Praying Through the Bible Genesis 3:8

Lord, our redeemer, there are always serpents among us, ready to whisper lies. Lies that we are not enough, that you could not possibly love us, that you are not faithful and true. That we should be ashamed. When we fall, help us to recognize our sin and come running back to you, the one who loves us, the one who washed us clean, the one who knows our heart before we speak, and loves us anyway. Amen

Praying Through the Bible Genesis 2:20

Precious Lord, you knew it was not good to be alone. You created a helpmate for Adam and  showed us that we are stronger and better together. Thank you for the gift of community, of friendship, of relationship. We make mistakes, sin, fall down. But in community, we pick each other back up, listen to each other, lend each other our strength when we think we have nothing left to give. Amen

Praying Through the Bible Genesis 2:7

Father God, we praise you with the very breath that you gave us.You took dust and formed amazing and intricate bodies and breathed into that dust and made us alive. May we stop and take moments to just breathe, remembering what a precious gift that is. You poured your breath into us, so that we could breathe you out, with our thoughts, our words, and our actions. Let us remember that you put each of us in a garden that we are to take care of. We feel overwhelmed sometimes because we can’t fix it all. Show us what our particular garden is and how to use our unique gifts to help it grow, all to your glory. Amen 

Praying Through the Bible Genesis 2:1-2

Genesis 2:1-2

Father, our refuge, our shelter, our strong tower; you created the sabbath. In our busy world, help us to find tiny sabbaths – holy moments in every day, that we may know the peace that comes from resting in you. Amen

Praying Through the Bible Genesis 1:27

Wonderful creator of the entire universe. You created everything and thought to make us in your image. Help us to remember when we are frustrated and worried and feeling embattled from every direction, that we each carry that spark, that creativity, that incredible beauty that is You, that is Jesus, that is the Holy Spirit, and more than that, help us to remember to find You in each other, so that at the end of each day, we can look on it all and see that it is indeed, good. Amen

Praying Through the Bible Genesis 1:3

Genesis 1:3

O God, you created the heavens and the earth and Your spirit hovered over all that darkness and You spoke light into being. I ask that you hover over our sisters and brothers and when it seems dark, speak light to heroes that they may reflect Your light to those around them. Amen

Declutter Your Heart Sunday

Old Testament Reading

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Thus says the LORD: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse– who can understand it?  I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.

Epistle Reading

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ–whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

Gospel Reading

Luke 6:17-26

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.”Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

Psalm

Psalm 1

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Sermon

We live in a disposable world. Fast food, technology that goes out of date a few years after you spend a fortune on it. Toys that break, clothing fashions that change yearly. Commitments that are dropped as soon as things become difficult. We roll into church, our attention divided because we have plans for the afternoon. Going out for lunch, taking a nap, watching a football game. We work and run and drag our kids along with us. I do not understand a lot of today’s world. I don’t even understand some of the terminology! Chasing after what? We like quick fixes. We do not like pain.. And we like our stuff.

I love British television One of my favorite shows is Father Brown who is an kindly Anglican Priest who solves murder mysteries. On an recent episode, he was invited to a sort of carnival at a camp and when he met the lady who owned it, she told him that she just loved the church. She found the rituals and traditions so interesting. Father Brown told her that she would be very welcome at mass and her response was a very emotional, “I said I was interested. I’m not obsessed!” 

I recently spoke at Celebrate Recovery about decluttering your heart and some of you may have been there so you will have heard some of this, but it doesn’t hurt me to hear it again. When I retired, I started going through all of the junk that I had accumulated over the years. I wanted to simplify. But letting go of all that stuff is hard! I am one generation away from the generation that experienced the depression so I grew up with the notion that you never knew when you might need something. My mom ironed Christmas wrapping paper to re-use. Tinsel was put on the Christmas tree carefully and removed carefully because like the wrapping paper, it could be re-used. We didn’t have paper towels, and my mom washed and saved aluminum foil. She didn’t finish high school and so when I was in high school, she took classes at night and got her diploma. My mother grew up in Canada so American History class was interesting. They had some very good discussions because as they went over a lesson, my mother would say “that’s now how I learned it” and so from talking to her, I learned early that history can depend on perspective. 

So maybe we end up with clutter, not just our stuff, but our thoughts as well. We are bombarded with messages telling us how to look better, be more prosperous, get better sleep, look younger, get more done, upgrade our car, our home, our wardrobe, ourselves. All to be happy and blessed.But then we come up against the beatitudes and the message is flipped upside down and inside out.

We are interested in getting rid of the clutter in our homes and our hearts but we “are not obsessed!” I “borrowed” (with permission) an illustration from Tony Corso. Imagine if you bought and paid for a house from someone who was a hoarder.  But you liked this property. You could see potential, and so you paid the price and took ownership.  Assuming the previous owners were gone, the very first thing you would do after the papers were signed and before you moved in would be to clean out the house.  You are not emotionally attached to anything left in the house.  Bring a dumpster and clean out every room, attic, storage closets…everything.  How weird would it be if the previous owner who ‘willingly turned the keys’ over to you stood out front telling you what you could and could not get rid of?Isn’t that like what we do with God? 

We pray and ask Him into our hearts, to be Lord of our lives and then He starts the clean up process and we get stuck.The message I took from today is that all those things that we are running after, that we are buying plastic tubs to store stuff in. that we are even building buildings or paying to have stored, are not what will make us truly happy. We are living in what Jeremiah called an “uninhabited salt land.” 

My mom kept and re-used things to save money. And I don’t believe that is a bad thing. But we hang on to a lot of unnecessary things and we tell ourselves we have good reasons. We do the same with our spiritual lives. Jesus wants us to let go of the earthly things we cling to because He wants to give us something better, something permanent.

We talk ourselves into believing we have good reasons. We even try to get the Holy Spirit to go ‘start on another room’ because we have stuff stored away and just are not ready to deal with it or we want to go through and decide what WE think is important. Not what Jesus says is important.We forget who the ‘new owner’ is and He is the one that decides what goes and what stays. It does not take long before the truth becomes obvious– we like the idea of God moving in.  Just are not ready to actually do it on His terms.  And that is what shuts down the effectiveness of the power of the gospel in our lives, because He gives us free will.  He is either ‘Lord of All’ or someone else is, when it comes to your life, you can’t serve two masters.We are blind to all that needs to come out of our hearts.  God is serious about de-cluttering  our lives. What have we held back from God? What is in that box way back in the corner?

Why would Jesus tell us “to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”  (Luke 13:24)   That tells me that some of this is not going to be easy. And maybe this is not true for you but it sure is true for me. It is not a one and done deal. I have a lot of closets and tubs and just stuff that has been put away for so long, I don’t even remember it’s there. But Jesus…

in Luke 13:34 we are told that Jesus longs to gather His children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. We are to love God with ALL our heart.  When I refuse to repent or turn from an area in my life (sin in my heart) I am basically telling God I love that sin more than I love Him.  Now it has become an idol. Jesus won’t be ‘one of my idols. 

We have lots of company in that. John 6:66 says “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” (vs 66)  The road got too narrow and not as comfortable in that flesh nature. That may be where some of us walk away from our recovery. Things get real, real fast. But then we read what Peter says about that. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” 

If I am walking with Jesus, that is a good thing.  I am walking in peace with the Prince of Peace.  Walking with Him means I am not leading.  Obeying Jesus…is not a ‘work’ that saves me.  It is the fruit of my love for Him.Remember the story in John 5 of the man lying near the pool who had been paralized for years? Jesus asked him “Do you want to be made well?” He did not ask him if he believed Jesus could make him well. For that matter, Jesus could have just made him well without saying anything. But he asked him. Do you want to be made well? And Jesus is asking us the same question today. And being well means we have to let go of some stuff. But it isn’t all giving stuff up. Jesus is going to give us much better things! We “get” to have fruit. Fruit of the spirit! We get to have joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. I used to think that was a kind of “to-do list of things I was supposed to work at having. So, the question, do you want to be made well was an odd question,  but it was a legitimate question.

