How Did You Know?

How did you know God?
That if allowed, we would sit in eternal spring
and listen to the birds
and watch the world green up
Because we prefer birth and color and song
to change and pain and death

How did you know God?
That We would need to learn over and over
That everything in our lives is for a season
Including our life, including all life
That the new growth of spring
Is part of the cycle of Your creation plan

How did You know God?
That to live we would need warmth
Light pouring down to lead us
Rain pouring down to grow us
Growth that produces seeds
For another season, for a greater garden

How did You know God?
That like the trees, there would be things
We would need to let go of
like so many golden leaves
learning to trust in the changes
As Your wind blows cooler

How did You know God?
That planted seeds would need time
of silence and quiet, a preparation pause
blanketed and still, letting You move
as You slowly warm frozen soil
and crack hard shells

How did You know God?
That we would need these lessons
From Your creation to see
the cycles and seasons of our lives
That to be alive is to change
That to grow to You IS life

We thank you Father, for Your creation and especially for each other. We thank You for a faith that helps us lean in to the changes You would have us walk through and for a community that helps us hold each other by the hand as we do this walk together. Most of all, we thank You for the promise and the hope that we have because of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

Sunday, September 5th, 2021

Old Testament Reading

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all. Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the LORD pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.

Epistle Reading

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17

2:1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Gospel Reading

Mark 7:24-37

7:24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go–the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Sermon

Our scripture readings do not always fit together the way the readings for today do. You can see a thread running all the way through. Proverbs tells us that what we do says a lot about who we are, whether we are rich or poor, but particularly those of us who are blessed with more than enough.

The book of James seems to be speaking to how new people in the church are to live and reminding the jewish Christians that, yes, God does care.

If you grew up in the Jewish faith, you learned the Law of Moses, your entire life, doing good works, and doing the best you can, to observe the law.

Then Jesus happens and His birth, life, death, and resurrection, changes everything. All that is required of you is to believe in Him. Suddenly there are all these new people from different faith backgrounds who don’t keep the sabbath, don’t know the rules, and the Jewish Christians might be wondering if God cares about any of that any more.  James addresses this issue.

John 8:36 says “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” And James doesn’t dispute that. If anything, he expands upon it. There is a central theme running through James and if you read the entire book of James through the filter of this verse, then the picture becomes a little clearer. James 1:22 “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”

We know we are not saved by works but through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the cross is what changes us and how we live is to reflect that change. If we go to church every Sunday but we do not love our neighbor as ourselves we are convicted of sin. I look out and I see some of the kindest people I have ever met and yet I know there is not a single one of us that has not had at least a moment when we snapped at someone, or at the very least, not done something for someone else when we had the opportunity. James is telling us that we cannot look at someone else and say they are a sinner. We can’t say I may not be perfect but at least I am not as bad as Jimmy over there (sorry). No, we are all sinners and we all have need of a savior. 

It’s always kind of interesting to me that this kind of text is speaking to the church. I think that is so very important. Because we (the church) are to be salt and light in the world. Jesus draws others to Him but it is our lives that point people to Him or turn people away from Him. Does God need us to accomplish His purpose? No. But God chooses to include us. If God himself chooses to act through humanity, who are we to say this one is worthy or that one is not worthy? Because, none of us are worthy, only through Jesus. Only through Jesus.

Then we come to this text in Mark. I admit that this text gave me fits. We talked about it at Monday morning bible study. The pastor’s commentary said that in the verses before this, Jesus is teaching. In this verse Jesus is doing what He was teaching. I can understand that. 

But for me, there is no way of getting around the sound of Jesus’ words. It sounded, well, rude. And that doesn’t fit with Jesus who heals people and loves the little children. 

I feel like when we run across a text that kind of jars us, we are supposed to pay attention. I read several commentaries and there are a lot of opinions.

But here is where I ended up and it didn’t come from commentaries. It didn’t come from any smart theologions and it may not be a correct interpretation, but here is where I am.

We are taught that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.

I have been going for early morning walks around the neighborhood. I put in my ear buds and listen to music and I pray over my neighborhood and sometimes, just enjoy the peace. I wave at people.

I have not able to do my walk for about a week. We had a string of early doctor visits and  other things came up but Saturday morning I got up and drank my coffee and because of being out of the habit, I was very tempted to just do some things around the house and skip the walk, but I didn’t. 

I passed a man who was edging and I waved and said “your yard looks beautiful!” and continued on my walk. When I got to the bend in the street I turned and started back and the man was still working on his yard. I had the strongest notion that I needed to stop but I kept walking for a bit. But the notion just got stronger so I stopped and turned around. I do not know this man. But he turned off the edger and put his fist out toward me like we would fist bump. Instead of bumping his fist I put my hand out and asked if he would pray with me. He said yes and I put my hand on this strangers arm and we prayed for our world to be healed, for us all to keep our eyes on Jesus. I said amen and we both looked each other in the eye and had a moment. Told each other to have a good day and he went back to edging and I went back to my walking. I finished my walk and got home and told Dale about it. I cried a bit because it has just been an emotional week but it was a good moment. 

Now I have to tell you that I have prayed at church, I have prayed before meals at bible study and I have prayed at CR, but to just walk up to someone I don’t know…that is a little out of my wheelhouse. I am usually kind of awkward with strangers. I don’t know what to say.

But the part that I want you to notice is that for a moment, I kept walking. God was telling me to stop and I was not stopping. But then I did. My feet were walking on earth. but I think heaven was tapping on my shoulder. I don’t know if that man needed prayer or if God knew I needed prayer. I may have walked off and left him shaking his head about the crazy woman that stopped and prayed. But I don’t think so. He said several Amens. It was such a humbling experience. 

So I thought about this for the rest of my walk and it hit me that maybe, just maybe, when the Syrophoenician women approached Jesus out of a mother’s fierce desperation to help her child,  Jesus was having a human moment. He had been teaching and preaching and healing and He had gone to an area where He might be a little less known. He may have been weary of all the sadness and pain around him. Maybe He needed a minute.  Maybe Jesus was learning for the first time that God wanted to expand His plan beyond the children of Israel. 

And just maybe Jesus responded in that moment, like we often do, out of His humanity. 

Through this woman, God kept tapping on His shoulder.

Because of her determination, Jesus responded. It’s a sign of His power that He didn’t even need to go to the woman’s house, and by healing this child of a gentile woman, He also set himself up for more problems with the religious leaders. It is also worth mentioning that this woman saw something in Jesus that made her believe that all she needed was a crumb from the table. Just a tiny bit of the healing power from Jesus and that would be enough.

In the second story, Jesus heals a deaf and dumb man. We are not told specifically that this man or his friends were gentiles but the Decapolis region was predominantly gentile so it is quite possible that he was a gentile and even though Jesus instructed the people who witnessed the healing to tell no one, the word spread and because of that encounter there were new gentile believers.

There is a quote from Rachel Held Evans that I love “Scripture nearly always works on at least three levels. Scripture teaches us, challenges us, encourages us in our relationship with the divine, with our neighbor, and with ourselves.”

Gentiles were anyone who was not Jewish. They were other. Gentiles are us. Which is kind of odd to think about nowadays. Because we tend to think that we Christians are the norm and anyone who does not believe like us is “other”.

What would have happened if Jesus had kept walking? What if Jesus had ignored the tap on His shoulder. Because of that encounter, healing took place, The gospel was spread. People were changed.

James reminds us that if we say we are followers of Jesus Christ, how we live and how we treat each other matters. He tells us that the best and truest response to the cross, is to love our neighbor as ourselves, no matter what they look like, no matter what they have, or don’t have. Proverbs tells us that those who are generous are blessed!

How often do we keep walking? How often do we ignore that little tap on the shoulder or nudge to do something that lets a little of the Kingdom, or “Kin-dom” peek through into our world? 

What might happen if we listened? What might happen if we paid attention to that tap on the shoulder, even when it seems that God is asking us to do something that seems weird or makes us uncomfortable, because often there is where a blessing happens. When we draw near to God, He draws near to us! For me, the worst that could happen is someone will think I am a crazy lady and if you know me, you know that is not really a surprise. Amen? Amen!

First United Methodist Church Commerce Texas July 25, 2021

Scripture Ephesians 3:14-21

3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,

from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

This the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

Message

I am so thankful that Sam invited me to come share with you today.  I attend Powderly United Methodist Church. I am in the rotation of lay speakers as we are part of the North Lamar Parish which consists of four churches, so while Powderly is my home church, I get to love on four congregations and we all get to hear the perspectives of several different speakers.

It almost makes me wish I was speaking on last weeks’ text from 2nd Samuel.  If you remember, the reading was about how David wanted to build a temple for the Lord but the Lord said um, no thanks David. I have been with you and my people all along without a temple. But I will make YOU a house. God makes a covenant with David. This story foreshadows the coming messiah but it is also a picture for me of how God goes with us, no matter where ministry happens.  

Sam has been both my pastor and friend, so it is especially sweet to be speaking here this morning. My current pastor, Mark Hutchison, has been an encourager and nudged me to get out of my comfort zone and start speaking. 

I have been blessed with pastors like Sam who always modeled the grace of God to me and Mark who has modeled servanthood. I have been prayed over by my pastors and I have prayed for them. 

In our text from Ephesians today, Paul prays for the church. 

The letter is addressed to the church at Ephesus, but it is such a good prayer for us as the church, today as well.

Paul knew too well from his own life, that becoming a follower of Jesus does not mean we will not face hard things. On the contrary, it is kind of built in isn’t it? There are some things that we could not walk through without the help of the Holy Spirit. 

How amazing is it, that we all bring our little gifts and God multiplies and uses them in ways we could never dream of!  The church at Ephesus had some problems, as all churches do. They only see their church and their issues. We know that Paul had planted several churches and was committed to the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who was crucified, dead, buried and rose again, for the redemption of the whole world, that all of humankind, could be reconciled with God.

How often do we focus on our individual situation without seeing the big picture? But God sees.   My husband is a kidney transplant recipient. He is the middle child with two older and two younger sisters. When he was born, my mother-in-law was done. In her mind, her little family was complete. God had other ideas and along with raising five kids on a game warden’s salary, she also cared for an ailing mother-in-law who was a little contentious. She very much loved all of her children, but I am also sure she had moments when she wondered about God’s plan. There were some tough times!

She passed away several years before my husband went into kidney failure. He was blessed to have a live donor. His youngest sister, the last baby born, donated a kidney. God had a plan in place for a problem that didn’t even exist yet! Mother died without seeing the entire picture. The sister who gave the kidney, had a gift to give that no one else could give. His transplant was 13 years ago and in that time, he has seen both of our kids graduate, get married, and three grandchildren be born. 

So sometimes, like my mother-in-law, we do not get to see the whole picture. Sometimes, what seems like an inexplicable cross we have to bear, is the answer to someone else’s prayer, and while we would very much like to see that end result because we want to know that the places and situations that we are called to walk through in this life have a reason, have meaning – sometimes we are called just to trust God. In those times, it is our faith that keeps us walking, even when we can’t see the path. 

I am a question asking, Jesus seeking, answer needing human but sometimes, God is silent and I have to hush and just trust that God is working. 

So my husband’s mother never knew that the last unplanned surprise baby, would be the person who could give him the gift of life. 

When my husband was in the hospital he had a time when he just was so unsettled. He told me that he just did not have a peace about getting this kidney. It weighed heavy on him, that his baby sister would be left with only one. What if something happened to that kidney? He worried about her health. We had a conversation about what if it wasn’t about him? What if it was about  God working in her life. We only see our little part. 

Then there are times, when we do see the fruit of things that happen in life. When I retired, I thought I was sort of finished. I could take it easy. Enjoy those golden years. We all know about those golden years right? It means your gold is going to go to the doctors because about the time you retire, your body’s check engine light comes on and your calendar is now filled with doctor appointments.

