and our own life to be a true disciple.  Turn to me and away from all these good things the Master seems to be saying, because if you don’t they will choke out the seed of the Kingdom.

This is more than harsh.  But if we desire to keep, to truly keep father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, and our lives, we need to put our priorities in order so that life can be saved.

There is an interesting irony in this part of Jesus’ story.  If there is any soil other than the soil in the end of this story, which brings forth life so abundantly it is this soil that holds great promise, it is the soil where weeds and thorns can take over.  That is why the thorns find it so inviting.  The qualities that make it attractive to life’s choking elements are the very qualities that would, under other, better circumstances make it wonderfully productive.

So, it is with all our lives.  When the soil of our souls is at its best potential, we are so often preoccupied with other things.  In the years when we are capable of our greatest productivity, we are most easily taken over by weeds.  When Jesus visited Martha and Mary, Martha was working very hard at hosting Jesus and Mary spent time sitting at Jesus’ feet.  And Jesus said this, Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. But only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.”  Spending time at Jesus feet, even in your most exciting times will prevent the weeds from taking over your soil.

Beloved, there is the season of the good soil.  Some people never seem, on the surface, to have such times.  All of us feel, on our worst days, that we aren’t even capable of having such times.  Nineteenth century poet and novelist George MacDonald, whose writings fist turned C. S. Lewis toward God and of whom Lewis said, “I know hardly any other writer who seems closer of more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ himself.”   But there were times George MacDonald felt the soil of his own soul was hopeless.”  In one of those times he wrote these words: My soul is poor land, plenteous in dearth;

Here blades of grass, there a small herb for food;

A nothing that would be something if it could.”

I can understand such a feeling, perhaps you can too.  My soil at times has seemed, “a nothing that would be something if it could.”  But the Master held out and holds out hope for your soil and mind.  We are capable, he said, of bringing forth thirty, sixty and a hundredfold.

The soil that is so resistant that the birds carry away the seed before it takes root, or so shallow that a sprout springs up and dies within a day, or so encumbered with its weeds they choke out the seed of the Kingdom, is also the soil that can bring forth abundance.  I believe there are seasons in the soil of the soul.  Yours and mine.  I dare not, therefore give up hope for any soil.  Especially my own.  If I give up hope for your soil, it will hurt you, no doubt about it.  But if I give up hope for my own soil, I will destroy myself.  We are our own worst enemies.  That is why it is so important for us to know the potential of the soil of our souls.  And to know that we are fully able to bring forth abundance for the Eternal Farmer.

There times when we are more likely to be instruments of goodness, just as there seem to be times when we are more likely to be fruitless.  It is said that most people decide to follow Christ between eleven and thirteen years old.  During those same years when we are especially inclined to quick enthusiasms, it is at that same time we are inclined to make grand decisions.  The decisions may be immature, shallow and naïve but often the best choices of our lives come at just such times.  The kingdom of heaven is made of such stuff.

There are other seasons when the soil of the soul may be particularly fertile.  In the early days of television Bishop Fulton Sheen was a very popular personality and was converting many to Christianity.  When he was asked in an interview to explain the reason for so many coming to Christ, he gave a simple, but insightful answer, most people, he said, come to a decision during a time of personal crisis.  Mourning, severe illness, the loss of a friendship, the breakup of a marriage, a time of personal defeat; these may provide soil in which the spirit becomes richly sensitive.

For some, in life’s later years good spiritual soil develops.  Often, these are folks that has had a time of real openness to God in earlier years. 

Not many people develop a deep sense of spirituality in their old age if they have been crudely materialistic throughout their earlier life.  The child and the young adult almost always are the parent of the elder soul.

Having said that, the good news is there is no hard and fast rule for spiritual development.  We are as different in our spiritual responses as in our fingerprints.  The seasons of a person’s soil are not limited by rigid boundaries.  They happen, as life happens.  There are moments in life, thanks be to God, when we are startlingly sensitive.  Sometimes they can be explained and sometimes not.  All times, they are a gift of God.

Leslie Weatherhead, was a popular preacher of the twentieth century in England, he told of a time during WWI when he was riding horseback in the deserts of Mesopotamia on government assignment.  He was preoccupied that he hardly knew which day of the week it was.  He rode into a camp where a service was being held in a YMCA tent.  He recalled, “I was tired, hot and dusty but, though I can’t remember even the name of the preacher, I knew that Christ had forgiven my sins, that he was there and that he loved me.”  He was exhausted and distracted, it wouldn’t seem that would be the time his soil would be ready to receive God, but for him it was the moment when the soil of the soul it was most fertile and accepting.

For those of us who pray for the souls of others, we need to remember Rev. Weatherhead’s story.  Whenever we serve as witnesses to the faith, we must do so with all seriousness, because we don’t know the season in which another’s soul.  That uninterested, distracted or unresponsive person may be nearer the kingdom than we or even they realize.

The truth is we should never give up on anyone, at any time; including ourselves.  The ancient writer of Ecclesiastes said there were three things too amazing for him and four things he could not understand.  I would add a fifth, the most wondrous of all; the seasons of the human soul.  Amen

Sermon “The Seed, the Soil and the Sower, part 2,” Matthew 13:1-3a, 5-6, 20-21, The 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time 08/06/17

Today we continue with our series, looking at these parables with fresh eyes.  Looking at them from perhaps a different perspective that we had not considered before.

This morning we remain in our first parable, the parable of the sower.  It is found in the gospel of Matthew 13, verses :1-3a, 5-6, 20-21, found on page 690 in your pew Bible, hear now the parable of the sower, part two:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying; Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.

20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

One   The gospel of the Lord.

All     Praise to you Lord, Jesus Christ.

Sometimes, seed falls on rocky ground, where the soil is shallow.  There are places in Jo Daviess County where you can see the reality of rocky ground.  Sometimes, our spiritual soil is shallow.  It is not the sort of shallowness that makes us reject the message but it is the kind that greets it with short-lived enthusiasm.

Some people are shallow all their lives.  We all know people who constantly move from one new experience to another.  These are folks that draw us in.  Whatever has captured their interest in the moment is always the best, always the greatest.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” experience.   Those of us who know such people intimately know better than to take them too seriously. 

You can see that kind of passion of teenagers, Shakespeare wrote of it in Romeo and Juliet.  If you go to a high school art show the intense emotions of youth are on full display.  They are fearless in the exploration of their creativity.  It makes sense, it is a time of new freedom and a variety of new experiences, that coupled with all the strange and inexplicable changes, call them to flit from one intense experience to another. 

A problem for today’s young people is the exponential pace of change in our society.  Added to that is the influence of their friends and media campaigns.  Youth culture raises up new heroes and fads almost quicker than they come into view.  It seems Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame is long run in the public eye.

And so, young people may make a commitment at youth camp or Christian music fest and they go on to new adventures and interests by the end of the month. 

Having said all that we must respect those young people that we used to call “old souls,” they seem to have more gravitas then the sessions member who worry about how young people live today.  And remember it was Socrates who recorded his displeasure with the youth of his day. 

But even the most mature and serious people have their periods of shallow enthusiasm.  In sports, they are called “fair weather fans.”  Whenever a sports team is on its way to winning a world series or a super bowl they pick up new fans. These fans fall to the wayside the next season when the games are a little tougher and the wins don’t come so easily.  It is the same with faith.  The soil is apt to be rather thin for most newcomers or new coverts.  And, sometimes, the greater the enthusiasm, the shallower or perhaps sensitive the soil. 

Jesus explains this shallow soil happens when trouble or persecutions comes.  For most of here this morning it is trouble in the form of loss that puts us in a season of rocky soil.  Loss gives us a sense of rootlessness.  Loss comes in many forms and starts early in life.  As a child, you may have a beloved pet die or a good friend move away.  And as we go through adulthood, there are many losses.  It can be the loss of a job or a wayward child.  The aging process brings on new losses of its own.  It can be the loss of independence, having to leave one’s home.  Loss can be having to give up our freedom, to know that we can no longer drive.  There is the loss of mobility, our limbs don’t work as they once did.    Hearing, vision, dancing or singing.  And all loss brings a sense of loneliness.  All loss leaves you vulnerable.Many of you here have experienced a recent loss of a loved one.  This too leaves you vulnerable.  It is in these times of earth-shattering change when our soil is inclined to be shallow.  During these times, you may experience times of profound periods of personal loneliness.  It is in those times the soil is quick to entertain new seed because it has been disrupted by loss.  And those are the times too, when a person is very open to a religious experience.  But because the soil may well be lacking depth, the plant which quickly springs up may just as quickly wither away.  So how do we move through a season of shallow soil?  The deepening of shallow soil is a healing that comes over time.  And the psalmist reminds us in Psalm 95; You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth.  You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly.  So, it is with the soil of earth and soil of our spirits.  We have a God cares for all soil and enriches it.  Over time, healing our shallow soil, deepening it, so that we may receive the message of God’s love for each of us.  Amen.

Have a week filled with healing and grace.

Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

 

 

Sermon “The Seed, the Soil and the Sower” Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time 07/30/17

I came across a book by J. Ellsworth Kalas titled “Parables from the Back Side.” He opens the book begins with these words: “Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt, as the saying puts it, but it often breeds something potentially worse, the glazed eye. We quote favorite sayings and truisms so easily that we don’t really hear them…The parables of Jesus are in danger of such treatment.”

So, as we begin this series, we are going to look at these parables with fresh eyes.  Looking at them from perhaps a different perspective that we had not considered before.

P. G. Wodehouse referred to a parable of Jesus as looking like a “straightforward yarn when you begin to read it, but then you find that it has something up its sleeve that pops out at you and leaves you flat.”

Our first parable is the parable of the sower.  It is found in the gospel of Matthew, this morning we will be reading chapter  13, verses 1-4, 18-19, found on page 690 in your pew Bible, hear now the parable of the sower, part one:

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.

One   The gospel of the Lord.

All     Praise to you Lord, Jesus Christ.

When I am looking for something to read I start by looking through the books in my library.  Because sometimes I will buy a book and just put in the library.  I have tried to read it and found it didn’t speak to me at all.  I could not get into the words.  And then perhaps a month, a year, maybe even two or three years later I will pick up the same book and read it with excitement and mark it all up, talk about it with people.

How is it that a book that once made no impression on me, could later be so compelling?  The answer is simple: as a person, I go through seasons of life, I change over time.  What leaves me cold today, could inflame my heart next week or next month or next year.

Usually when we read the parable of the sower, we think of the places on which the seed falls as describing different types of people.  That is probably what Jesus had in mind when he told the story.  But there is another side to the story.  It describes with disturbing accuracy the several stages in life that you or I or any person for that matter experience. 

The soil of which we human beings are made has seasons, and the seasons of our soil have everything to do with how we handle the issues of life and eternity. 

It is a beautiful analogy Jesus uses, sower, seed and soil to help us to understand the message of the kingdom.  The creation story describes God as making us from the dust of the earth and then breathing into us the breath of life.

It is an aptly fitting word picture that reminds us that we human beings are indeed, dust, and so to dust we shall return.  And that this human soil is inhabited by the very breath of God.

So, yes, we are soil.  From our very creation, such is our nature.  But we are soil which is particularly hospitable to God, because the Spirit of God is in us. 

Jesus’ parable points out that our soil has at least four different seasons.

In some cases, Jesus said, of the seed of the kingdom, “some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.”  When the disciples asked Jesus to explain the meaning of his parable he said, “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart.” 

Sometimes I have been that kind of soil.  It is difficult to recognize this kind of soil condition, because when our soil is like a beaten path, the seed survives so briefly that we may not even be aware of its failure to germinate; at least not until a later time, not until a different season.

It fascinates me that when people come to know God well enough to have an awareness of their spiritual journey they begin to remember all sorts of encounters with God.  Those encounters that seemed so unimportant at the time. 

A woman shared with me such a moment at the time her grandmother died.  “I didn’t think much of it at the time, you know how children are.” And I wanted to add, “Yes, and adults too!”  She went on to explain,

“I haven’t thought of it in years, until now, but I could see God was speaking to me, even then.”  God was indeed.  Seed was falling on soil where the birds plucked it up before it could even find a place of lodging.  No matter, a time comes when even the slightest most fleeting impression is recalled. 

Some writers say that the seed that falls along the path is that which is deflected from its purpose by the hardness of life.  When we hear the words, “along the path,” that is what comes to mind.  The path on which so many of us have trod.  The image of a person world-weary and worn.  Perhaps, but that is not how Jesus describes the people who are in that season.  He says that they are the kind of people who upon hearing the message do not understand it.  And because there is no understanding, the seed never has an opportunity to take up lodging.

The season of not understanding can come at any point in life, for any number of reasons.  It may be part of the experience of childhood.  But that is no reason to postpone sowing seed with children saying, “O, she or he is too young to understand.”  In truth, most of us will never know when someone is ready.  This soil of ours is so complex and so unpredictable!  More importantly, what we do not understand intellectually, we often store in some corner of our mind where it eventually finds its way into our consciousness.  C. S. Lewis said that it was his imagination that was first converted and that then the other elements of his person followed. 

Sometimes we make a choice not to understand.  I certainly don’t want to be a cynic or despairing after a long time of preaching, but I wonder sometimes. If some of those people who through years have looked up at me with glazed eyes hadn’t long before already made up their minds not hear.  Perhaps some of us preachers did that to them.  They might have come to church wanting to hear, but after being disappointed too many Sundays, they simply decided it wasn’t worth the effort.  In time, bad preaching makes bad listeners, and goodness knows, there has been some bad preaching out there.  Others may have decided that it is easier to lower their awareness.  Because when they understand what they hear, they realize they should to do something about themselves, therefore, it is easier, safer, not to understand.  I think that reflects well on Jesus’ explanation: “The evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart.”  In other words, the evil one takes advantage of those circumstances that make it hard for us to understand.  When Mary Magdalene and the other women told the eleven what they had seen and experienced, the men, “did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”  It is ironic that we can limit our own understanding by the walls we build.  Often the mind has no greater enemy in the pursuit of knowledge than the mind itself, with its fears, its prejudices, its comfortable certainties.

In any event, we have those seasons in life when our soil simply does not receive the seed.  We do not understand, for one reason or another- perhaps because of the state of our lives at the time or because of the way we have been conditioned or even because we haven’t reached the point in our lives where we can hear as we should.  So, the enemy takes advantage of our season, snatching the seed away before any measurable impression is made.  Even so, we may at some later point in life discover that in our minds we received at least some impression from the seed when it fell.  Perhaps that is what the prophet Isaiah had in mind when he promised that God’s word will not return void, but it will accomplish the purpose to which God has sent it.

 

 

Sermon The 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 07/23/17, Luke 8:19-20, “The Church as Home”

In  Augustine’s “The Confessions” he tells the story of Marius Victorinus, an honored philosopher in Rome whose statue stood in the Roman forum. Before his baptism as a Christian he was zealous defender of the Roman cults. After studying the Scriptures, Victorinus was converted, though he did not immediately pursue membership in the Christian church. “He was afraid to offend his friends, proud devil-worshippers,” Augustine concluded. Victorinus did, however, share his new-found faith with Simplicianus, a church leader. “Did you know that I am already a Christian?” he asked eagerly. “I shall not believe that,” said Simplicianus, “or count you among the Christians unless I see you in the Church of Christ.”

This is a strange story for modern ears. Today, we can hardly imagine refusing recognition of someone’s sincere confession of faith or of making salvation conditional on church membership.

Yet sixteen hundred years ago this was an agreed-upon formulation of obedient Christian faith: if a person wanted to follow Jesus, they joined the church.

Today, the emphasis seems to be on the individual relationship rather than the collective. Today, we tend to privatize our faith. Church membership is presented as one of many choices in the spiritual growth cafeteria line, participation in a local church as optional as pie. Spiritually, there’s no real sense of need for church, it has become merely an option.

But according to the biblical witness, we can no more divorce ourselves from the church any more easily than we could cut off our hand or renounce our blood lines. The church is the believers’ new family.

Hear the words of Luke 8:19-20; 19 Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”

21 He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

Jesus did not define his family according to blood relationship but according to spiritual ties, showing us that a believer’s primary relationships are not those of their biological family. Instead, the Christian pledges first allegiance to a new household of faith.

The domestic term household is the metaphor the apostle Paul uses to describe the church in his first letter to Timothy. In the church, where everyone is regarded as family, older men should be treated as fathers, younger men as brothers; older women regarded as mothers, younger women as sisters. While this doesn’t exempt women and men from direct responsibilities to their families of origin and marriage, it does mean that everyone gets a family. As is clear in 1 Timothy 5, which details the principles governing the care for widows, when a widow has no relatives to look after her, the church will be to her a family.

In his book “Spiritual Friendship” Wesley Hill explores the reconfiguration of human relationships through the lens of the gospel, arguing for a return to promise-bound friendships sustained by the church. He notes the diminishing importance of friendship in contemporary culture and identifies several reasons for our disinterest in the housekeeping of Christian community, including our modern mythology of marriage. It seems most people accept today that the relationship of ultimate significance is the wedded love of husband and wife; second to it is the loyalty that parents have to their children.  Unfortunately, however, this limited conception of “home” as the shared space of the nuclear family--leaves a lot of people out. 

He cites the architectural shift in England from the great medieval hall, “which in former times had been the places for gentlemen to display their friendships through public gestures of affection,” to small dining rooms--or marital spaces. Retreat and isolation continues to be hardwired into much of our built environment--to the peril of home as God intended it.

The church, Hill argues, must bear witness to bonds of human love and loyalty that exist outside of the marriage covenant--to a home that exists outside of the nuclear family. A great company of saints’ bear witness to the fact that we can indeed flourish without romance, marriage, or children.  I don’t know of one who witnesses to the possibility of our flourishing without love altogether.” Hill writes of looking for a place to put his love. A home, in other words.

The church is home, and part of our daily housekeeping is learning to belong to one another. If this is good news for the unmarried, it is also good news for me. The nuclear family cannot bear the full weight of human hope and expectation, struggle and need. It’s too fragile and too human an entity. As a married woman with adult children and grandchildren, I need relational connection and commitment beyond the circle of my immediate family, both for myself as well as for the sake of my family.

According to the Scriptures, it is not parents alone who are responsible for the love and nurture of our children: the church participates in this task with us. This divinely ordained cooperation is recognized at every baby’s dedication or baptism. At that holy moment when the pastor prays (and the infant cries), church and family together commit to partnership. James K. A. Smith writes that at a child’s baptism bloodlines are relativized, and the nuclear family rejects the modern domestic ideal of the family as “closed, self-sufficient autonomous unit.”