There is another.  Acts 3, where a man – “lame from his mother’s womb was carried, and never could get to the pool. Maybe you have tried this Jesus thing before and all you got out of it was sitting in a pew  but still essentially lame. Still cluttered up with stuff. Trying to declutter your heart and your life on your own. 1 John 2:6 says “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” Jesus is our road map, the way, truth, and the life.We assume because the man was there, near the pool, that of course he wanted to be healed! But how many of us come to church every Sunday and listen to a sermon, sing a few hymns, pray for some folks, leave our tithe and then go home and live the rest of the week completely unchanged, still running after the world? That perspective thing is interesting. What we assume about ourselves, about others, and even about Jesus, often comes out of the heart and in Jeremiah, we are told that the heart is deceitful. Our hearts can fool us.

If you have seen the movie The Princess Bride maybe you remember the part where they take Wesley who has been tortured, to Miracle Max and Miracle Max tells them he is not dead, only mostly dead. Mostly dead means he is slightly alive. Who wants to be mostly dead? Who wants to be slightly alive? “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17)

So here is why Jesus poses that thought provoking question  “Do you want to be made well?”  We are told in John 3:19- that ‘light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil…and would not come to the light”. If I am not ‘willing to come to the light’, I cannot be made well. If we are not being honest, if we are hanging on to our denial…we can’t move forward. If I plant a fruit tree and keep it in the dark, it will never produce fruit.What have we been “loving more” that has kept us from experiencing the power of God’s abundant life and the truth that sets a person truly free?

The Pharisees loved the praise of men more…The rich ruler loved his wealth more….What have you been ‘loving more’ and holding onto for so long?  Is it pride?  Anger maybe, or resentment or bitterness towards someone who damaged you? What hurt, habit, or hang up is cluttering up your life? What have you been keeping in a drawer for years? Changed jobs, changed addresses, still lugging that thing around with you.Would you truly like to ‘take up your bed and walk’ as Jesus walked?  You can.  But you DO need to choose. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”  – (Luke 5:31) Repentance means to change direction. It has TWO parts. Stop doing one thing and do something else.

Oh, one last note about our friend by the healing pool who responded to Jesus and took up his own bed and walked once again.  We read where ‘Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”  John 5:14He did not tell him to ‘sin less’ or ‘try harder’.  He told him to “go and sin no more.”  Walk like Jesus walked.  If I will truly love Him with ALL my heart, I can.  Because it will be Him doing it…in me and through me. In you and through you!

There is a C.S. Lewis quote that says. “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes to rebuild that house. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but he is building a palace.”

We just have to come to the light and leave the darkness behind. Stop hanging on to the clutter. Start walking with Jesus. Let the new owner have all of our hearts. Be doers and not just hearers of the Word. If we trust God with ALL of our stuff, all of our hearts and lives, then instead of living in an uninhabited salt land, we will be like the tree planted by the water and we will continue to bear fruit. And our fruit is how we are known. By others and by our Savior.Not just on Sunday, not just the stuff we have piled up in our homes and our lives, but in our hearts because that is where Jesus does His best work.

Amen? Amen!

Go Deeper

Old Testament Reading

Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13)

 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” And he said, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the LORD sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.

Epistle Reading

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them–though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Gospel Reading

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who are partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Sermon

Last week we listened to 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 – the love passage.  It is a beautiful passage and I think sometimes we hear the beauty and forget the lesson.  Paul was telling us that desiring spiritual gifts like prophecy, faith, speaking in tongues, generosity, self-sacrifice are good things but they are not the goal. The goal is always love. To love God and love others. The purpose of these gifts is to help us learn how we each as individuals can not only reach that goal, but in a deeper and more real way, that helps us to find our purpose.

Then we heard how Jesus was teaching in His hometown and the people that he grew up with were clamoring for a miracle, and why not? They had heard of what He had done in other places. Why not here among the people he grew up with? It was almost as if they felt like they had some sort of claim of Jesus, that He belonged to them. Jesus reminds them that some of those miracles they had heard about came to people, not because of their relationship with Jesus. Not because of their social standing. Not because they were good. That made them really mad. They were so focused on themselves and what their expectations were of Jesus, that when He didn’t behave the way they thought He would, when He didn’t do what they wanted Him to do, they tried to run Him off a cliff. They tried to kill him.

And “He passed through the midst of them and went on His way.” In a way, he just disappeared. Maybe they got a miracle but because they were looking in the wrong direction, they missed it. I think maybe their understanding of who Jesus was, was very shallow. All they saw was the surface. The miracles they had heard about. 

Before church last week, I read the lectionary readings, and because I knew I was going to be speaking this week, I went ahead and read the lectionary readings for this week as well. As I listened to Mark read the scripture lessons and preach, I was already setting both scripture readings next to each other in my head. I felt like there was a message there and that I needed to go a little deeper. 

This week we listen as Paul gives a list of his credentials. Who he was and who he has become because of Jesus Christ. He was transformed. He was positive that he was doing the right thing as he tried to stomp out this new Jesus following thing and then he had an encounter and ended up going much deeper than he ever thought he would. It took him being blinded to really get his attention but once changed, Paul was all in for life.

I grew up on a lake in Michigan. It was not one of the Great Lakes but it was big enough that you could not see the other side. If you look on the map , Lake St. Clair would be found near the base of the thumb, between Lake Huron and  Lake Erie. So much of life there, revolved around the lake. Fishing, water-skiing, ice fishing and skating, and swimming. So kids learn to swim, partly because it’s fun but also because it was a safety issue. I can remember my dad trying to teach me to swim. My dad was a big guy and he was supporting me in the water and telling me to kick my feet and paddle. I was terrified. My dad was not going to drop me. He was not going to let me drown. 

I knew my dad loved me. He was my dad. He had shown me time and time again. I also knew that he was more than capable of holding me up. But I was still afraid. The water was deep (in my mind – in reality it didn’t even come up to his chest!) and though I very much wanted to learn to swim, I just didn’t trust the unknown.

All I could do was play in the sand, or sit in the shallow water at the edge. I could pick up shells and splash around. But I had to stay safely near the shore. I eventually learned how to swim, but I couldn’t learn it from the beach. I couldn’t even learn in the shallows. I had to be willing to trust and go to the deeper water. 

In our reading today in John, Jesus has been teaching and wow, did He draw a crowd. There were so many people that He got into Simon’s boat which tells us that Simon was sticking pretty close to Jesus. He asked Simon to move a little way from the shore and then He taught from the boat. I imagine Simon being pretty excited to have Jesus choose his boat to teach from and because of that he had a front row seat to an actual Jesus sermon. 

I wish I could write the perfect sermon that would draw so many people that I would have to get in a boat to speak it! Wow. I would be sending copies to every pastor I know and pastors I don’t know. Imagine a sermon that could get everyone “there” Unfortunately, I don’t know where “there” is for each of us. 

Even if I did, Jesus knew a spoken lesson would not be enough. Listening to a great lesson might nudge someone to get out their bible and read for themselves and that would be a good thing. It might nudge someone to take on serving in some area of ministry. That also would be a good thing. 

