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.

November 1, 2020 Sermon

All Saints Day
On All Saints Day, we remember all those who have gone on to glory before us. As followers of Christ, we grieve our losses but not the same way that people who have no hope grieve. Looking back on the lives of people who were faithful, helps us to be faithful, even when things seem hopeless. Our reading from Joshua is an example of remembering God’s faithfulness in the past, and how it helped the ancient Israelites and now, helps us to live into the hope of the future in the kingdom of God.

Leader: Come give thanks to God!
People: God’s steadfast love endures forever!
Leader: With holy hands, we are protected!
People: God turns wastelands into beautiful gardens!
Leader: Give thanks to God!
People: God’s steadfast love endures forever!


Opening Prayer
Father, we come to you this morning in gratitude for all the ways your grace has touched us. We celebrate the simple things, a cup of coffee, friends, a sunset. We pray that we will never again take for granted being able to come together to worship you, a hug, a handshake. Oh God of light, you see us as we are, our perfectly, imperfect selves and you love us all the same and invite us, over and over, to meet with you, to trust you, to surrender to your providential care. You are the creator of all, the keeper of promises, the power that uses ordinary things to accomplish your will. Amen
Prayer for Illumination
Prepare our hearts, O God, to accept your Word. Silence in us any voices but your own, so that we may hear your Word and also do it; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Old Testament Reading Joshua 3:7-17

And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses.  Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”

Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.  This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites.  See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you.  Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe.  And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them.  Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge,  the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.  The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground

Epistle Reading 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12

Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.  For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children,  encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Gospel Reading Matthew 23: 1-12

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:  “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.  They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long;  they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;  they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

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

Joshua was the real deal. He had been an aide and companion to Moses from his youth. When the Israelites turned away from God and Moses, Joshua remained a loyal servant to both. He was not involved in the worship of the golden calf and he was one of the only spies sent into the promised land ahead of the people, who returned. At the end of Moses’ life, God chose Joshua to lead the people into the promised land.

The Israelites have wandered, fought, wandered some more. Now they are about to finally move into the promised land. They might have been relieved, maybe rejoicing. They break camp and make the fairly easy trip to the Jordan river only to find that it has flooded! Normally the Jordan river is about 100 feet wide and 3-10 feet deep in the area where the Israelites crossed but it was harvest time so it was wider and deeper and turbulent. This is all approximate, but it gave me a picture in my mind of the Israelites, full of hope and excitement. A long awaited promise about to be fulfilled.

What do they see? A rushing, flooded river. There is undergrowth that is now covered with water, trees, all kinds of things to get snagged on. The current is rushing. They were there for several days so you know they had to be discussing it among themselves. What about our older folks? What about our sick people, our children? What about our possessions? Their initial excitement has been dampened because the goal that appeared to be within reach, just became impossible to reach.

We can relate to these poor folks and put ourselves in their place. How often have you faced a “personal Jordan”? You can see freedom but it is unreachable. How often have you felt like you were stuck and God’s promises felt like they were on the other side of a very deep and wide chasm? We want to walk by faith. We want to have hope, but we are lost in our own wilderness.

We can’t cross the chasm on our own power. What did Joshua and the Israelites do?

Joshua listened to the Lord. He took his eyes off the chasm and he focused on the ONE who could part the water.

Joshua brought others along with him. He shared his faith with the people and his life testified to that faith.

Joshua trusted God, even as he was looking at what seemed like an insurmountable obstacle.

Joshua obeyed God, even when he could not see the outcome, even when things looked hopeless. 

There was beautiful symbolism in the instructions that were given. They were instructed to carry the Ark of the covenant ahead of the people. Why would this be important? Hebrews 9:4 states that the Ark contained “the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant.”

 The stone tablets were a symbol of God’s relationship with the Israelites, that they were set apart. The manna is a reminder of God’s provision. The dead stick that grew leaves shows God’s ability to use whatever He will to display His power. Covenant, Provision, and Power.

The top of the Ark is described in Exodus 25:17-22  “Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover.  Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends.  The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover.  Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

Psalm 80:1 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth

The cover of the Ark was gold and God would meet them between the Cherubim. It was called an atonement or the mercy seat. This gives us a picture of a foreshadowing of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, who died as an atonement for our sins.

God would go before the nation into the promised land, and with God’s Covenant, Provision, and Power, the people would follow. 

This news is as the letter Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, encouraging, comforting and urging all of us to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. In our reading from Matthew, Jesus is speaking to people who have grown up, knowing the story of Joshua and the crossing the river Jordan into the promised land. They know about the mercy seat. Jesus speaks of another seat. The Moses seat. This was a special chair of honor in the synagogue, reserved for the one who taught with authority. This teacher had the same authority as Moses, to interpret the law. Jesus told the people to be careful to do everything the teacher said, but not what the Pharisees do. There is such a glaring contrast to what Paul said in his letter about them not being a burden to anyone – In Matthew, they (the Pharisees) tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 

I have been watching a show called Anne with an E on Netflix. It is loosely based on the Anne of Green Gables books. Something will happen and the character will have what seems like an over the top reaction. Then there will be a flashback, as the character remembers a specific incident from their past that explains their reaction to the present situation. I told my husband one night as we were watching, that I wished we had those little flashback film bites when people act in ways that surprise us so we could understand them better. 

What expectations do we place on others and how they live out their faith without knowing how life has molded them? Do we encourage and comfort? Or do we add to their burden.

James 1:22 reminds us to “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only. Otherwise, you are deceiving yourselves.”