“The promises in baptism indicate a very different theology of the family, which recognizes that ‘families work well when we do not expect them to give us all we need.”

We can’t parent alone. And we aren’t meant to. We have friends--better, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles--to help carry some of the worry and weight of the family housekeeping. And as I’ve learned from recent research, the most important predictor of whether children from Christian families keep their faith into adulthood is the number of multigenerational connections they enjoy at church. Teenagers may not need a youth group populated by hundreds of peers, but they do need other Christian adults in their church to take an interest in them and communicate that they belong.

Go home to church, you will be welcomed, after all you are family!

Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

 

Sermon

      Romans 8:1-11, The 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time 07/16/17

This passage begins, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Therefore, literally means, “because of what I just said.”

Paul has spent the last seven chapters laying the ground work for this morning’s text, which truly is the good news of Jesus Christ.

Right away, in the very first chapter Paul makes his stand for the Gospel, “6For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”  And it is from that jumping point he lays out this beautiful treatise on salvation.

He reminds us “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Isaiah puts it this way; “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”  In other words, we cannot on our acts stand before a holy God.  It sounds hopeless, “I’m a good person,” just doesn’t cut it. 

As he continues on, he says faith, what we believe, is the key to salvation not works, for wages are not reckoned as a gift, and salvation is a gift. 

He tells us of Abraham and how his belief in God not his behavior was reckoned as righteousness.

Then he goes on, you must understand, this problem goes all the way back to the garden, to Adam, it is through Adam sin came into the world.  And that one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness, Christ’s action leads to justification and life for all. 

Then Paul gets funny.  “Should we continue to sin that grace may abound?”  Of course not!  “We have been buried with Christ in our baptism and raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too, might walk in the newness of life!”  I told you this was good news!

Then he backtracks a bit.  Telling us that the law is not sin.  But the law makes known our sinful nature.  We understand from the law, that we are unable to keep the law.  It is a mirror that shows us our true nature.

“Wretched man, that I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.” 

So, this is how we arrived at, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  You have been set free from the law of sin and of death.  Because sin always leads to death.  The Spirit always leads to life.

Now we are here, where do we go from here.  First, he does is a summation of what He speaks about life in the flesh and life in the Spirit.  This is not an internal struggle.  This is choice between two ways of living.  We choose life, we can choose death.  It is a matter of focus. 

Leander Keck describes the world in Romans 8 this way, “World or cosmos here stands for the total environment in which we live; it refers to that which we believe to be real.  This world is a social construct which humanity has built up over millennia.  It includes institutions like marriage and family, or law and government: it includes assumptions like fate and progress, or the perfectibility of humanity.  World is the reality into which we socialize the young, so that we not only live in this world but it also lives in us.” 

The more as we accept that as the only reality the toxic stuff that is out there, the more it takes root in here, in our hearts.  All the hate, all the pain, all the greed all become part of our beings.  All the violence that we see on television. The more we read or hear of the viciousness reported daily in the news.  The more we indulge in the rat-race, the more we immerse ourselves the popular culture the more it becomes part of us.  The more we live life in the flesh.

Through Christ we can re-shape the world in accordance with God’s Spirit. 

That is the function of the church, to be the place where not only personal transformation takes place but where such a transformed world is available to the Christian.  A place where we can say no to family violence, a place where we can offer freedom from the abuse of alcohol and drugs, the church can be a haven of rest.  Where there is safety, there is mercy and grace; a place that abounds in the love of God. 

Once we accept God’s love and forgiveness we are transformed.  Our past lives are no more, we are new creatures in Christ.  It is so easy to hold on, to the guilt and the pain and the anger and it so hard to let go.  But our life in Christ calls us to let go, live in the new.  The forgiveness in Christ is real.  We need to take it seriously.  Christ has made available to us the peace that passes all understanding.  That peace is available as we forgive ourselves as God has forgiven us. 

When we resist God’s forgiveness we block our own ability to live our new lives in the present and the opportunity to make positive changes in our lives and in the lives of others.  Our preoccupation with our past life and our unwillingness to let it go is a form of rebellion against God’s freeing Spirit.  It freezes us from the joy and the peace and the courage that life in the Spirit offers.  It leaves us vulnerable to be drawn back into life in the flesh.

Yet the creative power of God to bring us from death to new life keeps working in us helping us to let go of all that toxic all that is past.  The power of God to preserve life by his Spirit, indeed the power of God to overcome death freeing us from the fatal power of sin is the very same power that lets God create ex-nihlo, out of nothing. 

It is that same power through which God gives life to the dead.  Look at the story of the raising of Lazarus; it is the apex and the climax of Jesus’ public ministry in John.  Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”  He demonstrates through this one act that he bears God’s own power of life over death.  And in that context, we see this morning’s lesson display God’s Spirit given through his Son, as having the power to bring life in the midst of death. 

He not only can create life, new life for you and for me but God can create a new people for himself.  Remember the story of Ezekiel?  God shows Ezekiel a valley filled with dry bones, which represent his people Israel.  God says prophesy to those bones and Ezekiel says to them “Hear the word of the LORD!” and this is what the LORD says, “I will make breath enter you and you will come to life…I will put my Spirit in you and you will live…”  God will re-create his people in a way that can only be seen as calling them back from the dead. 

That means that God can restore life and to create or re-create a people for himself and that is the same power.  As he restores each one of us, he creates a people for himself the church.  And it is through that creation, that re-creation, that he creates a new world, a new world. 

Remember you are a new creation in Christ Jesus!

Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

Sermon       14th Ordinary Time Matthew 11:16-19, 25-60 07/09/17

Our passage morning leads us to thinking what identifies you?  Is it your genealogy, your national origin?  Is it what you do for a living?

That’s what the crowds and temple elite are trying to figure out about Jesus, who is he?  We can see from our text that Jesus was not what they expected.  He broke cultural rules, he ate with sinners and tax collectors. 

The rejection wasn’t only that Jesus’ identity was called into question.  It was all that these folks had believed and held dear.  The words Jesus spoke challenged the identity and assumptions of all who heard him.  And those words, beloved, challenge us, the church in the same way this day.  Because, for us, Christ is our identity.

So, what does the text say?  The first question; “Are we open to hearing Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word? 

The crowds’ reaction to Jesus, seemed to be what can you do for me?  They marveled at the signs and wonders, yes.  But their attentiveness seemed to ebb and flow with their needs and desires. 

The elites, the scribes and the Pharisees identify Jesus’ ministry as a threat.  They were comfortable with the status quo.  They were offended by his patent disregard for their rules of “separateness,” and his calls to repentance.  We read this morning of their desire to destroy Jesus’ credibility and remember how eventually sought to destroy Jesus himself. 

A mid all this rejection and antagonism for us, as Christians, the words of our Redeemer explain how our identity should meld to the Incarnate Word. 

It means identifying Jesus as the One, the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets. 

He, himself, quotes from Old Testament prophecy and identifying himself and admonishes the crowd; “15 Whoever has ears, let them hear!”

We identify as Christians by believing in the One whom God sent and repenting of sin.  Think of your own life, think of the lives of people you have known.  What has their experience been?  What has your experience been?  Has Christ’s presence in your life changed you?

As we come to the prayer verses we must to ask ourselves, “Are we following Jesus’ example in worship and in prayer.  “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,” is how Jesus opens his prayer and worship this morning.  He begins with praise and thanksgiving for who God is and what God has done.  He acknowledges God’s gracious will and speaks about the truth about the relationship between the Father and the Son, acknowledging both the divine mystery and revelation.  His closing words are an invitation to all who follow.

We know how to pray, we pray all the time.  But is it prayer or is it a laundry list of our need?  Is it prayer or is a personal complaint session?  We have lost sight of the Jesus model of prayer, too often it has been obscured by our egocentric desires in the church and in our homes in the twenty-first century.  Is Christ front and center in our personal prayers and piety and in our corporate worship? 

The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “What is the chief end of man?  The answer is, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  The essence of worship must be the faithful human response of thanksgiving and praise to the revelation of God’s being, character, graciousness and will.  What sort of music or lighting or presentation is irrelevant, the only relevance is that we spend our time glorifying God and enjoying God.

Praise and thanksgiving should be the identifiers of our prayer and worship.  They respond to God’s identity and reveal ours.  We would do well to strive for the mind of Christ by imitating his way of prayer and worship.

The final identifier is prompted by the closing words of our reading this morning, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” 

Do we, embody Jesus’ welcome and his invitation to all people?  There are many ways to do this.  The humility mentioned by Jesus in his invitation is one way.  We are stewards of the mysteries of God, not the owners or originators.  As Christians, we should not claim to have all the answers and then use those answers to support our own position.  Our Christian witness is much more powerful when we sincerely admit our need for God and how Christ has intruded in our lives.

We also embody our Lord’s welcome by meeting people where they are, physically and spiritually.  Remember, that Jesus was criticized for befriending sinners and tax collectors.  It is a safe bet he didn’t meet them at the local synagogue!  No, he met them where they were and invited them to new life.  Simon the fisherman became Peter, leader of the twelve.  Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle.  And we show Christ to others when we practice hospitality to all who are heavy leaden in our midst. 

There is a tall steeple church in an affluent neighborhood; in a prestigious community, which had launched a weekly ministry to the mentally ill and other marginal people in the area.

At a congregational meeting, one woman stood up and complained, “Those people are hanging around the building all the time now!  They sit on the church steps and spook people going by.  Do we want to be known as a church that caters to that kind of people?”  There was a moment of silence.  Then the pastor smiled and responded gently, “Yes, that is exactly how we want to be identified.

It can be a long and complicated task to determine identity.  By contrast, the criteria for identity in today’s gospel lesson is simple, 28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Amen.

Rest in the Lord this week.

Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

Sermon         The 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time “This is Not a Test” – Genesis 22:1-14

This is not a test.  I know the story of Abraham and Isaac seems to be a test of Abraham’s faith, in fact the biblical witness says; “Sometime later God tested Abraham.”  Even in your pew Bible the heading is “Abraham Tested.” 

And we have all heard it preached as the ultimate test of faith. 

In addition, what God was commanding Abraham to do is something we cannot wrap our heads around.  Just reading the lesson sends shivers up our collective spines. 

Can you imagine those last steps, Abraham’s heart gripped with fear, Isaac’s confusion?  “Son, prepare the altar,” Abraham said his voice filled with trepidation, his heart pounding in his chest.  Son, put your hands together, what was the conversation as Abraham bound Isaac’s hands and feet?  Lay down, son, you know I love you; perhaps he kissed him on the cheek.  Then Abraham lifts-up the knife, and just as it comes down. A voice, “Wait Abraham; look in the thicket, a ram.” 

Sounds like a test, a cruel, gruesome test.  If it is a test Abraham to our relief passed. If it is a test it leaves us wondering if this is really the God of love, the God we talk about on Sunday mornings.  That perhaps the God of the Old Testament isn’t really the same God of the New Testament.  And if it were only a test, our confusion and our questioning would be well founded. 

But like always we need to try to see this situation through God’s eyes, not through our limited vision.  A test has only two outcomes either you pass or you fail.  In this case Abraham did neither, Abraham moved into deeper faith, of deeper trust and a deeper relationship.

Abraham is a very important character in the Bible, not because he is the father of nations.  But because Abraham marks a turning point in God’s relationship with humans.  In prior stories, Adam and Eve, Noah, the Tower of Babel God was always seen dealing with the whole of humanity.  Even Noah’s story was in fact the story of God dealing with humanity.  With Abraham it was different, he was gifted with a sense of the immanent presence of God.  To him, God was fully present in his in his life.  He spoke to God and God spoke to him.

That made a real difference.  Abraham, was chosen by God to receive special and specific revelation.  And as we follow the of Abraham’s life it is God, not Abraham as the principal actor.  The focus in Abraham’s life story is always on God. 

God decides to call Abraham.  God leads Abraham to a new land. 

It is God who gives promises of future descendants. 

It is God saves him from his own mistakes and failures. 

The moment Abraham said yes to God and left kith and kin. At that very moment when he stepped out in faith.  He came into the immanent presence of God and God’s provision was locked in his mind. 

At each time, at each turn God was fully present guiding and leading him, saying you are a man of faith, you can do this. 

God was revealing to Abraham, not only the future of the world but the depth of his own faith.  This was not a test of Abraham’s faith this was a test of Abraham’s relationship to God.  What I did for you before I will do for you this day, and what I will do for you this day I will do for you tomorrow.  Every time Abraham’s faith began to wavier God said, remember.  Remember I have blessed you richly.  Even when you got yourself into foolish predicaments that I had to rescue you from; like the night you turned Sarah your wife over to Egyptian saying she was your sister. 

So as Abraham went up the mountain he was fighting his own fear, and his anguish, there is the memory of what God has done in the past.  How God, moved in his life, time after time.  And yet here he was going up the mountain.  It was hard to remember, his palms are sweating, and his heart is pounding the future of the descendants are in God’s hand.  The anguish and the pain and yet the memory, the memory of God’s provision through his life, the receiving of material gifts, land, this son. 

So, when he sees the ram, he releases his son, hugs and kisses him, he thanks God and prepares the ram for sacrifice, calling the place God Provides.

When we go through the hard times it is hard to feel fully the presence of the God who loves each of us.  That is when we need to look back over our lives and see the times when God moved in lives.  Like Abraham we need to remember.

Remember the time when you went speeding, crashing the car, as teen and should have ended up dead but didn’t.  The time when you got so angry you could have killed someone and you didn’t.  The time when you were flat broke and a check or cash just showed up.  The time when your neighbor showed up when you didn’t think you couldn’t deal with the crying and fussing kids any longer.  

Throughout each of our lives God has showed up just at the right time. 

Remember Lazarus, Jesus came; Mary and Martha thought he was too late,

but he was right on time, on time to bring their faith to a new level. 

When times are rough it is not a test.  It is just a time to remember, remember all that has come before.  Sometimes it seems that God is far away and it is hard to remember immanent presence but the words of Mark Hargrave’s poem, “Footprints in the Sand” expresses God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

One night I dreamed of walking along the shores of different lands.

I could tell that You were with me by the footprints in the sand.
As I gazed upon the heavens, I saw pages of my life.
It was then I realized that You remained there by my side.
When the clouds began to gather and the rains came falling down,
I looked to only find one set of footprints on the ground.
I said, "Lord, why did You leave me in the troubled times of life?
I believed that You would always walk beside me day and night." (Then I heard:)
"My precious child, I'd never leave you. 
I have carved you on the hollow of My hand.  It's then I carried you in My arms,
When you see one set of footprints in the sand"
May you always know, may you always remember that God is with you always.  No matter the tempest in your life, God is there, through good and through bad.  That is what Abraham was to remember, and that is what we need to remember this day.  Amen.

God bless you with a sense of His presence, today and every day.

Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

 

 

 

 

Sermon      The 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time 06/25/17

One of the great dramas of the early twentieth century began with the kidnapping of the baby son of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  “I will write everything as I would like it told to me,” Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote to her mother-in-law.

“At 7:30 Betty, the nurse, and I were putting the baby to bed.  We closed and bolted all the shutters except one on the window where the shutters are warped and won’t close.

At ten Betty went in to the baby, shut the window first, then lit the electric stove, then turned to the bed. It was empty and the sides were still up.

No blankets taken . . .You know the rest. Then the awful waiting.”

She later wrote in her diary, “The baby’s body was found in the woods on the Hopewell-Mount Rose Road.

Killed by a blow to the head.  I feel strange a sense of peace— not peace but an end to restlessness, a finality, as though I were sleeping in a grave.”

In recalling the months and years that followed, she writes, “I do not believe that suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”

There is suffering in the world. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote it can raise you up or it can bring you down. Suffering can bring us closer to God and other people or fill you with anger and dam up all human feeling and sympathy.

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik thought, “Suffering comes to ennoble us, to purge our thoughts of pride and superficiality, to expand our horizons. In sum, the purpose of suffering is to repair that which is faulty in our lives.”

It is difficult to know but I think God uses our suffering to reveal to us the great truth in today’s Gospel text: Suffering conforms us to the image of God’s Son:

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher and the slave like the master.”

Jesus is warning his disciples— and us—that we follow a Lord who was reviled and rejected, tortured and crucified and that we will also face rejection and disfavor. We will face times of suffering as we follow Christ. And then we are reminded that Christ is with us and we need not be afraid.

Jesus uses an image that is truly one of the loveliest in all scripture. It is the image of little sparrows that were sold in the markets of the Middle East of his time. The tiny birds were sold for their meat which accounts say is quite tasty. They were also very inexpensive—two birds were sold for a half-penny. They were insignificant little creatures, these little sparrows but God watches over them. And if God cares about the birds which fall from the air, the tiny little birds sold for a morsel of meat in the market, how much more God cares for us. We are of more value than many sparrows.

If you were to walk through the bird market in Hong Kong, you would see a touching sight. It is a bit of old China, these birds sometimes quite tiny in bamboo cages. You would see old men feeding their pet birds crickets with chopsticks.

God cares about each of these little creatures and God cares about the people feeding the birds.

There is another image which is touching and revealing; the number of hairs on our head. We do not know how many hairs we have but God does. The text says, “Even the hairs of your head are all counted.”    Again, God knows us better than we know ourselves. Jesus said to his followers who faced persecution, “Fear not!” Jesus says to us with our own worries and cares, “Do not be afraid. I care about you. I will acknowledge you my followers to my Father in heaven.” We have the promise of eternal life through Christ.

Others can kill our bodies, harm and hurt us, but our final-destination of eternal life is certain. We do not need to be overly concerned about what others think of us, about the rejection we may face because we follow Christ, because God is with us, caring for us, loving and saving us.

It is not so easy following Christ in our daily life. To be a Christian Monday through Saturday is truly challenging.  I would like to share with you the story of Mr. Chan. Mr. Chan was the superintendent of the Sunday school at Edison Park Lutheran Church in Chicago, well-educated and multi-talented. He served as president of the congregation was a gifted public speaker and able leader. He was also an executive on the move with a large retail chain. He had managed stores around the Chicago area and had become manager of a large downtown store. He was in his early forties and his future seemed bright. His children were about to enter college and his life seemed fine. Then he quit his job. Mr. Chan didn’t have another job to go to and it took him a long time to find another one. When he was asked why he quit he simply said it was because of his Christian faith. His direct superior asked him to harass and hound some employees they wanted fired. The goal was to make life so miserable for these workers that they would quit the organization and then the company would not have to pay unemployment. Mr. Chan refused. As a Christian, he refused to do that kind of dirty work. If employees failed in their work, they would be reprimanded or even fired but not hounded into resigning. He could not do this as a Christian.