But the only one who can draw any of us into deeper water is Jesus Himself. Whew. That takes the pressure off me. 

Jesus taught from the boat and then He asked Simon to put out to deeper water and cast his nets.  Simon told Jesus that they had been working hard all night and caught nothing but if Jesus says do it? He will. To me, Simon is kind of thinking this does not make sense but he isn’t afraid to say it out loud to Jesus and he isn’t disrespectful, nor is he arguing or making excuses, because the very next words are “But if you say so”. His very flawed human mind is telling him this doesn’t make sense.. But in his heart, he trusts Jesus. 

So where are we to this point? Simon stayed close to Jesus. Simon made room for Jesus in his boat. He trusted Jesus.

What happened next?  Simon moved the boat to deeper water and cast his nets and he caught more fish than he could handle by himself! 

Simon was a fisherman. He knew how this should work. Fishing is what Simon does! He falls to his knees. Simon Peter knew that even the fish obeyed Jesus and he also saw how helpless he was next to Jesus. Jesus told Simon not to be afraid and he gave him a new job. He told him he would be fishing for people and they brought their boats to shore and left everything to follow Jesus. They had just accomplished the catch of their lives and they walked away from it, fish, boats, nets, all for Jesus.

So Simon stayed close to Jesus, he made room for Him, he listened to him, he trusted him, and he obeyed him. And then? He really put out to deep water. He gave up everything from his old life for a new life of following Jesus. 

Simon knew how to catch fish, but now he is going to be walking with Jesus and learning what we learn when we are willing to go a little deeper. 

Even then, Jesus didn’t throw Simon Peter into the deep water by himself immediately. He took him with Him. Simon walked with Jesus and saw how Jesus loved people. Not just how much, but actually how He did it. Jesus knew that we all need time walking with Him and He also knows when we are ready to go a little deeper. 

Years ago when our kids were small, we started attending a church. I think we had only been there for a few weeks when I was asked to do children’s ministry. I said yes even though I had reservations. On the surface, it seemed perfect and I felt like I was supposed to serve. My kids were small so I was going to be involved in some capacity anyway. But I really had no idea what I was doing or why. The truth was that I was pleasing people, not Jesus. Looking back, I feel like I jumped into deep water before I was ready to swim.

I think sometimes, as the church in general, we plug new members in too quickly. Sometimes people need a little time walking with Jesus before they figure out how to fish. That doesn’t mean we don’t include them. We just don’t need to scare them either. Just because it looks like serving in a particular way would be a perfect fit, does not mean that is the way someone is called to serve or that the timing is right. I may get fired for saying that and I know that most of the time, the harvest is plentiful, but we are short of helpers and so we do what we can, don’t we? 

This little church does some amazing things. Even through a pandemic, we have continued to serve safely. Each other, our community.  And when one of us is unable to fill a need, someone else comes along side. We might be small, but to me that is the kind of love 1st Corinthians 13 talks about. And just a little side note,  Jesus didn’t tell Simon to take his boat to a bigger sea. He told him to go to deeper water in the sea he was already in. There are so many needs in our community. We work at filling those that we can through the grace of God.

Simon had already seen what Jesus could do. Jesus had healed his mother-in-law. Many of us have seen what Jesus can do. Paul knew what Jesus could do. Paul went from being a mortal enemy of those who followed Christ, to planting churches, discipling new Christians, and writing about a fourth of the New Testament. Jesus had perfect timing with both these men, and His timing is perfect with us. He didn’t tell either of them that He would give them completely new gifts. He took Simon’s ability to fish and Paul’s passion and taught them how to use the gifts they had for the kingdom. The gifts were tools. The relationship with Jesus was primary and that relationship is defined by and flows out of, the love He demonstrated for us.

Both Simon and Paul had a relationship with Jesus. The relationships were as different as the men were. Each of us has a different relationship with Jesus. Their relationship with Jesus grew and the more their relationship grew, the more they trusted and the more we trust, the deeper we can go and Paul reminds us that we don’t do this of ourselves but by the grace of God, through the good news of Jesus Christ, who was born, lived, died, and was resurrected and because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 

We know that Simon Peter accepted Jesus. He stayed close. He made room. He trusted. He obeyed. And then we know that he left everything to follow Jesus so he was changed or transformed by Jesus and while you will have to come back next week and the week after and maybe even go read more in your own bible to know the rest of Peter’s story, we know that Peter stuck around. He was not perfect and sometimes he misunderstood. He made mistakes. But he stuck with Jesus. He was abiding in Jesus. 

Both Simon Peter and Paul lived in times where there were troubles. There was poverty, disease, politics were a mess. People were doing crazy things. We live in a time of troubles. There is poverty, disease, and politics are a mess and people are doing crazy things. So what can we do?

Maybe like Simon Peter, we stay close to Jesus. We make room for him in our lives. We trust in Jesus. We obey when the Holy Spirit is stepping on our heart or nudging us to do something that may be obvious or may not make sense to us. We listen for the voice of Jesus so that we can grow in our relationship with Him so that when we are called to go deeper, we know who is in charge of the waves. We let Him change us, transform us, even when it might be uncomfortable and then we follow Him. When the water gets deep, we abide in Him. When we mess up, we repent and abide in Him. When we feel completely lost and no matter how hard we work the fish just are not biting, we abide in Him. The funny thing is, I think if we do these things we will be swimming in deep water before we have time to be afraid. 

The biblical definition of abide is to continue in a place. So when we abide, we don’t just sit there. We continue. We love God and we love each other so that when you hear the Holy Spirit say “whom shall I send?”, you will be ready to answer “Send me!” 

Amen? Amen!

Father, some of us are strong swimmers and some of us are just treading water, waiting for rescue. Thank you so much for giving us the church – the body of Christ so that we can come alongside each other and help each other along on our way back to You, our Creator, our Redeemer, our God. 

Amen

From January 2, 2022

Scripture Reading

Old Testament Reading

Jeremiah 31:7-14

For thus says the LORD: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel.”

See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.  Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”  For the LORD has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.  They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.  I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the LORD.

Epistle Reading

Ephesians 1:3-14

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  just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.  He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 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, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 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; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Gospel Reading

John 1:(1-9), 10-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 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. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Sermon

Last week we heard in Luke 2:41, Mary and Joseph lost Jesus, and then found Him again in the temple where Jesus asked his parents a question we could all ponder: Why were you searching for me? Mary treasured these things in her heart. Before that happened, after the birth of Jesus the shepherds came to see the baby and when they left we are told that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

So picture yourself as a shepherd. It is dark but they are far out in the country so the stars are clear and it is so quiet, they can hear far off, as more people pour into Bethlehem. I imagine a moment when the groaning of childbirth has ended, and Joseph wraps the baby and places him in an exhausted Mary’s arms, where everything just stops. Silence. There was a line that I read somewhere that taught me a new word. The word is plangent and it means reverberating or resounding. 

It went something like this” The silence in the stable after Jesus’ birth, was as plangent as any clanging bell. 

Kind of but not exactly like the silence after you have had family at the house all day and now they have gone home. The silence after a funeral, the dinner eaten, and again, the family has gone home. The church service over and the last person has left, locking the door behind them. That silence is loud. The silence out in the field with the sheep, just before the angels started singing and telling the shepherds to get up! Go! See! And then tell!