We started to attend a little Methodist church out in the country. It seemed a perfect fit. I already had a few friends there and the congregation was for the most part, either my age or older.  

But God did not plan for me to just fill a space on a pew every Sunday. There was choir, and bible study, and food pantry. Our church in conjunction with several other churches started a Celebrate Recovery chapter.  

Celebrate Recovery is a world wide, faith based 12 step recovery program based on the Beatitudes, for hurts, hang-ups and habits. Some attend as part of a legal obligation. Some have lost their kids and are required to attend a program as part of the process to get them back. We with the other churches in our community,  take turns providing a meal. We have childcare.  Some people, like me, come to help out and end up going through a step study. 

One night a lady was sharing and the group leader said she had heard over and over the same situation that was causing her very real pain.  The leader asked her what was her way forward. Now that might seem like a simple phrase to you but I whipped my head around and asked her to say that again. Because I am one of those people who gets on a hamster wheel when someone hurts me or I have a problem. I go around and round. I thought I was at CR to be on the praise team. I didn’t have any problems. But now, I think God put me in that place at that time, to hear that phrase. That night I learned, get off the wheel. It doesn’t matter how small the step you take as long as you take the step. 

We meet on Thursday nights and we eat, then we worship in the sanctuary and have a lesson or a testimony,  then break off into small groups. And after, is dessert and coffee and fellowship. 

So I am doubly blessed. I get to do church on Sunday mornings with hymns and liturgy in my little church of mighty spirits. Then I get to have church on Thursday nights

And…I have to tell you that the first time I opened my eyes as I was up front singing at Celebrate Recovery, and looked out and saw a shaved head, prison tatted, recovering addict, singing his heart out to Jesus, with his hands raised, I felt the tears coming and nearly stopped singing. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in that room and there was a truth in knowing that on Sunday morning when we are all cleaned up and singing hymns and doing church as we have always done, the broken parts of us are sort of covered up. The Holy Spirit is there on Sunday morning too. I have felt it. But Thursday night church? People walk into that same sanctuary, wearing their brokenness on the outside and God still shows up. 

Singing on the praise team and being involved with CR grew my faith and my confidence and led to lay speaking which has led me over and over back to scripture, feeling a weight of wanting to study harder, go deeper, and find something to give to the congregation. 

Instead, I found God was giving something to me! I found a deeper relationship with God.

When I am going to be speaking, I read the text from the lectionary.  I read the text around it. I read commentaries. I pray for understanding and I am finding that the more I hang out with God, the more I want to hang out with God.

This year, I have been on a different kind of faith journey, maybe because we all spent more time at home and I had more time to read. I have come to understand that God does not need for me to make sense of the bible. He doesn’t need me to be certain about everything. I believe in our basic theology. I believe every word of the Apostle’s Creed which is a wonderful way to clearly line out our basic beliefs. But at no time does Jesus say, study this book, take the test and you will graduate. I have learned to be okay in uncertainty, and to remain teachable.

It’s kind of funny to me. Disciple Bible Study, was probably the first time I ever got an overview of the whole bible. I remember when we started reading about all of the kings and the cycle of this king did evil in the sight of the Lord and this king did good in the sight of the Lord. And I got to the point where I was wondering, why is this in here? And I asked myself the same question I used to ask in Algebra class. Why do I need to know this. How am I ever going to use this.

But then, I stopped trying to understand and just started listening! All of these voices, speaking to us from their time, about how they were experiencing God in their culture and they were inviting us into the conversation. They were inviting us to see God as they perceived him. They were inviting us to find ourselves in their stories.

We start with creation. Heaven and earth were together! God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden. It was one place. Then? As we are often prone to do, humans decided they should make their own decisions and feeling like God was maybe withholding something good from them, they did the one thing God said not to do. And sin ripped us apart. Heaven and earth became two places. And everything from that point on until the end of Revelation is filled with stories of people trying to put it back together on their terms, while God is working it all out in a much better way if we will just trust Him. And we are invited to be a part of that beautiful reconciliation. We are invited to be a part of all these conversations and to encounter God, not through a pastor, or a lay speaker, but through people in biblical times that are just like us. Imperfect, sometimes grouchy, sometimes brave and kind, as they try to understand how to live in community with others as followers of Jesus and as kingdom people in a world that often loudly proclaims the opposite. Anne Lamott says it like this. “We are Easter people born into a Good Friday world.”

So this wandering brings us back to the text for today. Paul writes this prayer, specifically to the church at Ephesus, but I think he would have prayed this same prayer for all of the church today. He was not praying for a building. We are the church. A friend and fellow lay speaker, Cheryel McElroy says it like this. “When the doors of the building open – the church goes in”  

So Paul prays that the church would be strengthened, in their inner being – for spiritual strength, not through our own power but through the work of the Holy Spirit. We can hear the Word spoken to us. We can see the Word by reading our bible. But we do not actually make it a part of us until we invite the Holy Spirit to do the work in our hearts.

Paul prays for the church to be rooted and grounded in love, that Christ would live in our hearts.

I love that.

Have you ever heard of the Chinese Bamboo Tree? Apparently the seed is so hard that once planted, you have to water it and care for it for five whole years before anything happens. Then! It grows as much as three feet in one day! In six weeks it will be ninety feet tall. All that growth happened because of years of preparation and without good roots, that ninety foot tree would never stand.  

Paul also prays that the church with all the saints, may have the power to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Paul wants us to go beyond just knowing things. We need to lean in to living them. And if we are having trouble with deciding how to act in a particular situation? When we have prayed and we have gone to scripture and we have sought Godly council and we are still not sure what to do? Err on the side of love! because we are told in First Peter that love covers a multitude of sins. We can’t live out someone else’s faith.  We have to take hold of it ourselves. with everything in us, and God has already provided grace for our messiness.

Because, that is our  own faith story. We all have faith stories and when we share them by how we live and by using our words if we have to, THAT is how the gospel spreads and the church grows.

We all have a Jesus shaped box. We read the bible. We learn the stories. We think we understand and we fit Jesus into this box that we can comprehend. But for me, just when I think I have Him figured out, God puts a situation or a person in front of me that blows that little box to pieces because Jesus didn’t stay in the tomb and He is not going to stay in my little box. Paul uses this dimensional language because he knows from his own life that we  humans are only capable in our own understanding, of getting a tiny glimpse of the magnitude of God’s love for us. He found this out on the road to Damascus when he had His own encounter with Christ. I think it is interesting that Paul was struck blind when he was so certain that he saw the right of things. He was certain that he understood God. But God pulled the rug or road, right out from under him and said “no, Paul, I am so much more”. And for the rest of Paul’s life he was a different man. For the rest of Paul’s life he was being transformed. And that takes us right into the last line of this prayer.

Paul prays that the church would know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that all of the church (I’m paraphrasing here) may be filled with all the fullness of God. If we are truly being transformed, if we are filled with the fullness of God, it is going to spill out of us, far beyond the sanctuary doors and far past Sunday morning. So today, I thank you for listening and I pray that the Holy Spirit will strengthen your inner being. I pray that you will be rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you will get a glimpse of the immeasurable love the Father has for us, and I pray that you will be so filled with God that as you go about your lives during the week, others will see Christ in you and their faith will be strengthened and like a stone thrown into water, those ripples will continue far beyond what you can see. Amen? Amen

Church Garden

Yesterday, I sat in the church garden
on a concrete bench in front of the cross
there were birds singing
and I smelled flowers
I closed my eyes and lifted my face and felt
surrounded by light and heat
from Christ (though some would say the Texas sun)
but with my eyes closed,
He was still there on the cross
not held by nails or with thorns on His head
but by his love with a royal crown
ruling from the weakness of the cross
and as those thoughts moved through me
I felt a sting on my foot
and just like that, a fire ant
reminded me that I am still in the dirt,
and I smiled up at Jesus
knowing I would be back

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 July 4, 2021

Old Testament Reading

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh.  For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The LORD said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.”  So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years.  At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.  David occupied the stronghold, and named it the city of David. David built the city all around from the Millo inward. And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.

Epistle Reading

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows.  And I know that such a person–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows– was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Gospel Reading

Mark 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Sermon

Seventy years ago on this day, my parents declared their dependence on one another before a judge. It was the only day they could both get off work to get married. So Happy 4th of July and for me it is happy Anniversary to my parents. I have always thought that this was a funny juxtaposition of images. One of Independence and one of mutual dependence. But maybe that fits well with today’s text in Second Corinthians..

It’s kind of interesting that the first reading speaks of Israel being united into one people and the last reading sort of bookends it with Jesus sending out the disciples to spread the gospel to others. I’m going to sit us down smack in the middle.

In the text today, Paul is addressing the church at Corinth – again. Paul had received a report that there was a group of people at the church who were teaching other things than the good news of Jesus Christ and some people in the church followed them. So Paul wrote them a letter. It was pretty bad. But some people were saying they didn’t have to listen to Paul. He was not an impressive speaker and if you looked at his life, there was a lot of hardship and suffering and so there were some who were saying that was a sign that God didn’t approve of Paul. So Paul addresses that. After the first letter some people reconciled with Paul but not everyone. There is a text that sounds as though Paul made a visit to the church and then we have this letter we know as Second Corinthians where he addresses problems with the people who are still teaching other things.  Paul talks about how being a follower of Christ does NOT mean that you will not suffer and have hardships, in fact, the opposite is true. The gospel is all about the work that Jesus did on the cross. Christ suffered and died for us.

Paul talks about having a spiritual experience and he makes light of it, as though to say, yes this happened to me and it was amazing but that he can’t boast about it, only about God who gave him that experience.  He tells them of all the things that God has put in his life. He met the resurrected Jesus, he had this spiritual experience, he is a former rabbi. But he tells them that in a community of Jesus, a leader does not use their authority to boss everyone around. A leader serves others and power is shown through weakness, and service and love.

There are some “books” that did not make it into the canon of what we now have as the bible. There were multiple reasons, often because they couldn’t be validated by more than one source. But they make for interesting reading sometimes.

One of these is The Acts of Paul and in it is a little paragraph that gives a physical description of Paul. Is it true? We don’t know. But as Paul speaks about a thorn in his side, I think of this. Because we humans respond to images. 

“At length they saw a man coming (namely Paul), of a small stature with meeting eyebrows, bald [or shaved] head, bow- legged, strongly built, hollow-eyed, with a large crooked nose; he was full of grace, for sometimes he appeared as a man, sometimes he had the countenance of an angel.”

Imagine if this short, stocky, bow-legged, big nosed guy with a unibrow showed up to preach…

We are so affected by image, and so was the church at Corinth. Paul possibly did not look the part of a great spiritual leader. His life was one hardship after another so he certainly was not like one of the preachers we see on television.He didn’t show up in a suit and tie. He didn’t wear hipster clothing or have a tattooed praise band behind him. He was not rich. He didn’t preach prosperity – live right and blessing will follow. He didn’t preach that might makes right. He didn’t even preach that if you live right God will answer your prayers in the way you want. Please understand, I am not indicting all preachers on television nor I am criticizing praise bands or people with tattoos. I sincerely don’t care what it looks like on the outside or what your preferred style of worship is as long as Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is what is being taught.

He does the opposite of what we might expect! He uses himself and his life as an example. He prayed three times and God answered and it was not what Paul wanted to hear. The New Living Translation says it like this,  “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

God responds to a prayer with “My power works best in weakness.” How many of us go about our daily lives mostly not giving a thought to God, and then something happens. An illness, a lost job, a dissolved marriage. When our need grows, so does our dependence on God.