Christians are called to live out their faith in daily life. Our faith is not secret—we are to uncover those things which are covered up and to make known those things which are secret. What you hear in the dark, say in the light; what is whispered, proclaim from the housetops. It is in and through suffering that we grow in love for God and our neighbors. And we as followers of Jesus are called to be with the sick, to comfort the dying, to console those grieving, to understand the troubles, to care about others as God cares for us.

There is no escape from suffering in this life. It can ennoble us or embitter us, help us to grow in faith and trust or cause us to turn away from God. The important thing when you walk through your most painful times is to remember that God is not rejecting us. God is with us leading us through the dark shadowed valleys until we come into the glories of God’s kingdom. Viktor Frankl, the noted psychologist, learned this definition while serving in a Nazi concentration camp: “Despair is suffering without meaning.”

It follows, then that those of us alongside suffering people should somehow find a way to bring meaning or significance to their experience. God tells us the way: We follow Christ to suffering and death. We become like our Master. As we give up our own strength and power and pride, we rely more upon the strength and hope we find in Christ. We look to the cross as something that reflects our own experience as well as that of Jesus. We look forward to glory which is to come not as something apart from the cross but only in and through suffering and shame and death.

Martin Luther explained to his congregation: “Meanwhile Christians who are baptized in Christ’s Name must keep still and must put up with being trampled upon, and must still be patient.  For in this life of believing, it is Christ’s will to appear small; but in the life of seeing, He will not be small but very great. 

Then Christ will show that He saw the suffering of His people and heard their cries

and that His will was inclined towards them to help them,

and that He had the power to help them.  Now Christ hides His good will,

power and strength; but when He appears He will reveal His will and power and strength. He could help and save now.  Christ has the power to do it, nor does He lack the will, but all this is concealed in the Word so that we cannot see it,

but must take hold of it be faith.”

Jesus tells us that our future victory is assured:

“So everyone who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”  Do not be afraid, people of God, disciples of Christ, you are of more value than many sparrows. God will take care of you. Amen.

God fill your days with joy and your nights with peace.

Grace and Love,

Pastor Dottie

 

 

 

 

Sermon     

Jesus doesn’t call us into closed circle, protected from the world.  Jesus doesn’t like the idea us of forming private clubs.  The church does not belong to us, the church belongs to God. 

The gospel of the kingdom of God and the power of God’s healing, belong to the sick and the poor.  Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor…”

The people in Jesus time were oppressed and down trodden.  And it was not all because of Rome.  They were harassed, wounded and distraught; they were sheep without shepherds. 

They had questions but no answers.  They had tears but no consolation.  They had sin but no forgiveness. 

Where were the shepherds of the people?  What good was it that the scribes ushered people into schools to teach them doctrine.  What good was it for the Pharisees to sternly condemn sinners without lifting a finger to help them in their sin. 

We don’t why, but on this day, it was all this was weighing heavily on Jesus’ heart. 

But Jesus when he looks over the crowd he not only sees them in their misery. 

He sees their situation as opportunity, “the harvest is great,” he says. 

We can bring many people into God’s kingdom, and heal them

and make them whole if we meet them where they are,

and they too will be full participants in God’s kingdom.

Where the scribes and the Pharisees saw scorched earth, barren and desolate,

Jesus saw fields filled with wheat and corn ripe for the kingdom of God.

The times we live in are much like those in Jesus’ day.  Our circumstances maybe different but the fear and isolation is the same.  Despite, or perhaps even because of the connectiveness of the cell phone and the internet we live in a more impersonal world. 

So, impersonal is this world that a young man can be run over by a car and people drive around him.  A world in which the church is marginalized once a revered part of our society it is relegated to being an option.  There are great distances between families.  And so the support of those extended families is missing.  These are the realities of the world in which we live. 

This is the reason we in the twenty first century are living lives of quiet desperation.  We too have questions to which there are no answers.  Questions like, why me, why my loved one? 

People whose thoughts are filled with self-doubt.  Everyone thinks my life is perfect, everyone thinks that I am perfect.  How can I keep up the charade?  This is truly the sadness of crying and not being heard, crying with no one to hold you. 

Then there is the power of sin in all human lives, not just personal sin but sins of others, sins that can kill or damage the spirit.  Personal sin and the sins of others leave people swimming in a sea of guilt and rage.  It can create within them deep seated anger and they have no idea why they harbor such anger they only know that sometimes they just erupt.

And it is this world of pain and sorrow that the church of Jesus Christ and its people are called.

And so every week we pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the field and he does.  He sends us.  Each one of us here has inherited the mantle placed upon the shoulders of the apostles’ that day so long ago. 

How can the things Jesus asked of the apostles be relevant today?  How can we; “Preach this message; ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.”?  We are not doctors, we have no power to raise the dead, I doubt any of us here has seen a leper, and demons are we even sure they exist as described in first century Palestine? 

All those things seem all too difficult, too exotic, too much like miracle working and maybe even spooky for sophisticated twenty first century Christians like us, and yet that is the call on our lives.  So how do we do this?

We preach the message by sharing the love of Christ, bringing the good news of the gospel in words not only in words, but also through our deeds and our behavior.  We can share the good news by example.  Remember for some people we are the only gospel they ever see.

We bring people back from the dead every time we offer them new life in Christ.  Every time we can share with them our stories of God’s intrusion in our lives.  Every time we tell someone else stories of how God transformed our lives and assure them that he will do the same for them. If you know someone who has never read about Jesus you tell his story.

We can bring healing into the world, healing that is not limited to our physical bodies.  For the sick that means visiting and bringing hope to those who are forgotten, lifting them up in prayer.

The pain and suffering in this world is connected to sin, our own, and others.  We can go a long way in healing this world by facing that reality.

As a forgiven people, we need to seek forgiveness when we have pained others.  And when we have been sinned against we must seek ways to forgive through Christ.  Because forgiveness and seeking forgiveness is foreign to some and you model forgiveness.

How do we cleanse the lepers?  We have excellent doctoring for leprosy and related diseases.  In our society, as in every society there are folks on the margins, the outcasts, who are the “them” that have no name.  Perhaps the hardest of all for us is to reflect on is our part in corporate sin, when we turn blind eye to what goes on around us. 

When we only look at the bottom line of our 401K and our mutual funds and not the fine print of whose lives are affected by the companies in which we claim partial ownership.  We need to look at our investments through the lens of our Christian faith. 

We need to express our Christian outrage at the oppression of others; we can point out the victims of poverty and give them faces and voices. 

We need to offer a hand up and balk at the suggestion that the poor and the disenfranchised lift themselves up by their boot straps.

What about demons, we don’t see demons as described in first century Palatine.

But we don’t have to tolerate the modern demons of our day think about abuse.  One in four women and one in five men are suffers spousal abuse.  That is an overwhelming statistic, 25% of all women and 20% of men are abused in our county, in our towns, in our rural communities-divisions.  12.3 children per 1,000 is abused; in children ages 0-3 the rate is 16.4 per 1,000.

And alcohol 14 million Americans fit the criteria as alcoholics.  In truth those only represent that which is reported, not the reality in numbers and surely not the reality of human suffering and sorrow. 

We need to offer up our fervent prayers on their behalf.  We need to meet people where they are so they feel safe and can openly deal with the demons they live with.

Please do not think that all this pain and suffering is out there, the walls of this building do not protect any of us, those statistics are the same for the churched and the un-churched.

So why if the world is such a mess if the call for the laborers to go out every week, why don’t we make more progress?  Is it merely as Jesus chided us in saying, “The poor you will always have with you?”

I think it may be more than that; I think we are afraid; afraid of not being able to control what we deem as ours, our church, our town, our nation and afraid of not having enough for ourselves enough gasoline, enough food and enough money. 

When we leave here on Sunday we forget that we have a God of abundance and so we tackle the problems of this world from an attitude of scarcity.  We fight poverty, disease, pain and sin from the human perspective. 

We forget that Christ sent the disciples out with nothing, nothing except his peace and their faith.  We too easily forget that with God all things are possible. 

We are called to,” preach this message; ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’  And yet our efforts to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” Are all limited by our human perspective.  We the church must be ever vigilant as to not fall into the trap of believing that the poor and the disenfranchised are scorched earth, beyond hope beyond redemption, beyond our capabilities to help.  We must be careful not to become an exclusive club.  When the truth is as Christians we are the only gospel some folks see.  And so we need to see the poorest poor, those in the greatest need as fields of corn and wheat ready for the reaper, to gather up his people into his kingdom.  And Jesus Christ who calls us and equips us stands with us as we are his laborers in the fields. 

Have a week filled with Christ's blessings as you pray to learn your role in the harvest.

Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

 

Sermon Easter 7 05/28/17         John 17:1-11

On this, the last Sunday of Easter.  Christ calls his disciples and us to unity.  And that unity is in Christ himself.  Jesus prays for that unity.  Jesus prays for his disciples; then, now and always.  We are expected to live as if we really understand that Jesus prays for his disciples, then now and always.

If we really understood this, the way we live would change.  We would be less afraid.  We could be bolder.  We could live joy filled lives.  We could fulfill Jesus’ command to love one another.

The great gift in in chapter 17 tells us that our God is working seven days a week twenty-four hours a day on our behalf; guiding and upholding and protecting. 

In this morning’s lesson the Greek word for protect is tereo it is repeated in these eleven verses with multiple meanings.  In the NIV it says the disciples “obeyed” God’s word, or tereo, “kept” God’s word.  Later, Jesus prays that God will “protect” those whom God has given him.  After that verse 15 Jesus asks God to “protect” tereo in the sense of protective custody. 

It seems there is a struggle that will intensify once Jesus has ascended into heaven.  Divine action is needed to keep followers from being lured away by powers counter to the will of the Triune God. 

Being kept close, being watched as closely as a prisoner under protective custody of the Father puts us in special connection with God and with one another. 

Faithfully following Jesus Christ in unity and sacrificial love is not first and foremost a result of our own actions. 

We are called to respond to God’s grace and mercy with lives of gratitude, lives that reflect our love and our loyalty.

We are called to be “one” as the Father and Jesus are one.  It means we are being united to the holy through the grace of God. 

The oneness that Christ prays for, for his followers is the oneness enjoyed by the Father and the Son.  So, as the Father and the Son are unique.  The Father and the Son distinct from one another, but joined intimately and dependent upon one another.  In the same way, we maintain our uniqueness.  Perhaps the oneness we enjoy is, like the parts of a human body or vines on a branch or even a tapestry. 

There are always forces trying to tear the fabric which God has woven together. 

When we feel threatened by these forces, we tend to look out for number one forgetting we are one.  Our well-being and that of God’s beloved creation, is intimately woven together like a beautiful tapestry.  When we are in the mode of self-gratification or self-preservation, we are under the influence of a power that is other than God’s.

For us as followers of Jesus we are not, “We’re number one.”  It is “We have been made one.”  Our symbol is not a foam hand with the forefinger lifted in pride, it is that old wooden cross.

The exploitation of perceived scarcity, fears and the need to be protected is unyielding.  Those purveyors of doom are constantly telling us that someone or some group is out to get us.  You name the group, the poor, the wealthy, people of color, illegals, Muslims, the Jews.  There is always someone trying to separate us by telling us there isn’t enough or they hate us because... They count on our humanity, our bent to self-pride and self-preservation. 

Sometimes we do it to ourselves.  Instead of being congregation, we become factions preserving our own turf, the ruling council, the choir, the ladies’ or men’s groups.  Sometimes instead of being a denomination we move from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to focusing on our differences.

How can we in view of our humanity and in view of the pressures both external and internal live out the idea of being made one in Christ?

The answer is both simple and complex, we must learn love the ones we are with. 

Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you might bear fruit, fruit that will last.” 

Anything that involves other people has it hardships, because if there’s one thing human beings are good at, it is getting on one another nerves.  We can disagree on anything.  We have different scales of importance.  Sometimes we unknowingly do something that is annoying or rude.

It is hard to give grace when you feel like it is undeserved or taken for granted.  But if we remind ourselves of how God gives grace, we humbly realize that withholding it from others only hurts us.

Jesus said, “This command I give, that you love one another.”  The church is the context that Jesus has given us to love one another.  To bring others to and create a community of human beings, broken, and in need of a savior.  A diverse community, of defective people trying to live out God’s call on their lives in an impossible love. 

It is in our weakness that we can love others in humility realizing we are only worthy because God makes us worthy.

If we hold on to our own personal expectations of how everyone should act and how everything should work we will be always be disappointed.  When we focus on the failures of others, we are not focusing on love.  And if the mission of the church is love then we can’t do both; we can’t withhold forgiveness from someone and love them at the same time.

As humans leaning on our own abilities, we are doomed to fail.  But we have a God who makes the impossible possible.  It is God who gives us the strength to work together for God’s glory.  It is God who does miraculous things among difficult people.  And we have Jesus who prays for today, tomorrow and for all time.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Amen

May you know the presence of the God who loves you this week.

Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

 

Sermon

      Easter 6, 05/21/17 John 14:15-21, “Is Love All You Need?”

Isn’t interesting how Jesus connects love and obedience?  In Jesus eyes love and obedience go hand in hand.

We know or we think we know all about love, after all, we see it in movies, read about it in books see it on the television.  Perhaps it is not the kind of agape love of Scripture, but love nonetheless.

The word love is tossed around recklessly. It covers everything from how we might feel about chocolate, or our dog or something someone says on Facebook.  We love to give out those little emoji hearts.

Everywhere we turn we are bombarded with opportunities to "show" our love through gifts of flowers, jewelry, or cars on every holiday from New Year’s Eve to Christmas with the thinly veiled message the more you spend, the more you express your love.

Popular music is filled with love songs and it has been in every generation's playlist. From "All You Need is Love" to "I Will Always Love You"

I saw a yard sign that said: “Kindness is everything.”

Is it? Or are we missing something?

I wonder if our emphasis on love alone or kindness alone isn't like the Athenian's monument to an unknown god. Perhaps, it is our emphasis on love alone or kindness alone has resulted in the "moral therapeutic deism" as discovered in the National Study of Youth and Religion.  It is described as a religious outlook that is quite distinct from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any of the world's majority religions.  It helps people be nice, feel good, and leaves God in the background.

All you need is love?  Or, is kindness is everything? 

Or, are they both the monument to an unknown god?

Something is missing, something important, life giving and life-saving is absent.

You can’t have love without trust. We can't trust those who fail to keep promises, and keeping promises means following the commandments God has set before us. Of course, the greatest of these is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Loving God and neighbor. Which brings us back to love.  So how do we understand this?

I think we need to look to the Holy Spirit for guidance. In John's Gospel, the Holy Spirit is also called the Spirit of truth, our Advocate, the One who teaches and guides, reminds, encourages, strengthens and testifies.

And we all know that if we are going to follow Jesus’ commandments, especially the greatest of them. Love may be all we need, but if we are to love as Jesus commands, we need divine instruction and encouragement that we might live lives of love as Jesus calls us to do.

We are called to follow Jesus Christ, to abide in his love and to even match his love.

His love that crossed the boundaries of culture and gender with a Samaritan woman.

His love that broke the rules and healed on the Sabbath, to stop the suffering of those long in pain.

His nourishing love wouldn't give in to practicality, but demanded the participation of his followers so that no one would be hungry.

In His teaching love, he taught in a way that was patient, but demanding - so demanding that even his disciples wondered if anyone could accept it.

in His forgiving love that intervened on behalf of the woman caught in adultery and called out those who pronounced judgment.

It was in His love he confronted and questioned religious and secular authority alike no matter the cost to his own safety.

In His love, he stooped in humility and he washed his disciples' feet.

It was that same sacrificial love that took him to the cross.

This is the new commandment kind of love he requires of his followers:

"Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."

Perhaps all we need is love, but this Jesus-love requires an obedience that we cannot begin to accomplish on our own.  Kindness, while critical, isn't everything.

This is no unknown god; this is the Word made flesh, visible through the gift of the Holy Spirit when we keep Jesus' commandments.

I have a story to share with you from a book titled, "Sometimes Amazing Thing Happen," by psychiatrist Elizabeth Ford.  She shares stories of her time working on the men's unit on the psychiatric prison ward at Bellevue Hospital in New York. Much of what she shares is painful and heartbreaking. And yet, she and others remain steadfast even in the face of desperate odds for "success." Why? Well, because sometimes amazing things happen when we remain steadfast and dutifully show up day after day with compassion and love.

She describes a group meeting of patients lead by a medical student who feels called to this incredibly hard work. An especially quiet member of the group named Manny opens up to share his worry that he won't stay sober after getting out of prison. He goes on to tell the painful story of how his addiction began, how his father whipped him until his back bled and how the abuse didn't hurt as much when he was under the influence of alcohol. He concludes saying: "Thank you for letting me share. I know I'm not worth your time."

"Manny," says Jamel, leaning forward in his chair so he can see him clearly. "You are worth it, man. You got mad courage. You just hang on and keep going one day at a time. That's all you got to do."

Manny looks like he is about to cry, as though no one except this psychotic patient named Jamel has ever offered him kind words. ...

"Yeah, Manny, you just take it one day at a time. Think about all those days you've survived already." ... 

What we see here is a pivotal moment for Manny, and for the group itself.

A collective responsibility to care for someone else.

Pivotal moments of collective care for another surprise us if we are willing to walk daily in faithfulness and dutiful obedience. At our last session meeting, we did a short Bible study on leadership.  One of the points was that we should “walk slowly through a crowd.”  In other words, be aware of those around us and the Holy Spirit will come along side and help us to see and serve.  Help us to point to Jesus as we keep the commandments of the One whose amazing love demands our soul, our lives, our all. Love and obedience - for followers of Jesus Christ whose love lead to obedience even unto death - cannot be separated.

Sermon      Easter 6, 05/21/17 John 14:15-21, “Is Love All You Need?”

 

Isn’t interesting how Jesus connects love and obedience?  In Jesus eyes love and obedience go hand in hand.

 

We know or we think we know all about love, after all, we see it in movies, read about it in books see it on the television.  Perhaps it is not the kind of agape love of Scripture, but love nonetheless.

 

The word love is tossed around recklessly. It covers everything from how we might feel about chocolate, or our dog or something someone says on Facebook.  We love to give out those little emoji hearts.

 

Everywhere we turn we are bombarded with opportunities to "show" our love through gifts of flowers, jewelry, or cars on every holiday from New Year’s Eve to Christmas with the thinly veiled message the more you spend, the more you express your love.

 

Popular music is filled with love songs and it has been in every generation's playlist. From "All You Need is Love" to "I Will Always Love You"

 

I saw a yard sign that said: “Kindness is everything.”