This week we get this beautiful end of the silent void when God spoke the world into existence which is where the book of John begins. I was drawn to this scripture over and over but at the same time, I could not think of anything I could say that could be better than just what it is. So I decided to just talk about how I came at it from different directions. How I pondered it in my heart. We know the power of words. Words can cut deep and sometimes those words once spoken, cannot be taken back or erased. Words can heal and lift up. Words can be creative. Poems and prayers and songs. 

Sometimes silence can speak better than words ever could. 

Now, just a few details, sort of a commercial break. Some of you may know that each week we go by scripture readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. The lectionary is on a three year rotation – years A, B, and C. We are beginning year C. Each of the years features one of the gospels so one year we will read mostly from Matthew, the next mostly from Mark, and the next mostly from Luke. The Lectionary is used by a variety of churches. Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, and others. 

John does not get his own year, but instead is scattered throughout the other three years, most often around Easter. The other three gospels are filled with the things Jesus said and did, but John’s primary focus is who Jesus IS. 

Mark introduces Jesus to us as an adult. Matthew and Luke tell the story of Jesus from His conception and birth. John takes us even further back.

So maybe it is appropriate to begin the new year with this poetic image that places Jesus, not just beginning with His birth, but at the very beginning of creation. Now THAT is something to ponder in your heart!

There is a beautiful quote by Saint Augustine that shows that even people who have achieved sainthood spend time pondering these things.

“He was created of a mother whom he created. He was carried by hands that he formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy. He. The word. Without whom all human eloquence is mute” 

One pastor wrote and I quote “The spirit of a man is the candle of the Lord, and it was the eternal Word that lighted this candle.”

We are told in Exodus 33:19-20 (God was speaking to Moses) Then the Lord answered, “I will show my love and mercy to anyone I want to. So I will cause my perfect goodness to pass by in front of you, and I will speak my name, YAHWEH, so that you can hear it. But you cannot see my face. No one can see me and continue to live.”

This seems very clear but just before this passage there is Exodus 33:11 Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.

Well wait a minute…

Okay. I had to look further into that. I am not Cheryel so I will probably butcher the pronunciation but in Hebrew, this word that was translated into “live” in English is “Chayay” This word “Chayay” is used in other places in scripture and was meant not necessarily as a word describing mortality but instead it meant revived or strengthened inside. Jesus used it when He quoted scripture in response to temptation in the desert. Man isn’t revived or strengthened by bread alone, but he is revived and strengthened by God’s word. 

So in Exodus, we are being told that no one can actually “see” God and continue as if nothing happened. We are changed. We are revived and strengthened inside. 

In John 14:9 we read Jesus answered, “Philip, I have been with you for a long time. So you should know me. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father too. So why do you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

Throughout the old testament, God chose people who would speak to specific groups, prophets who would try to communicate who God is and how God wanted them to live. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet and most of the book of Jeremiah is Jeremiah telling the people what they are doing wrong and what is going to happen if they continue. His job was not a good one and I have a feeling he was not invited to a lot of parties. But we get this one glimpse in todays’ reading, of what God wants for His people. It is hopeful and joyful!

You can probably tell by now, that I am just kind of dancing all around this reading in John. But maybe that is John’s point. 

Something that I noticed in these readings today after a conversation with Marion, is that the word love is only used once, in Ephesians. . Not one time other time.

God spoke. He spoke the world into being. He spoke us into being. In the Old Testament He spoke through the prophets. At Christmas He spoke love by making love visible. We, His people, just could not quite understand when the prophets spoke God’s word. When they spoke of his laws, of obedience, of worshiping Him above all else. 

So the Word put on flesh and showed us. The Word from the beginning, that created all things, the light, came down to earth in the closest way that we humans could understand. The love of a parent for a child. And then that child grew and through the way He lived again, showed us what the scripture means in Micah 6:8 Mankind, he has told each of you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

The plan that through Jesus Christ, God would gather all things to himself. The letter to the Ephesians speaks about how God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Jesus was there. 

We worshiped and waited through advent because we know that The Word was at the beginning and then we celebrated Christmas because the Word put on flesh and walked the earth. We are called to follow His example in how we live and because we can’t do it in our own power, He left the Holy Spirit, to convict, to nudge, to intercede and be with us here and now, and now we are the church, the body. Kingdom people and Christ will be coming back for us. So we celebrate the life and light and love that came into the world through Jesus Christ.

Now we move towards the Sunday when we celebrate Epiphany. Webster’s dictionary defines the word epiphany as a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way. I think in order to do that we have to not only read the Word, but treasure up these things and ponder them in our hearts. I invite you this year, to recommit your life and your heart to following Jesus Christ. 

I would like to pray now and if you would like to pray with me, you will find the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer on page 607 in your hymnal.

The Wesleyan Covenant Prayer

“I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,

exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things

to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

Second Sunday in Advent: Peace

Old Testament Reading

Malachi 3:1-4

3:1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;

he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.

Gospel Reading 1

Luke 1:68-79

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Epistle Reading

Philippians 1:3-11

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.  And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Gospel Reading 2

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

Sermon

This week we light the candle of peace and the readings seem to be anything but peaceful. In fact for me personally, this entire week has been anything but peaceful. There have been storms, family and friends have had storms. I spent a lot of time praying and left this talk til the last minute to write because I wasn’t even sure if I would be here. 

But, maybe, God was getting my attention all week, preparing me by keeping me focused on what was going on around me. Maybe God was saying, whatever you have planned today? It is not going to happen the way you thought. You will be walking where I tell you, even if it is not where you wanted to go. But there was preparation that had to happen. A friend on facebook who has been posting a sermon every day reminded me of the passage from 1 John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. 

Remember that sin entered the world when Eve in the garden was tempted to eat the fruit of the tree – that it was good for food (lust of the flesh), “that it was pleasant to the eyes (lust of the eyes), and desirable to make one wise (the pride of life) Jesus was tested with the same three things – bread for flesh, offer of authority over all the splendor of the world for eyes, that the angels would save him for pride.

Hebrews 4:15 assures us that Jesus passed all the tests. 

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”

So let’s look back at todays’ texts. Malachi introduces us to two messengers that God is sending. The first is John the Baptist who is to “prepare the way. The second is the messenger of the covenant – Jesus the messiah. In fact Malachi means messenger. We get dropped into Malachi just past the beginning. There are only fifteen verses in the book of Malachi. And while most of the minor prophets spoke about the coming destruction of Israel and Judah and the surrounding nations, Malachi is different. Like Haggai and Zechariah, he shows up long after the destruction has already happened. 

How often have we made choices in our lives that cause us pain, maybe for a day, but maybe for a season, and after we endured the consequences we said things like “I will never do that again”. Things got better and if you are like me, sometimes your memory is not the best. Time goes on and things are fine, and you sort of forget the pain you went through and you find yourself in the same situation, in the same pain because you forgot the lesson you thought you had learned the first time around! Sometimes, we do not even realize that we are making a wrong choice until the pain hits. When we have physical pain, we usually need to go to a doctor. Pain is always a sign that something needs to be healed, fixed, or changed. 

A short outline of Malachi would be God loves His children, God disciplines His children for the Priests’ dishonesty, for intermarriage with foreigners, and for men being unfaithful to their wives. God will purify His children (which is where we drop in today) and some will return to the Lord, and God will bless those who fear Him. 

Both Haggai and Zechariah had talked about the hope that alludes to a messiah. In Malachi the people feel like God has not kept the promises He made and that they heard about from the Haggai and Zechariah. But the people had drifted away. The priests were still making sacrifices, but instead of bringing God the best, they would bring blind animals, blemished. Basically, they brought God the things that were of no use to them. The people were intermarrying and letting other cultures change them even if it started small. Men were no longer faithful to their wives. Their faith was cheapened, muddied, and basically well, faithless. 