Reading and saying the words is not difficult. Doing what the Word says is not always so easy, or even so clear. Especially when we are faced with obstacles that seem beyond our human ability to overcome. What do we say when someone else is dealing with something that seems like a wild raging river to them? Do we quote scripture to them and tell them to just have faith? 

Humility, Trust, Obedience, Covenant, Providence, Power, Encouragement, Comfort.

Those are the words that lead us through these texts today. They describe the enduring love that God has for us and they give us a picture of how we can better love each other, the way we are loved. They help us to see past words, past the facade that we show the world, past just reading our bible and bring us into closer relationship with God and with each other. 

The reading from Joshua tells us that there will be obstacles in life that we have no control over. We can trust God’s covenant, providence, and power. The reading from Thessalonians reminds us that there may be criticism, but we can be encouragers and comforters because we are called to live lives worthy of God. Remember Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. The reading from Matthew tells us that the greatest thing we can do on this earth is to serve God and others because Jesus Christ served God and all of us.

If you can’t see the other side of the river, let God take the first steps and follow Him and that is how we all cross the Jordan river into the promised land. 

Amen

Pastoral Prayer
Father, we ask that for those who have endured loss, that you wrap them in the grace of your comfort. For those who face hardship, we ask that you help them to rest in your providential care. For those who feel helpless, we ask that your power and glory be made manifest in their lives so that all can testify about you. We thank you for all that you have done, are doing, and will bring to completion, in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ who taught His disciples to pray.

Benediction
Leader: God reminds us that He is always with us!
People: We lift our voices in praise!
Leader: Through God’s grace we are formed!
People: All who humble themselves will be exalted! Amen

October 18 Powderly United Methodist Church

Call To Worship:
Leader: God is ruler of the earth!
People: God, the giver of life!
Leader: The mountains tremble and the oceans roar!
People: But God is more powerful than all the earth!
Leader: Come now into God’s abiding presence!
People: Show us your Glory, O God, our rock!

Opening Prayer

God of Abraham, God of Moses, God of the early church, like all who came before, we come now, to worship, to pray, to spend time with you. Speak to us this morning, open our hearts to the world around us and to each other. Show us how to love as you love, how to be your people, so that your kingdom will be made visible to all the world through us and draw others to you. We ask in the name of the only one who is worthy, Your son, our savior, Jesus Christ.


Scripture Reading 
Prayer for illumination
May our hearts rejoice as we recall God’s deeds in the reading of God’s Holy Word. Amen

Old Testament Reading

Exodus 33:12-23
Moses said to the LORD, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.” The LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the LORD continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

Epistle Reading

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Gospel Reading

Matthew 22:15-22
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Leader: This is the word of God, for the people of God. 
People: Thanks be to God

Sermon

Our first scripture reading from the old testament begins with Moses talking to God. To give us some context, Exodus is all about Redemption. God heard the cries of His people and rescued them. It’s about Covenant. God makes a binding agreement with His people. It’s about God’s presence. In the beginning of the book, God hears the cries of the people. In the middle, he is on the mountaintop, closer than He has ever been but still a ways off. By the end, God is dwelling in the camp with the Israelites. Moses believes that God’s presence is what sets the nation of Israel apart from every other nation. Moses is traditionally said to be the author of the first five books of the bible. The only person mentioned more than Moses is David. We get to read about Moses from his birth to his death and during that time he plays a lot of roles. In our reading this morning, he has just been through some crazy stuff. He was up on the mountain spending time with God and down in the valley the folks had talked his brother Aaron into melting down all their jewelry and making a god they could see and touch because they had been left alone for a while and their faith wavered. I don’t want to sound too harsh even though it was a very big deal. We are not so different from the stiff-necked people of Exodus. How often do we waver in our faith when it seems like the world is attacking us and God seems distant. We try to fill our lives with things that are temporary, and sometimes they work, for a moment. This crowd had just come out of slavery in Egypt, saw Egypt punished with plagues, seen the red sea parted and so far they have not starved while they are camping in the desert. After all that, they broke the covenant they had with God. We humans forget the good God does pretty quick.

There is a quote and I don’t know the author. but it says “It’s ironic, how we often forget the things worth remembering, but remember the things worth forgetting.”

Moses came down from the mountain carrying the law on tablets and was so mad when he saw what they had done that he smashed the law. Then a very odd thing happened. He burned their golden idol down to ashes and mixed it with water and made them drink it. I don’t know the significance of that little incident but it hit me that what they worshipped even for a short amount of time, became part of them. What we worship, even for a short time, can become part of us.

When Moses confronted Aaron, Aaron gave what must be the weakest excuse in history since Adam blamed Eve after he bit the apple.

“I just threw the gold in the fire and out came this calf” I can picture Moses rolling his eyes…

Moses looked around and something besides just the mysterious appearance of a metal chunk of beef was going on. The bible says that “Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.”

Moses was shepherding what tradition estimates as two to three million people. This is to be the nation of Israel who God brought out of slavery in Egypt and made His own. If we assume that two to three million people have gotten out of hand, Moses has to pull something major out of his hat to get them back on track. A good sermon was not going to get their attention. He drew a sort of line in the sand and called the believers to him and told them to move through the people killing those who did not choose to show up. The story tells us that about three thousand people were killed. This seems extreme and it is one of those bible bits that I personally have trouble with but if nothing else – it tells us that it highlights the magnitude of the problem . The future of the Israelites as a nation was at stake. 

So we have an idea of where we have been and we maybe see ourselves in different parts of this Exodus story.

Maybe you have worshiped something besides God or at least put something worldly above God, and now some remnants are sticking to you and you need some cleaning up.

Maybe you have forgotten some of the good things God has done and are wondering where is He? Is He even listening??