 

Is it? Or are we missing something?

 

I wonder if our emphasis on love alone or kindness alone isn't like the Athenian's monument to an unknown god. Perhaps, it is our emphasis on love alone or kindness alone has resulted in the "moral therapeutic deism" as discovered in the National Study of Youth and Religion.  It is described as a religious outlook that is quite distinct from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any of the world's majority religions.  It helps people be nice, feel good, and leaves God in the background.

 

All you need is love?  Or, is kindness is everything? 

 

Or, are they both the monument to an unknown god?

 

Something is missing, something important, life giving and life-saving is absent.

 

You can’t have love without trust. We can't trust those who fail to keep promises, and keeping promises means following the commandments God has set before us. Of course, the greatest of these is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Loving God and neighbor. Which brings us back to love.  So how do we understand this?

 

I think we need to look to the Holy Spirit for guidance. In John's Gospel, the Holy Spirit is also called the Spirit of truth, our Advocate, the One who teaches and guides, reminds, encourages, strengthens and testifies.

 

And we all know that if we are going to follow Jesus’ commandments, especially the greatest of them. Love may be all we need, but if we are to love as Jesus commands, we need divine instruction and encouragement that we might live lives of love as Jesus calls us to do.

 

We are called to follow Jesus Christ, to abide in his love and to even match his love.

 

His love that crossed the boundaries of culture and gender with a Samaritan woman.

 

His love that broke the rules and healed on the Sabbath, to stop the suffering of those long in pain.

 

His nourishing love wouldn't give in to practicality, but demanded the participation of his followers so that no one would be hungry.

 

In His teaching love, he taught in a way that was patient, but demanding - so demanding that even his disciples wondered if anyone could accept it.

 

in His forgiving love that intervened on behalf of the woman caught in adultery and called out those who pronounced judgment.

 

It was in His love he confronted and questioned religious and secular authority alike no matter the cost to his own safety.

 

In His love, he stooped in humility and he washed his disciples' feet.

 

It was that same sacrificial love that took him to the cross.

 

This is the new commandment kind of love he requires of his followers:

 

"Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."

 

Perhaps all we need is love, but this Jesus-love requires an obedience that we cannot begin to accomplish on our own.  Kindness, while critical, isn't everything.

 

This is no unknown god; this is the Word made flesh, visible through the gift of the Holy Spirit when we keep Jesus' commandments.

 

I have a story to share with you from a book titled, "Sometimes Amazing Thing Happen," by psychiatrist Elizabeth Ford.  She shares stories of her time working on the men's unit on the psychiatric prison ward at Bellevue Hospital in New York. Much of what she shares is painful and heartbreaking. And yet, she and others remain steadfast even in the face of desperate odds for "success." Why? Well, because sometimes amazing things happen when we remain steadfast and dutifully show up day after day with compassion and love.

 

She describes a group meeting of patients lead by a medical student who feels called to this incredibly hard work. An especially quiet member of the group named Manny opens up to share his worry that he won't stay sober after getting out of prison. He goes on to tell the painful story of how his addiction began, how his father whipped him until his back bled and how the abuse didn't hurt as much when he was under the influence of alcohol. He concludes saying: "Thank you for letting me share. I know I'm not worth your time."

 

"Manny," says Jamel, leaning forward in his chair so he can see him clearly. "You are worth it, man. You got mad courage. You just hang on and keep going one day at a time. That's all you got to do."

 

Manny looks like he is about to cry, as though no one except this psychotic patient named Jamel has ever offered him kind words. ...

 

"Yeah, Manny, you just take it one day at a time. Think about all those days you've survived already." ... 

 

What we see here is a pivotal moment for Manny, and for the group itself.

 

A collective responsibility to care for someone else.

 

Pivotal moments of collective care for another surprise us if we are willing to walk daily in faithfulness and dutiful obedience. At our last session meeting, we did a short Bible study on leadership.  One of the points was that we should “walk slowly through a crowd.”  In other words, be aware of those around us and the Holy Spirit will come along side and help us to see and serve.  Help us to point to Jesus as we keep the commandments of the One whose amazing love demands our soul, our lives, our all. Love and obedience - for followers of Jesus Christ whose love lead to obedience even unto death - cannot be separated.

Blessings as you go through your week. 

Love,

Pastor Dottie

 

Sermon      Easter 5 May 14, 2017    “A Good Look at God”

There’s the story of the little girl drawing a picture in school one day.  The teacher leans over her and asks, “What are you drawing?” 

“God.” Was her reply. 

The teacher laughed and said, “No one knows what God looks like, dear.”

To which the little girl replied, “They will when I finish my drawing.”

I share that is story with you this morning because I think that this is one of the reasons people come to church.  We want to see God.  We want God to be a reality.

Most people, I think, have an image of God.  It may be the one from Sunday school, so many years ago.  God the loving Father or perhaps a stern judge or maybe even a bright yellow light filling the universe.  But all of those images fall short of a Holy God.  None them do justice to that grand reality we call “God.” 

The Ten Commandments orders us not to have “graven images” of God.  We are not to take any representation, any artistic depiction or metaphoric image as a truthful representation of God.  God is too holy, too high and lifted up for any mere human representation.

And yet, we know as Christians don’t need to make any image or representation of God because we already have the complete, definitive, full image of God in Jesus the Christ.

Jesus is called “Christ,” “Messiah,” “God’s Son,” because he is completely one with God. 

Jesus is God in the flesh.  As Christians, we believe that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we have seen God.  This is the glorious claim of this morning’s gospel.  Jesus is the very presence of God. 

When we see Jesus, how he lived in the world, we see God. 

When we hear Jesus, the words he spoke to his followers, the words he speaks to us today, we are hearing the words of God.  When we feel the tugging at the heart that is the Holy Spirit, we have seen and heard and felt God.  That is his name Emanuel, God with us.

We have a God who loved us so much, understanding our need, God refused to remain aloof and apart from us.

This God came among us, revealed himself to us.  “If you really know me,” Jesus says, “you will know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

When Philip says to him, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” And Jesus responds, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”

In another place Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  It sounds arrogant.  That is troublesome.  It is challenging.  Sometimes we use it as a weapon against non-Christians.  When you read the biblical witness, what makes it challenging is its context.  It would be easy to understand if he were talking to the Pharisees or Sadducees or anyone else who mocked him.  Jesus is not talking to those folks.  He is not warning those folks out there.  He is talking to those who claim to be his followers.  It is true that if you sit on a folding chair in your garage, that does not make you a car.  It is also true that if you sit in a pew, that doesn’t make you are a Christian.  Perhaps, Jesus is talking to us who call ourselves Christian.  If you claim a Christian faith, do you really believe?  Or are you just sitting in the pew. 

If we were to go back to the beginning of John’s gospel it begins with soaring poetic language.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made…”  It is beautiful, romantic poetry.

But then what happens?  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  It sounds so lovely.  But then there was the reality of Word made flesh, the Word started talking, began moving about in this world.  Jesus didn’t act the way he was supposed to act.  He reached out to the untouchables, healing the sick, he rebuked the rich and the powerful, raising the dead, upsetting the authorities.  God got a little too close, a little too personal.  And you know what, people didn’t like it.  So, we put him to death on a cross.  The humiliating death of a thief.

We were determined to keep our religion vague indefinable, squishy, spiritual.  Our God at a safe distance.  Even if we had to crucify Christ to do it.  And so, we did.

But then we learned on Easter that he was not only Word made flesh but also the Word of eternal life.  This is a God who would not be defeated by our sin and death.

When Christians claim that Jesus is the full revelation of God, that Jesus is the only full revelation of God, therefore, the way, the truth and the life.  We are not arrogant if we are truly looking at Jesus.  If we are listening to his command to love one another. 

As Christians, we are called to believe that in Jesus we got a good look at God.  We are not those who begin with a clear, fixed idea of who God ought to look like if God is to be God.  Rather, we look at Jesus; what he says, what he does; who he is and believe that there we see the true and living God.

That is what Jesus told Philip when he said, “Show us God.”  Jesus said, “Philip, take a good look at the one who is beside you, talking to you, walking with you.  Don’t you understand Philip, when you’ve seen me, you have seen the Father?”

Let us pray: Lord help us to see you as you are, not as we would have you be, and in seeing you, to love you, and in loving you to follow you, and in following you, thereby to believe in you.  Son of God, Light of the World.  Savior of all.  Amen.

Sermon Easter 4, 05/07/17

“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

 “He leads them out.”    Think about that for a second.  This reflects a vision that is in opposition to what the world thinks.

All the gates I have ever seen, the ones in airports, at large business campuses, or even upscale communities have been erected to keep people safely inside, not equipping them to go out into the world.

At airports, upscale communities, business campuses those gates control who gets to go in and who doesn’t.  The point is to be safe on the inside with those who are known and belong there; not gathering in with the unknown.

Before I became a pastor, I worked as temporary staff for companies that had large campuses in the suburbs of Chicago.  Before I could enter the grounds, I had to let someone from Human Resources know I was coming and they in turn had to make sure my name was on the list at the main gate.  There are many entrances reserved for those who have a pass, but only one entrance for those who are visitors.  And occasionally I would end up at the wrong gate and could not gain entrance.  So, a gate-keeper would tell me how to get to the gate I needed.  I would have to back out and circle around to get to the proper gate.  It was frustrating and difficult.

There are those who think of the church as a gated community, a place where we look and think alike.  Insular, fearful, exclusive, the kind of community you need a pass to enter.

But Jesus, the Good Shepherd leads, his flock out.  Jesus’ gated community is not one that where folks huddle together inside the fence to stay safe at all costs.  It is a place instead where there is diversity and all welcome and all are gathered in to be nurtured and prepared to follow the Shepherd out.  It seems to me, Jesus lets us in the gate so that we can go out and lead others back. 

When we hear, Jesus speaking in John’s gospel we can really sense the motion, the outward thrust.  Jesus says: “Whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture.”  The sheep come in and go out.  Jesus’ flock doesn’t hunker down in one place.  In Jesus vision, they and we are on the move.

But it is not as easy as you might think.  Connie DuBois tells me that sheep must be led from one pasture to another, lest they eat the grass all the way down.  They are fearful and don’t like change.  There must be one of the big llamas in the field to protect them at all times because they have many predators and no way of defending themselves.  So, Connie must lead them out, calling them by name, until finally one sheep decides to step out in faith and then the others follow.  They follow the leader.

Seems to me, Jesus knew something about sheep.   They are fearful, change makes them nervous, they need to be protected and they need a leader.  They must be called repeatedly, assured it is safe to move.  Thankfully, for you and I that is exactly what Jesus provides.  Because we can be like sheep; fearful of the future, afraid of change. 

The beauty and abundance of the pasture is available to us and to whoever hears Jesus’ voice, but we must be willing to trust the leader and follow if we are ever to experience it. 

There is a great temptation for us in the church is to create a protectionist Christ.  Make Jesus a wall instead of a gate.  A barrier instead of a welcoming place open to all.  A stern guard instead of a Good Shepherd.  That can happen, when we act out of fear rather than trusting the One who knows us, calls us by name and leads us out.

It is a humbling experience for me to be part of Schapville Zion Church. 

Our doors are always open during the day.  We often have visitors.

Just Wednesday morning I was going to church too meet with our musicians and when I arrived there were two gentlemen standing in our sanctuary. 

The one gentleman was rather elderly.  He introduced himself and his friend.  It seems Bill, who now lives in Stockton had been part of our church years ago, he and his wife were married here in 1949 and his wife is now buried in our church yard.

He was grateful to be able to come in and just sit in a church that was like an old friend.  He said, “You know, most churches are locked up tight, I don’t think that is right.  I am always grateful to be able to stop here and just sit a spell.”

This weekend our friends the bicycle club made their appearance.  They borrow a table, set up a well-being station where they provide drinks and nourishment for the bicyclist, who enjoy the beauty and challenge of our hills.  They are grateful for the use of our facility. 

We have a long history of that sort of hospitality.  I also know of other churches that are like another church I remember with a lovely fenced playground and a padlocked gate with a sign that read, “No Trespassing.”  What makes the difference?  I imagine the real difference is related to faith.  We really need to trust that the Good Shepherd will nurture provide, lead and guide.  If we are to go out in confidence into a world that is hurting and in need of God’s tender care we must rely on our Savior’s protection and guidance.  If we can’t, if we start to hunker down we will miss out on the pastures Jesus longs to give us all.

Right now, our world is filled with suspicion and anxiety.  Jesus said, “Fear not little flock.”  We who are Jesus’ flock need to listen to hear our names called and follow him out so that others will know the way to the gate, the gate of heaven.  The gate and the gatekeeper who leads to eternal and abundant life.  Amen. 

Happy Mother's day to all the godly women who touch the lives of others!

Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

 


 

Sermon      Matthew 13:18-23, 04/30/17, Rural Life Sunday “”

In “Jesus Christ Super Star,” the chorus sang out; “Jesus, why did you choose such an odd time and such a backward place?”  When I heard that line, I agreed.  There is a strangeness to God’s choice of time and place to proclaim the good news.  In those days if you wanted to send a message, you sent a messenger.  No twenty-four-hour news cycle, no social media.  No cell phones with their cameras and the ability to record and to upload those happenings and share them instantly.  Almost in real time.

If Jesus would have come today.  Can you imagine the reactions? Don’t you think he would be mobbed by people everywhere?  There would be folks taking selfies with him.  CNN and all the other news outlets would have Rabbis and Pagan Priests to do 24/7 analysis of his every speech.  He would be followed by news media every place he went. 

His picture would be known to the entire world  His every word heard around the world. And almost immediately and we would all understand his message of love, mercy and forgiveness.  Right?  Perhaps not.

Think about it.  In the twenty first century how would he have to change his presentation?  What would be his approach?  After all he spoke in the language of the time, using simple examples and stories to make theological points.  Would he use computers in the parables or automobiles or what was going on with Ivanka Trump or anything else that seems to resonate with people and therefore passes as truth in our post-modern world?

This world we live in is so much bigger and yet at the same time so much smaller.  Our diversity is more apparent than it has ever been.  There are so many options; people have so many different interests.  Besides, so much that is popular culture is about me and my choices and my control and my individuality it would be unfit to reflect on Christ’s message. 

The agricultural age was just the right time to put Jesus’ message in the most understandable way.  If you are a farmer, you have understanding that you are not in control, that it is not about you.  A rain you may need, would do damage to a farm crop and the farm family down the road.  Life and prosperity are much more fragile.  People’s well-being is more connectional.  And I think that is why his teachings are filled with agricultural images; the mustard seed, good seed and weeds. 

When you think about it, the planting and growing and reaping that are agriculture is something we all share in common.  It is so basically human; it is part of our shared history.  It exists in all our DNA.  Whether you are in a first world country or a third world nation, there is always some form of agriculture.  Whether we recognize it or not our ancestors somewhere along the way sowed seed and received from God’s bounty. 

I don’t know anyone who at least as a kid in grammar school didn’t put a seed in a little pot and wait excitedly for the plant to make its appearance. 

And each day we sit down at table and receive food from God’s provision and the work of a farmer’s hand.

And this day we honor our farmers and our agricultural heritage. 

More than one hundred sixty years ago this church was founded so that the farmers of this community had a place where they could come together to worship God and a time of fellowship.  A place to give thanks, share their joys and lift-up their cares.  It was here they brought their babies to be baptized.  Where their young people studied the Bible, and became full members of the church after confirmation.  It was here they were married, lived out their lives and buried in the church yard.  They were people of the land, people who understood in their hearts God’s provision and promises. 

And that is what Jesus is talking about this morning, really understanding what God is saying and his promises for each of us.  And that is why the parable of sower still resonates in our lives today. 

Jesus is telling us that God’s word is like good seed in our hearts.  That which we know in our minds must become planted in our hearts to grow and mature. 

Plants require certain elements to grow and bear fruit.  As Christians, we are called to grow and bear fruit.  We too, need certain elements to grow and bear fruit.  We need water and food.  The waters of baptism and the Word of God.  We need air and soil.  We need the air of freedom to worship and we need the soil of a contrite heart.  We need a space to come to maturity in, our congregation and we need time to grow.  None of us starts off as mature Christians, we all start off young and delicate.  But in time our roots deepen and we begin to blossom and bear fruit.  “The seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” 

Jesus says, “even the devil knows who he is.”  So, being a Christian is more than just knowing who Jesus is.  We need to understand how and why we are called.  In Jeremiah we read these words, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD.  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people. 

Our very faith is a seed planted in our heart where it grows and brings us ever closer to the God who loves us.

Psalm 119:34 it says, “Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.”  Understanding goes beyond an intellectual exercise. 

True understanding becomes a stream of living water welling up to eternal life. 

So, the gift of our farmers is not only food for our tables that comes through the hard work that they do.  But agriculture and our farmers bring us back to the words and the message of Christ.  That through it all we with the love of Christ in our hearts can live lives of grace and mercy.  Amen. 

May your week be filled with the understanding of God's bounty and loving-kindness.

Blessings,

Pastor Dottie

 

 

 

Sermon Easter 2 04/23/17, John 20:19-31    “Through Closed Doors, Part 2” 

As we read this morning the Risen Christ is unstoppable.  Once the Risen Christ bursts forth from the tomb, breaks loose from the bonds of death, he is on the move.  In fact, he doesn’t stop moving. 

Last week we heard how the Risen Christ appeared to his frightened followers and revealed himself to them.  First to Mary Magdalene, telling her, “Don’t hold me.”  Then rushing in through the locked door of his disciples revealing himself to them. 

This Sunday Christ is still on the move.  He’s back, this time to show himself as an answer to the doubts of Thomas.   Thomas needs visible tangible proof.  Well, that is just what Christ gives him.  He offers whatever anybody needs to believe.

At the end of this morning reading we hear these words, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Christ is on the move, busy, determined to get in touch with his followers who thought that in his death they had been left behind.  Easter continues.

The claim of Easter- that Jesus was raised from the dead, is so outrageous it stands in opposition to everything we have understood about life and death.  It so beyond our comprehension that many people just naturally want proof of this claim.  They wish we knew the exact location of the empty tomb.  They long for some historical, verifiable shred of documentation whereby we could prove, historically and empirically that the resurrection is true.

But you can’t prove Easter is true by going backward, only by going forward.  Because we know from John’s gospel that is where the risen Christ is, on the move.  Ahead of us, not behind us.

You know what for me the main proof of Easter.  It is you!  Despite all of the setbacks and the perfectly good, understandable, rational reasons why you should not be here, more than two thousand years after the first Easter, here you are.  In rural church in Jo Daviess County.  Jesus told us that where two are three are gathered, he would be there.  And there he is, among us, undeniably present.