Malachi talks about Fullers soap. A Fuller’s job was to cleanse dirt and oil from wool so it would be pure white again. It happened in a field outside the city because the process didn’t smell good.

Malachi also talks about the one who will refine like silver and think about the picture of that. Silver being all muddy and mixed with impurities and the refiner burns away everything that is not silver until it is shiny like a mirror and the refiner can see Himself in the reflection. God will test and cleanse and refine us until we reflect Him. Sometimes that process is not fun, does not smell very good and in fact dying to self and submitting to becoming holy, more like God, can be downright painful! But Malachi reminds us that God has a plan. 

Now I don’t know about you, but I confess, I want to skip all that testing and refining part. I want to pass Go and collect my 2 hundred dollars and be done. Hold my nose, ignore my own stinky sin, and just sit next to Jesus. I want to hurry through Advent and get to the good part! 

But our readings today tell us to slow down. There is a lot of work to be done. The valleys have to be filled not with what our flesh wants but to be filled with God. The mountains that we think we have climbed on our own, have to be brought low as we remember Who really got us there. 

Luke reminds us of the covenant that God made with Abraham. He reminds us of the faithfulness of God and tells us that a light is coming that will guide our feet into what? Into the way of peace. 

Luke 3:1-6  lists some powerful men and then he tells us that the word of the Lord came to who? Pontius Pilate? Herod? To a priest? In a temple or a palace? Nope. The Word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He ate locusts, he wore camel skins, and He did not feel like he should be the one to baptize Jesus. In fact he said that he needed to decrease so that Jesus could increase! Less self. More Jesus. Some of those characteristics sound a lot like those three tests don’t they? John knew about tests and he preached repentance. Change direction. Tests will come. 

But we have the Holy Spirit to help us when these tests and trials come. We want to jump right to the manger with the angels singing and the cattle lowing and a star shining brightly. Pass Christmas, collect some good feelings and jump right into Easter. Skip the crucifixion and jump right into resurrection. Skip repentance and go directly to grace. 

But none of that brings the kind of peace that God has for us. The kind of peace that stays inside, no matter what happens on the outside. 

Which of us, if we are sick, goes to the doctor and gets a prescription. A prescription that comes with precise instructions. The doctor assures us that he knows exactly what the problem is and if we follow his instructions we will be made well, and then we don’t go get the prescription because we know better than the doctor right? Or we get the prescription and it says to take 3 pills a day and we only take two because we do not want to do all of that. We want to hold onto some of that because we only want to be partly well. Not completely well. Or maybe we start feeling better and we stop taking that medicine because we are cured right? And guess what? The sickness creeps back in and we are right back where we started. 

But here is the thing. Paul writes to the church at Phillippi, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul’s prayer for this church is “that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”

When my kids were small they would watch Sesame Street and there was a matching game where they would sing this song – one of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong. 

If we are to produce a harvest of righteousness, if we are to be found pure and blameless, then we have to line ourselves up with Jesus Christ and let  go of the things that our flesh wants, the things we want to see, and the things we take pride in. Ouch We can’t do that without the help of the Holy Spirit who will help us decrease so that within us, Christ can increase. 

We are waiting. And with Christmas, we get in a hurry. There is so much to do. There is so much going on. Waiting during this time of year often looks more like running. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of peace.  And if we are running and doing and preparing and spending, we have little time for the One who is coming. The one we are waiting for. The one with whom we can learn to have peace with God and peace with each other. 

So this year as you look at the Christmas lights, I hope you will remember the one who is coming to guide our feet into peace. When you see the shiny ornaments reflecting everything around them, I hope you will remember the refiner of silver who wants you to submit to that process until the only thing that people see in you is Jesus. I pray that as you decorate and run and shop and cook, that you will remember that there are valleys to be filled and mountains to flatten and the work that God has begun in you will be completed if you submit to what He has for you and that you will be filled with the peace of Jesus Christ. Amen?

November Talk on Risk for the Kingdom

Old Testament Reading

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.” So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the LORD made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Epistle Reading 

Hebrews 9:24-28

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Gospel Reading

Mark 12:38-44

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.

A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Sermon

The readings for today made me think of several threads and I want to pull on them one at a time. 

One thread is related to a reading from several weeks ago. The reading was from Esther and then, last week and this week we have readings from Ruth. 

Women are used to hearing the bible from the perspective of men. Because most of the bible is told from a male perspective. Maybe it is important especially for women to lean in when we get these nuggets that are told from a female perspective, especially when the women we are reading about give us a picture of biblical womanhood that we are not expecting to hear. These ladies were certainly able to cook and clean and raise children. But Esther, Naomi, Ruth, all were dealing with life in difficult situations in a brave way. And for the guys, maybe it’s a time to pay closer attention because while the ladies are used to hearing the bible from a male perspective, the men get short-changed a little in the area of hearing about life with God in early Israel from a woman’s perspective.

That brings me to another thread I want to pull on. The thread of risk. Esther risked death by going in to the king uninvited. Naomi and Ruth risked a journey with no male protectors. There was no guarantee they would make it to their destination and there was no guarantee that if they did, there would be a place of protection and food for them. A widow with no sons in biblical times was in a dire situation and she was often viewed as cursed.

We just finished a series of readings in the book of Job and we remember that Job’s friends ended up accusing him of having sinned because why else would so many horrible things have happened to him. 

Our very concept of being blessed usually means that good things have happened because a person is good and bad things have happened to them when they were bad and yet, we see over and over again, in the bible as well as everyday life that this thinking does not hold true. We see people do evil and yet prosper in a material way. We see people who are kind and giving and have terrible tragedies happen to them. We are more comfortable with life making sense – A plus B = C. But it things just seem to happen for no reason that we can understand.

That same kind of thinking would have been in place for Naomi and Ruth. Tragedy happened. Ruth was young enough that she still might remarry and by doing so, secure her future, but she chose instead to remain with Naomi who had no options. If Naomi remained where she was she would most likely starve.

Naomi was in a tough spot. No husband, no sons. Famine. And there was a line in last weeks’ reading that I nearly missed. “she had heard that the Lord had visited His people by giving them food”. She was going to where there was food, but she was also going to where she had heard the Lord had come to the aid of His people. She assessed her situation and made a decision. Naomi was taking a big risk but maybe going to the place where she last knew the Lord was gives us a tool for how to make a decision when risk is involved and we can’t see a clear answer. 

In today’s reading, Naomi again looks at her situation, only this time, she is focusing on a plan for her daughter in law. She is depending on the law that was established way back in Leviticus, that said a family member will take care of a widow. Ruth is also a widow and risked this journey with Naomi. Naomi wants to provide for her future. She tells her all that she is to do and Ruth again takes a risk, by obeying her mother in law. While the bible tells the story in terms that do not at first make it obvious what is happening, the details are probably a little closer to an HBO movie than a Hallmark movie. Boaz takes Ruth for his wife and they have a child.

All these readings are about choices and risks. For Esther, the stakes were high but the payoff was huge. She could have died, but taking a risk saved her people. 

Esther 4:12-16  When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

Esther needed a little nudge from Mordecai but still, we are reminded in this passage that even though risk may be involved, sometimes we are divinely placed in a specific position for a purpose that God has already prepared for us. 