Paul tells the church at Corinth that if you follow the way of Christ, suffering and hardship are going to happen. It’s not about what you look like on the outside. It’s WHO do you look like on the inside? Are you being transformed more and more into the image of Jesus Christ? 

Paul tells us that God’s grace is sufficient. If Paul had been the image of what the church at Corinth thought he should be, then it would have been Paul who was getting the attention instead of the gospel, and if the gospel was tied only to Paul, then it would be the good news of Paul, instead of the good news of Jesus Christ and the good news of Jesus Christ is exactly what Paul preached. By the sufficient grace of God, we no longer have to worry about whether we are sufficient. 

Paul reminds the church that it was never about what Paul was doing. It was about what God was doing. It still is. God had a plan for reconciling the world that was torn apart by sin, back to himself. That plan was Jesus Christ. You and I? We are invited by the Father to take part in that reconciliation. We are invited to pray, to have faith, to be generous with what we have, to love one another, to meditate on the Word, to serve one another, forgive one another as we have been forgiven. To reflect Christ and the kingdom of God with our lives. One example of how we can d this is explained in Colossians 3:9-10 and 15-17 which tells us:

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,  bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

We recite the pledge of allegiance sometimes forgetting we are a nation UNDER God. We love our country and that means we want what is best for it. But that starts with us. As individuals, and then as communities. How we live as a community of followers of Jesus goes out to those we come in contact with so the more we accept those invitations from God to partner with Him as the world is being healed and transformed, the more the gospel spreads, not because of what we do in the church building on Sunday morning, but because we ourselves, through how we live, declare our dependence on God who is always faithful. That my precious friends, is something to celebrate!

Have a safe and Happy Fourth of July!

Amen.

Prayer

Holy Father, we give thanks for those who have sacrificed so that we can live in peace and relative comfort. We give thanks for living in a country where we can publicly worship you without fear. We give thanks for Your Word that is available to us all. We give thanks for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Most of all, we give thanks for the mystery of Your plan, for Your Son, Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made for the sake of the whole world. Amen

Sunday June 6, 2021 We Are Family!

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture Readings

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)

4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, 7 and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 Just as they have done to me,[a] from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9 Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

10 So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15 He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16 He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle[ and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

Israel’s Request for a King Granted

19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, 20 so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

1 Samuel 11:14-15

14 Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the Lord, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Living by Faith

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

5 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Mark 3:20-35

20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

The True Kindred of Jesus

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters[a] are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Sermon

Reading the bible can be so simple and we make it difficult but on the other hand, we make things simple when they shouldn’t be. What I mean by that is that it can all be condensed down to love God and love others but when it comes to reading about people in the bible, we tend to make them one dimensional characters and forget that they were human just like we are and much more complex than just good or bad. We bring our feelings to the stories and forget that these people had their own feelings and complicated relationships and day to day stuff to deal with. They had headaches and were stubborn and quirky and just trying to figure out this thing called life – just like us. They might be irritating and we might shake our heads and ask ourselves how they could get things so wrong? 

In today’s scripture, Jesus’ family has decided that he might benefit from some therapy and they try to just get him to come out. At first reading it almost seems as though Jesus is being mean to his own kin when He asks “who is my family?”, and it kind of jars a bit. But maybe Jesus is not disrespecting his family so much as He is expanding the idea of family. He is not excluding his own kin. He draws a bigger circle, bringing all who believe inside. 

But families are not always easy are they? If we look a little closer at some examples of family complications in the bible we may learn that being included in this larger family can mean something much richer and at the same time much harder than just calling each other brother or sister. If we go way back and look at Cain and Abel. It is easy to write off Cain. He murdered his brother. Not only that, but there were not that many people in existence at the time so he killed off a pretty large percentage of the world population. Sometimes what happens in the family affects the world, at least our small part of it. But Cain survives. In fact he thrives. We may read the scripture and judge him guilty and be done, but he has a story. The mark of Cain kept anyone from killing him – it was a mark of divine protection. If God can protect Cain after what he did, can we find it in ourselves to bring him back into the family? 

Abraham had his first born son with Sarah’s maid, Hagar. It was some years before Sarah bore him a son, so when Isaac is born, it is into a family where his dad already has a relationship with that first son. We have to remember that God had promised that Sarah would have a son and we humans often think we should help God along by taking matters into our own hands with consequences, just as the people did when they asked Samuel for a king, and just as Sarah did when she sent Hagar to Abraham. 

Sarah later may have worried that if something happened to Abraham, Ishmael, his first born by Hagar, would inherit and Sarah would be out in the desert with nowhere to call home. Hagar might have been feeling smug and rubbing Sarah’s nose in the fact that she was the mother of the first born son. We don’t know. Isaac and Ishmael were set on a path to make them be at odds and their children still are at odds today, but they came together to bury their father. If Isaac and Ishmael could reconcile maybe there is hope for their children. 

Jacob and Esau, two boys as different as night and day. One stole the other’s birthright and blessing, and one planned murder for revenge. Talk about family complications, Mom helped with the deception! Maybe Esau was a difficult child, always chasing the sheep and running off, causing everyone to have to stop work and go find him, knocking everything over in the tent.  All boy! Maybe Jacob was the thoughtful one, always helping his mom out. We don’t know why mom favored him. So we fill in the blanks according to our own life experience. 

Jacob fell in love with Rachel but her father, Laban, tricked him into marrying Leah first and while Leah loved Jacob, she always knew that no matter what, she would never be first in his eyes. 

I remember coming home from school and mama would be ironing and watching Days of Our Lives. These folks would have fit right in with mama’s “stories”. In the middle of all the drama that having two wives could cause, God saw Leah’s loneliness and unhappiness and gave her sons.  God saw. That is a comfort right there. In the end, even though the brothers went their separate ways, Jacob and Esau reconciled. 

We all know the story of Jacob (Who God renamed Israel) and his boys. How Joseph was his favorite and the other brothers decided to get rid of him.  Joseph may have been a bit of a stinker and if this had taken place today in one of our families, the others probably would have dog piled on him and beat the snot out of him, warning that if he tattled, it would be worse next time. But it happened in a time and culture that we are completely unfamiliar with so again we make assumptions. Not only did they eventually reconcile, but Joseph prospered and became the powerful person who had the means and the desire to save them from starvation and he was even able to be with his father when he died and took him home to be buried. 

Peter denied Jesus three times and Jesus didn’t run him off. He asks the question “Do you love me?” three times and establishes his place in the family by giving him a job to do. Peter is family.

Families are complicated and I left out a lot of unsavory details! 

Jesus doesn’t ever say we have to all lock arms and sing kumbaya and like every single thing about every single person. But He does remind us that we are adopted sons and daughters of the One who created us and as such, we are all family. Warts and all. He reminds us that assumptions can get us into trouble.  He reminds us that a house divided against itself cannot stand. He invites us to reconcile with each other as family, in our little corners of the world and as the world wide family of God. One definition of reconcile is “cause to coexist in harmony”.

So as we read about these people that just seem to be a hot mess we have to keep in mind that they were the beginning of the nation of Israel and they were the people God chose and some of the people of the old testament who seemed to be the hottest mess of all hot messes, made the list of ancestors in the family tree of Jesus Christ!

Scriptures can teach us that making assumptions on what we see on the surface can cause us to interpret a text in a narrow way while Jesus over and over through parables and His actions toward others turns those assumptions upside down. His message to the Pharisees is to look past the law and see the person. His words to his family say look beyond our house into the greater community and even more, to the rest of the world!  

These scriptures give us hope. Hope for reconciliation with individuals and hope for reconciliation with nations. They challenge our little perceptions and assumptions and our need for answers right now and show us that sometimes, whatever is a challenge right now, may be a piece of a plan with a much larger scope, that we may not even live to see come to fruition, but that does not mean that we don’t have an important part. We repeatedly read about a kind of person that we might help out in a pinch and pat ourselves on the back for our generosity to someone we secretly feel is undeserving but turns out to be someone God uses in a mighty way that will have huge future ramifications. 

So we are to love each other. 1st Corinthians 4:8-13 “8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away;” (what you hear from the pulpit on a Sunday morning, no matter who is speaking, you probably will not remember a month from now. You may have forgotten it by the time you have had lunch and napped in your recliner. 

“as for tongues, they will cease;” (The hurtful things that someone said and caused the relationship to be broken will one day be forgotten)

 “as for knowledge, it will pass away.” We can read our bible every day, memorize texts, quote scripture, but unless we have let Jesus have our heart to work on, it will not mean a thing eternally.

 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

God sees past the outside and knows the deepest part of us. The part that wants to grow in love but messes up because like the people in biblical times, we are just trying to figure it all out and He fills all the cracks and broken places with grace, if we let Him.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The greatest of these is love because we are part of the divine family, sons and daughters of God, and He knows we are flawed, make bad decisions sometimes, get tired and cranky and hangry and give away something precious of the future for a bowl of stew right now. But God works through us in spite of or maybe because of who He knows we are. 

Paul talks about the outer wasting away while the inner is being renewed. We gather to worship The One who is turning our focus from what we see on the outside to something much better, much deeper, more profound. Something that will never waste away, something eternal. 

So Sunday when we come to worship our God, we not only come to our church, in a way, we come home… to family. Welcome home. You are loved! Welcome to the family! Warts and all! Amen!

Prayer

Holy and gracious Father, help us to see how in need of your grace we are, and how we need to extend that same grace to others. We love you because like the good father You are, You loved us first  and see beyond what the world sees. You see who we are meant to be, who we can be and we need to draw closer to you so that we can have that kind of vision when we look at each other. May we always be aware of the depth of your love.  We ask all of these things in the name of Your Son, who died so we could be reconciled to you. Amen.

Rainy Nights

ground shifts memories sift
like so many grains of rough sand
once upon a life soft, comfort and warm
til time breaks edges and darkens
what was clear and easy now smudged and torn
and scattered like broken glass
boldness melted puddles
truth swirls like smoke wrapped around
hard to grasp but knees locked and
eyes closed so if the edge is near
it will be unseen and real as faith
jerky steps stumble through
and stick the landing

Philip and the Ethiopian

Acts 8:26-40 NIV

 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian[a] eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet.

The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,

    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,

    so he did not open his mouth.

In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.

    Who can speak of his descendants?

    For his life was taken from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”  And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.  Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Last week Mark mentioned in his sermon, getting into good trouble. Todays’ text is such a good illustration of that. The phrase good trouble was part of a quote we heard often repeated on the news when Representative John Lewis passed away.

“Get into good trouble, necessary trouble.” I have another favorite John Lewis quote I want to share this morning.

“Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet.”

We are linked to the divine. What a comfort that is when our world gets crazy, to remember that we are linked to the divine.

Acts 1:8 gives us a clue to the main focus of the book of Acts. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

We know that the book of Acts is sort of a sequel to the gospel of Luke. In Acts we see the early church spreading first among the Jews, then to the Gentiles, and then Paul spreads the gospel and plants churches in Asia and Greece.

Jesus told His followers to remain in Jerusalem until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit. I have been on a journey this year, discovering new details in old texts so I invite you to go along with me. 

In Acts 2:2 speaking about that baptism, the bible says “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.”

If we move forward to Acts 17:6 we read “While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house.  When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also,”

In just a few chapters we go from a houseful of Jesus’ followers to turning the world upside down. This happened in a time when there was no mass communication, travel was on foot, by donkey, by chariot. This is the beginning of the story of the church, a story that continues today. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are a part of that story.

The only way the church could have grown so fast and reached so far is through the Holy Spirit, through people being linked to the divine. We speak of the Holy Spirit as being our advocate. Jesus, himself was our first advocate and when He ascended He left us a second advocate. Jesus speaks to God for us. The Holy Spirit speaks to us for God. The Holy Spirit consistently points us back to Jesus – to what He did for us, how much He loves us. The Holy Spirit most often seems to speak us into doing things that are at odds with our culture. That Spirit is our link to the divine! That is what happened in the text we read today.