Maybe you did something and you know it was wrong, but instead of owning up and making a change, you made a lame excuse.

Now we come to the part of Exodus in our reading today and there is one little word that I want to focus on.

Moses said to the LORD, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’

Yet is a beautiful word. I hated it as a child because it was usually preceded by the word not. I even dislike it as an adult sometimes when I pray and the answer is not yet.

Yet…

One of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson is Hope.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

The bible is full of “Yets”.

Lamentations 3:19-26

“The thought of my suffering and homelessness
    is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!’

The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
    to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly
    for salvation from the Lord.”

Habakkuk 3:17-19

“Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.”

Jeremiah 50:33-34

“This is what the Lord Almighty says:

‘The people of Israel are oppressed,
    and the people of Judah as well.
All their captors hold them fast,
    refusing to let them go.
Yet their Redeemer is strong;
    the Lord Almighty is his name.
He will vigorously defend their cause
    so that he may bring rest to their land…’”

Moses was nearly killed at birth, a murderer, slow of speech and yet his obedience to God saved the people of Israel.

Aaron made lame excuses and was unable to stand up to people, and yet, he helped Moses lead and eventually became the high priest of the nation of Israel.

God’s people forgot all the things God had done for them and they turned to other things, yet when they repented God was with them.

We are stuck at home, some of us alone, yet, we are still here and we have safe places to stay, food to eat, family and friends that love us.

We are not all able to come to church on Sunday and we miss singing and worshiping and eating together, yet, we have a pastor who has kept us connected and our church still works to bring the kingdom of God alive in our community. We may not be able to sing in church, but the birds are still singing outside.

There is a bad virus floating around and a lot of political turmoil, yet, here we are, on a beautiful Sunday morning, worshiping. The sun is shining, the seasons are still changing, and we are still here. Worshiping with friends, whether they are physically present or with us via the internet.

All the world fell short and sinned, and deserved death, and yet, God sent His Son to suffer and die so that we would be restored to God and as His redeemed people, we live in a world that is completely contradictory to what we are told in the Word, yet, we offer grace and love and a better way to ALL!

Life comes with problems and pain, yet there is joy and healing. 
Life comes with wildfires and hurricanes and floods, yet, there are opportunities in all those disasters, for God’s people to show His love to those who are hurting and in need.

Life comes with questions and doubts and grief, yet we have a God that we can draw close to for comfort and shelter and grace and hope.

John 16:32

“A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home.
You my closest friends on earth will leave me [Jesus] all alone.
Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.”

Jesus knew we would have need of a yet

John 20:29

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed;
blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

It is interesting that we fast forward to the book of Matthew and Jesus is in the temple. A gold object figures prominently in the scene. The Pharisees and Herodians are united only by the fact that they both do not like this troublemaker Jesus.  So the question is tricky. If Jesus says the taxes are lawful, he offends the Pharisees. If he disagrees with the tax, the Herodians who are loyal to Rome are going to pass on what Jesus says and the Romans will handle the problem.  Instead of giving a direct answer, Jesus asks them to show Him the coin. They brought Him the coin. Who’s face is on this coin? Some people point to this passage to say that politics and religion should be separate. Some people say that Jesus was saying that it is our Christian duty to support the government. 

Often, when I read parables, the meaning seems pretty clear. Neat and tidy. But when we look deeper, there is always more to think about. So why is the physical properties of this item important? If we keep in mind our old testament reading and remember that God gave the Israelites the law and one of those laws was that you shall not make any graven images. This exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees points out that they actually possess and are displaying that very thing, in the temple! This raises the stakes a bit. Where is their loyalty? To money or to God? It also reminds us of the very beginning or our creation, when God said let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.

The same question that the ancient Israelites had to answer, the same question that the Pharisees had to answer, and the same question that we have to answer today, is Whose image do you bear? Whatever we render unto Caesar, or to the retirement fund, or even to the offering at church, we can never afford to forget that we belong entirely to God. We were redeemed with the blood of Jesus.  We belong to the God of  “Yets”.

And yet is not the only special little word in the bible. The phrase “but God”, like the word yet, changes the dynamics. The world did this, yet I will worship God. The world broke my heart, but God redeemed me.

Genesis 31:42
If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.

We mess up. We worship wrong things.  We forget Who we belong to, But God. Joseph knew about that. Joseph could say that his brothers “intended to harm him, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

If a couple of little three letter words can change something broken into something beautiful, imagine what the many words we choose to use with others can do.

May we always remember to look for the “yets” that God provides and if someone needs one and can’t find it – may we be the yet that they need!

Prayers and concerns

Morning Prayer
Father this world can be hard, yet there is so much beauty and we thank you for all that you have provided for us. There is pain in the world, but God, you never leave us alone, leave us the same, leave us hopeless. We lift up all that we have mentioned and the things that are deep in our hearts. You know us, inside and out and we ask that you give us grace, give us peace, give us strength, and give us a deeper relationship with you. Even if you are silent, yet, we will worship you because you are the God to yesterday, today, and all of our tomorrows. 
 
The Lord’s Prayer
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 us 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,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.

Benediction
Leader: Go, showering the world with acts of faith!
People: We go forth to serve as a labor of love!
Leader: Be steadfast in hope and love!
People: We depart with joy, trusting God’s guidance each day!

“May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are apart from one another.”

Sunday September 8, 2020

Exodus 12:1-14, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20

Centering Words

We are called to love one another!

We are called to answer God’s invitation!

We are called to walk in the light of God’s love!