Naomi and Ruth could have died on the journey. Boaz could have rejected Ruth. But choices were made and all of the risk paid off. If we look at last weeks’ reading, Naomi tries to make both her daughter-in-laws go back home. Orpah chooses to do exactly that and we never hear about her again. You can go to the front of your bible where the list of books can be found and nowhere will you find the book of Orpah. She is not bad. As far as we know she is not punished for her choice. She just does not become an unforgettable player on the stage of the story of God’s people. She was a bit player and then exited the stage. 

Boaz comes from a line of risk takers. His mother was Rahab. Rahab is referred to in the bible as a harlot. From the Book of Joshua,  camped in the Jordan valley across from Jericho, Joshua sent out two spies to check out the strength of the enemies in Jericho. The spies hid in Rahab’s house, which was built into the city wall. Men who were sent to capture the spies asked Rahab to bring them out. She hid them under bunches of flax on the roof and protected them from capture. Rahab said to the spies in Joshua 2:9-13 When faced with the choosing between her own people and God, she risked everything to choose God.

    “I know that the LORD has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. “Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.”

After escaping, the spies agreed to spare Rahab and her family after conquering the city. By placing a red cord out her window, Rahab secured her and her family’s safety.

Notice, Rahab did not ask for a deal before she hid the spies. She took a risk and hid them and then asked them to save her family.

When the city of Jericho fell, Rahab and her whole family were saved by the agreement with the spies and were included among the Jewish people. 

Rehab being a prostitute made her home a strategic place to hide. People would have been accustomed to strangers going in and out. God did not wait until Rahab cleaned up her life. He had a purpose for her just the way she was and right where she was at. 

Hebrews 11:31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

James 2:25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

When we look at the gospel reading, we see Jesus contrasting two different stories. The scribes who “look” like they are Godly, are risking nothing, giving up nothing..and the widow who risks everything she has, gives everything she has to choose God. The scribes are dependent on their clothing, their words, and other people’s money (mostly poor people) to keep up their appearance. I am sure that this passage has been used for sermons that are based on stewardship and it IS about that. But I would suggest that we could look at this, not just from the monetary perspective, but from the perspective that we are to give more than our tithe, we are to risk giving everything, our whole selves, to God. The scribes were putting on a public show. Jesus saw the nearly invisible widow. 

Another thread I want to tug on is friendship. I had a little help with this from Mike Gaddy at Monday morning bible study. Thank you Mike!

Mike told us that the Hebrew meaning of the name Ruth is friend. If you hear someone say of someone else, that they are being “ruthless” there is probably not much friendship involved is there? Naomi was a friend to her daughter-in-laws. While she was making plans that involved her survival, she also was thinking of Ruth and Orpah and while Orpah went her own way, Ruth stayed with Naomi. She was a loyal friend. 

While the scribes in the book of Mark seemed to only be thinking of taking – whether it be honor, public respect, or money, the widow is contrasted as giving everything. The scribes would not be what I would think of as friends. Maybe the widow trusted that the community of God (friends) that she gave everything to, would care for her needs. 

Boaz was an older man but he recognized Ruth as hard working and obedient and loyal to her mother-in-law. Boaz the son of Rahab is from a line that comes from outside the Israelites. Ruth also is an outsider. Rahab was definitely an outsider – she was the enemy. But with God, friendship was born and they were adopted into the community and not just into the community, but into the family tree of Jesus! That is quite a friendship!

Mary mother of Jesus took a riak and trusted what the angel told her. Joseph took a risk when he trusted and took Mary for his wife. 

Even our reading from Hebrews has a thread of risk. Jesus risks absolutely everything, His life, even to death, on the promise of resurrection and because Jesus trusted and obeyed, and took that risk, everyone who believes in Him and follows Him by risking living different from how the world loudly pulls us to live, will receive salvation and share in that resurrection. Though we are outsiders in that we are sinners, Jesus makes us sons and daughters. The people who first heard these words would have known the words from Exodus that gave instructions for the building of the tabernacle which to the early children of Israel, was God’s dwelling place, where the priests would offer sacrifices to purify  themselves and for the sins of the people. 

Rahab was a courageous and flawed human who risked everything for the God of the Israelites. Ruth was a good and loyal and obedient friend to Naomi and never abandoned her. Outsiders became a community and because choices were made and risks were taken and friendships were born, not by scribes and religious leaders, but by regular everyday, flawed, imperfect people, the family line continued to the birth of Jesus. Jesus is our ultimate friend and will never abandon us and through His obedience to God, made the once and for all sacrifice for us. 

As we read these stories of God’s people, we can see that God uses both men and women in surprising ways. We see that God honors taking a risk, especially when it means extending friendship to someone; helping and giving to an outsider in a way that brings them into the circle. God honors how we treat others much more than public displays of how religious we are or how much material wealth we accrue. Micah 6 tells us “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Short verse, easy to read, a little more complicated to live out.

If we are trying to make a decision on how to act and can’t see a clear path, sometimes we need to go back to wherever we saw or heard God working last and start there. 

What do we risk today for the kingdom? We are not too worried about being beheaded or killed by the enemy on the other side of our city wall. We probably will not have to walk miles with nothing but what we can carry in hope that we will have a home and food to eat. If We reach out to someone who is not like us and become their friend we might risk ridicule. We even might risk being used. We might risk giving to someone who co tinues to make what we think are bad decisions.  

We have opportunities to become friends of anyone who might feel like an outsider, who might be different. Who might need to know that they are created in the image of God. We can be kind to strangers. We can offer food to those who are hungry. 

We each have a purpose. We each are often divinely placed exactly where God needs us to be to risk something for the kingdom. I pray that we each pay attention every day just in case that moment happens so we will be ready to do whatever the Holy Spirit is nudging us to do. 

We see in these readings that choices can keep people from starving, from being lonely, create new communities and families, care for those who have no hope, and make the Kingdom of God visible here and now, not some “way later far away in the sky” place, but here. Now. Us. 

Amen?

Prayer 

Old Testament Reading

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.” So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the LORD made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Epistle Reading 

Hebrews 9:24-28

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Gospel Reading

Mark 12:38-44

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.

A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Sermon

The readings for today made me think of several threads and I want to pull on them one at a time. 

One thread is related to a reading from several weeks ago. The reading was from Esther and then, last week and this week we have readings from Ruth. 

Women are used to hearing the bible from the perspective of men. Because most of the bible is told from a male perspective. Maybe it is important especially for women to lean in when we get these nuggets that are told from a female perspective, especially when the women we are reading about give us a picture of biblical womanhood that we are not expecting to hear. These ladies were certainly able to cook and clean and raise children. But Esther, Naomi, Ruth, all were dealing with life in difficult situations in a brave way. And for the guys, maybe it’s a time to pay closer attention because while the ladies are used to hearing the bible from a male perspective, the men get short-changed a little in the area of hearing about life with God in early Israel from a woman’s perspective.

That brings me to another thread I want to pull on. The thread of risk. Esther risked death by going in to the king uninvited. Naomi and Ruth risked a journey with no male protectors. There was no guarantee they would make it to their destination and there was no guarantee that if they did, there would be a place of protection and food for them. A widow with no sons in biblical times was in a dire situation and she was often viewed as cursed.

We just finished a series of readings in the book of Job and we remember that Job’s friends ended up accusing him of having sinned because why else would so many horrible things have happened to him. 

Our very concept of being blessed usually means that good things have happened because a person is good and bad things have happened to them when they were bad and yet, we see over and over again, in the bible as well as everyday life that this thinking does not hold true. We see people do evil and yet prosper in a material way. We see people who are kind and giving and have terrible tragedies happen to them. We are more comfortable with life making sense – A plus B = C. But it things just seem to happen for no reason that we can understand.