As your pastor, I’ve seen the risen Christ.  Not seen him as he was, striding forth from the tomb, nail prints in his hands, but gloriously raised.  I have seen him as he is, undeniably present in you.  You have shown me things happening in your life.  You have testified to amazing twists and turns, inspiring new hope and uplifted faith that can only be explained by the truth that Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.

Easter is the promise that God will never leave us to our own devices, will not be defeated by us.  Easter is the firm assurance that God will get what God wants.

I see Easter in our reading from Acts, when the scoffing crowd says of the first church, “They are drunk!”  Peter testifies to the resurrection.  The resurrection is not only the content of his short sermon but it’s the means.  The reason he is able to speak with boldness.  Because Christ has gathered a new people who testify to his mighty deeds.  That there is a church where there once had been nothing.  Raising up life where there had only been death.  All of this is proof that Easter keeps happening.  God keeps making something out of nothing.  Watching resurrection when it happens before our very eyes.

A pastor friend of mine shared this story.  “My life is over,” she said, when she found the cancer had spread to her optic nerve and that she was now going to lose her sight.  Her precious sight that had enabled her to create beautiful things.  To paint lovely paintings.  That which she loved most was being taken from her. 

But scarcely two months later when he visited her in her home I was greeted by music, beautiful music.  Being played by her on her piano.

“I’ve discovered a gift I didn’t know I had until I reached for it.”  She said as she played Chopin, beautifully.  I thought this is of Easter.  This is how in life’s complete dead-ends there is something about Christ that enables him to keep coming back to us.  Enables him to keep bringing new life out of death and defeat.

Last week we talked about how Easter is not merely, “Jesus lives forever and we shall live forever.”  Easter is also about the ability of Christ to defeat death in whatever form it faces us.

Yet this is our true hope, at the end of our lives that the same resurrected Christ who keeps coming back to us.  Who keeps calling us.  Who keeps talking to us.  Who keeps making Easter out of death.  The risen Christ will continue to work with us.  He will keep coming back to us.  He will keep coming back to us.  He will keep coming back to us, even in our death.  We shall discover on that day that our end is not defeat but rather communion with the one who has gone to such great lengths to be with us.  On the day of our death, Easter continues, amen. 

 

Meditation

Palm Passion Sunday 04/09/17a         Matthew 26:14-27:66

This long swatch of the gospel we read this morning is the very core of what we believe.  It is absolutely essential to our faith. There is a hymn “God is Here” it lyrics reminds us: “here the cross has central place.”

So, we come together to remember and to share the old, old story, anew.

Jesus’ triumphal entrance to Jerusalem.  The meal he shared with his disciples.  Peter’s denial.  The sham of a trial.  Jesus’ death on a cross.

It is there at the foot of the cross we stand today, with palms still green, fresh from welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem, now sullied with blood and sin.

As I considered what all this means for us I began to wonder, “Whose story is this?

It is God’s story. God’s story of good’s triumph over evil.  It is God’s story of not abandoning us, even when we deny our Lord, even as we still disobey.  It is God’s story of care for God’s children throughout the ages.

Of course, it is Jesus’ story. A story that fills us with sorrow, but ultimately powerful as well. A cross for an innocent man. A sacrificed life after a life of sacrifice.  A life of perfection, a life showing the way to live and to love. 

Caring for others, claiming the good and rebuking evil.  Bringing healing and wholeness to the world. This is, for certain, Jesus’ story.

But, perhaps as important is that this story is our story as well. The story of us denying our Lord just as Peter did. The story of us betraying the truth as did Judas. The story of our lack of sacrifice, and tendency to shout, “crucify him” with our actions. But, thanks be to God, it is our story of redemption as well. God’s story, Jesus’ story, but our story of grace, forgiveness, of new life through power of the Holy Spirit.

So perhaps there is nothing more to say. Perhaps it is best to allow the words of Scripture, the story of God’s provision, our denial, and Jesus’ forgiveness to speak for itself. Maybe words, as powerful as they are, are not the thing for today.

Instead, let us just reflect. Reflect on how each of our stories fits in with God’s story.

Reflect on the cross, its power to forgive, and our grateful response. Reflect on how we must return, a week from now, to look at the cross again. But then, empty. Empty, as well, will be the tomb. Reflect because after reflection, after contemplating these stories afresh, reflection might lead to action.

There may be nothing more to say. But there is always something more to do. Reflect, to believe, and to respond: Jesus, the crucified one, is Lord of all. Amen.

Have a blessed Holy Week,

Love,

Pastor Dottie

 

Sermon      “Bound by Life and Unbound by Faith” John 11:1-45, 04/02/17

People tend to be reactive and not thoughtful and that leads to unawareness. 

This week we look at how being unaware, being blind is a result of being bound to that which we know.  We are bound by our limited knowledge, by the culture we are born into, by common wisdom.  And we cling to those ideas, because they are safe, they are what we know.

Nicodemus could not get passed the idea that one could only be born from a woman’s womb. 

The woman at the well was bound to her culture and tradition. 

And then last week we experienced the unbinding of the blind man as he was given sight, not only physical sight but spiritual sight.

This morning we meet people who are bound not only by grave clothes but by their circumstance, by the limit of what they know, and how they understand God’s promises. 

Martha is bound by human knowledge of life and death.  When Martha speaks of “resurrection”, she is thinking about the resurrection that will happen at the end of time when all the dead will be raised. 

Jesus, is speaking of a new life, a resurrected life that begins with today, that affects the way we live now.

In the Old and New Testaments, there are stories of people being raised from the dead.  Through the centuries there have been stories of people thought dead, waking up.  The tradition of having a wake comes from the fear of burying someone alive.  People have near death experiences, someone has shared with you the story of a friend or loved one who has had a near death experience.  And among us here this morning at least one or two, have had a near death experience.

What separates the story of Lazarus from all the others is that he is long dead.  The King James Version says, by this time he stinketh.  Lazarus is four days’ dead.

Most of the resuscitation events in the Bible occur shortly after the person has died.  This was the first time a person had been called forth from the grave.  Lazarus, was wrapped in burial cloths, laid in the tomb with a large stone sealing the entrance and then, four days later he was called out.

Because of those circumstance, there could be no mistake, Jesus, had brought someone back into life in this world.  No mistake, it is a miracle. 

But there is a lesson for us, just because you are given new life in Christ, does not mean you are unbound from your old life. 

I began to understand the connection when I tried to visualize Lazarus walking out of the tomb wrapped in his burial cloths.  It made me think of a scene from that low budget horror movie, remember the movie titled “The Mummy” where we see Boris Karloff as he walked stiff legged out of the tomb.  And really that is what we are seeing here.  Because Jesus says in one version of the biblical witness, “unbind him and set him free.”  “Unbind him and set him free.”

Didn’t Jesus just set him free?  Isn’t it death the ultimate prison from which there is no parole?  Wasn’t it Jesus who broke the chains of death so that Lazarus could be free? But here is this twist in the story, here’s the lesson. 

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but he was still bound.  And there can be no new life until you are unbound.

In other words, the people in his life must help him to learn to live or he will continue to live as if he were dead.  Bound by his old life, his old sin, his old habits.  And the same is true today. 

We need each other – we need the church – to help us if we are to have the abundant life Jesus promises, he says in John; “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Too many of us walk around stiff legged, bound, waiting to be unbound. 

Too many of us have received the gift of new life but have not been set free to experience it.

There are those, like Martha and Mary know the right words of faith but are bound by our religious beliefs.

There are those like Lazarus, raised from the dead but still bound to the past.

Still living bound up lives, unable to enjoy the life we have been called to live.  Shackled by our fears and our sins, our guilt and our grief.

And even if only a handful of us are bound up so tight that we cannot experience the joy of Christ, then too many of us are bound by the burial cloths of sin and death. 

As the body of Christ, we are called to help others unwrap those burial cloths so everyone can experience and celebrate new life in Christ.  That is what the kingdom is really all about.  Don’t spend your time wondering if someone else’s marriage is good or if someone else’s children are Christian.  Don’t fret about other’s relationship with Jesus Christ.  Spend your time helping others to see God’s love for them.  Fill the lives of others with God’s grace and mercy, not judgment. 

Remember, some of you were barely alive, still wrapped in the burial cloths of your past when you came here.  You heard the voice of Christ calling you from the tomb into new life.  And here, you found willing friends to help unbind you.  And now you have the privilege to help others unbind their burial cloths so they can go in freedom to experience new life in Christ as well!

Amen

The Lord bless you with an awareness of God's presence through the week.

Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

 

 

 

Sermon, Lent 4, 03/26/17, John 9:1-41

On Thursday, we hosted Memduh and Suna Uysal, they are missionaries to the Muslims.  They take a multi-faceted approach to their ministry.  They are on the internet and television, they help in church plantings, he speaks at conferences.  For me, one of the most interesting thing they do is host a chat room.  It is internet site where people can come and speak freely asking questions about Christianity and Jesus.  Sometimes, when other family members find that one of their own is in this chat room they are very upset.  They take away their computer access or punish them in some other way.

People who are suddenly different from us, who are suddenly transformed; people who don’t stay where they belong upset us and make us fearful. 

When we look at life we see it as we understand it is supposed to happen.

So, Samuel grieves Saul and imagines that God will anoint one of Jesse’s eldest sons to be king.  God doesn’t always see things the way we understand them to be.  We are called to follow where God leads, to submit to God’s choices rather than clinging to our own.  It isn’t always easy.

God calls us to listen to human beings often excluded by those closest to them, the youngest sons, the Samaritan women, beggars blind from birth. 

What they say can challenge our assumptions and cause us some discomfort.  But in hearing their words, we are called to see things in a new way, perhaps even seeing things through Jesus’ eyes.

And that is where our gospel lessons over the last three weeks have been leading us, to opening our eyes, to seeing in new ways. 

Today, all three of our readings call us to question how we see; what we notice; and how we understand. 

Samuel, he was a godly man, a prophet and yet he was all wrong about Saul, all wrong about Jesse’s sons and God’s requirement for leadership.

In Paul’s letter to Ephesians calls us to awaken, question our practices of daily living.  Mindfulness is at the challenge we receive from these verses.  Intentional seeking for what is fruitful, and light, and life-giving.  Are we aware enough to discover what is pleasing to the Lord?  Our we open to the exposures that light casts across our lives?

Our gospel reading this morning demands that we look at how we understand the relationship between sin and suffering.  It calls into question who we deem worthy of our attention and trust. 

On this, the fourth Sunday in Lent Scripture is pushing us to open ourselves up to an honest self-examination.  Self-examination when approached honestly is painful, we see things about ourselves we would find unkind or thoughtless in others.

Are you as surprised as I am to see how the healing of this blind man alienates him from everyone?  Even those who love him, who are closest to him?

His neighbors and religious leaders, even his parents, desert him.  No one rejoices with him in his new sight.  Not one person stands by him during the repeated questioning or even gives him the benefit of the doubt.  They drove him out. 

Do you wonder why?  I think it is because his transformation turns their world upside down.  Bringing all of their cherished assumptions that they, like we, have built our lives around no matter how false they may be. 

These cherished assumptions build walls not only between us and others but more importantly between us Jesus Christ.

The painful truth is that our assumptions often overwhelm the gospel truth that this morning’s readings reveals to us.  We have heard them all.

People get what they deserve, it’s not my problem.

People don’t really change so why bother to give them a second chance.

Certain people are worth listening to, so I can ignore those I think are not worthy to hear.

We know who the worst sinners are and we aren’t them.

If you work hard enough, you can make it.

God is on my side.  Everything happens for a reason.

Charity begins at home; so on and so on. 

Assumptions, ideas we accept as basic truths on which we base our lives.  Are we prepared to have those assumptions upended by Jesus the Christ?

Near the end our gospel this morning, the once blind beggar is fully sighted but utterly alone because of what he has seen.  Jesus hears what happened and does not settle for curing the man’s blindness.  Jesus comes to him and offers him, healing and wholeness.  Giving the man the greatest gift, the greatest vision imaginable; seeing God face to face.

If we are to have such vision, we may have to be willing to have our lives upended, our assumptions overturned and our comfort disturbed by the light of Christ that exposes all we have hoped to hide, even as it sheds light on all we could ever hope to be.  Amen.

God bless you with God's grsce, mercy and love,

Pastor Dottie

Sermon      “Radical Love”     John 4:5-42, 03/19/17

Do you see how radical this is?  How Radical Jesus is?

Is it clear.  How many rules were broken this day by Jesus?

This person is a Samaritan, considered heretics by Jews.  They used an ancient version of the Torah and they worshiped at Mt. Gerizim rather than at the Temple in Jerusalem.

This person is a woman, men of that culture did not speak to a woman in public, even if they were related.

This person was an outsider, a sinner

This person was so unimportant as to not even be mentioned by name.

Oh, and one more thing, this person became an evangelist, a bringer of the good news to the Samaritan people.

Jesus is sitting at the well and when this unnamed, Samaritan, sinner comes to draw her water.  If you are wondering why she comes in the here in the late morning, when none of the other women are there, it is to avoid, their stares and their judgment.

Jesus asks her for a drink.  The Samaritan woman responds, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman.  How can you ask me for a drink? Then Jesus turns the tables does the unexpected; he offers her water, but not just any water living water.

What does he mean, living water?  Jesus has a radical view of the world he encounters.

This woman understood drinking water, washing water cooking water.  She had experience with water ever since she was old enough to lift the load she went to the well.  She knew the well intimately, she knew the depth of the well and how to draw water up and what sort of vessel to use. 

Every day she came a long way to get the water and she knew she would have to return, the next day, and the next day, and the next day.  She was tired, tired of the monotony, tired of the redundancy, tired of the ordeal.  She was tired of her life, tired of the men, tired of the heart break.  But it was her life, she was a woman.  Jesus looked at her and could see how tired this human being was. 

Jesus engages her in conversation, they talk about something she understands, they talk about water.  Jesus has a way of meeting us where we are. 

When Jesus offers her living water, how does she respond?

"Give me your water, then, so I can quit toting water home every day." 

Jesus, turning the table again confronts the woman's lifestyle, her marital history and status. She doesn’t get offended.  She’s tired; five husbands and now living with someone.  She’s tired; she is tired of the mocking eyes of women she is tired of men who leer at her, she tired of the drudge, she is an outcast but in Jesus she sees something, something powerful. And suddenly she’s not so tired anymore and so responds, “You must be a prophet.” 

And then woman at the well turns the tables.  She involves Jesus in this serious theological discussion.

This outsider, this Samaritan is having a theological conversation with the one John describes as; “The one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.”

Let’s go a little deeper into this discussion.  There was this emotionally charged issue separating the two groups.  The burning question of where to find the divinely appointed site for the central worship and sacrifice; was it the Temple in Jerusalem or at Mt. Gerizim? 

It hung on how certain passages of the Scripture were interpreted.  The Samaritans believed that the Scriptures were clear; the temple should be at Mt. Gerizim.  And just as clear to the Jews, was their interpretation of the Scriptures that temple should be in Jerusalem. 

So, when she asks, “Who's right about this temple thing ... us or you Jews?

Jesus doesn’t go into a long dissertation about the law or the prophets; he knows she tired, she tired of the arguments and tired of her life and she yearns to have a relationship and so Jesus responds to her need, he lifts up the concept of true worship transcending the rival claims of local interpretations or arguments about scriptural canon.

Hear Jesus’ words from the Message; "Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem ... the time is coming -- it has, in fact, come -- when what you're called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It's who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That's the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself -- Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being -- their spirits, their true selves -- in adoration."

The most radical statement is God is spirit.  In this time of conversation and revelation she confesses her belief that the Messiah will come and will answer her question.  Where is he?  Jesus responds immediately, “I am he.”

She is transformed from a woman tired and spent from too hard a life, too many men too many heartbreaks to a woman to whom God has revealed himself. 

Jesus sought her out to share the good news.  To this sinner, this woman, this Samaritan; Jesus initiated the conversation, he looked for her and he found her and he changed this woman’s life forever. 

How does this woman respond, she leaves her water jar, she leaves one of her most important possessions?  And she goes to town and she says to her people, the same people who mocked and leered at her.  “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?”  At first, they believed on Jesus because of a mere woman’s testimony and later because of their own experience with Jesus.

Jesus came “to seek and save the lost.”  Jesus seeks all; his love is radical, his love is border breaking, his love is boundary breaking. 

Jesus came for all humans, men and woman, old and young, rich and poor, whatever race, whatever class, the insiders and the outsiders.  All we need to do is believe; who-ever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

So, the good news this morning is that God through the radical love of Jesus Christ, accepts us where we are, we don’t have to change first, his love transforms us. 

Live this week in Christ's transforming love,

Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

 

 

Sermon Lent 2, March 12, 2017, John 3:1-17

I would like us to come to a deeper understanding of John 3:16-17.  In order for us to do that we need to look at the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus.

Nicodemus a Pharisee, member of the Sanhedrin.  This prominent leader, comes to Jesus in the dark of night.  He introduces himself with a statement.  “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

He begins respectfully, he calls Jesus, Rabbi.  He calls Jesus a teacher from God.  He acknowledges the miraculous signs that Jesus has been doing.  We see from this that he had heard of Jesus, his ministry and he may have even heard him preach.  Why is he here?  What does he want from Jesus?  What’s his motive?

We read Nicodemus’ words and across time and space they sound sincere.

But something more is going on here.  Because Jesus doesn’t say, “Thank you, that is very kind of you.”  No, Jesus says; “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]”  You want to speak about the things of God and the people who come from God?  Fine, but do you realize, unless you are born again, unless you are converted to the truth, you will not be able to understand?  To understand Jesus as Christ, to know him as the Word made flesh, the Son of the Living God you must dig deeper then knowing him as a teacher and a performer of miracles.

Jesus understands exactly why Nicodemus has come.  At the heart of Nicodemus’ statement are the questions: who is Jesus, who is he really?  Is he merely a great teacher or is he the Christ?  Is he a renowned healer or is he the Christ?  Is he a miracle worker or is he the Christ?

These questions have confounded the world for two thousand years.  How you answer those questions depends upon how you experience Jesus Christ. 

Whether or not you are born again.  The Holy Spirit that breathes life into the Word of God is confronting us today with that very same set of questions.

At first Nicodemus, sounds really confused; “how can I enter my mother’s womb a second time? 

Nicodemus, Jesus says, listen; “…no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”

Water and Spirit, these images go back beyond the beginning of time.  In Genesis we read “…the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God (God’s Spirit) swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said…”  It is the Spirit who brings life to creation.