Opening Prayer

Father, we ask that you open our hearts and our minds, that rather than just listen to a sermon, we would hear what YOU would say to us this morning and help us to walk in your light throughout all of our days. Amen

Call To Worship

Leader : Prepare for the exodus!

People: We are ready for the journey to freedom!

Leader: Leave the darkness behind!

People: We are ready to live in the light of God’s love!

Leader: Come into the holy life! The life of community!

People: We are at home with Jesus in our midst!

Scripture

Exodus 12:1-14

12:1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:

12:2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.

12:3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household.

12:4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.

12:5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.

12:6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight.

12:7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.

12:8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

12:9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs.

12:10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.

12:11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD.

12:12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.

12:13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

12:14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

Romans 13:8-14

13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

13:9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

13:11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;

13:12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;

13:13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.

13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Matthew 18:15-20

18:15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.

18:16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

18:17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

18:18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

18:19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Sermon 

We know that the focus of the entire bible – both old and new testament, is a picture of God receiving glory by restoring fellowship between all people groups and Himself through His son, Jesus Christ. “ Bill Jones from the book “Putting Together the Puzzle of the New Testament” The readings this week have a thread of anger running through them. God’s anger at the oppression of the Israelites by Egypt, Paul mentions quarrelling and jealousy. Matthew writes a list of tools to deal with sin in the church. 

As always, I am preaching to myself. 

Exodus is part of the origin story of the Jewish people. It draws you in. There is drama, violence, heartbreak, anticipation, fear, and hope! It’s also a picture of Jesus – the blood of an unblemished lamb, sacrificed to atone for our sins. Egypt was a place that the Jewish people had lived in for so long that they lost track of time. Our reading today begins with God telling them what day it is so they will be able to celebrate the holy days. They had become so immersed in the culture of Egypt that they had forgotten who they were. We become so immersed in what is going on around us that we sometimes  forget who we are.  

Exodus is part of a story that on the one hand, we can focus on God delivering the Israelites from the oppression they were experiencing in Egypt but it can also leave us uncomfortable, because punishment is coming to an entire nation, including those who are too young to be guilty of the sin of oppression. It leaves us with hard questions. How can a loving God punish an entire nation including children, babies, who’s only fault is being born into the wrong nation – even the firstborn of the animals! The Israelites are to remember this and celebrate it! 

A question that we often ask in this life is why did something bad happen to someone who seems to us to not deserve it? Things happen that make no sense to us. It can be painful to the point of causing us to question our understanding of God. Next week you will hear about the Israelites following Moses through the Red sea. Don’t you think there were people walking through that wall of water with all different levels of faith? Some may have been smiling from ear to ear, knowing that their God is faithful! Others might have been quickstepping, trembling at the thought of that water coming down on them.  All of those people at all different levels of faith but still following Moses are going to get to the other side and they would be free. They would have to get used to their new normal. It would take forty years of wandering to do it. 

When I read the text for this week, I was dismayed at first. I admit that I am a little nervous about this talk. I wondered how I could talk to you about something that I don’t understand myself.  I prayed about it and asked God to show me what the text is supposed to be telling me. Then I started thinking about the texts from the last few weeks and so to get to where I think I want to end up I need to go back. 

Spoiler alert. There are really no answers here today. If you are hoping for answers you might want to ask for your money back now. This is my attempt to come closer to understanding. My hope is that we all might understand a little better as we walk through these texts. I would like to think that less answers and more questions is how we grow.

So let’s back up a bit and see what we can find.

In the text for the week before last, Jesus asked the disciples who people said He was. They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus told Peter that he was blessed. Peter had been gifted with a divine revelation from God that told him who Jesus is. 

Not long after that conversation, we find Peter again in conversation with Jesus.

In last weeks’ text, Matthew 16:21-28 Peter could not bring himself to believe that his friend and teacher, Jesus, would have to suffer and die. Jesus’ response was “Get behind me Satan!” In a split second, Peter went from being the rock to being a stumbling block. Peter was certain that he KNEW who Jesus is. He didn’t actually DO anything wrong. He just started to think wrong thoughts. The commentary I read, said that we, like Peter, want to find a way to Easter, without going through Good Friday.

Avoiding suffering is a natural human response. But suffering happens. We can’t stop it, we can’t control it, and often we can’t fix it. We are powerless.

Jesus chose to be obedient and to suffer and die. That suffering and death produced transformation. That transformation was Jesus’ resurrection. We can’t avoid suffering in this life. But we do have some control over how we walk through it and what kind of transformation it will create in us. Again, looking back at previous weeks  – Romans 12:2 said “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

We move to the New Testament and Pauls starts with Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. It is almost as though Paul is saying okay, ten commandments is too much for you? Here is the simplified version. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. 

In Exodus, God reminds the Israelites what day it is and then we fast forward and Paul also gives a caution about time. In 13:11-12 he says “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;” 

In Matthew we are given a list of steps to use as tools for resolving conflict ending with a passage we have all heard many times. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

I have heard that phrase many times but never understood it in this context. I have heard it said in bible study, in worship, in prayer, that as long as two or more are gathered in His name He is there. Does that mean that if there is not two, Jesus is not present? No! We are told in The Great Commission “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

So in this context, we learn that there has been another shift from what the Jewish people knew of the principle of sin and punishment. They have gone from destroying an entire nation to an eye for an eye and all the other old testament rules for meting out justice, and now to a completely different way of thinking. Kingdom living is about reconciling people to each other and to God. 

Mathew gives us a few clues that are a little hard to swallow. People will sin against each other even in the church. People in the church will not always listen to each other. When we encounter a painful situation in the context of being part of the church we are to do everything we can to restore the relationship. When we have done all we can, we can trust that the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ, who knows a lot about suffering and death, will be in the midst of it. 