So lets look at the main characters. There are three.

The angel of the Lord who directed the steps of the other two people in this story. While this spirit is hardly mentioned, without the Spirit, nothing else would have happened.

The second character we see is Philip, who was part of a group of 7 men chosen by the disciples to serve, and to be a part of this group The apostles must have seen something special in Philip. The gospel was spreading and it was causing good trouble. This is where Paul became involved with the persecution of the early church. This group of people chosen with Philip, included Stephen who was stoned to death and who to the very end, preached Jesus and interceded for the very people who were killing him. All but the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Philip was one of these men and here is where today’s text happens. Remember that Philip was a Jew and in his culture, you didn’t associate with people who were of different cultures because it could defile you.

The third character is an Ethiopian eunuch. Castration was a common practice and the price you paid for a cushy job that kept you around the royal family. We know that he is educated because he is in charge of the treasury and he is reading. We know that he is a person with money because he has traveled a thousand miles in a chariot from Ethiopia to Jerusalem and back. That journey would have taken about a year.

So we have all of the characters on stage. The Spirit, Philip, and the Ethiopian eunuch.

What is not in the text is why this man traveled all that way to worship – what motivated him, and what happened when he got to Jerusalem.

We can assume some things because of the history of the time and because of what we know of the Jewish faith and the rules for worshiping in the temple.

The culture of the day meant that having offspring was so important. More than once, the bible gives a list – a genealogy to show the lineage of a person. Having many sons was a mark of honor. This black African man will have no sons. He has reached the top. He is in charge of the treasury of the queen so he has money and power but no one to pass it on to. We don’t know from the text, but maybe we can speculate that whatever motivated him to make this long and dangerous and difficult journey was a hunger for something that money and power could not give him.

There were rules for worshiping in the temple and the rules had a purpose. You couldn’t just show up and talk to God because of sin. Some kind of cleansing had to happen. For example, Mozaic law said that if you touched a dead body, you had to stay away from the temple for a certain amount of time. 

But some of these rules permanently excluded people. One of these was castration. A Eunuch could not ever go in to the temple.

So, he turned the chariot around and headed back home. But on the way, he is poring over the scroll of Isaiah. The words “Who can speak of his descendants? may have spoken to him. Has it ever happened to you, that you are reading the bible and it seems as though a particular passage is speaking directly to you? This is from Isaiah 53 and if we read a little further in Isaiah, in 56  he would have read “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”

For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

How sweet those words must seemed to this lonely man.

We can picture this all happening. The Spirit told Philip to go to this place on this road and then the spirit speaks to Philip again. He tells him to go up to this chariot and stay near it. The wording is weird to me here and it seems like a possible explanation for the phrasing is that the chariot was moving! Philip had to run up to the chariot and keep running along side. It wasn’t until verse 31 that Philip was invited up into the chariot.

I have to stop for a moment and think about what a beautiful picture  this is – here we are riding our chariot through life, looking for answers and the Holy Spirit CHASES us down and finds us!

So Philip basically tells the Ethiopian the good news of Jesus Christ and his immediate response was to want to be baptized!

There is a theory that religion is an extension of culture. That everyone is on their way up the mountain – their culture just means they use different paths to get there. The Buddhists have the eightfold path. The Hindu way to God is the four pillars. Every other religion is based on a man who says – here is the way to God.

But Jesus says, “I am God and I have come to find you.”

You can research and find out that most Hindus live in southeast Asia. Most Buddhists live in east Asia. Most religions stay geographically where they started. No other religion looks like Christianity. Christianity is all over the world. Because the gospel stands above culture. The Holy Spirit can build Christianity within any culture. And in the book of Acts we see over and over how the Holy Spirit nudges people towards people of other races, other cultures, whether they are close by or like the Ethiopian, geographically far away, and without the Holy Spirit, people would have stayed in their own little corner of the world.

Religious rules that place requirements on who can come in, how they have to dress, what they look like, how they navigate their daily lives – those rules exclude people from worship. The Holy Spirit moves past and through all of that.

Think of it like this. If God came down and said here is a list. Do all of these things and you will have salvation, then salvation would be something we accomplished for ourselves. It would be about nothing but laws, lost of rules. To become a Christian, you would have no culture. Everyone would need to look alike, dress alike, speak alike. He gave us the ten commandments. We couldn’t even keep ten laws.

But that isn’t how it works. It is not based on how strong we are, what we look like, how well we obey rules. In 2nd Corinthians 12 Paul writes “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The gospel is not for people who are strong; it is for the people who know they are not strong, so that we know we are saved by grace and valued by God’s love.

Now the Holy Spirit didn’t just send Philip to this specific person at this specific place. If the Ethiopian man had gone to the temple, he would have experienced church, Jewish style. But he would not have heard the message his heart was in dire need of. The Holy Spirit put this man on this road and had him reading this text at just the right time. He was reading from the heart of the bible. He was divinely placed in a geographical place and a spiritual place and an intellectual place to hear about the servant who became the sacrifice for all of us. The man from Ethiopia understood sacrifice.

Everything comes down to this. We, meaning ALL of humanity, every race, every culture, could not achieve salvation on our own and because God desires that NO one perish, we are given the great commission – to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Not for the uniformity of the world, not to make us all look and sound alike, but to bring us back into relationship with God. No one group gets to claim what that should look like.  Through the Holy Spirit, the gospel transcends differences and levels the playing field. We are all, like the eunuch, excluded from the presence of God because of our sin.

The work of Jesus Christ on the cross, the substitutional sacrifice, makes us holy. We can’t do it ourselves any more than the eunuch could have changed his condition. If you KNOW someone has died to save you it changes you and it changes how you relate to that person. The Ethiopian man went home forever changed and because of what might look like a chance encounter on the road, the gospel spread to Africa. In fact, there are 11 churches carved into the rock in the town of Lalibela in Ethiopia. They date from the 7th to the 13th centuries. Because of this divine link, Ethiopia became one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity.

If we continue to listen for and then obey the nudges of the Holy Spirit, who knows what the Holy Spirit might do through us. The sky, or Heaven…is the limit. Amen?

Father, we thank you that Your spirit wants all racial and cultural barriers removed and that through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in each one of us, we can break those barriers. We pray that we will listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit and obey so that we, in response to all that Jesus did for us, will be able to live as a changed people, working for peace and healing and justice in this world as we follow the footsteps of Your son, who came not to be served but to serve and gave His life for all of us. In His name we pray. Amen.

Easter 2021 John 20:1:18

John 20:1:18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”  Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).  Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

If you saw the last time I spoke, it was also from the book of John. I said then that John is all about who Jesus IS. John often shows us this Jesus with word pictures. We see how Jesus interacts with the disciples, with the pharisees, with people who are sick, in need, poor, dealing with demons. To me, John continuing to show us who Jesus is, after Jesus had died, is a clue. Jesus still IS and John is still showing us. And today we will look at Resurrection Day through the eyes of one person.

Imagine what this must have been like.  It has been the worst week of all bad weeks. This Jesus whom the disciples loved, traveled with, their teacher, who had called them from the ordinary to the extraordinary, had been nailed to a cross, between two thieves. They had been through Friday. The bad news. The job lost. The marriage, broken. The unwanted diagnosis. 

The horror of His death and now fearing that they too will be arrested – Saturday. Prayers prayed and what was the answer? Silence. Marriage still broken. No job and bills piling up. No miracle healing for the unwanted diagnosis. Saturday. The time between despair and joy. Yesterday I got to participate in hiding Easter eggs and then watching children run around finding them, watching their excitement as they filled their baskets with something sweet. I was thinking about how appropriate to fill that time of waiting between Good Friday and Easter Sunday with doing something for others because it doesn’t make Good Friday any less horrible, but it fills the time between catastrophe and heavenly response and it takes our mind from ourselves and our sadness and turns it to something or someone else and gives us moments of happiness. Between darkness and light. Between confusion and clarity.

Where are you God? Why don’t you answer? You failed me!  I picture them remembering conversations with Jesus. Rethinking everything in light of His death. Recalling every word they said to Him. Wishing they had asked more questions. Grieving. The unthinkable. Jesus failed. Even the bible doesn’t say much about Saturday, just that guards were posted to watch over the tomb. 

And then while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene ran to the tomb which is probably just a cave in the rocks. Even in darkness, even when heaven seems to be silent, Mary Magdalene runs to the last place she knew Jesus to be. When she finds that the stone has been rolled away from the front of the tomb she runs to tell Peter and the one whom Jesus loved which historians traditionally say is John. They also ran to the tomb and John got there first and bent down to look in. A translation I read said that the word used for “look” in this context, meant he was looking intently. He is looking at the wrappings and he is thinking, trying to figure out why grave robbers would leave the burial linens behind? Peter goes into the tomb and sees the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head was rolled up and sitting by itself. They believed and then they went home. 

I remember sitting on a bench with my mother in front of my father’s grave. The funeral was over and everyone had gone home.  It was sad and peaceful and we held hands. We didn’t say much. I knew my mom just needed that few moments. And then we too, went home. I wonder, if sometimes, heaven is silent to give us time. 

Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb in tears and she looked in the tomb and saw two angels where the body of Jesus had been. When she turned around there was Jesus, but she thought he was the gardener! She didn’t recognize Him.

Now a little background on Mary. Luke tells us a little bit. Luke 8:1-2 Tells us: Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him,  as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,

Mark 5:1-5 gives us a picture of what someone with demons might have been like. “They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.  And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him.  He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain;  for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him.  Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.”

The tombs may have been very familiar to Mary.

Now Mary is questioning this man that she thinks is the gardener. And Jesus doesn’t yell “SURPRISE!” and he doesn’t say “It’s me, Jesus!” He is kind. He says HER name. He loves her.

You know these days we are all about self. We are supposed to figure out who we are and what is wrong with us and then we can choose from thousands of self help books and try to make ourselves better. Commercials on television, ads on the internet, all offer to help us be the very best that we can be. Because the person we wish to be, never seems to live up to how the world sees us. We are too fat, too thin, too short, too old, too young, too sad, too mad, too happy. Too whatever. Even people who love us and often affirm us can be the source of pain when we think we do not live up to who they think we should be. Our identity is a mixture of who we think we are, and who others think we are or at least what we think they think. It’s very confusing.

But in the moment that Jesus says her name – she has clarity and her identity. Her identity in Jesus. She recognizes him and she sees herself. And she understands much, much, more. 

You see, even though she had followed Jesus and listened to him teaching and personally experienced a miracle, she came to the tomb, looking for a dead Jesus. Even Peter and John, peering into the empty tomb at the linen wrappings, at first, were trying to reason out what could have happened to Jesus body. 

Everything in our upbringing, our hearts and minds, the world, our culture, tells us to shrink Jesus. And you could almost do that. The Christmas story is about Jesus the baby. Jesus’ life is filled with stories and healing and things that are supposed to make us uncomfortable but they are things that can often be reasoned about, explained away. Until the resurrection. That changes everything, once for all and for always.

Both Peter and John and Mary Magdalene came looking for a small Jesus. A Jesus that they could understand. A Jesus that they loved and saw as an extraordinary person. But in the moment that Mary recognized the risen Savior. she was forever changed.

And what a picture this is! The first person to see the resurrected Christ was a woman, someone who had probably been mentally ill, homeless, not exactly an upstanding member of the church and not only was she the first human to see the risen Jesus, she was the first to be told to go and tell. She was His messenger!

There is a quote by author Annie Dillard that is how I picture Mary Magdalene. “I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.”