Water is symbolic of cleansing and rebirth.  Isaiah promises, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation…”  New life comes from above.  Being born of water and of Spirit is God’s work in us. 

Jesus invites us to turn from all else and turn to God.  Paul, says; “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…”  Sin makes us dead to God and the Kingdom.  Those who are dead cannot make themselves alive again.  If we are to be born again it will be by the grace of God who comes to us by his Holy Spirit and gives us new life.  When we are born again we are new creations in Christ. 

Jesus ends his conversation with Nicodemus by revealing the work Jesus will do for humankind on the cross. He says; Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”[g]

These last words of the conversation serve as the backdrop for John 3:16; “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Verse 17 echoes and affirms God’s intent.  “17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” 

Beloved, do you understand the depth of meaning for John 3:16-17?  It is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  You do not have experience God’s wrath. 

We do not have to face condemnation.  God has loved you from before time. 

God has given you his only begotten Son.  You do not perish if you believe on him.

Who is Jesus? That is the ultimate question and John 3:16 answers that question with eternal truths.  Jesus is the one and only Son of God. 

The only Begotten of the Father.  It proclaims God’s grace and love.  “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 

God loves.  God gives.  We can believe.  We do not perish.  We have eternal life.  That which begins in the heart of God overflows into new life for the one who turns to God.  By grace you are invited to believe.  By faith you can believe. 

To be born again by the water and the Spirit is to receive the gifts of grace

and faith.

This gospel of John 3:16 is not a billboard gospel, it is not just a sign held up in a sports arena.  It is a gospel that demands all.  Love so amazing and so Devine, demands your soul, your life, your all.  John 3:17, “17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Verse 16 may demand your life, your soul, your all, verse 17 resolves those demands in the most beautiful way, God sent his Son into the world to pay the ultimate price, to be nailed to a cross, lifted-up, so that everyone who believes on him may have eternal life.

Nicodemus received so much more than he expected in the dark of night visit to Jesus.  We know from later accounts of him in this gospel that he became a follower of Christ.  John tells the story so that we too might believe and follow Jesus.  The One who came from the Father full of grace and truth, arms open wide on the cross to receive all who believe.

 

Sermon Lent 2, March 12, 2017, John 3:1-17

 

I would like us to come to a deeper understanding of John 3:16-17.  In order for us to do that we need to look at the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus.

 

Nicodemus a Pharisee, member of the Sanhedrin.  This prominent leader, comes to Jesus in the dark of night.  He introduces himself with a statement.  “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

 

He begins respectfully, he calls Jesus, Rabbi.  He calls Jesus a teacher from God.  He acknowledges the miraculous signs that Jesus has been doing.  We see from this that he had heard of Jesus, his ministry and he may have even heard him preach.  Why is he here?  What does he want from Jesus?  What’s his motive?

 

We read Nicodemus’ words and across time and space they sound sincere.

 

But something more is going on here.  Because Jesus doesn’t say, “Thank you, that is very kind of you.”  No, Jesus says; “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]”  You want to speak about the things of God and the people who come from God?  Fine, but do you realize, unless you are born again, unless you are converted to the truth, you will not be able to understand?  To understand Jesus as Christ, to know him as the Word made flesh, the Son of the Living God you must dig deeper then knowing him as a teacher and a performer of miracles.

 

Jesus understands exactly why Nicodemus has come.  At the heart of Nicodemus’ statement are the questions: who is Jesus, who is he really?  Is he merely a great teacher or is he the Christ?  Is he a renowned healer or is he the Christ?  Is he a miracle worker or is he the Christ?

 

These questions have confounded the world for two thousand years.  How you answer those questions depends upon how you experience Jesus Christ. 

 

Whether or not you are born again.  The Holy Spirit that breathes life into the Word of God is confronting us today with that very same set of questions.

 

At first Nicodemus, sounds really confused; “how can I enter my mother’s womb a second time? 

 

Nicodemus, Jesus says, listen; “…no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”

 

Water and Spirit, these images go back beyond the beginning of time.  In Genesis we read “…the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God (God’s Spirit) swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said…”  It is the Spirit who brings life to creation.

 

Water is symbolic of cleansing and rebirth.  Isaiah promises, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation…”  New life comes from above.  Being born of water and of Spirit is God’s work in us. 

 

Jesus invites us to turn from all else and turn to God.  Paul, says; “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…”  Sin makes us dead to God and the Kingdom.  Those who are dead cannot make themselves alive again.  If we are to be born again it will be by the grace of God who comes to us by his Holy Spirit and gives us new life.  When we are born again we are new creations in Christ. 

 

Jesus ends his conversation with Nicodemus by revealing the work Jesus will do for humankind on the cross. He says; Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”[g]

 

These last words of the conversation serve as the backdrop for John 3:16; “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Verse 17 echoes and affirms God’s intent.  “17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” 

 

Beloved, do you understand the depth of meaning for John 3:16-17?  It is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  You do not have experience God’s wrath. 

 

We do not have to face condemnation.  God has loved you from before time. 

 

God has given you his only begotten Son.  You do not perish if you believe on him.

 

Who is Jesus? That is the ultimate question and John 3:16 answers that question with eternal truths.  Jesus is the one and only Son of God. 

 

The only Begotten of the Father.  It proclaims God’s grace and love.  “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 

 

God loves.  God gives.  We can believe.  We do not perish.  We have eternal life.  That which begins in the heart of God overflows into new life for the one who turns to God.  By grace you are invited to believe.  By faith you can believe. 

 

To be born again by the water and the Spirit is to receive the gifts of grace

 

and faith.

 

This gospel of John 3:16 is not a billboard gospel, it is not just a sign held up in a sports arena.  It is a gospel that demands all.  Love so amazing and so Devine, demands your soul, your life, your all.  John 3:17, “17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Verse 16 may demand your life, your soul, your all, verse 17 resolves those demands in the most beautiful way, God sent his Son into the world to pay the ultimate price, to be nailed to a cross, lifted-up, so that everyone who believes on him may have eternal life.

 

Nicodemus received so much more than he expected in the dark of night visit to Jesus.  We know from later accounts of him in this gospel that he became a follower of Christ.  John tells the story so that we too might believe and follow Jesus.  The One who came from the Father full of grace and truth, arms open wide on the cross to receive all who believe. 

May your days be filled with God's love and your nights with God's comfort.

Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

 

Sermon      Lent 1, 03/05/17  Matthew 4:1-11, “Free and Faithful”

I want to speak to you on this first Sunday in Lent about omnipotence and freedom.

In Aldous Huxley’s novel, “Brave New World,” John the Savage is arguing with Mustapha Mond, the world controller.  Savage’s awareness has been shaped by the Bible and Shakespeare, works no longer allowed to be read by the public.  He complains to Mond about the antiseptic quality of life in the new society.  The controller says to him, “We prefer to do things comfortably.”  Savage responds, “But I don’t want comfort.  I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.”

There is a tendency for us to see God as a sort of cosmic Mustapha Mond, a world controller.  This is the God who calls worlds into being.  The almighty God who, in the words of Paul, “accomplishes all things according to his will.  The God whom the hymn reminds us “has the whole world in his hands.”  This is the God who on Easter morning brought life out of death.  The God who is in control of our destiny and who is omnipotent. 

But we must allow this vision of God to be informed and enlarged by another vision of God.  A vision closer to John the Savage.  A vision of God which suggests God doesn’t want easy comfort for his creatures, but prefers for us to have freedom, goodness and sin. 

Right through the biblical witness we have a vision of God who is almighty, but who also does not force himself on his creatures.  Instead, God permits his creatures to choose their own way, and to live with the consequences. 

There is a painting of Christ “Knocking at the Door,” by Holman Hunt, it is like the one at the back of the sanctuary that is in my sightline every Sunday, but it is different; Christ is wearing the crown of thorns, and the look on his face is that of a man forsaken and dejected.  The door before him seems sealed, the brush and the vines growing up across it.  Yes, God is great, the maker of heaven and earth. 

But we are powerful too, because God has given us the gift of freedom to shut him out from our souls and from our world.

God, loves us and wants nothing more than for us to be in relationship with him, but God will not force us.  Love which is forced is not love at all. 

If I thought Dan married me under some sort of duress.  If I felt, he had been forced on me I would wonder what was in your Dan’s heart.  If I thought Dan’s love was not genuine, then the love would be a burden rather than a source of strength and joy.

God wants our love.  He wants our love freely and happily given or not at all.  It is only in that way, can we become his genuine partner.

This is context in which I think we need to see this morning’s gospel. 

In the beginning of Christ’s ministry Jesus had to decide how he would reveal himself as God’s Messiah.  He could have shown himself in such a way that would compel people’s allegiance and eliminate human freedom.  If he had turned the stones to bread, or jumped from the temple without injury, or became a political deliverer, then people would have no choice but to recognize him and follow him.  If he had performed the miracles demanded by the devil, he could have guaranteed people’s loyalty.

Jesus rejected those possibilities.  He saw them as temptations of the devil.  He understood what was at stake was the character of faith itself.  Faith as a free response to God’s love.  All the time you hear, “Seeing is believing.”  But Christian faith is a matter of trusting or believing without seeing.  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,” the resurrected Jesus tells his disciples. 

So, we are called to choose for or against God.  The act of choosing is hard. 

Even in life’s smallest things, we find it hard to make decisions.  The other night, after a long day, Dan asked me what I wanted for dinner.  I said, I am too tired to decide, I don’t care, you decide.  This a small, but we all have experiences like that.

If small choices can be difficult how much more arduous can those decisions that decide our ultimate destiny.  In Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” there is parable about the Grand Inquisitor.  Christ is pictured returning to 16th century Seville.  The Grand Inquisitor, acting for the Church, marches him off to prison.  He charges Christ with having placed upon humankind the unbearable burden of freedom.  By resisting the Tempter in the wilderness, Christ made people miserable rather than happy.  By refusing to make visible his power, Christ laid upon people the necessity of choosing for or against God.  Not based on practical information, but on faith alone.  People were deeply oppressed by this freedom, and the Church was correcting Jesus’ work.  The Church was assuming the burden of freedom and exercising in its place its own severe authority, relieving people of their responsibility to choose for or against God.  Dostoevsky closed the parable with these frightening words: “And the people rejoiced that were again led like sheep and that the terrible gift that brought them such suffering, freedom, was at last lifted from their hearts.

Sometimes choosing feels overwhelming.  God means us to be free, but sometimes we feel crushed under the weight of our freedom.  We do not receive our freedom as a gift.

This is one reason for the popularity of the fundamentalist religions which offer their believers absolute and total certainty.  Freedom can be a fearful burden and there will always be people seeking relief of that burden.

As Paul writes to Galatia, though, we have been called to freedom, and in freedom we must stand fast.  If we understand this, then we can begin to understand the position our church takes on some controversial social issues.  It is not that we are indifferent to the moral issues, but we are sensitive to the moral issue of freedom.  God has made us free, and it is a dangerous matter to enlist government policy to usurp God’s gift of freedom. 

We dare not forfeit our spiritual freedom.  To borrow a phrase from an ancient Church Father, God has made this world to be a place for “soul making.”  We live in a fallen world that provides many opportunities for us to choose ways which are at odds with God.  These temptations are confusing to us, and yet we should not see them as obstacles to our faith, but as a way by which our faith may be strengthened.  God intends for us in the words of letter to the Ephesians, to attain to, “mature manhood, to the measure of the fullness of Christ.” 

God means for us to be free, truly free, because faith can be real only where faithlessness is a possibility.  Faith can be real, then only in a world of temptation.  That is why in our lesson Matthew emphasizes it was the Spirit of God himself that led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.

In Peter’s first letter writes to Christians who are tempted to return to Judaism, who have been exposed to the contempt and abuse of those who had not been converted.  Peter said to them: “…you may have to suffer various trials so that genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold, which though perishable is tested by fire, may rebound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

If we are to grow in our of faith, to become all that God calls us to be. we need first to be tested in the arena of freedom and choice

The test is no less terrible for Christians today than it was in Peter’s time.  We live in a Pagan culture.  There is a constant temptation for us to turn away from our faith toward the dominant pleasure seeking culture.  The gods of pleasure and materialism call out to us.  We have our choices to make. 

This freedom should encourage us.  It means not only that we are free to reject God, but that we also are free to choose God.

In this world where the darkness seems so impenetrable, we may nevertheless choose the good and refuse the evil.  Let us rejoice then, that in God’s gift of freedom, we have no cruel burden but instead the chance to become all that God has called us to be.  God has graced us with the freedom to be ourselves, his own blessed children.

Blessings to each of you,

Love,

Pastor Dottie

 

 

 

 

Sermon       I Corinthians 13:1-13      “The Greatest of All is Love”    01/31/16

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

There is the story of the great actor and an old padre in a competition reciting the 23rd Psalm.  There was polite applause for the actor for his brilliant elocution.  Then it was the old padre’s turn, and he began; “The Lord is my shepherd…” by the time the old padre finished there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  The love he felt for God and for those sitting there filled the room.  Without love the greatest speech by the greatest orator is nothing more than a cymbal dropped on the floor during a symphony.

Pure, that is how I would describe this love that can make or break our speech.  Love without agenda or limitations, it is resilient. Elizabeth Achtemeier, says this about love: “Is closer to hard-eyed realism than simpering sentimentality.”

Christian love is not seeing the world through rose colored glasses.  It is not turning a blind eye to realities of life in a broken world.  It is the recognition that because the world is a horribly broken place, nothing less than love can change it. 

So Paul says to the Corinthians, “When I came to you…I did not come preaching to you in lofty words or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  Such an act is only understandable as an act of pure self-sacrificial love.

You see Jesus didn’t to proclaim some new philosophy.  He came to show in his living and dying the perfect embodiment of love.

There is no greater love than for someone to lay down his life for his friends, says Jesus.  Elsewhere Paul says, “Why, we might die for a righteous person but God shows his love for us in that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.”

There are those who think they know everything about Jesus, they know of his miracles and his preaching, what they don’t understand is that that he is love personified. 

There are folks who use the Bible like a blunt instrument with which to beat others over the head, people for whom Christianity is a way to separate, divide.  It is arrogant.  Without love the Christian faith can get ugly and cruel.

A professor of mine shared his story of being on a plane in the sixties and seated next to Dr. Martin Luther King.  He introduced himself to Dr. King and as their journey progressed he revealed to Dr. King that he was active in the Civil Rights struggle on his campus.  He related to Dr. King how this was wedge between him and his dad.  Because of his work he had become alienated from his father.   He told Dr. King how his father could not understand him and how they had grown apart.

“What can I do,” he asked Dr. King, “to raise the consciousness of my father, to make him see that he is a racist.

Dr. King put his hand on the young man’s hand and said, “Your father is doing the best he can.  He has not had many of the educational opportunities which your father has provided for you.  As a Christian, you must be patient with him and love him.” 

I remember a meeting where we working on ways to address hunger in our community, one woman was treated with such rudeness, that she left the meeting in tears. 

There are theologians who will tell you that most people can’t connect on the personal level of love.  They can only bring their concern to the systemic, to the global and they live under the misconception that social justice is more significant than one to one love.  How can we hope to do justice to our sister whom we haven’t seen when we can’t show love to our sister across the table? 

Jesus taught social justice on the grand scale as when he told the young ruler to sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor.  But more often He gave love lessons one to one.  The good Samaritan, one person taking care of another. 

It seems that contemporary Christians find it less threatening to address issues of social justice than to struggle to love one another.  Writing a check to a cause or working toward changing laws is so much easier than to touch one another with love.  If I write a check or sign a petition, I can act as if I am helping my neighbor while still keeping him at a distance.  I don’t have to look him in the eye.  I remain protected from any personal responsibility.  Justice, as tough as it is, demands less of us than love.  Love calls us to bind up the wounds, to touch the untouchable, to love the unlovable; to be fully present in the plight of those we claim to love.

Beloved, Christian love is not for wimps.  It isn’t easy.  It isn’t doing what comes naturally.  It is lifelong process of learning.  This pure self-sacrificing love is the only thing that separates us as Christians from the rest of world.  Love, of the kind that Paul describes here can only exist as one grows in Christ.  It is waking up every morning and asking God for the grace to help you love others, in spite of yourself.  I think everybody I know has a fit bit, you know that thing that looks like a watch, it tells you how you are eating, how you are sleeping, how many steps you take, are you meeting your health goals for that day.  We Christians have a love bit; that tells us how are we doing in loving one another.  If we listen, it is the Holy Spirit.  If you listen the Spirit will lead you to comfort those who mourn.  The Holy Spirit will show you a need for an act of kindness.  Tune your ears to your neighbor’s cry; enable you to rejoice with those who are rejoicing.  The Spirit will help you to pray for one another.  And we can check in with the Spirit and see how we are really doing.  “…greatest of these is love.”

Sermon       I Corinthians 13:1-13      “The Greatest of All is Love”    01/31/16

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

There is the story of the great actor and an old padre in a competition reciting the 23rd Psalm.  There was polite applause for the actor for his brilliant elocution.  Then it was the old padre’s turn, and he began; “The Lord is my shepherd…” by the time the old padre finished there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  The love he felt for God and for those sitting there filled the room.  Without love the greatest speech by the greatest orator is nothing more than a cymbal dropped on the floor during a symphony.

Pure, that is how I would describe this love that can make or break our speech.  Love without agenda or limitations, it is resilient. Elizabeth Achtemeier, says this about love: “Is closer to hard-eyed realism than simpering sentimentality.”

Christian love is not seeing the world through rose colored glasses.  It is not turning a blind eye to realities of life in a broken world.  It is the recognition that because the world is a horribly broken place, nothing less than love can change it. 

So Paul says to the Corinthians, “When I came to you…I did not come preaching to you in lofty words or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  Such an act is only understandable as an act of pure self-sacrificial love.

You see Jesus didn’t to proclaim some new philosophy.  He came to show in his living and dying the perfect embodiment of love.

There is no greater love than for someone to lay down his life for his friends, says Jesus.  Elsewhere Paul says, “Why, we might die for a righteous person but God shows his love for us in that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.”

There are those who think they know everything about Jesus, they know of his miracles and his preaching, what they don’t understand is that that he is love personified. 

There are folks who use the Bible like a blunt instrument with which to beat others over the head, people for whom Christianity is a way to separate, divide.  It is arrogant.  Without love the Christian faith can get ugly and cruel.