We have questions. We suffer. We feel anger sometimes when the cause of the suffering is another person and we tend to think it is worse when the person causing the suffering is a Christian. 

Maybe you don’t feel this way but I confess that I struggle with feeling like Jonah sometimes. In my anger and hurt I don’t always want the person that hurt me to be restored. 

I’m also not fond of the idea of spending time inside a whale belly so it comes down to trust. We have to work at accepting that there is uncertainty rather than easy answers. We have to remember that God’s ways are higher than our ways. We have to wander ourselves out of that anger and suffering wilderness and trusting God, even when I don’t understand, that the Jesus who went from wilderness to mission to the cross to resurrection, will be right there in the middle of the pain, working. We have to constantly answer the question for ourselves, no matter where we are in our faith journey – who do we say Jesus is? And maybe hardest of all, we have to be willing to submit to suffering sometimes while searching for ways to find grace in the midst of it because that is where Jesus meets us. 

Are you quick stepping fearfully or trudging along wishing for the good old days,  between two walls of water? You are not alone. Have you been holding on by the skin of your faith and now you are just trying to navigate changes in a shifting world? You are not alone. Are you trying to understand what God desires from you? You are not alone. Do you feel like your faith is strong and you have it all together one minute and the next you are unsure and confused about everything? You are not alone. Have you been hurt by someone and you wonder how it can ever be fixed? You are not alone. Jesus is there – always, to the very end of the age.

The Israelites fled to Egypt to escape a famine. Then, life changed. If we have questions, imagine what it would have been like for the Israelites in this text! They are obediently fleeing from the very place that helped them to survive. They had settled in and become part of the community. There is conflicting information in the bible about the length of time the Israelites spent in Egypt. One part of Exodus says 430 years and another part says four generations, but however long it was – it was a long time. The Israelites would not have known any other home. For me, it seems difficult to reconcile this God who destroyed the first born of an entire nation with God that we see through the lens of Jesus. The Israelites were told to trust God and obey when and how they were told. They trusted and believed and obeyed and were saved. But not without some suffering. Mistakes were made, consequences came about. It would seem that like those wandering Israelites, we are still wandering and having to learn over and over again, that the world changes whether it is Egypt or Texas. Only Jesus remains the same. Yesterday, today, and forever. In Jesus we can lay down our questions, hand over our pain, and trust that He will complete what He started and sometimes it is not for us to understand. We just have faith.

Paul tells us in the letter to the new Christians in Rome, that there is a yardstick we can use to determine what God desires of us. Life was complicated then and it is sure enough complicated now, and if we are trying to discern what the right thing is in any situation, Paul tells us to measure every decision, every interpretation of the law against loving our neighbor and reconciling the relationship with them and with God through that love. 

We learn what that kind of love means by answering the question – who is Jesus Christ? Answering that question does not tell us how close we are to being justified. It shows us how wide the chasm is between us and Kingdom living and shows us the depth of our need for our savior, Jesus Christ. 

Prayer

Father, when you created man, you said “Let us create man in our image.” Help us to line ourselves up with that image. When we, like sheep, wander off, we ask that Jesus, the loving shepherd, lead us back to you. If you require us to leave what feels safe and familiar, remind us that you are present. We ask for the same blessing that you gave Peter – that we will know that Jesus Christ, Your Son is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Teach us how we should think, so that what flows out of our hearts becomes how we live. If suffering is required of us, help us to walk with grace so that even in painful times, people will see You and be reconciled to You. Amen

Benediction

Leader: Put your sandals on your feet!

People: We are ready, staff in hand!

Leader: Walk out of the darkness, into the light!

People: We enter into the joy of God’s love!

Leader: Respond to God’s call today!

People: We go out into the world with Christ’s love in our hearts!

Blessing 

2 Corinthians 13:14 says

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

Go in Peace!

Deep Water

Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

following Jesus
can get you into deep water
you think Jesus is right there with you
when whoosh, a wave slaps you in the face
and you come up sputtering
in darkness blowing all around you
kicking to the surface to search and
you know you can’t make it to shore
but you get a glimpse
a lightening flash
shows the Word
of hope
of help
of sandal shod feet
walking on wave tops
and you cry out
a small voice in the maelstrom
He calls you out and out you go
matching your feet to His
you dance
before your feet of clay turn to mud
and start to sink,
you too, rise above the churning water
but even in the sinking
a hand reaches out
and you find yourself plopped back in the boat
because no matter how deep the water
how wild the wind
the One you follow
is the way home.

Grief and Healing

Matthew 14:1-21

At that time Herod the ruler[a] heard reports about Jesus; and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife,[b] because John had been telling him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Though Herod[c] wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; 10 he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. 12 His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.

Feeding the Five Thousand

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Jesus was grieving over the death of John. There are so many lessons in this text but the one that hit me was that even in His grief, Jesus had compassion for the people. When His disciples, who knew He was grieving wanted to send hungry people away, Jesus asked them to do something I believe He asks us to do – feed them. When the disciples could only see what they did NOT have, Jesus walked them through it. He prayed. He took what little He had and put it in God’s hands to make it not just enough, but more than enough. The text also spoke to me personally, that even Jesus experienced grief. He wanted to go off and be alone with it. But, He continued to be in relationship with people and continued to serve. A little part of me thinks He was telling us this is how to do grief. This is how to walk through it and not get pulled under it. I pray that we can listen to that advice.