Mary Magdalene was a bell. You are a bell!

What are some of the messages in this?

  1. There is grace. It is not what we do to fix ourselves or make ourselves better, because even if we have the desire, Paul tells us in Romans 7:15-18  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”

It is the work of Jesus. Period.

  1. Jesus makes deliberate decisions to do the will of God. He doesn’t accidentally get baptized. He doesn’t accidentally get tested by satan. He doesn’t accidentally call His disciples. He doesn’t accidentally ride into Jerusalem on a donkey during Passover when Pilate was riding in a military procession. Two very different pictures of power. Jesus did not accidentally die on the cross. If we follow this logic, Jesus did not accidentally reveal Himself to Mary instead of to Peter or John. We are saved by the grace and work of Jesus Christ but our growing in faith happens because of deliberate decisions that we make every day, sometimes, every moment.
  2. Jesus gives Himself to all of us. He comes gently. He does not muscle His way in or give us flashing signs. Mary Magdalene couldn’t see Jesus until he revealed Himself to her.  He said her name. If we are to make disciples of all the world, as the great commission says, we have the perfect example of how to go about that. Jesus healed the illness Mary Magdalene was dealing with but He did not stop there. She went to the tomb while it was still dark. She knew Him. When He said her name, she knew Jesus. He knew her. That speaks of relationship, not just a good deed to check off some divine list. 
  3. We understand the baby Jesus. We sort of understand, the living Jesus. We are uncomfortable with the crucified Jesus. We are changed when we recognize the risen Jesus.  Jesus tells Mary not to hold on to Him. It would be human nature to want to keep Him there, to keep Him small. Jesus has bigger things to do. Kingdom things! He sends the Holy Spirit to help us, and once we have heard Jesus call our name, we are changed and we have kingdom things to do as well. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we deliberately choose to make kingdom choices.
  4. And last, It is Sunday. Without the resurrection, we as a people, might survive our Good Fridays. We might deal with our Saturdays, no matter how long they last. But when we believe, we as people of faith, have the hope that Sunday will come. 

Today, Jesus is risen! Everything is different. We see a cycle of birth, life, and death. Jesus defies our little cycle and says, wait. There is more. Hold on to hope through the silence. Jesus had a Saturday. Heaven was silent. But when the answer came it was eternal. 

Today a homeless person with a dodgy past and some mental issues, could come up to you and say, I have seen the Lord. The tomb is empty! He is not dead! He is risen! Today, you with your own imperfections, might be the one who is the living Jesus, for someone else because the power of the Holy Spirit is in you! Today, Jesus is saying your name. He loves you. Do you recognize him?

Prayer

Father, open our eyes that we would see You when You are standing in front of us, no matter what form You come in. Open our ears so that we recognize Your voice when You call our name. Fill us with the Holy Spirit because we know that tomorrow, Easter is over. The world is noisy, clamoring for our attention. Many of us are in the midst of our own Saturdays and need reminders of Easter. We need help to make those deliberate decisions to follow You. Help us also to see the Mary Magdalenes and all of those who pass by just in the corner of our vision, the ones that Jesus would not only call by name, but would call friends. Help us to see every single day, that here is where we practice faith, a rehearsal for Your kingdom. We are so grateful for your love, for your grace, for joy, for the work You did on the cross that we never tire of telling Your story, of learning more about You, of singing of Your glory, of being Your friends. We serve a risen, living savior. Amen.

March 7 2020 John 2:13-22

I don’t know, what I don’t know.

Scripture

John 2:13-22

Jesus Clears the Temple Courts

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”[a] 18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Prayer

Father, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts, lead us to life with You in the center.

Sermon

Our church is so blessed. We have heard Mark exhort us to love one another and then show us what the bible says that looks like. We have heard Bob speak on seeking peace and truth and how the only place we can find it is in the hope we have in Jesus and that love trumps knowledge. We have heard Cheryel speak about our wilderness places and how God grows us there and the checklist that Jesus gives us for how to live. I look at this wealth we have, being able to listen to all of these teachings. I think about how many years I have been in church and heard The Word and you would think that I would be ready to take the quiz and get my degree in being a Christian. As I get older, I find that I know less and that knowing becomes less important than just walking and talking with God. 

The last time I spoke, it was on a reading from the book of Mark. Mark was action. Mark was all about what Jesus was doing. Today We are in John and John is all about who Jesus IS. 

This week, I read a quote that stuck with me and I want to share it with you. I do not know the author.

“Father forgive me for the times I desired a seat at a table you would have flipped”

I wanted to speak on this passage, not because I understand it, but because I don’t.  This passage jars like no other I have read in the bible. This is angry Jesus. How do I reconcile all of the pictures I have of Jesus. The first bible song I ever learned was Jesus Loves Me! Jesus who tells stories to make us think. Jesus who healed a leper. Jesus who laughed at the wedding and then turned water into wine. Jesus who walked on water and summoned the little children to come to Him. Jesus who willingly died on the cross for each of us. It is just hard for me to picture this angry Jesus. I read commentaries. I read and re-read the passage. I read the text surrounding the passage. and you know what? All I got was MORE uncertain!  Angry Jesus.  What am I supposed to do with that??

I tend to read references to the Jews and especially to the Pharisees as though they are bad. This passage at first glance seems to point to Jesus indicting the Jews and Pharisees for their abuse of the temple. I don’t think it is a difficult assumption to make. Even in bible story books for children with illustrations, I can remember Pharisees being portrayed with squinty evil eyes and leering smiles. And it seems like it was always the Pharisees that were questioning and plotting against Jesus. I always considered them “others”. Not us. Not like me.

The line in this scripture: “Zeal for your house will consume me” comes from Psalm 69 which is attributed to David who was…a Jew. 

What I have come to realize, is that I cannot fit Jesus into the Jesus shaped box that I have. Do any of you have one of those?

We can make the argument that the poor were being taken advantage of in a place of worship.  But who were the poor? Many were non-Jews relegated to the outer courts.

We can even talk about the fact that Jesus did not have a raging fit. He took the time to make a whip out of cords. I wonder if He was thinking while he made that whip, about exactly what he was going to do and why He was going to do it.

We can talk about this being the event that put Jesus on a trajectory that led to His arrest and crucifixion which was ordained to happen.

The Jewish people welcomed gentiles into the outer court of the Jerusalem temple so that box that informs what I have always understood as the role of “The Jews” in the New Testament and their treatment of Gentiles gets a little blurry. If the Jews welcomed the gentiles which we know just means anyone who is other than Jewish, into the holiest place in Judaism then why would I think that the focus of Jesus’ anger was specifically the Jews?  Is that because I assume that the people selling doves and changing money were Jewish?  Nowhere does it specify that. It gets a little confusing when you remember that the Jews from the old testament are commanded to love the poor, the widow and the resident aliens. Gentiles would be the resident aliens. Maybe we need to take more than a second look at some of these passages.  We don’t know, because we are not told, but it is plausible that Jesus was not the only one who looked on what was happening in the church with dismay.  

I am not certain. And I think it is fine to be uncertain. Not about bedrock beliefs. I believe all of the parts of the Apostles Creed. That lines out our basic theology. But we learn who Jesus is and who we are through the parables and the writing of the gospels and the Epistles. How often have we read about Jesus saying, I know you have heard – fill in the blank, but I say – usually something that makes the hearer question their understanding of something they had thought they had a grasp on all of their lives. We read these scriptures through the lens of the present and we each bring our own emotions and life situations to these readings. without having a clear picture of the people who were hearing the words in their time and we, well at least I, nod my head and think “I get it. I understand this.” And then I move on.

One of the most comforting conversations I have ever had with a pastor was at Walk to Emmaus years ago. It was a time when pastors were available for you to talk with and to pray with you. I had questions. And they were serious questions that weighed on my heart. I was shaking even as I asked. Because they had to do with my dad and heaven. My dad had not stepped foot in church for years unless someone was getting married or buried.  I poured my heart out and was all set for this poor pastor, bless his heart, to give me the answers. Back then I believed that pastors had the equivalent of the Teachers manual of the bible. You know – the one that has the answers in the back?  But that was not the result. This poor guy looked at me when I was finished and it took him a few moments to answer. I know he was thinking hard about this. He knew that his answer was going to have a direct effect on my faith. When I think back, I think, what a burden I placed on this poor man’s shoulders. He took my hand and he quietly said, “I don’t know. But I will pray with you.” I would like to tell you that the words he prayed are still with me but I could not tell you a single word he said before we ended with Amen. What I do remember is that in that moment, I realized that there are some things that I just have to trust God about without having certainty. And that sometimes the most profoundly comforting thing that can happen to us is to have someone hold our hand and admit, that they don’t know either.

So maybe not understanding this angry Jesus is actually a good thing. Maybe being uncertain is a gift I can offer to God because as long as I am uncertain, God can still teach me. As long as I am willing to look at the tables I wish I could sit at and ask the question, is this a table Jesus would flip? Maybe I have a better chance of navigating this earthly world and holding on to the hand that I need most – the hand of our savior, Jesus.

Because Jesus constantly challenges us by refusing to fit in our Jesus shaped box. As soon as I think I KNOW who Jesus is, He comes knocking on my heart either through a part of a scripture that I have glossed over, or through a friend saying something that makes me rethink my certainty, or a quote pops up that just will not get out of my head until I figure out why it is sticking. In those moments, I get a fresh perspective on my faith.

We all have different relationships with different people. There is our family who knows one aspect of us. Maybe a best friend who sees us as being like minded. Co-workers see the professional. We show more or less of our true selves as relationships and trust grow.  The more we get to know someone, the more comfortable we are and the more apt we are to be ourselves. The more comfortable we are with being ourselves maybe the more we learn about the other person and…ourselves. The more time we spend with Jesus, the more open our hearts become to who He is and who we are IN Him. 

You see, I think (I think! I am not certain) Jesus wanted to make a point in a very dramatic way. He was saying you are not worshipping God. You have made the church into a collection of rules and business that copies the world instead of being a place to gather and manifest the kingdom of God on earth by loving, healing, feeding, teaching, worshipping, and caring for the widow, the poor, and the resident alien. The problem is not so much what you are doing. The problem is where is your heart?? Maybe He was saying that sometimes, you have to get rid of the things that are weighing you down, that are of the world, before you can rebuild not in the Jesus shaped box you wanted, but in the much bigger kingdom that He is bringing to earth and that He alludes to when He speaks of the temple you destroy, that He will raise again in three days. There was a Jesus shaped tomb that He knew was waiting for Him but He also knew that He would not be staying there. Every time we try to make Jesus stay put, He gets up to some kind of saving business that changes us and blows our little box to pieces.

Romans 12:1-2 says  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul doesn’t say, read the book, write a five page book report and you will graduate. He says we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, testing and discerning. Lucky for me at least, there is not a time limit on that assignment. It is not an end, it is a process.

So here is my challenge to you. Read a parable this week. Any parable. Read it carefully and intentionally and ask questions. What am I missing.  I will even give you an example that challenged me. In the parable of the prodigal son, Luke 15: 20-28 (excerpted.)

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.  ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in.

I have always focused on the younger son and how wonderful it was that he is redeemed and restored to his family. I always thought the older son was a bit of a brat, sort of throwing a fit because of how it all played out. The part I never payed attention to is the dynamic that happens in 22- through 25. The dad had time to call the caterer, hire a band, invite all his friends before telling his older son.  I am not saying the older son was all sweetness and light. But reading this little detail makes me think maybe he had a little bit more of a legitimate right to his feelings than I previously thought. I always had a picture of the father as a metaphor for God, welcoming the repentant sinner with open arms but what if the dad was supposed to be just a guy who thought he was doing the right thing but in the process of regaining one son, completely lost another? I completely dismissed that aspect of the story because I was focused on one thing and I was certain I understood. What if the focus of this parable is what did the father miss? What are we missing? Who have we not counted? And just to throw another little detail question in there…where is mom? No mention of her anywhere. How often do we do something with loving intentions with an unexpected result because we missed something?