That same kind of thinking would have been in place for Naomi and Ruth. Tragedy happened. Ruth was young enough that she still might remarry and by doing so, secure her future, but she chose instead to remain with Naomi who had no options. If Naomi remained where she was she would most likely starve.

Naomi was in a tough spot. No husband, no sons. Famine. And there was a line in last weeks’ reading that I nearly missed. “she had heard that the Lord had visited His people by giving them food”. She was going to where there was food, but she was also going to where she had heard the Lord had come to the aid of His people. She assessed her situation and made a decision. Naomi was taking a big risk but maybe going to the place where she last knew the Lord was gives us a tool for how to make a decision when risk is involved and we can’t see a clear answer. 

In today’s reading, Naomi again looks at her situation, only this time, she is focusing on a plan for her daughter in law. She is depending on the law that was established way back in Leviticus, that said a family member will take care of a widow. Ruth is also a widow and risked this journey with Naomi. Naomi wants to provide for her future. She tells her all that she is to do and Ruth again takes a risk, by obeying her mother in law. While the bible tells the story in terms that do not at first make it obvious what is happening, the details are probably a little closer to an HBO movie than a Hallmark movie. Boaz takes Ruth for his wife and they have a child.

All these readings are about choices and risks. For Esther, the stakes were high but the payoff was huge. She could have died, but taking a risk saved her people. 

Esther 4:12-16  When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

Esther needed a little nudge from Mordecai but still, we are reminded in this passage that even though risk may be involved, sometimes we are divinely placed in a specific position for a purpose that God has already prepared for us. 

Naomi and Ruth could have died on the journey. Boaz could have rejected Ruth. But choices were made and all of the risk paid off. If we look at last weeks’ reading, Naomi tries to make both her daughter-in-laws go back home. Orpah chooses to do exactly that and we never hear about her again. You can go to the front of your bible where the list of books can be found and nowhere will you find the book of Orpah. She is not bad. As far as we know she is not punished for her choice. She just does not become an unforgettable player on the stage of the story of God’s people. She was a bit player and then exited the stage. 

Boaz comes from a line of risk takers. His mother was Rahab. Rahab is referred to in the bible as a harlot. From the Book of Joshua,  camped in the Jordan valley across from Jericho, Joshua sent out two spies to check out the strength of the enemies in Jericho. The spies hid in Rahab’s house, which was built into the city wall. Men who were sent to capture the spies asked Rahab to bring them out. She hid them under bunches of flax on the roof and protected them from capture. Rahab said to the spies in Joshua 2:9-13 When faced with the choosing between her own people and God, she risked everything to choose God.

    “I know that the LORD has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. “Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.”

After escaping, the spies agreed to spare Rahab and her family after conquering the city. By placing a red cord out her window, Rahab secured her and her family’s safety.

Notice, Rahab did not ask for a deal before she hid the spies. She took a risk and hid them and then asked them to save her family.

When the city of Jericho fell, Rahab and her whole family were saved by the agreement with the spies and were included among the Jewish people. 

Rehab being a prostitute made her home a strategic place to hide. People would have been accustomed to strangers going in and out. God did not wait until Rahab cleaned up her life. He had a purpose for her just the way she was and right where she was at. 

Hebrews 11:31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

James 2:25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

When we look at the gospel reading, we see Jesus contrasting two different stories. The scribes who “look” like they are Godly, are risking nothing, giving up nothing..and the widow who risks everything she has, gives everything she has to choose God. The scribes are dependent on their clothing, their words, and other people’s money (mostly poor people) to keep up their appearance. I am sure that this passage has been used for sermons that are based on stewardship and it IS about that. But I would suggest that we could look at this, not just from the monetary perspective, but from the perspective that we are to give more than our tithe, we are to risk giving everything, our whole selves, to God. The scribes were putting on a public show. Jesus saw the nearly invisible widow. 

Another thread I want to tug on is friendship. I had a little help with this from Mike Gaddy at Monday morning bible study. Thank you Mike!

Mike told us that the Hebrew meaning of the name Ruth is friend. If you hear someone say of someone else, that they are being “ruthless” there is probably not much friendship involved is there? Naomi was a friend to her daughter-in-laws. While she was making plans that involved her survival, she also was thinking of Ruth and Orpah and while Orpah went her own way, Ruth stayed with Naomi. She was a loyal friend. 

While the scribes in the book of Mark seemed to only be thinking of taking – whether it be honor, public respect, or money, the widow is contrasted as giving everything. The scribes would not be what I would think of as friends. Maybe the widow trusted that the community of God (friends) that she gave everything to, would care for her needs. 

Boaz was an older man but he recognized Ruth as hard working and obedient and loyal to her mother-in-law. Boaz the son of Rahab is from a line that comes from outside the Israelites. Ruth also is an outsider. Rahab was definitely an outsider – she was the enemy. But with God, friendship was born and they were adopted into the community and not just into the community, but into the family tree of Jesus! That is quite a friendship!

Mary mother of Jesus took a riak and trusted what the angel told her. Joseph took a risk when he trusted and took Mary for his wife. 

Even our reading from Hebrews has a thread of risk. Jesus risks absolutely everything, His life, even to death, on the promise of resurrection and because Jesus trusted and obeyed, and took that risk, everyone who believes in Him and follows Him by risking living different from how the world loudly pulls us to live, will receive salvation and share in that resurrection. Though we are outsiders in that we are sinners, Jesus makes us sons and daughters. The people who first heard these words would have known the words from Exodus that gave instructions for the building of the tabernacle which to the early children of Israel, was God’s dwelling place, where the priests would offer sacrifices to purify  themselves and for the sins of the people. 

Rahab was a courageous and flawed human who risked everything for the God of the Israelites. Ruth was a good and loyal and obedient friend to Naomi and never abandoned her. Outsiders became a community and because choices were made and risks were taken and friendships were born, not by scribes and religious leaders, but by regular everyday, flawed, imperfect people, the family line continued to the birth of Jesus. Jesus is our ultimate friend and will never abandon us and through His obedience to God, made the once and for all sacrifice for us. 

As we read these stories of God’s people, we can see that God uses both men and women in surprising ways. We see that God honors taking a risk, especially when it means extending friendship to someone; helping and giving to an outsider in a way that brings them into the circle. God honors how we treat others much more than public displays of how religious we are or how much material wealth we accrue. Micah 6 tells us “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Short verse, easy to read, a little more complicated to live out.

If we are trying to make a decision on how to act and can’t see a clear path, sometimes we need to go back to wherever we saw or heard God working last and start there. 

What do we risk today for the kingdom? We are not too worried about being beheaded or killed by the enemy on the other side of our city wall. We probably will not have to walk miles with nothing but what we can carry in hope that we will have a home and food to eat. If We reach out to someone who is not like us and become their friend we might risk ridicule. We even might risk being used. We might risk giving to someone who co tinues to make what we think are bad decisions.  

We have opportunities to become friends of anyone who might feel like an outsider, who might be different. Who might need to know that they are created in the image of God. We can be kind to strangers. We can offer food to those who are hungry. 

We each have a purpose. We each are often divinely placed exactly where God needs us to be to risk something for the kingdom. I pray that we each pay attention every day just in case that moment happens so we will be ready to do whatever the Holy Spirit is nudging us to do. 

We see in these readings that choices can keep people from starving, from being lonely, create new communities and families, care for those who have no hope, and make the Kingdom of God visible here and now, not some “way later far away in the sky” place, but here. Now. Us. 