When bad news comes
like a family member has lost their head
looking for solitude is an acceptable response
grief is heavy and no one can help you carry it
it is invisible
and only those close to you know
that you are carrying a heavy rock
and even they may make demands on you
and while you may think
them unfair
you can’t help others with your hands full of rock
so you set it down and turn your face
from stone to flesh
and you fill a need
and take a step
heal a pain
another step
And find you have left the stone behind
it’s still there, just not taking all your strength
you realize your hands are empty
so you pray
and someone gets fed
someone gets changed
it might be you.

God Still Moves Stones

Sermon July 19, 2020 God is Faithful to Move Stones

Opening Prayer

Almighty God,

the fountain of all wisdom,

you know our necessities before we ask

and our ignorance in asking:

Have compassion on our weakness,

and mercifully give us those things

which for our unworthiness we dare not,

and for our blindness we cannot ask;

through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God,

now and forever.

Amen.

“Common Book of Prayer”

Call To Worship

Leader: We are proof of the fulfillment of God’s promise; we are the descendants…too many to count!

People: Like the dust of the earth, like the sands of the beach, like the stars in the heavens

Leader: We are the descendants…too many to count!

People: From the west and the east; from the north and the south.

Leader: Too many to count!

People: From the Atlantic and the Pacific, from Antartica to Australia!

Leader: We are the descendants…too many to count!

People: From Canada to Cote d’Ivoire; from New York to Nairobi!

Leader: We are the descendants…too many to count!

People: We are blessed! To be a blessing!

Old Testament Reading

Genesis 28:10-19a

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the LORD stood beside him and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place–and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel;

Epistle Reading

Romans 8:12-25

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh –for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Gospel Reading

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’’Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.””He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Sermon

This week, as I sat in the pew at Celebrate Recovery, socially distancing, wearing my mask. Our large group service started and since we are not singing, Mark played several music videos. The first notes started and the first video was It is Well. Not the hymn, but the newer praise version that I have sung multiple times on Sunday morning and on Thursday nights at CR. I immediately teared up. I was trying to quietly sing with my mask on and at first I managed, but before it was over I just bowed my head because I was full out ugly crying. Good thing I was wearing a washable mask and not one of those paper ones.

I think that I have been very angry about many things to do with this time of trial we are going through. The virus has taken so much. There have been blessings and I am so very grateful for them. That song has seen me through some things. When I had a cancer scare and lost all of that weight, I sang it and took comfort. It was ministering to me and a prayer all at the same time. I was claiming the promise that God would be with me through everything and at the same time asking God to continue to reassure me of His faithfulness to keep that promise. But Thursday night, all I could think was no! Father, It is not well with my soul right now. And I felt like this stone inside my heart just started to melt away. I was still sad about the things we have lost and are losing because of this pandemic. But lighter too.

Then I read the scriptures for today and the Old Testament scripture mentioned stones. When I went to the bible gateway website and put stone in the keyword space, thousands of entries popped up.

I thought about that stone inside of me and of stones in the bible. Jacob used a stone for a pillow and God came to him in a dream and told him that He would give him the land he was lying on and make his descendants many and when Jacob woke he made the stone an altar. 

Later when Jacob met Rachel, there was a well, and to water the flocks they would have to roll the stone away from the mouth of the well.

In biblical times, a punishment was to stone someone to death.

The law was given to Moses on tablets of stone.

David killed the Philistine with a sling and a stone.

Psalm 118:22 The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone.

Last week we read about the parable of the sower and it told us some seed fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil.  But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

Matthew 7:9 Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?

Matthew 21:42 Jesus *said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone; This came about from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes’

Jesus gave Simon the name Peter (which means rock) and said He would build his church on that rock.

Ezekiel 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.

When Jesus was buried and they went to look for him Mark 16:4 Looking up, they *saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.

There were many more entries but from just these few, we can see that stones were used frequently as imagery in the bible. Sometimes they were a good thing. Sometimes not so good. It depended on who was holding the stone, what the stone was being used for. Ecclesiastes says there is a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones.

I thought about my stone, the one in my heart. It served a purpose. It was protecting me from grief. It was easier to be angry about the news. To be lecturing people on why they should wear a mask. To argue about conspiracy theories. It was easier because underneath it all, I was grieving. I was grieving for people who have passed from this virus who may have been artists. Who may have died before they could tell their grandchildren their stories. Who should have died with their family all around them, loving them. I was grieving for people who have lost their jobs, their businesses, their homes. I was grieving for our lives being so changed, not being able to have bible study and sing praise. I was grieving for teachers who are my friends and one who is my son, who face terrible decisions beyond their control. I was grieving for my son-in-law who has this burden every day, working for the state and helping people negotiate the landscape of applying for benefits to help them survive, and sometimes having to tell some people no. I was grieving for my grandchildren and wondering how this will affect their lives as they grow up, with a little underlying fear as to whether they will grow up at all. I took that well of grief and put a big old stone on top of it.

All of these things, I covered with a stone.

When we allow a stone to form inside us, it may protect us from those painful feelings for a little while and we can use pieces of that stone to throw at others who do not agree with us. But a stone doesn’t make a very good pillow. You can’t drink from a well without moving the stone.

I could not move that stone on my own. I was thirsty and I didn’t even know it until the stone was moved. I was letting my heart be dead in a tomb because I was hiding from pain and I couldn’t roll that stone away on my own.

So I believe God used a song on a music video, in a sanctuary with others that were either weighed down by their own stones or bruised because of stones that had been thrown at them; to roll away a stone that needed to go. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and sometimes when the Holy Spirit is dealing with us, it is not altogether comfortable. Of course, there wasn’t really an actual stone in me.