What table have you wished to sit at? What would you bring to that table? Who would NOT be sitting there with you? What box have you tried to fit Jesus into? Who are the resident aliens in your life that you are commanded to love? As we walk through Holy Week and follow Jesus to the cross, I would leave you with this thought. If you were one of the disciples walking this last week of Jesus life and you knew He would be leaving, what would you ask Him?

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, Father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Dad if there is another way, let’s do that. He finished with not as I will but as you will. 

Jesus took his gift of questions to His Father, and still, trusted. Isn’t it funny, that the disciples – Jesus’ bffs, missed this exchange because they fell asleep, but we get to witness this intimate conversation between the Father and the Son!

Prayer

Will you pray with me?

Father we thank you for Your gift of Your Son who is still teaching us how to live. We thank you for the gift of Your living Word that sometimes comforts and sometimes shakes us to the core. We thank you for reminding us to pay attention, to stay awake, even as we fall asleep and miss what you are trying to say. For those moments, Father, we thank you for your unending grace and trust that you will not leave us asleep, that while we now see through a mirror darkly, you will make all things clear and right in Your time. We thank you for time knowing that you want everyone to come to you and Lord, I know I am one of those who needs that extra time. We thank you for Your church and how you are constantly challenging us to seek You because of all the things we are unsure of we know that Your son is the way, the truth, and the life and we can cling to His hand in the midst of our uncertainty. Wake us up, flip our tables, turn our attention back to You. This week, we remember just how far You have gone to make sure that we know you – all the way to the cross and through the grave to Your Glory. May that always and forever stop us from thinking we are standing firm and put us on our knees before You in awe of that amazing love. May we always, in our uncertainty, trust in You.

Amen

Mark 1:29-39

Scripture

Mark 1:29-39

And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her.  And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons.  And the whole city was gathered together at the door.  And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.  And Simon and those who were with him searched for him,  and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.”  And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”  And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Sermon

Good morning! Thank you Mark for all that you do and for sharing your pulpit.  Thank you David for working to keep our technology able to connect with our community! I miss seeing all of you face to face and I am so hopeful, as more and more people get vaccinated, that our numbers will go down and we can resume meeting. If you have not gotten signed up for vaccination and need help with the process, please contact me and I will help. We miss being together! If you are joining us online this morning, thank you. Say hello back in the comments! 

If you watched the last time I spoke here at Powderly (and if you didn’t it is still on our Powderly Facebook page for January 3rd) You know that I spoke about Ephesians 3 and the work of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. You know from that scripture that we are all chosen, adopted, accepted, redeemed, and helped. God loves us so much that He didn’t leave us standing alone, waiting to be picked. Waiting to be part of a family. 

But chosen for what? I know God picked me for something! I am on the team now, but what do I do? Follow Jesus!

Today we are going to be talking about the reading from the book of Mark. Because the gospel of Mark is all about what Jesus is doing and if we want to be like Jesus, one way to do that is to learn about what He did.

 The four gospels give us different pictures of Jesus. Each writer had their own perspective and focused on a way to see Jesus through their eyes. 

John walks us through how Jesus is the Son of God. Matthew talks about Jesus’ kingship. Luke shows us more of the human side of Jesus. But Mark? Mark is like an action movie version of Jesus. He doesn’t even start with the birth narrative. Mark jumps right in with Jesus being full grown, baptized, tested, and then zooms right into His ministry. We don’t even have a commercial break with time to make some popcorn. If you take your eyes off the reading for a moment, you may miss something! In fact, as you read the book of Mark, you will come across the phrase “and immediately” about forty times. 

Jesus calls his disciples and starts healing and preaching. Mark 10:45 gives us a hint at the theme for the whole book of Mark. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

So, by the time we get to today’s verse in Mark, Jesus has already been baptized, spent forty days in the desert, walked a lot of miles, called his disciples, preached with authority, healed the sick, and cast out demons. I don’t know about you but I’m tired just reading all that and we are still only in Mark 1! 

But Mark seems to be making a point with all this activity and immediacy. Jesus’ ministry is more than parables and words. It involves all the ways in which He makes God’s Kingdom visible. He lets us see what God’s reign looks like and the real effects that it has on the lives of people. People are delivered. People are forgiven. People are restored to community. People are healed. 

Right before our reading today, Jesus was in the synagogue teaching and he cast out the demons from a man. Now He is at the home of Simon and Andrew and he heals a woman with a fever. In a way, that shows us that ministry has a wide range. From teaching, to healing, to visiting, to men, to women and so much more. At sundown people found Jesus. Jesus didn’t need to go out and find people – they came searching for Him, knowing that He was the forgiveness, the deliverance, the restoration to community and the healing.

Later we find Jesus withdrawing even from His friends, to solitude to pray. Throughout the New Testament Jesus often prays.  What a wonder that conversation with God must have been. I wonder if words were even needed. Sometimes we just need to sit at God’s feet. 

The disciples found Him and Jesus was ready to move on with His ministry. He could have stayed there and people would probably have continued to find him. The needs of the people were great. But it would seem that the example of ministry here is that it is not cemented to one place or to one specific group of people. Jesus knows his purpose. 

Let’s back up a bit, to when they first arrived at Peter’s house. The reading says that immediately they told Jesus about Peter’s mother-in-law and He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. Jesus ministry was not just words and parables, remember? Jesus was all about hands on. In Jesus’ time, people believed that illness was often closely connected to sin. So to be ill was suspect. “How did you sin that God would do this to you?” In our time, fever is often no big deal. You take some medicine and you get better. But in Jesus’ time, they had no baby aspirin or tylenol or antibiotics. Fever would have been more serious. So what doesn’t seem like a big deal to us as we read this,  may have had a completely different view for the people of that time. 

What did Jesus do? He took her by the hand and lifted her up. That phrasing reminds me of Moses in Exodus 14:16 “Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground.”

It reminds me of John 12:32 “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

What was the woman’s response? She began to serve them. 

I thought about gratitude and I get curious sometimes, about the origin of words. So I looked into how we got the phrase “thank you”. It comes from the word “think” meaning I will remember what you did for me. In Portugese, the word is obrigado which means an obligation or “I am in your debt. In French, the word is Merci which means I am at your mercy. 

And so we serve. As the hymn says, we serve a risen savior. If we follow the example of Peter’s mother-in-law, we don’t just serve Jesus – we serve them! All. Each other. And I want to thank you! I want to thank our pastor Mark and his wife Marion who have continued to serve throughout the pandemic. I want to thank David for being so faithful to keep us able to reach out online. I want to thank those of you who have continued to help with Meals on Wheels, with the food pantry, with keeping our finances straight, ordering supplies, for texting out the prayer chain to keep people informed, for keeping communication open for Celebrate Recovery. I want to thank our other lay speakers. What a blessing. I want to thank those of you who have checked on each other and encouraged each other and lifted others up. I know that I am leaving some folks out.  I want to just celebrate you for serving in whatever way you have been a disciple and it doesn’t have to be an official activity. It may have just been being Jesus for someone in a moment of need. 

Because that is how we make the kingdom of God visible in the world. We are all chosen, adopted, accepted, redeemed, and helped and so we respond with saying Thank you, I will remember what you did and are doing for me. I am in your debt, Jesus, because you have had mercy on me. We know that in our own power, we can do nothing that will have any lasting effect, and so we pray, because we need that connection to God. We need God to take us by the hand and lift us up so that we can see how and when to serve each other because in serving each other we are living out discipleship. We are doing what can seem like a new thing, but maybe it is not so much new, as being restored to who we were created to be. 

We can look at this as four relationships in order. Our relationship with God (our faith), our relationship with others (community), our relationship with the world (stewardship) and our relationship with ourselves (wholeness) When those relationships get out of order, we have problems. When we serve out of obligation, we are servants, but when we serve out of discipleship, we are living out the gospel. We are living to the one who created and chose us, we are in community with all others who like us, were created in Their image – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are caring for the rest of His creation, and we are growing ourselves to be whole and towards holiness – human in the way we were always meant to be. We are accepting God’s invitation to take part in His kingdom.  We are saying a loud and heartfelt THANK YOU! 

Amen? Amen.

In the Evening

Sometimes when the problems of the world
are too big
all we can do is climb a tree
and bear witness to the light
perched on a skeleton with feet sunk
in the mud
we can tiptoe out to the very edge
toes clutching tiny limbs
where wings can spread
and let the sun paint us asleep

Photo by Nelda Zamir

Sunday January 3 2021

Ephesians 1:3-14

1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

1:4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

1:5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,

1:6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

1:8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight

1:9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,

1:10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,

1:12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;

1:14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Sermon

This reading in Ephesians is so beautiful that you could just read it and soak it in. As you read, you can almost feel the joy and praise in Paul’s heart as he wrote this letter to the church at Ephesus. So this morning I want to unpack some of this letter, but I hope that you will go back and just read it through to yourself at some point and substitute your name for the words “us” and “our” as you read it. Just to get a little perspective.

So let’s look at these verses because there is a lot of theology in here. Just to break it into pieces we will look at verses 3 through 6 as being the work of God the Father.

3-6 Work of God the Father

The Father has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. What kind of blessings? Where are they? We are thankful for so many things. For our family, for our home. For food on our table. But those are all earthly things. They are external and can be lost. But how much more thankful for a new heart? How much better than earthly food is to be filled with Christ, something that is never fattening, will not raise your Cholesterol, and you will never need to eat again! And it cannot burn up, be stolen, or be broken. We can have it always and forever!

There was a story that I heard once about an elderly couple who were found dead in their apartment. An autopsy was done and it was discovered that the couple died from malnutrition. What a sad story, a poor couple, with nothing to eat. What is even sadder is that they later found over 40,000 dollars squirrelled away in a closet in their apartment. They had all the resources they needed but they lived as though those resources didn’t exist!

We are blessed by God, chosen, adopted and redeemed! Not someday when we get to heaven but right now, it was done before the foundation of the world! 

Some of us may be dying of spiritual malnutrition, not because we don’t have resources, but because we have left them in a closet! We take them out on Sunday for church or when something catastrophic happens. But the resources are always there 24-7.

Paul wanted the church at Ephesus to understand that these blessings were available to them as they are to us, and they and us are to apply them to our lives every day, all the time! To apply them, We need to understand them. Paul says we need to know who we are in Christ. The first thing that Pauls says we are is:

Chosen! 

Some of you may have been athletic when you were young. The only athletic thing I could do was run. I was 5’ 10’ in Junior high school and a lot like an Irish Setter puppy. My limbs grew too fast for me to get the hang of using them. When it came to playing games that included choosing sides, I was often the last one picked. Everyone knew I was a klutz. For a kid, that is painfully humiliating. The few times that someone was kind enough to choose me, I was so very grateful. So, what does this mean to us? I would love to say that being chosen gave me that extra boost of self-confidence and I played the kickball game of my life but while I certainly tried harder because I didn’t want to disappoint my friends, I was still a klutz. But I was in the game.  

It doesn’t matter how many times you have messed up, you were picked by God. It doesn’t matter if you think you have nothing to offer that God can use, God picked you! It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, how much money you have or don’t have, how smart you are, how old you are, or even how clumsy you are. God picked you!! The only time I can remember being picked first, it was because my best friend was one of the team captains and when she picked me first, I knew that I mattered more to her than winning the game. I was valued. I was important to her and it had nothing to do with how athletic I was. God picked us. You are valued by God. It wasn’t because of you. It wasn’t because you earned it. YOU are in the game! Now once I was chosen to be on the team, I still had to actually play. I was picked but my response was to participate. I had to participate in what the team was doing. 