Amen?

Prayer 

Father, teach us to be risk takers for the kingdom, friends of outsiders, willing to be surprised by who You would use, and flexible enough to be willing to backtrack to where we last saw You when the path is cloudy. We ask this in the name of the one who gave up everything so we could be Your daughters and sons, Jesus Christ, our friend, brother, and saviour. Amen

Sunday, October 3 Job 1:1, 2:1-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12, Mark 10:2-16

Scripture Readings

Old Testament Reading

Job 1:1, 2:1-10

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” Then Satan answered the LORD, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face. The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Epistle Reading

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12

1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet.” Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

Gospel Reading

Mark 10:2-16

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Sermon

The readings today are all about relationships. The reading from Job talks about Job’s relationship with God. It talks about Job’s relationship with his wife, his friends.

Hebrews is about our relationship with Jesus.

Mark’s reading is about our relationships with each other.

This week begins a four week span of readings from Job and as we read Job we have a space where we can wrestle with difficult questions. We are invited to acknowledge that there is pain in the world. There is pain in our communities. There is pain in our families. The book of Job, talks about that pain. Pain that sometimes seems to us to have no reason. We are invited to think about important questions like, if we believe that God is blessing us when good things happen, do we also believe God is punishing us when bad things happen? If the good prosper, does it mean that if you are poor, you are not good? And even more, why do we believe? Do we have faith in God only so He will bless us? Or do we have faith in God so He won’t sabotage what we are working to achieve on our own?

We wear T shirts and have bumper stickers and crosses on our walls and quote snippets of scripture and we know that the bible says multiple times, “Do not fear” and we like easy to memorize sayings. I don’t know about you but I prefer straight forward answers. Job does not give us that.

Does this actual conversation between God and satan take place exactly as it is told in the book of Job? Is it a story that is supposed to teach us something? We don’t know. But we do know Job does not know what is going on behind the scenes. He has no idea why all these things happen to him. Job’s wife seems to be asking the question of what is the point of being blameless if it doesn’t mean there will be blessings.

But we need to remember too, that in the midst of sad times, we also find God’s grace, sometimes in the most surprising ways. The thing that keeps hitting me is that those surprising things usually happen through people.

We are reading and discussing the book “How Not To Save the World” by Hosanna Wong on Wednesday nights and the chapter we read this week was all about how Her father was led to Jesus because first, someone opened the door. Second, there was a conversation. In that conversation the Holy Spirit brought about conversion and it changed Hosanna’s father’s life forever and he spent his life in ministry because of it, and Hosanna herself, as well. Because of that open door, many other people were ministered to and the person who opened that door never knew.

All relationships start that way don’t they? Not necessarily opening an actual physical door, but being open where ever you might be, to a conversation with someone. Even the book of Job begins with a conversation. Beyond just conversation, I think it is worth mentioning that satan in this conversation sees Job. But God sees beyond the outside – He sees who Job is inside. God sees the inside. 

It’s hard for us to really see who someone is without having conversations with them. And once we have opened that door, it’s hard to ever see someone the same again. Because sometimes through conversations with each other, we begin to understand each other and know who we each are on the inside. It brings us understanding of why we are the way we are. That changes us both. It moves from conversation to relationship.

The Great Commission is for us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

The quote from Hosanna’s book that stuck with me this week? “Why would anyone believe that the God we serve wants to know them if we don’t even want to know them?

The book of Hebrews is all about explaining that Jesus is better. Jesus is better than the prophets of old. Jesus is better than angels. Hebrews 2:21 tells us “For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father, For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,”  In Hebrews we are told that God SPOKE to us through His son. The Word. Conversation.

Now we all know that not all conversations lead to relationship. Some are not even meant for relationship. In Mark, some Pharisees had a conversation with Jesus. But their goal was not to know Him better. It was to trip Him up and He saw through their questions to who they were. They had hard hearts. They had no need of Him. They were holding their laws and their beliefs clutched so tightly that they missed out on a real and growing relationship with God. And maybe, that is the point that Mark is trying to make here. If we are not willing to open ourselves up to a relationship with God, we are missing out.

In the reading from Mark, Jesus says what God has joined together, let no one separate.

A relationship ending is sad and painful for us and for God, because we were created for community. We were created for communion with God and with each other. We are Jesus’ brothers and sisters which makes us each other’s brothers and sisters and Jesus moved through barriers. He did not limit his conversations to the church leadership. He opened doors for all people, because He, being like God, saw past the outside, saw past the mistakes, saw past the clothes, the creed, and even who a person was at the time He met them. He saw who they could be. He saw their pain, their worries, their loneliness, and I think especially, their need. He knew something that the Pharisees did not. That we all have need of a savior, from the most pious to the most broken, to the tiniest children.  

Even the disciples, who tried to stop the children from coming to Jesus, didn’t understand. Jesus opens the door for everyone. Jesus IS the Word. Jesus is the conversation that brings us back into relationship with God.

Hebrews 1:2 said that His Son whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds,  and John 1:1 says in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jesus IS the conversation that God has with us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the one who heals us and through Him, grace fills in that gap between us and God and brings us back into relationship with Him.  

If we go back to those questions that weave through the book of Job and skip to the gospels and see who Jesus sought out to have conversations with, to heal, to feed, then our idea of what the word blessings means in the context of the bible is blown up. Because while Jesus came for all, rich, poor, religious, confused, we can read the beatitudes and see that when someone asks us how we are and we respond with something like “I’m blessed!” we are probably not thinking in terms of what Jesus had to say about being blessed. Are we poor in spirit (needing a savior)? Are we mourning? Are we meek and thinking of others? Are we hungering and thirsting for righteousness? Are we merciful? Pure in heart? Peacemakers? Have we been persecuted for our faith?

Following Jesus is complicated sometimes, mostly because we complicate it. But it is also simple and we have the Holy Spirit to help us. 

We serve a God who opens doors. We serve a God who loves conversations. We serve a God who wants a relationship with us and who desires us to be in relationship with each other.

No one gets through this life without having some things just happen. But Job teaches us that our faith in God is not dependent on what is going on in this world, yet our faith in God does help us learn how to respond to the things that go on, in the world, in our relationships with others, in our response to trials. We do not have to endure trials alone or without hope. We have our faith to hold onto. We have Jesus holding our hands. We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. 

Hebrews teaches us that growing in relationship with Jesus is the better choice. Mark teaches us that God takes our relationships with each other seriously and that we are not to harden our hearts.

Love God. Love others. Amen? Amen!

Noise

a disconnect no not just one
but wires frayed all the way through
the system breaking at the edges and
the center isn’t holding
we yell our politics into the void
and pray to unrecognizable God
and sparks are dangerously close
to arid hearts in need of rain
too filled with pain to look
to listen to the cry, the scream, the dream
that spins out into space
erase the differences
it’s all one sound, the music lost
we tossed it out with I don’t even know
the question never mind the answer
the only thing for certain
is whatever is behind the curtain
isn’t what we think it is
isn’t filling empty spaces
isn’t making joyful faces
we argue while the hope is burning
pouring fuel upon a fire hungry
for the world won’t be enough
it just keeps on and we are blinded
by explosions, to the tiniest of candles
our hands too small to handle
the switch is stuck in on position
hand to flame, our own volition
smothered heat, a cooler vision
put an end to cruel derision
drop the weapon, no more stones
we can’t do it all alone
different notes, a softer tone
unplugged machines the noises cease
a slower walk, a finer peace

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