Often the bible uses real tangible things to help us poor humans understand the mysterious Power of God. Paul uses the image of us being debtors, of us being children. He uses the image of childbirth. All of creation (the creation that we are a part of) is groaning in the pain of wanting to give birth to something. To this world, the way God meant it to be. And we are all in debt to God, for our very breath, for His grace, for his love. 

So the challenge to me, becomes living as a person that honors that debt, for all of us to live as people of gratitude, to be a people that allows God to remove those stones that we pile up. To let God have them. His hand is bigger and stronger than mine and in His wisdom, stones are rolled away from tombs, used to build His church, cleared from soil so that His seeds can flourish.

Because of my stone, I was stuck. Nothing was going to grow in me. I was doing exactly what I said in my sermon a few weeks ago that Jesus did NOT do. I was reacting, not responding.  I was sitting somewhere between Jesus’ truth and grace and not seeing either.

I am still sad. But I’m lighter too. God takes the stone and opens us up to His possibility that there is so much more. I am indebted to the other people who were in the sanctuary with me. I am grateful to the writer and performer of that song, even though I don’t personally know her. I appreciate Mark for choosing to play that specific video, that particular night. I am indebted to and in relationship with all of those people. Because God still moves stones, but He uses people to do it. I am even grateful for the stone because it showed me what needed to change, and it showed me where the pain was.

So, where are your stones? Is your heart hard right now? Is your fist clenched around a rock that you want to throw? Is there a rock under your feet holding you steady?

We need healing. Our world needs healing for this pandemic. We each need healing from sin, from hardened hearts,  from thinking that we can carry those stones on our own. Because in this time the church is needed, weeds, stones and all, to show that God has so much more for us, if we loosen our grip on our own hearts and let him create a new spirit within us. 

Because we are created to live in community, created to love our God and creator and we cannot fully do that without loving His creation – each other and the world. There is a well that we can drink from and never thirst again, but we cannot drink from that well if it is covered with a stone. 

My prayer for each of you this morning, is that you walk out of here a little lighter, a little more loving, and a little more open to God’s grace and healing so that we can all be a little more like the Jesus who built His church on the rock that was just a man who was willing to follow Jesus, who came out of the tomb from behind a stone and ascended to the Father so we could see the depth of what we owe, who showed us that the Father who loves us, knows our tendency to hold onto stones, but wants to give us bread, wants to give us grace. All to Jesus we surrender. All to Him we owe. 

Closing Prayer

Father, sometimes you place stones in our path

That we might walk more carefully

Learning to depend on you

Sometimes we tightly hold on to heavy stones

Of our own choosing

Help us to lay them down

So that we can come to you with open hands

For your burden is light

Sometimes our hearts become hard as stone

Soften them, so that we can once again

Drink from your well, eat the bread you provide,

And love others as you have loved us

Through the power of the Holy Spirit

Living in us

Amen

Go in peace.

Lent Musings 36

I could blame it on the times or I could blame it on my own crazy brain but the scripture I used yesterday was actually the lectionary reading for today. I honestly didn’t know what day it was….Yikes!

One of my favorite authors and theologians is Frederich Buechner. I wanted to share a quote with you tonight.

“The grace of God means something like: “Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.”
There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it.
Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

The party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Not a single one of you. You are all important and loved and God created the universe for YOU! Be safe. Goodnight.

Lent Musings 35

I’m sorry I got behind on my Lent Musings. I confess that I have news media and social media overload. I want to see my kids and grandkids and I’ve been having a bit of a pity party. I will do better because when I do THIS better, I do better all the way around. Some lyrics have been running on repeat in my mind:
“Far be it from me to not believe
Even when my eyes can’t see
And this mountain that’s in front of me
Will be thrown into the midst of the sea”

Mark 10:32-34
Jesus a Third Time Predicts His Death and Resurrection

Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”

I have often read something in the bible and been completely bummfuzzled as to why “they” didn’t get it. They being the Israelites when God was right there, visible, a pillar of cloud. Or they meaning the disciples – who actually walked and talked with Jesus and saw him perform miracles and healings. And here we are in this reading from the daily lectionary with Jesus telling his disciples for the third time what is going to happen to Him. The immediate response? To find that, you have to read a bit more of the scripture. Then you find that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, have a request. They want to sit next to Jesus in Glory. The result? Jesus tells them they will drink the cup He drinks but it isn’t his to grant where they sit in Glory, so they are going to come to a bad end and they managed to irritate the rest of the disciples.

What struck me about this reading today as often happens, is how like them, we are. With this horrible virus, we don’t take all the precautions we should until people near us start becoming ill. Even then, we tend to move a little slowly because we think it couldn’t possibly happen to us. We see it happening other places. We see the news and still we think it can’t happen like that here or it won’t happen to us….until it does.

And here I sit, people are dying and I am rationing my favorite coffee because I know I won’t be able to make a trip to Winco for well…who knows how long. Like the disciples, I am concerned about the wrong things. Like the disciples, I need to be reminded that what I think I understand, is NOT what Jesus intended. I am often petty and grouchy and impatient and judgmental and selfish.

Thank you Father for Grace. Thank you Jesus for the work that you did through your life, death, and resurrection because without you, I would have no chance of any seat at all in glory (I’m just hoping to go skidding in before the door slams shut!). I ask that you give me more of your spirit. Help me to do better at extending the grace that you have lavished on me, to others. Amen.