What did God choose us for? It wasn’t for kickball. What did the letter to Ephesus tell us? “tto be holy and without blame before Him in loveAnd here is where it gets a little confusing. Maybe confusing isn’t the right word. Mystery. This is part of the mystery. On the one hand, you were chosen for no reason. Yet, you were also chosen for a reason – to be holy and blameless. Now I know personally that there is no way I can be holy and blameless on my own. Far far from it. But we will talk more about that a little later. 

First, let’s see who else does Paul say we are in Christ? 

We are adopted

In biblical times, when Romans adopted someone, they first had to free them so they were a citizen. Sometimes there would be no heir so adoption was the only way to continue the family line. Once adopted, they brought all their possessions and descendents with them and they became heirs with full access to all that being a member of the family included. As a parent, you know that whatever you are doing, your kids have access to you, like no one else does. It doesn’t matter what you have going on in your life, if your kids need you, you will drop what you are doing and get to them. That is the kind of access we have. We are not just on the team, we are in the family! Paul tells us in Galations 4:7 “Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” Just think about that for a minute. You have the ear of the creator of the universe! Abba, papa, daddy, you have His heart, you are on His mind. He picked you, He adopted you, and you are family!

So are you spending time with Him? Like a family member? Are you submitting to what He has for you? Because God is always doing something, and you are on the team. When you are family, you pay attention! You think about your family. You are in the family. You are invited to participate in what the creator of the world is doing! 

Something else to think about. That person that cut you off in traffic? They too are chosen. That person who doesn’t look like you, dress like you, live like you? They too are adopted. That makes them your family. Your brother or sister. They too are invited to participate in kingdom living! Maybe part of that holy and blameless stuff has to do with that…how we treat our family.

Why did God adopt us? Paul says because it pleased Him. God chose you and adopted you just because it pleased Him!

What is the next thing Paul says we are in Christ?

We are accepted

Not only are you in the family. You are not the black sheep of the family! 

See, I think that some of us think that God sees us as that person no one wants to pick for the team. Some of us think that God sees us as that one family member, who when they walk in on a holiday, everyone inwardly groans.. That perhaps God sees us as that one annoying neighbor, who when their number shows up on caller ID, everyone acts like they had their phone turned off.  We may think even when we pray, that we are heard as that great aunt that tells the same stories over and over. No! 

That may be hard for some of us to really take in. Maybe you feel like you have let Him down one too many times. Maybe you think you made too many wrong choices. Maybe you have been lonely and you are starting to wonder if He is even there! But precious people ,we are clothed in Christ. God sees us as acceptable because of Jesus.

You may think, “I am a sinner, how can God love me?” But there is another thing that Paul says we are in Christ! And that brings us to verses 7 and 8.

7-8 The work of God the Son

We are redeemed

Remember earlier, I said that in Roman adoption, a slave had to be freed before they could be adopted? A Roman would have to purchase a slave and go through the legal process of freeing that slave in order to adopt them. Redemption comes from the Latin word redimere, a combination of re(d)-, meaning “back,” and emere, meaning “buy.” Paul uses the word redeem to describe what God the Son did for us.We were slaves to sin and God went through the legal process to buy us to set us free!

These verses tell us what He bought us with.  We are told in the old testament that the punishment for sin is death. In the old testament it was the sacrifice of animals but that only covered sin. It was temporary. People had to sacrifice every year. In the new testament, we learn of the Messiah, who went to the cross to pay for the sins of all of us, once and for all. We are set free, but not to do whatever we want. We are set free from the bondage of sin. We are set free from the Law and guilt. We don’t have to try to work our way into heaven, never knowing for sure if we have done enough, never knowing for sure that there isn’t some sin that we forgot about. Never knowing for sure if we have pleased God. God the Father chose you! God the Father adopted you! God the Father accepted you! And through God the Son, He redeemed you!

13-14 The work of the Holy Spirit

We Have help!

All the way back to creation, we see that God steps into chaos and creates something beautiful – “the world was without form and void and then  the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the water.” That same spirit of God that moved upon the face of the water is moving in our world and that Spirit steps into our chaos, and makes us into something beautiful. Through His grace, we trade ashes for beauty! That same spirit, when you first believed, when you heard this gospel, this good news about your salvation, you were sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit, now lives within us and is our helper, our comforter. The work of God, the Holy Spirit, active in the world, active in us, present right now, not in some distant future, not when we all get to heaven, not somewhere beyond the clouds, but right here, right now, in you, in me. We are all chosen, adopted, accepted, redeemed. God loves us so much that He didn’t leave us standing alone, waiting to be picked. Waiting to be part of a family. 

Verse 14 says “this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” 

Romans 5: 6-8 NIV Version says it like this:

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  

We were powerless. But God….God demonstrated – He acted! He did something!  

In Hebrews 13:5 we are told “I will never leave you nor forsake you” 

Because of Jesus we don’t have to wonder if we are good enough. We don’t have to wonder if God loves us. We don’t have to wonder about our salvation. This is the promise of God. Through God’s grace and for His glory, God the Son, Jesus Christ is our reassurance from our Father, that with the very present help of God the Holy Spirit, the kingdom is here and we are a part of it, He will not leave us, and that my friends, is very Good News! Glory to God our Creator, Father, Savior, and Comforter!

Amen? Amen!

Lake Evening

as the trees hug the shore of the chilled lake
a lone tree bears witness to the sinking sun
twigs reaching for the last rays of warmth
orange fades to gray, blue fades to black
rooted and nourished, drinking deep from rain to lake
to tree to sky and round and round like earth and seasons
spinning sun to night and come the morning
all begins anew

Photo by Nelda Zamir

Covid Reflections

The sound of the drill
as screws are driven into boards.
the plink of a dropped screw hitting concrete
a cardinal sits in the tree complaining
as though we are infringing on his territory
the sun reflected on the living room wall
after tree limbs were trimmed

masks hanging off the shifter in the car
our new normal
as grocery shopping becomes
an adventure
discussed and prepared for
instead of a taken for granted
weekly chore

roped off pews and covered faces
choir loft empty, hallowed places
Facebook comments, dropped amens
lonely blessed praying faces
carry memories through halls
seasons passed and cold winds shiver

shaggy uncut hair
doctor visits online
no hugs
choosing what social activities
are worth the risk
of not knowing
the anxious feeling of being too close
to strangers who used to be friends

waiting for the spring to come
hoping for reprieve
to poke our heads up
like tiny shoots of grass
through cold leaves
who will we be?

Sermon December 13, 2020

Call To Worship

The spirit of the Lord God is coming!
He brings good news to the oppressed, heals the broken-hearted, and sets the captive free!
The spirit of the Lord God anoints us!
We proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor!
Worship the one who clothes us with garments of salvation!
We come to worship the Lord our God!

Opening Prayer

Proclamation of Scripture
Prayer for Illumination: Guide us, O God, by your Word, and Holy Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover peace; through Christ our Lord Amen


Old Testament Reading

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion– to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.

They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. 


Epistle Reading

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. 

Gospel Reading

John 1:6-8, 19-28
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. 

Sermon
Last week at Powderly and Chicota, I talked about how God calls us in the wilderness and how we are also voices that cry out in the wilderness. I talked about how waiting can be hard and we think sometimes that God is silent and far away. But we are reminded that God waited a thousand years after King David and four hundred years after the last prophet Malacchi to bring a messiah. 

The voice in the wilderness tells us to prepare the way of the Lord. 

This week, we get some insight into how to do that.

Sometimes, all we have are our words. But words can be powerful.  John knew this. He was a master at telling the story of Jesus in a way that would make Jesus live for those who listened.

William Barclay speaks of how words to the Jews, were more than a mere sound. They had life and power. He has a quote in his commentary on John about “a man who performed a heroic act and found it impossible to tell his fellow tribesman for lack of words – whereupon there arose another “afflicted with the necessary magic of words”, and he told a story in terms so vivid and so moving that the words came alive and walked up and down in the hearts of his hearers.”

The old testament is filled with the power of words. Remember when Isaac blessed Jacob instead of Esau, there was nothing he could do to take that blessing back. The words had gone out and begun to act. We see in creation, the Word of God, in action. All through Genesis we read “And God said..” And it was so. Words have power.

In our old testament reading we can pull out some wonderful words. Those words were meant for a people that had been in exile and now are returning to a home they no longer know. Remember that their entire existence was tied to being God’s people and living in the land God promised them. They were not just exiled from their geography. They lost their identity! They are navigating uncharted waters. Isaiah uses words like comfort, build up, raise, repair. Words of hope for a future. A cycle of wilderness and homecoming. Isaiah tells the people that their descendants will be known among the nations so the blessing is not just for the hearers, but for future generations. For a people that has been living in exile, these must have been hopeful words indeed!

Then we move to the gospel of John and John tells us of one who is not the light, but comes to testify to the light. When the priest and Levites – the church folks…asked John who he was, he had an answer ready. That answer was interesting. Instead of saying who he was, he told them who he was not. And knowing who we are not is on the way to knowing who we are.

We are not the Messiah. We are not prophets. But we can bind up the broken-hearted that are placed in our path. We can show those who are bound that they will be released and if possible? Hold the gate open. We can live in a way that points to the light, to the One who is coming, who’s sandal, like John, we are not fit to untie. Cycles of wilderness and homecoming, light and dark, crucifixion and resurrection,  and how we are to live between. 

There are at least one hundred references to light in the bible. 

Genesis 1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good”


Isaiah 42:16  And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.   


John 12:36   While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.
Ecclesiastes 2:13 Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.


Matthew 6:22-23 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!


Psalm 119:130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.           

This year things are different. We decorate our sanctuary, anyway. Family can’t gather the way they usually do. We can decorate our trees and our homes, anyway. This year I put my Christmas tree up before Thanksgiving. We often have the lights on in the evening. I needed that extra cheer this year. I needed that extra light! And if I needed that light, how much more do people who are suffering this year. From Covid, from isolation, from loss of income, from anxiety about the future? 

Christmas may LOOK different this year. Church may look different. But as we look forward to the celebration of the birth of our Savior in a dark and broken world, let us remember that in Him there is hope. In Him, there is light. We are called to be sons of that light. Christians called to be little Christs. We are to give birth to the Savior within ourselves. 

So what is on the outside may be pretty. The lights on our tree, the decorations in our church, are traditions that mean a lot to us. We look back to Christmas past, to when we were kids, or to when our children were small. Maybe there is a silly gift that has been passed on through the years, a special ornament, a special dish that your family always has to eat. Those things are a part of our stories, the words that conjure up pictures of our lives.

For many people, the reality of Christmas doesn’t measure up to the picture in their minds or on tv. This year especially, Christmas is not what we have been used to. For many, this year, Christmas will mark a time of grief. 

Those pictures we hold dear in our hearts of Christmas are not bad. The building we worship in, the hymns we miss singing, being able to gather and eat together, none of those things are bad. 

But they are not the light. So if those things are temporarily missing does that mean we stop pointing to that light? That we don’t celebrate Christmas? That we stop being the church? No! We just find new ways.

The church is bigger than the building, and the light is greater than the dark.  

Psalm 126  says When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. 

Galatians 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.


Micah 6:8 “what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

And our reading from Thessalonians: Rejoice always, and pray without ceasing….test everything; hold fast to what is good

We bear the seeds for sowing, and come home with shouts of joy.