A professor of mine shared his story of being on a plane in the sixties and seated next to Dr. Martin Luther King.  He introduced himself to Dr. King and as their journey progressed he revealed to Dr. King that he was active in the Civil Rights struggle on his campus.  He related to Dr. King how this was wedge between him and his dad.  Because of his work he had become alienated from his father.   He told Dr. King how his father could not understand him and how they had grown apart.

“What can I do,” he asked Dr. King, “to raise the consciousness of my father, to make him see that he is a racist.

Dr. King put his hand on the young man’s hand and said, “Your father is doing the best he can.  He has not had many of the educational opportunities which your father has provided for you.  As a Christian, you must be patient with him and love him.” 

I remember a meeting where we working on ways to address hunger in our community, one woman was treated with such rudeness, that she left the meeting in tears. 

There are theologians who will tell you that most people can’t connect on the personal level of love.  They can only bring their concern to the systemic, to the global and they live under the misconception that social justice is more significant than one to one love.  How can we hope to do justice to our sister whom we haven’t seen when we can’t show love to our sister across the table? 

Jesus taught social justice on the grand scale as when he told the young ruler to sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor.  But more often He gave love lessons one to one.  The good Samaritan, one person taking care of another. 

It seems that contemporary Christians find it less threatening to address issues of social justice than to struggle to love one another.  Writing a check to a cause or working toward changing laws is so much easier than to touch one another with love.  If I write a check or sign a petition, I can act as if I am helping my neighbor while still keeping him at a distance.  I don’t have to look him in the eye.  I remain protected from any personal responsibility.  Justice, as tough as it is, demands less of us than love.  Love calls us to bind up the wounds, to touch the untouchable, to love the unlovable; to be fully present in the plight of those we claim to love.

Beloved, Christian love is not for wimps.  It isn’t easy.  It isn’t doing what comes naturally.  It is lifelong process of learning.  This pure self-sacrificing love is the only thing that separates us as Christians from the rest of world.  Love, of the kind that Paul describes here can only exist as one grows in Christ.  It is waking up every morning and asking God for the grace to help you love others, in spite of yourself.  I think everybody I know has a fit bit, you know that thing that looks like a watch, it tells you how you are eating, how you are sleeping, how many steps you take, are you meeting your health goals for that day.  We Christians have a love bit; that tells us how are we doing in loving one another.  If we listen, it is the Holy Spirit.  If you listen the Spirit will lead you to comfort those who mourn.  The Holy Spirit will show you a need for an act of kindness.  Tune your ears to your neighbor’s cry; enable you to rejoice with those who are rejoicing.  The Spirit will help you to pray for one another.  And we can check in with the Spirit and see how we are really doing.  “…greatest of these is love.”

Sermon       I Corinthians 13:1-13      “The Greatest of All is Love”    01/31/16

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

There is the story of the great actor and an old padre in a competition reciting the 23rd Psalm.  There was polite applause for the actor for his brilliant elocution.  Then it was the old padre’s turn, and he began; “The Lord is my shepherd…” by the time the old padre finished there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  The love he felt for God and for those sitting there filled the room.  Without love the greatest speech by the greatest orator is nothing more than a cymbal dropped on the floor during a symphony.

Pure, that is how I would describe this love that can make or break our speech.  Love without agenda or limitations, it is resilient. Elizabeth Achtemeier, says this about love: “Is closer to hard-eyed realism than simpering sentimentality.”

Christian love is not seeing the world through rose colored glasses.  It is not turning a blind eye to realities of life in a broken world.  It is the recognition that because the world is a horribly broken place, nothing less than love can change it. 

So Paul says to the Corinthians, “When I came to you…I did not come preaching to you in lofty words or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  Such an act is only understandable as an act of pure self-sacrificial love.

You see Jesus didn’t to proclaim some new philosophy.  He came to show in his living and dying the perfect embodiment of love.

There is no greater love than for someone to lay down his life for his friends, says Jesus.  Elsewhere Paul says, “Why, we might die for a righteous person but God shows his love for us in that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.”

There are those who think they know everything about Jesus, they know of his miracles and his preaching, what they don’t understand is that that he is love personified. 

There are folks who use the Bible like a blunt instrument with which to beat others over the head, people for whom Christianity is a way to separate, divide.  It is arrogant.  Without love the Christian faith can get ugly and cruel.

A professor of mine shared his story of being on a plane in the sixties and seated next to Dr. Martin Luther King.  He introduced himself to Dr. King and as their journey progressed he revealed to Dr. King that he was active in the Civil Rights struggle on his campus.  He related to Dr. King how this was wedge between him and his dad.  Because of his work he had become alienated from his father.   He told Dr. King how his father could not understand him and how they had grown apart.

“What can I do,” he asked Dr. King, “to raise the consciousness of my father, to make him see that he is a racist.

Dr. King put his hand on the young man’s hand and said, “Your father is doing the best he can.  He has not had many of the educational opportunities which your father has provided for you.  As a Christian, you must be patient with him and love him.” 

I remember a meeting where we working on ways to address hunger in our community, one woman was treated with such rudeness, that she left the meeting in tears. 

There are theologians who will tell you that most people can’t connect on the personal level of love.  They can only bring their concern to the systemic, to the global and they live under the misconception that social justice is more significant than one to one love.  How can we hope to do justice to our sister whom we haven’t seen when we can’t show love to our sister across the table? 

Jesus taught social justice on the grand scale as when he told the young ruler to sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor.  But more often He gave love lessons one to one.  The good Samaritan, one person taking care of another. 

It seems that contemporary Christians find it less threatening to address issues of social justice than to struggle to love one another.  Writing a check to a cause or working toward changing laws is so much easier than to touch one another with love.  If I write a check or sign a petition, I can act as if I am helping my neighbor while still keeping him at a distance.  I don’t have to look him in the eye.  I remain protected from any personal responsibility.  Justice, as tough as it is, demands less of us than love.  Love calls us to bind up the wounds, to touch the untouchable, to love the unlovable; to be fully present in the plight of those we claim to love.

Beloved, Christian love is not for wimps.  It isn’t easy.  It isn’t doing what comes naturally.  It is lifelong process of learning.  This pure self-sacrificing love is the only thing that separates us as Christians from the rest of world.  Love, of the kind that Paul describes here can only exist as one grows in Christ.  It is waking up every morning and asking God for the grace to help you love others, in spite of yourself.  I think everybody I know has a fit bit, you know that thing that looks like a watch, it tells you how you are eating, how you are sleeping, how many steps you take, are you meeting your health goals for that day.  We Christians have a love bit; that tells us how are we doing in loving one another.  If we listen, it is the Holy Spirit.  If you listen the Spirit will lead you to comfort those who mourn.  The Holy Spirit will show you a need for an act of kindness.  Tune your ears to your neighbor’s cry; enable you to rejoice with those who are rejoicing.  The Spirit will help you to pray for one another.  And we can check in with the Spirit and see how we are really doing.  “…greatest of these is love.

Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

 

 

Sermon      01/24/16     Luke 4:16-29, Nehemiah 8, “A Sacred, Ancient Book”

“He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news…”

This morning I am going to do something strange.  I am going to lead you in a radical, countercultural, subversive activity.  The problem is, you have seen this happen so many times that it no longer strikes you as strange.  I am going to go up into that pulpit and I am going to preach.  Before I do, I am going to read from a sacred ancient book.

Hear now the two-thousand-year old words of Luke 4:16-29 (please read these words in your own Bible)

I want you to think about the story I have just read. 

Jesus returns to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth.  What do they do?  They do not ask him how it has been for him in rabbinical school.  They do not say, “Jesus share with us from some of your racial, gender, cultural experiences.”  They do not inquire about the level of his self-esteem- these are Jews.  People of the Word.  They hand him a scroll.  They say read it.

Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news… good news…freedom for prisoners…recovery of sight for the blind…” 

A sense of vindication comes over the congregation.  At last God has heard our cry and is going to come and do something for us.  Lift the yoke of oppression bearing down on us by the Roman occupation.  Set things right.  Good news!

Jesus continues, “Now as I remember the story the last time God came for us, through the prophet Elijah, there were a lot of hungry women in Israel during the famine.  God’s prophet fed none of them.

And there were many sick people in Israel when prophet Elisha came for us.  Only Naaman, was healed.  Naaman, a Syrian, a Syrian army officer.  And the once adoring congregation was transformed just by the hearing of a sermon, into a murderous mob. 

It was no fun to come to be there that day, waiting hear God’s Word, waiting to hear about how God was coming for Israel.  Instead of being comforted, being disturbed by the very book that was supposed to be the good news.  As they dragged the preacher out of the pulpit, he said, “It’s in the book!  It’s in the Bible!”  It wasn’t fun to be reminded that God was a big, living, independent God who, having come to us before, working on behalf of others, is free to so again. 

We should hear an echo of Nehemiah 8 when we read Luke 4. 

The people in Nehemiah’s time wept when they heard again the long lost Word.  Here is Israel at its best.  Listening to the Word, the intrusive Word, aligning herself accordingly. 

That day when Jesus unrolled the scroll and preached what everyone had come to hear and no one expected to hear, namely, the Word of God, there was also a stirring in Nazareth just as there was a stirring of the hearts of those who gathered before the Water Gate in Jerusalem.

Nehemiah says that the people wept when confronted by the Word.  My question for you is:  Did they weep that day for joy or sadness?  It is possible that they wept for joy, for the joy of being reminded of who they were; to whom they belonged.  They were Jews, people of the Word, accountable not to racial or gender or cultural or emotional experiences but to the Word.

Yet when Jesus read and preached from Isaiah that day in Nazareth, Luke says there was rage, not joy, not sadness at the hearing of the Word but rage.  They wanted to kill the preacher, and eventually they did.  They killed him for delivering an intrusive Word from a living, independent, large God, a God who could not be put in a box.  A God brought near to us through little more than the mere unwrapping of a long-forgotten scroll, buried in a wall, and somebody with enough guts to tell it.  Did they hear the Word with joy or sadness or anger that day?

Theologian George Lindbeck reminds us that the Roman Empire was defeated by the church in less than four hundred years, using none of the means by which the Roman institutions established themselves.  Assaulting all that was dear to Roman hearts; family, gender, race, social class, economic discrimination, the church formed a people on nothing more than the Word which plowed through Roman institutions and values, creating as if ex nihilo, out of nothing, a new people where previously there had been none.  This was a seismic shift felt through the known world based on nothing more than the Word, the intrusive Word.

As Baptist Prophet Will Campbell says, the Word is our first offense and our last defense.

One of the most difficult and most important responsibilities I have as your pastor have is to create a congregation that is bold enough to hear the Word without killing the preacher for speaking it! 

Every time the scroll is unwrapped and the words, the godly words come forth, the adventure begins.  When God’s Word is spoken it does not return empty. 

Things change, lives are transformed, and God’s people are re-formed.  And for the millionth time in our history God’s Word has its way with us. 

When we share communion we have bread and the fruit of the vine.  We eat the bread in Jesus name.  Bread is something basic, when we were children it was called the “staff of life.”  We can’t live without it.

Yet Jesus, after fasting for forty days, starving for the lack of bread.  Satan came to him, offered him bread, all he wanted if he would but bow down and worship him.  And Jesus, having not eaten for forty days, physically starving, said, “We don’t live by bread, but by the Word of the Lord.” 

Beloved, we live only because of the Word.

Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

 

Sermon      John 2:1-11 “On the Third Day”        01/17/16

One of the things that fascinates me about our gospel reading this morning is that the real story is not the wine, the wine is a sign.  The real story is in the opening of our reading.  “On the third day…”  On the third day.  It seems just a bit information, telling us when Jesus went to the wedding.  It is such a small, little phrase, you might just skip right pass it.  But it is important to all that goes on in Cana that day.  Because on the third day, everything is changed.

Let’s unpack this a bit.  Let’s go back to the beginning.  Back to Genesis on the third day, God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.  God called the dry, “ground” and the gathered waters he called “seas.”  And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation; seed bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”  And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning; the third day.  On the third day everything changed.  It was the pivotal point in creation; when the seas and the lands were made ready to receive the creatures of God’s good creation.  Abundance showed up and extravagance came, on the third day.

My Aunt Marie was burned second and third degree burns over most of her body the night before her thirteenth birthday.  She had stood too near the potbellied stove and night gown went up in flames.  Granddaddy caught her rolled her on the floor.  She was taken to the hospital.  On the second day they sent her home, there is no hope they said.  Old Dr. Cochran came by the evening of the second day applied salve to her wounds and said if she makes through the night.  Because he knew it would be the third day, and on the third day everything changes.  Grandmother stayed at her side in prayer.  And on the third day; my Aunt healing began to replace pain, words came out the chaos of tears.  It was the third day.

And in this morning’s lesson there was a celebration, a wedding.  A lot of guests, friends and relatives coming in to congratulate the groom and honor the bride. 

The wine got low on second day and on the third day it ran out.  But the folks there didn’t know the importance of the third day; because on the third day, abundance showed up and extravagance walked through the door, because Jesus was in the house. 

Jesus told the servants; fill the purification jars with water.  There were six jars, 20 to 30 gallons each.  For our CPA’s and bookkeepers, it is 150 to 180 gallons of wine, really good wine.  1,600 glasses of really good wine.  This is abundance and extravagance on display.  Not only did he make more wine then was needed but the wine was better than what had been served at the beginning of the party.

It was the third day; there is a lot more going on here then the abundance wine.  It is nothing less than the proclamation of the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

He is letting his new disciples know that this ministry is going to be a ministry of abundance and extravagance.  In the future Christ will give them the practical; healing the sick; teaching love and forgiveness, opening the eyes of the blind and raising the dead, but the foundation was abundance and extravagance.  Love and mercy.

In his first lesson, on the third day is in Jesus’ own words in KJV; “I am come that they may have life and that they might have it more abundantly.”  That abundance is a gift of God.  In Genesis, before God filled the earth with creatures he provided for them abundance; trees and plants and fruits.  This is the God from whom all blessings flow.  God wants us to know that his steadfast love and grace reach from the highest heavens to the greatest deeps.  That all is his and all is ours. 

This is what Jesus wanted his new followers and us to know.  We have a creator whose love and concern is extended to all his creation.  Life itself is a gift from God and nurtured by God.

The gifts of Jesus are not limited to meeting the needs of the moment for health or safety, shelter or food.  We are reminded in this morning’s gospel, the gifts that Jesus brings encompass the celebration of life itself.  That is to say, the sheer abundance of the gifts Jesus brings to humankind extends beyond what any person can ask or think or comprehend.

From the moment Jesus set foot on the earth, there was abundance and extravagance; things broke forth, broke out and overflowed.  Angels sang, wine flowed, the loaves and the fish multiplied.  The sick healed, sins forgiven and the dead raised.

When Jesus sets foot in our life; when he comes among us, there is abundance; there is the abundance of love, abundance of glory.  It is a remarkable epiphany, a huge change in our lives.  Where once death held sway, now eternal life is the crown we wear.

And happens on the third day; that’s how it happened on Easter.  “And on the third day he arose.”  On the third day everything changed.

The jars are filled to the brim.  There is no caution.  No careful restraint in this story.  Jesus just shows up at a wedding reception and there is this miraculous effervescence of glory, this overflowing abundance, this extravagance of joy.

This is quite a proclamation and it can create problems not because we are too sophisticated too educated and scientific, but because we can be too careful, too cautious, too restrained.  We err on the side of caution.  People don’t make sweeping changes in their lives.  And we really don’t ask big things of God.  We keep our faith safely to ourselves, safely tucked away in the sanctuaries of our churches.  We keep our praise and prayer chastened, cautious and careful.  Not too much exuberance. 

Perhaps it is because we limit our God by our imaginations.  We see our God as no bigger than we can imagine. 

But what if, what if this Sunday’s gospel is really true?  What if our God really is that big?  What if our God really is the God of abundance and extravagance?  Jesus comes to a party in Cana, out in Galilee.  When the wine runs out, he tells them to fill up the large stone jars with water.  When they do the water is turned in to wine; lots and lots of very good wine. 

What if we really believed that when life is filled with scarcity, we can ask God for abundance?  What if really believed when we feel too cautious we can ask God for extravagance?  What if we really believed when life is filled with sadness we can ask for joy?  What if we really believed when life is filled with fear we can ask for daring? 

Does not Jesus say to us; “Which of you, if his son asks for bread will give him a stone?  If you then…know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?

Let us pray, Gracious God give us boldness; give us the desire to see your great ventures and remarkable feats instead of settling for a God that fits into our little world.  in Jesus name. 

 

Sermon      John 2:1-11 “On the Third Day”        01/17/16

One of the things that fascinates me about our gospel reading this morning is that the real story is not the wine, the wine is a sign.  The real story is in the opening of our reading.  “On the third day…”  On the third day.  It seems just a bit information, telling us when Jesus went to the wedding.  It is such a small, little phrase, you might just skip right pass it.  But it is important to all that goes on in Cana that day.  Because on the third day, everything is changed.

Let’s unpack this a bit.  Let’s go back to the beginning.  Back to Genesis on the third day, God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.  God called the dry, “ground” and the gathered waters he called “seas.”  And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation; seed bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”  And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning; the third day.  On the third day everything changed.  It was the pivotal point in creation; when the seas and the lands were made ready to receive the creatures of God’s good creation.  Abundance showed up and extravagance came, on the third day.

My Aunt Marie was burned second and third degree burns over most of her body the night before her thirteenth birthday.  She had stood too near the potbellied stove and night gown went up in flames.  Granddaddy caught her rolled her on the floor.  She was taken to the hospital.  On the second day they sent her home, there is no hope they said.  Old Dr. Cochran came by the evening of the second day applied salve to her wounds and said if she makes through the night.  Because he knew it would be the third day, and on the third day everything changes.  Grandmother stayed at her side in prayer.  And on the third day; my Aunt healing began to replace pain, words came out the chaos of tears.  It was the third day.

And in this morning’s lesson there was a celebration, a wedding.  A lot of guests, friends and relatives coming in to congratulate the groom and honor the bride. 

The wine got low on second day and on the third day it ran out.  But the folks there didn’t know the importance of the third day; because on the third day, abundance showed up and extravagance walked through the door, because Jesus was in the house. 

Jesus told the servants; fill the purification jars with water.  There were six jars, 20 to 30 gallons each.  For our CPA’s and bookkeepers, it is 150 to 180 gallons of wine, really good wine.  1,600 glasses of really good wine.  This is abundance and extravagance on display.  Not only did he make more wine then was needed but the wine was better than what had been served at the beginning of the party.