Lent Musings 33

Father, I come to you in prayer for myself tonight. I am feeling the stress of this pandemic. I feel myself get frustrated and irritated at the littlest provocation. I can’t speak for everyone else but so far I have been mildly inconvenienced. I can order groceries online, I can still pay my bills, so far all of my loved ones are doing ok. So I can’t help but feel that others must be feeling this so much more than I. I humbly ask that you give me grace for now and for what is ahead. I plead with you that you will help us find a way to end this and I pray that you will give your peace and comfort to those who are in situations so much wore than mine. Show us how and where and when to be your hands, and feet and heart for others and how to do that from a distance if that is where we need to be. I pray for your protection for those who because of their job or calling, can’t maintain that physical distance. Not only for their protection, but for the protection of their families. Please help our doctors and nurses to have the strength and the discernment to allow them to bring comfort to those who will obtain their final healing and come to be with you. Give them peace to deal with the losses. We love you and you have proved your love for us, time and time again, but man we need to be reminded of that love right now.
You sent Jesus to die for our sins and even as He was going to the cross, He still loved us even with our imperfection, our pettiness, our lack of compassion for others, all the human things that we so need to overcome and can’t without you. In the midst of the most stress of His life, Jesus put us first. We need your love and grace. Amen

Lent Musings 32

From the archives:

Bible study this time is John, the Gospel of Light and Life by Adam Hamilton. Excellent book, each chapter covering part of the gospel of John. Tonight’s session was all about Jesus’ last words to His disciples. It reminded me of a poem I wrote in 2013. We need to serve each other, every one. we are filled with the spirit, only to pour it out on others and glorify God. We need to feed each other.

The pond must know a secret,
it fills a hollow place,
beauty mirrored in stillness,
quietly waits in grace,
weathers drought with patience,
faithfully refilled.
The pond must know a secret.
How did it get so skilled?

The pond must know a secret.
See all around it grows.
It’s silence sings to living things,
even the marsh grass knows.
The trees are fed and cluster near,
cradle nest and fruit and seed.
The pond must know a secret,
made to be fed and then to feed.

Goodnight folks. Love each other.

Lent Musings 31

John 11:1-45

Jesus returns to Bethany and is met by Mary and Martha. They had enough faith to believe that if Jesus had been there, their brother Lazarus would not have died. Even though Jesus knows the end of this story, he weeps with them in their pain and grief and loss. Jesus stands with us when we grieve, not to the side as an impassive observer, but as someone who like us, has been in the midst of pain and loss. But more than just sharing this pain, Jesus speaks life and calls Lazarus and us from the grave and into life with Him even as He Himself was on the way to the cross.

Lent Musings 30

There is a birdhouse that looks like a church on a shelf on my back porch. Yesterday, I was putting potting soil back on the bottom shelf and realized that there is a bird nest behind the birdhouse. There are three eggs in the nest and I made sure not to touch it. Today I saw the mama fly in.

It reminded me that in the middle of all my anxiety, where for the time being, life is defined by the news, by where we can’t go, who we can’t see, and who is sick, God’s creation goes on doing life. Plants are greening up, eggs are getting ready to hatch, spring is happening.

While Lent is a time of going deeper, of taking our hearts on the walk with Jesus as his journey moves Him closer to the cross, it can’t be truly experienced without remembering that the cross is not where this journey ends. As spring follows winter, new life follows suffering, and resurrection follows crucifixion.

I will be watching to see what happens with the baby birds.

We have hope.

Lent Musings 29

Lent Musings 29

James 4:7-10

7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Cleanse your hands people! The news just seems to get worse every day so we cling to the peace of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Someone shared a blog post today and a quote from it stuck with me.

“Peace is a person. His name is Jesus”

Wash your hands and stay home but check on your people! Call them, FaceTime them, Zoom them! Whatever! Stay six feet away from everyone except God!

Lent Musings 28

Psalm 89:15
Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!
They walk, O Lord, in the light of Your countenance.
Hebrews 13:8
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Isaiah 41:13
For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand,
Saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’

A friend posted a page from her devotional book this morning and these were the scriptures the page listed. It spoke about needing to let go of somethings and learning to hold on to others. This spoke to me today because there are things I need to let go of and in the letting go, there is fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of losing a sense of control that I never actually had anyway. For the things of the big outside world, and the things of my little personal universe. If I shut my eyes and stop trying so hard to steer, and just walk in the light of God’s face, then I can let go of that steering wheel. It is to big and too hard for me anyway.

Hebrews reminds me that Jesus was, is, and will be, the life, the truth, the way. He said his yoke is light and I need to remember to give my burdens to Him.

And Isaiah, oh what a thought…That God will hold my hand and tell me to fear not. He will help me. I can close my eyes and walk in the light, Jesus is still the savior of the world and God will hold my hand and help me.

Amen

Lent Musings 27

Hebrews 12:1-3 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

Years ago, I coached a little girl to compete in swimming for the Special Olympics. It was the first time that I had participated and I was close to tears the entire time. Those kids all tried so hard but there were several noticeable differences between Special Olympics and other competitions.

All the kids tried very hard but if one fell down in a race – the others would stop and help them out. They all wanted everyone to finish and so while they all did their best to finish the race, they also did their best to see that everyone made it to the goal.

Everyone who was not racing was cheering for everyone who was. They were not just cheering for their own students or children. They were there to support every single person competing.

Even the motto ‘Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,’ reminds me of this passage.

I believe that this is what we as the church are called to do. We are to finish the race before us because we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. But…we are also to BE the cloud of witnesses – encouraging each other when the way seems long and dark. When one stumbles, we should all help them up. It’s often that encouragement, whether we are giving or receiving,, that is the thing that keeps us from becoming weary and discouraged in our souls. And we should want everyone to reach the goal because God desires that none should perish and should we not all want what God wants?