The letter to Thessalonica is a happy letter. The church that Paul and Timothy planted there was growing. The members were loving on another, they were holding to their beliefs even under persecution. So Paul writes to encourage them. He commends them for their good example, reminds them of Christ’s return and then goes on to list the ways that they can grow more and more in their faith until that day comes. Paul never says, hey Thessalonica, you are good. You are done. Nope. He tells them they are doing good and then he gives them homework! What that looks like may change with the seasons of our lives but we never stop growing. We are never done with our homework, not until, what did Paul say? “May your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” 

We are in uncharted waters. You. Me. Even our pastor. He went to school to learn how to preach to filled pews. To gather people together in fellowship. To do – what? Pastoral care. No pastor, preacher, or priest, trained for how to do church in the time of covid. This means that we are ALL learning as we go along. We are all in the wilderness. We all need the light to help us find our way. So let’s light up our homes, light up our sanctuary, Be the light for each other, because in the light, in the sowing of the seeds that have been planted in us, is where we grow closer to and more like Jesus and that is where we will find joy. Just this morning I read Adam Hamilton saying he was ending his sermon today with this question and so I am shamelessly stealing it. Emmanuel means God with us – who has been Emmanuel to you? Who have you been Emmanuel for? God is drawing near. Let’s get ready!

Blessing

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen

Sermon December 6, 2020 2nd Sunday of Advent

Music – Judy Moffett

Call To Worship
Leader: God says, “Comfort, o Comfort my people”
People: We are busy, worried, stuck in traffic!
Leader: God says, “Get up to a high mountain and shout the good news!”
People: We trudge along, looking for joy in long held traditions!
Leader: But through it all, we are carried in the bosom of God”
People: We wait with patience, for God is with us even now!

Opening Prayer

Presentation of Advent Liturgy

Readings

Speak: Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God” Isaiah 40:1

Light the second candle – the candle of peace

Read: Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Reflect: Isaiah calls the people to get up to a high mountain. For generations, people have cried out as Isaiah does that the paths are crooked, the valleys too far down, the mountains too high. We fear stumbling on uneven stretches of the journey. What if we could see it all from God’s perspective, that through it all God is the source of eternal peace?

Do: Each time you set out on a road or a pathway today, pause and ask God to grant you peace. Driving to work, walking into the office, or taking the dog for a walk, remember God’s promise of peace.

Pray: God of our journeys, whether we walk with purpose or wander without clear direction, whether we are in a valley or on the mountaintop, grant us your eternal peace. Amen
Proclamation of Scripture 
Prayer for illumination
May our hearts rejoice, as we recall God’s deeds in the reading of God’s holy Word. Amen

Epistle Reading
2 Peter 3:8-15a

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him.

Gospel Reading 
Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

This is the Word of God for the people of God
Thanks be to God

Music Judy Moffit

Sermon

We are moving deeper into the season of Advent on the church calendar. A time when we look forward to the birth of the savior. We have an opportunity this year, as in no other, to reflect on what this really means to each of us personally. What happens to our faith in that Savior, when everything we are used to, is stripped away. What if face to face church is shut down again before Christmas. We are so tied to our traditions that sometimes the traditions seem more important than Jesus himself. We get comfortable and I don’t know about you, but I like comfort.

What traditions are we hanging tight to and what does it mean? I love this little church. I love that we help our community. I love that the people of this congregation are willing to give, of their time, their tithes, their talents. to help each other and to help others. We are held together with the glue of our relationships, our community, family, and faith. These are days when some of that glue seems to be a little thin sometimes. Not because we lost our desire. But we lost our normal ways of living those things out. We can’t hug, we can’t sing, we have to be careful about gathering. We can’t enjoy a meal together as a church without risk.

Have we measured faith by how many Sundays someone shows up at church? What happens now if we can’t always physically be in the building? If we can’t meet for church we may need a new yardstick.

In the text from Isaiah, A voice cries out “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord”. Not from a place of comfort, prepare the way of the Lord, Not from a place of affluence, not from a place of certainty, not even from a place of strength. IN THE WILDERNESS.

I have never seen a pretty building called wilderness. I have never been in the wilderness and found a cushioned pew to sit on or a pastor wearing a suit and tie. Nowhere in scripture will we find the words thou shalt gather in a building and listen to a sermon and leave your tithe. This is what I require of you. Amen. Nowhere. I’m not saying that we should not come to church if we can safely or that we should not come to church when covid is under control. We were made to be in community.

So what does the reading today tell us we should be doing in the wilderness? Prepare the way of the Lord.

And where did John the Baptist appear? In the wilderness. People were flocking to this odd fellow wearing animal skins and eating bugs,  to be baptized, to repent, and to be forgiven of their sins. Flocking to the wilderness.
A voice says “Cry Out!” And I said ”What shall I cry?” 

Advent is a time of waiting, a time of hope, a time of preparation, and a time of anticipation. We have certainly been waiting. And hoping. Maybe we are running a little thin on anticipation.

But God waited a thousand years after King David to bring the messiah. 400 years after the last prophet, Malachhi prophesied. And then everything that happened was just one surprise after another. God didn’t go down the list and decide on a candidate for the mother of Jesus on the basis of status. She was not a church leader or a megachurch pastor with a huge budget and tons of programming. The mother of the savior of the world was not chosen because her family was financially or socially positioned to be able to provide a good home, a proper Jewish education. This young woman did not live in a cultural city with opportunities for growth and the most up to date medical care available.

The baby Jesus was not born in a hospital. He was not even born at home. In terms of what we think would be needed in getting ready for the birth of a new baby, they would not seem to be prepared! The first people to be told of His birth were not the local leaders of the synagogue so that they could spread the word to the people, plan a church dinner and welcome Jesus into the community. It was shepherds. Poor guys that spent all their time with sheep, probably didn’t smell very good, certainly could not contribute much to fund the ministry of Jesus. Because of the way they lived, they probably could not even go to temple so they were not even regular church attenders!

The actual birth of Jesus takes place and the first visitors to journey to bring Him gifts are some sketchy pagan dream interpreters – not the Methodist Ladies group!

Then there is a census and God sends Joseph and Mary and the infant to Egypt – the very place that God has saved his people from.

We read and re-read the birth narrative every year, we decorate our trees and we have our pretty manger scenes that are all clean and shiny. (Can you imagine what you would look like and smell like after riding a camel across the desert??)

The people of Isaiah’s time cried out and God heard them and spoke and took them home. 

God calls us in the wilderness. He doesn’t call us because of how good we are, or how nicely we are dressed, or how often we attend church. He calls unlikely people to do surprising things, and just when we think we know the rules and that we are doing pretty well, He tells us all our shiny clean is like filthy rags and He sends grace to us. Just when we think we have positioned ourselves where He wants us, He says go to Ninevah and save your enemies. Just when we think we have reached an age where we are too old for ministry, He sends a pastor who nudges you out of your comfort zone and you find yourself speaking in front of the church. Just when we think our exile or wilderness is going to last forever, God gathers us in and speaks Jesus into being in our lives. As soon as we think that too much time has passed and we have gotten comfortable with or just accepted that this is how things are done, He sends an angel to a poor girl and everything that we thought we knew of God is re-imagined. 

Before Jesus, people put God in a box that they could understand. and God took that box, dumped it out and showed the world that He is so much more than we can fit in a box, or a house, or even a church. Here we are thousands of years later and we are still putting God in a box.

The people who heard the words of the prophet Isaiah knew about being kept outside of the box. They had been in exile and now they are leaving their place of exile and returning home. But who are they now? Their lives have changed. They have changed. They married, made a place in the Babylonian society. Figured out ways to live their “new normal” lives in quarantine. They have gotten comfortable in their wilderness. They have gotten used to a society that is all about power and wealth and doesn’t care about the fringe. Now they ARE the fringe. So maybe this return is a little scary. Isaiah gives them words of comfort. God will gather His lambs. 

So maybe one challenge for us this year is to listen for the voice calling in the middle of our pandemic wilderness. Listen for the God who transcends boxes as He calls to us and gathers His lambs. Comfort! O Comfort my people! 

Going forward, how do we prepare the way of the Lord? How do we become the voice that is lifted up? What valleys can we raise and what mountains can we lower to allow God’s voice to come through to ALL His people – to speak Jesus into the lives of all? What can we learn from this time? What voices will we listen to? If we need a new measuring stick what will that look like? 

This Advent season let us be learning, praying, seeking God. Maybe because of Covid, we are not as busy as usual. Maybe Christmas is going to be quiet this year. There may be more solitude than we would like. Let’s use some of that quiet time to ask questions. Start a prayer journal. Do an internet search on a book of the bible. Try typing something like “Jonah outline” in the search box. Look for commentaries on the birth story so we can look from a different perspective – fresh eyes on something that is so familiar. Learn something new. Bring it back to your church family. When we can all safely gather together again, will we as a church be the same? Will that be a good thing? Can we find new ways to connect? I believe we can because we already have! It may seem like this is lasting a long time but remember, God doesn’t want anyone to be left out. Remember the epistle reading. Time is different for God. God isn’t asleep at the wheel. He is waiting for US.  

We are to be “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” I thought that phrase was interesting. Isn’t that a picture of preparing for the birth of a child? You do all the things you need to do to be ready and then you still have to wait for the actual birth. The Kingdom of God is coming and the Kingdom of God is here. We wait for it as we become it. We hope for it as we see glimpses of it. We are on our way back to God and like excited children, during Advent, we keep asking “Are we there yet?” 

God is drawing near. Let’s get ready!

The lectionary notes this week contained something that I loved and want to share with you. 

“So, they cried out. And God heard.
And God will bring them home —not necessarily to the home that they envisioned, but to the home that God envisions—the community that God calls us to create. The relationships that fulfill us and connect us—this is the home we seek, all of us. And it is the home we find in Jesus. The child in the manger and the savior on the cross speak of home to us. Home is where we are loved and healed and heard.”

Loved, healed and heard. Those are such beautiful words. It is even more beautiful to experience those things. When God’s people cried out to Him, He heard them and through His great love, He healed them and brought them home. The world cried out to God and He heard and through His son, He poured out His love on us and is bringing us home. We cry out from the wilderness and God responds. We respond by lifting our voices and our lives in praise and making space for others to have that same beautiful relationship. 


My prayer for all of us in this season is that we stop worrying about the box, stop worrying about our traditions, stop worrying about what we have lost. Let us see what we can learn to be in a new way without losing the core of who we are and what we believe, May we feel loved, healed and heard by each other and by God who has been speaking with and to us from creation and still speaks and listens. May we all share a part of that glorious conversation. Amen

Father, as we prepare for the celebration of the birth of Your son, our savior, help us to learn to listen to each other, not just with our ears, but with our hearts because how can we help to heal our world if we don’t understand where the broken places are. Show us how we can connect with each other better as a community as we also draw close to you so that you can draw others. Father, as we grow and learn to listen and heal, help us understand this love that you have given us. We need your grace, we need space to understand how each of us is to live to be found by You, at peace. Sometimes our striving seems more like wandering so help us to keep our eyes on this tiny baby who is the way, the truth and the life that leads us home to you. Amen

Would you pray with me?

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen

Benediction
Wait for the Lord! God’s righteousness will appear!
We move forward in faith and hope!
Be patient, for God is slow but gracious
We move forward with joy and gratitude!
Make a straight path for the Lord our God!
Through advent, we journey toward Christmas!

Blessing Numbers 6:24-26

‘“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

The Field

I wander in the field
tall weeds catching on my clothes
you can’t walk here
without taking some of it home
hitch hikers, stickers and burrs,
bits of pollen, a dead leaf
each needing something
even if it is just
to walk with someone for awhile
and the sun is warm
as my fingers brush the plants in passing
bits of husk and seed float away
on the fall breeze
I wonder what will take root
what will feed and what will become
pieces of nesting
to cradle next years infant birds
for the moment, I just breathe
that is the gift.