It was the third day; there is a lot more going on here then the abundance wine.  It is nothing less than the proclamation of the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

He is letting his new disciples know that this ministry is going to be a ministry of abundance and extravagance.  In the future Christ will give them the practical; healing the sick; teaching love and forgiveness, opening the eyes of the blind and raising the dead, but the foundation was abundance and extravagance.  Love and mercy.

In his first lesson, on the third day is in Jesus’ own words in KJV; “I am come that they may have life and that they might have it more abundantly.”  That abundance is a gift of God.  In Genesis, before God filled the earth with creatures he provided for them abundance; trees and plants and fruits.  This is the God from whom all blessings flow.  God wants us to know that his steadfast love and grace reach from the highest heavens to the greatest deeps.  That all is his and all is ours. 

This is what Jesus wanted his new followers and us to know.  We have a creator whose love and concern is extended to all his creation.  Life itself is a gift from God and nurtured by God.

The gifts of Jesus are not limited to meeting the needs of the moment for health or safety, shelter or food.  We are reminded in this morning’s gospel, the gifts that Jesus brings encompass the celebration of life itself.  That is to say, the sheer abundance of the gifts Jesus brings to humankind extends beyond what any person can ask or think or comprehend.

From the moment Jesus set foot on the earth, there was abundance and extravagance; things broke forth, broke out and overflowed.  Angels sang, wine flowed, the loaves and the fish multiplied.  The sick healed, sins forgiven and the dead raised.

When Jesus sets foot in our life; when he comes among us, there is abundance; there is the abundance of love, abundance of glory.  It is a remarkable epiphany, a huge change in our lives.  Where once death held sway, now eternal life is the crown we wear.

And happens on the third day; that’s how it happened on Easter.  “And on the third day he arose.”  On the third day everything changed.

The jars are filled to the brim.  There is no caution.  No careful restraint in this story.  Jesus just shows up at a wedding reception and there is this miraculous effervescence of glory, this overflowing abundance, this extravagance of joy.

This is quite a proclamation and it can create problems not because we are too sophisticated too educated and scientific, but because we can be too careful, too cautious, too restrained.  We err on the side of caution.  People don’t make sweeping changes in their lives.  And we really don’t ask big things of God.  We keep our faith safely to ourselves, safely tucked away in the sanctuaries of our churches.  We keep our praise and prayer chastened, cautious and careful.  Not too much exuberance. 

Perhaps it is because we limit our God by our imaginations.  We see our God as no bigger than we can imagine. 

But what if, what if this Sunday’s gospel is really true?  What if our God really is that big?  What if our God really is the God of abundance and extravagance?  Jesus comes to a party in Cana, out in Galilee.  When the wine runs out, he tells them to fill up the large stone jars with water.  When they do the water is turned in to wine; lots and lots of very good wine. 

What if we really believed that when life is filled with scarcity, we can ask God for abundance?  What if really believed when we feel too cautious we can ask God for extravagance?  What if we really believed when life is filled with sadness we can ask for joy?  What if we really believed when life is filled with fear we can ask for daring? 

Does not Jesus say to us; “Which of you, if his son asks for bread will give him a stone?  If you then…know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?

Let us pray, Gracious God give us boldness; give us the desire to see your great ventures and remarkable feats instead of settling for a God that fits into our little world.  in Jesus name. 

May you be blessed by our sermon.

​Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

 

 

 

the motions

and really being alive. 

As we end the year together, I invite you to begin a journey in gratitude. 

Each of you has a card and a pencil. 

Just relax, think back over the year and as something comes to mind,

note it on your card. 

In a little bit, the ushers will collect and bring forward your notes. 

Some special music by Louisa.

The Abrahamic faiths all agree that gratitude is essential. 

There is a Jewish proverb that says we will never know all that we should be grateful to God for.

The Koran says that if you count God's blessings, you will not be able to number them.

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians reminds us; “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Did you catch that? Give thanks in all circumstances. Thankfulness should be a way of life for us, naturally flowing from our hearts and mouths.

The habit of gratitude can greatly help with feelings of inner peace, increase your mindfulness, and help you to see all that is good in our lives.

Let’s look at what some of you wrote.

Life: It is the most basic gift.  Each of our lives is a gift: a gift given to us. We ourselves are not a life, but rather are recipients of life, receptacles of life, vessels of life--cups into which life is poured. Life itself is holy. Life itself is divine. 

The gospel writer John gave us these words, “10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  We give thanks for the gift of life.

Family: I see lots of notes about family; spouses, children.  Although the family has changed since Jesus time, most people no longer live communally with generations living in close quarters.  The principle for family remains the same.  The family was created to provide companionship.  It is written in Genesis that man should not live alone.  Regardless of make-up of a family, be they brought together by blood or bond it is a gift of God for which we give thanks.

The goodness of God:  Psalm 136:1 says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” Here we have two reasons to be thankful: God’s constant goodness and His steadfast love.  God’s goodness and His steadfast love, His grace; are the basis of our hope and a gift that calls us to gratitude.

Friendship: In the gospel of John Jesus said these words; “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

C. S. Lewis: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”  We give thanks for the gift of friendship.

Health: Isaiah 53, gives us this hope:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  Isaiah is speaking of Jesus, who came for each of us.  For the gift of health both physical and spiritual we give thanks.

Church: for me, the passage that means the most regarding church is in Matthew, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.”

Having Jesus among us makes our time together in church a time of grace, love and hope.  We give thanks for the church; for its worship, mission and fellowship.

I invite each of you to keep a gratitude journal.  It is true that writing down each evening three things for which you are grateful can change your life in profound and beautiful ways.

Because when you write something down you begin to consider it.  It is no longer merely an event, just something that happened; you understand it as a gift. When we are going about our daily routine we tend to overlook the gifts we receive because we are focused on accomplishing our tasks for that day.  By writing it down, we say to ourselves; “Ah! A gift!”  You know God has planted, and sprinkled gifts throughout our day just because he knows we need that sort of encouragement.  But in order to receive the encouragement from the gift, we need to recognize the gift.  A gift can be small as the beauty of a sunset or as huge as the return of a prodigal.  A gift is not known by its size, but by the giver, the God of heaven and earth.

By writing it down you are acknowledging the gift. Acknowledging a gift means that we have come to the understanding that there is something outside of ourselves.  A gift does not come from our own self.   This is powerful the allowing of something outside ourselves come in. It means you are letting someone or something to touch your heart, you being moved by the goodness around you.  It changes you, it softens your heart.  It opens your spirit to the gifts that God sprinkles and plants along our path.

And finally by writing it down you are accepting the gift with your whole heart. You are saying not only thank you but "yes!"  Yes, I know there is a God, a God who loves me right where I am. 

Being grateful does not protect us from rejection, pain, or sorrow; it doesn't protect us from any of that. But if we are able to incorporate gratitude into our basic attitude toward life and make it a part of the ground of our being, it gives us another way of responding to what is going on in our lives. When those painful or sad feelings are happening, they are not all that's happening. Counting our blessings does not mean that we no longer feel the grief that we feel, or the confusion, or the sorrow. It means we are feeling all of that, and we are also feeling a sense of warmth, peace, and connection.

Prayer

O Lord, like a piece of grit in our eye or a grumbling in our stomach, we notice when small things go wrong. Yet as with a healthy, pain-free body, we often forget to remember and be grateful for the thousands, the millions of things that go right each day and each moment. Help us to take our focus away from the grit and the grumbling, and focus instead on the incredible gifts we are receiving both when we are feeling pain and when we are enjoying the beauties and wonders of our bodies, our minds, our friends and families, and especially, of your presence in our lives. Amen.

​Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie

 

 

Sermon Micah 5:2-5a, "Who Would Have Ever Thought?" 12/20/15

The Southern Kingdom of Judah was in a state of turmoil.  The landowners, and the religious and political leaders had abused their powers.  Micah says they, “conspired to do evil.”  They sought after and defrauded people of their property.  The stole and plundered.  They “hated good and loved evil.”  They despised justice and distorted the truth.  Bribery was the way to get things done.  Religious leaders used their positions for profit.  The powerful engaged in dishonest business practices.  It had come to the point where those in power acted with violence and deceit, murdering their own people. 

It was a time of controversy and fear in light of work of Isaiah in the north and the what had happened to the Northern Kingdom.

This is the backdrop for the prophecies of Micah.  Declaring that God would bring disaster upon Samaria and Jerusalem.  Promising the greedy landowners and the corrupt leaders and false prophets would have pay for their violence, arrogance, and sense of entitlement. 

During this holy season of Advent, we need to look at God’s actions in the midst of the peoples’ despair.  Micah is reminding the people that although there will be judgment, God will bring forth from that judgment hope.  A hope that will not only bring God’s peace to Judah but to the entire world.  Right in the middle of all this prophecy of judgment comes Micah’s message announcing God’s promise of a hope in the future.

Micah makes it clear that this promised new ruler will come out of the least of places, Bethlehem. 

God is reminding us what God can do with the least likely.  What we read this morning reminds us of what God can do with very little.  We need to remember that as we watch and wait that God is at work in places and through people we least expect.  As we look back we can see how many times God has used the least to accomplish His grand plan for the world. 

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.

And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.  And he will be our peace.”

In Viktor E. Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he tells a story that illustrates how God show up in the strangest and most unexpected ways.  Mr. Frankl was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII.  He tells of how he and some other prisoners were moved on a work detail from Auschwitz to a Bavarian work camp.

“One evening when we were already resting on the floor of our hut, dead tired, soup bowls in hand, a fellow prisoner rushed in and asked us to run out to the assembly grounds and see the wonderful sunset.  Standing outside we saw sinister clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of ever-changing shapes and colors, from steel blue to blood red.  The desolate gray mud huts provided a sharp contrast, while the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky.  Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, ‘How beautiful the world could be.’”

This is the message of Micah in the face of despair and impending doom.  Micah reminds the people of God that somehow, someway, God will once again redeem and reclaim that which is broken, lost, hurt, wounded, destroyed.  Even in the midst of death and dying, through a sunset, God reminded a group of prisoners not to give up hope, for indeed the world could be beautiful!

We are the Advent people who need to hear once again that hope is possible through the constant, loving, redeeming work of God.  Our watching and waiting this season needs to be focused where we many times forget to look.  It is such a paradox that during Christmas when we should be celebrating all that is right with the world, it becomes so easy to lose ourselves and lose sight of what is important.  We get caught up in the fear mongering of our politicians and the 24 news cycle.  We feel the pressure of ridiculous self-imposed deadlines and expectation.  We are tied to traditions that have long since lost their meaning. 

Micah reminds all of us to look to Bethlehem for our future hope.  Who would have ever thought to look to Bethlehem.

Blessings and love,
Pastor Dottie
 

 

 

 

12/13/15

There is no sermon this morning, this is our Intergenerational Musical Celebration of the coming of the Christ Child.

I do have some thoughts to share with you.  This is the Sunday of Love in lighting of the Advent Candles.

John, writer of the gospel is traditionally believed to be the only apostle not martyred.   He continued preaching well into old age.  When he was too infirmed to step into the pulpit of his own accord he would be helped into the pulpit by two men.  His sermon was this; "Brothers and sister, love one another,"  then he would go and sit down.  My prayer for you this day, my brothers and sisters is that you love one another. 

Blessings and love,

Pastor Dottie 

Sermon  "The Messenger  Malachi 3:1-4  12/06/15

Are you ready?  Ready for the special guest who is coming?  Have you cleaned and prepared?  You say your tree is up, and you are almost ready.  But what are you ready for? 

What if Jesus shows up at your house?  Are you ready for that?  If he shows up are you ready to hear him.  Not to merely listen, but to hear him.

The twentieth century British mystic Evelyn Underhill wrote a lovely little reflection entitled the “House of the Soul.”  She notes that the spiritual life mirrors rather easily our daily lives, the house reflects the spirit of its inhabitant.  Much as your physical home reflects your personality. 

She visits the soul’s house, pointing out darkness, light, unexamined storage, decoration, frayed edges and dust.  Painful memories, joyful ponderings. 

We have infinite ways of hiding our mess, even clever clutter attempts to cover it for others and ourselves.  I am sure some of you remember hiding dishes in the oven when a guest was coming on short notice.  It is the same with our spirits.  We wear a smile and act successful.  The messenger sees beneath the surface.  “Company’s coming and we have work to do.” 

Getting ready for Jesus demands our full attention, and we rarely give anything our full attention.  Multitasking is the way we survive in this world; we look at e-mail, while we answer the phone, we do chores while listen to the radio, we pray while we are driving, we watch television while we eat dinner.  We feel constant pressure to produce.  Being able to do one thing at a time isn’t enough anymore. 

The messenger sees beyond the demands of this world.  “Company’s coming and we have work to do.” 

This is the role of the messenger; to settle our wandering spirits.  To turn our eyes homeward, and to help us perceive what needs clearing out, hauling away, refurbishing.  How will our spiritual houses be renewed? 

When we begin to ask this question it is a sign that we are hearing the message.  We all know our shortcomings and our distractions, our egos and our misuse of love and our selfishness.  The great Purifier will work clearing away those things that distract us.  It can only happen at our invitation.  We must be still, open our hearts to receive.  One thing at a time.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” we sing, not even aware of how to begin to make our homes presentable for such meaningful company.  In that case, the Messenger reminds us; settle down, look inward and prepare yourselves!  We have to want the purifying, we have to open our hearts to it, and to commit to faithful pursuit of the goal of loving God with our whole selves.  We must give ourselves to this love alone, for love’s own sake.

Many of us pray while driving or doing some other chores vacuuming or washing the dishes.  Do we ever pray in totally focused manner for an uninterrupted time?  Do we give God honor through the purity of doing one thing at a time?  Those asking for the presence of Jesus must prepare for it.  Ready themselves for the gift of grace, make room for it in the midst of much life clutter, activity and stuff.

So you want to invite Jesus into your heart?  Is there room there? 

I have a story to share with you.  A jeweler traveled to study with a Chinese jade master.  On the first day of training the master blindfolded him, put a stone in his hand, and said: “This is jade,” and departed.  The next day the master blindfolded him, put a stone in his hand, and said, “This is jade.”  The days, weeks, months went by.  One day the master placed a stone in his hand, and the blindfolded student blurted out, “I came to learn jade from you, the master who know so much.  For months you simply set stones in my hand in darkness.  I have had enough!  And today of all days this stone is not even jade.”  The master removed the blindfold and, smiling said, “Your lessons are done, you may go now.”

The messenger calls each of us to the truest of loves and relationship to the Holy One and with one another.  We will know it fully by training, by exposure to it, in the simplicity of its practice.  Unlike the student of jade, we never finish mastering that love, creating that relationship.  Never completely de-clutter and purify our spirits.  But as we make ready again and again for the coming of Christ.  Love Incarnate in our world, in our hearts.  The messenger cries, “Prepare the way of the Lord, Make the path straight.”  And every year we make the way a little clearer the path a little straighter, thanks be to God.

Blessings and love,
Pastor Dottie
 

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon      “Pre-Christmas Sale Hope” Jeremiah 33:14-16    11/29/15

Advent, this is the time when we as Christians look to the future, a future filled with hope.  Steven Sondheim wrote a song for the musical “Westside Story.”  As the character sings you feel the urgency and hope building, “Could be! Who knows?  There's something due any day; I will know right away, Soon as it shows, soon as it shows.  Bright as a rose...  That is what Advent is all about.  Joyful, urgent anticipation.   Think of the joyful anticipation of summer vacation for a kid.  Or giddy excitement of the bride and groom on their wedding day.  These events have us alert, excited, filled with hope.

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. 

16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.

This is the name by which it[a] will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

This is the first Sunday of Advent.  It is the Hope Sunday.  It sets the tone for the season.  The very reason for this season is hope, hope because someone is coming.  The words of Steven Sondheim have a sense of urgency pulling you into the character’s joyful hope.  Our own experience reminds us that there is joy in waiting. 

We listen to words of the prophet Jeremiah.  Jeremiah’s words are different.  His words are spoken to a people in exile.  They are given to a people filled with despair meant to fill them with hope: “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.”  The name of this one soon to come is “Righteousness.”

In Advent, we proclaim the approaching righteousness of God. 

As Christians it is a joy filled proclamation because it is a real source of hope.  Without hope for ourselves our families, the world, our lives become bleak and dark.  Looking forward to what God is going to do uplifts is and gives us strength for faithful and fruitful living.

The interesting thing about this forward looking, this anticipation is that it is accomplished by looking back.  By remembering, remembering the glory days of Israel under King David’s leadership.  From our remembering we have a feeling there’s a miracle due, “a righteous Branch” that will spring forth.

This is not remembering in the historical sense.  Not a series of dates and places.  This is remembering based in those events that transform us and our lives.  Summer vacations and weddings.  The memory of a lover’s first kiss.  The memory of child returning home after too long an absence.  The memory of a word of forgiveness for some wrong committed.  The power of those memories can make us laugh, they can make us cry.  They can bring comfort to us on long lonely night.  We tell our stories over and over again and again because each time we tell our story we relive the story; such is the power of memory in our lives.

Each year the season of Advent calls each of us and all of us to prepare for the miracle, to prepare for the visit of God’s righteousness and our salvation. 

Prepare for the light that will pierce the darkness of our lives the light the darkness cannot overcome.  Our Christian call during this season is to look forward to that which God will do to bring grace, mercy and love to all people.  We are preparing for the experience of the stable in Bethlehem; which brings together, “the hopes and fears of all the years,” in the words written by Phillips Brooks as he remembered his time in Bethlehem in a poem, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” 

But understand, hope is never easy.  It requires great energy and strength of faith.  We know this is true.  Because when we face a desperate situation it is only hope that will bring us through.  Jeremiah draws on the deep energy and strength of his own faith as he proclaims, “The days are coming.”  Jeremiah’s was a difficult ministry because he was speaking to a people who had lost all hope.  We’ve seen the pictures of modern day exiles in camps, lives on hold.  No job to go to, no autonomy.  Exiles in a strange land do not find hope easily.  Into this condition of lostness, the prophet dares to speak God’s word of hope.  He calls the people to envision the hopeful newness that will come to pass because of God’s salvation. 

Like Jeremiah of old, Christians must draw on their energy and strength of faith as we offer to the world filled with fear and despair a vision of the newness that God brings in the birth of Christ. Our proclamation must be so bold that our anticipation can be believed without hesitation.  Our hope for the future must overcome any darkness of the present. 

“The days are coming,” and we must make ready.   The light that the world cannot extinguish is coming.  So, lift your heads and let your hearts be strengthened.  God is doing a new thing and to us has come the joyous and holy task of helping the world get ready for the most blessed event of history.

Blessings and love,
Pastor Dottie
 

 

 

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