The Nourishing Place
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Sermon, October 18, 2020
Are you fed up, disgusted, out of patience with what passes for news of happenings around our globe? Are you tired of hearing the same information hour after hour, day after day! Are you ready for all the political dramas and traumas to stop? Of course, we all are. Our spirits seem to lag and wilt when all we hear is bad news, disturbing situations, horrifying pictures of humans hurting, wounding, killing one another.
Is that the way the world should be? No. We realize terrible things are happening, and we are tired of it all. So what should we do?
I can’t answer that for you, but I can offer you a little verse of poetry written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I memorized it years ago. I say it when I get so impatient. It helps me; maybe it will help you. Here it is: “Let us then be up and doing, with a heart for any fate. Still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait.”
What is that poem telling us? How can that be helpful? Well there are 3 ways.
1: It’s clear that impatience should not stop us from getting up every morning and doing good! Doing what needs to be done at home, at school, at work, even in leisure. Don’t shut down because you are tired of world wide foolishness. Have the faith to keep on keeping on, and do so by trusting God, not the media or politicians.
2: Then it says to us, “Have a heart for any fate.” That seems strange but it us telling us we can not control what happens outside our our own being-ness, so we must learn to deal in a healthy way with whatever is happening. It doesn’t mean we have to like what’s happening, but it does suggest we cope well with whatever is and make the best of it. We do so by standing strong in our own faith, our commitment to a loving God, and then behave with love and respect even if no one else seems to be doing so.
3: The verse goes on to say, keep on achieving. Don’t stop. And keep on pursuing what you know to be right. In the end evil never wins. Faith, love, goodness wins. Staying involved in doing something worthwhile helps us be more patient. If it is to be a distraction, make it a worthy one. Bottom line is this: we all must discipline ourselves and learn to be patient. Patience is one gift of the Spirit.
The bible is full of stories about being patient. One of the most notable ones is that of Job. He lost everything...family, property, wealth, and friends. He suffered so much that even his wife and friends told him to curse God and die. But he persevered. He never ever gave up. He remained faithful. Instead of cursing God, Job said, “Yea though you kill me, yet will I worship you.” In the end Job was mightily blessed and had all he needed to be himself again. Through the spiritual gift of patience, Job trusted God, thereby he made new discoveries of divine resources and present help.
Another story of patience is that of Joseph. His brothers put him in a pit hoping he would die. However, travelers rescued him and took him to Egypt. There he was placed in prison. He felt hopeless, loveless, and abused...as he was. He did not give up. With patience and trust, life gave Joseph many gifts...one of which was saving his entire family from famine...the same family who had abandoned him. He was patient; he waited on God to intervene. And God did.
Look at the verse in Hebrews 6: 11-12. “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” That was certainly true in these two stories of Job and Joseph.
Will you let it be true for you as well?
To truly understand our own lives we must understand patience… and use it. “Patience” has two meanings. One is to wait calmly for something you hope for; the other is to endure suffering with assurance because there will be many obstacles in your way. This is true for all of us. We endure what we must, but we also cope and hope…trusting that in God’s way and time, all will be well, good, and as it should be.
Praise God for the gift of patience and the assured outcome of God’s promises to us all.
Sermon, October 11, 2020
The story I just read is the scripture. The story is self-explanatory so it doesn’t need to be re-stated. But, we can relate to it and we can learn from it. Each of us has at certain times had an expectation that did not come into reality...at least not in the way we expected. And we were disappointed.
Expectations are good for us. They keep us hopeful, and forward looking. However, when we rigidly hold on to an expectation, and then not have it met, we tend to be upset, angry, or feel unworthy. Rigidity keeps us from seeing, or experiencing, the good things God has in store for us.
Lets talk about what we can learn from Naaman’s story. But first, something I really enjoy about the Bible, and this story, is the recognition of who the real, true heroes in life are. You saw some of that in the story. In Naaman’s story, he is the elite warrior, looked up to by all in his country. What he wanted he received. The people catered to him and his desires. But, when this high and mighty man became infected with leprosy, his life changed. He could not believe this evil sickness would dare to touch him. He was too important. However, he did want to be healed. His remedy came from unlikely people. It wasn’t the powerful who helped and guided Naaman, it was the servants. Every one regardless of social or economic status can be used by God for good things to occur.
So, what are the lessons we can learn from this story and apply to our own lives?
The true lessons here are:
* God’s ways are not our ways.
*Obedience to God’s laws are healing in themselves.
*Unnamed and unknown people are often our real heroes.
* You don’t have to be powerful, or hold a high position in the community, or have wealth, to be used for good by our Lord and our God.
*Pride is never a healthy attitude. Your own importance and wanting others to acknowledge it leads you down a path of ill, hurt, and wounded-ness.
*When your expectations are not met at all, or when they are not met in the way you hoped, do not stop, do not give up, keep going because the Lord who loves you as his own has something better in store for you! Always.
Here us the bottom line: Sometimes life will disappoint you.. You will not have all your expectations come to pass; but respond to the disappointments with gratitude. Thank God for knowing what is best for you...at all times and in all ways. Gratitude in the morning, throughout the day, and in the evening is an attitude that will prevail and lead you into accepting the life you have, and providing joy in it. This lesson is one each of us must take to heart and live into. I pray you will do so every day.
Sermon, October 4, 2020
Today there is an abundance of knowledge and information...readily available night or day. However, where is wisdom?
Let’s look back for a minute. The original universities in Europe and America were Christian institutions set up to teach theologians, preachers, and ministers. Those universities taught all knowledge already exists, having been created by God at the beginning of time. Early theologians readily agreed that if knowledge is not based on a respect for and gratitude to our Holy God, we will misuse knowledge instead of shaping it for good.
When God deems us mature enough to know how to correctly utilize pre-existing knowledge, he will allow us to uncover and discover it, step by step. This process should help us make life-affirming decisions.
Early Spiritual education practiced eduxi meaning “has brought out” like in the quote from the bible which says, “I am the Lord thy God who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” To paraphrase, knowledge is to bring us out of, or deliver us, from darkness, from unknowing into receiving the light of God. For centuries, the Bible has been the major “text book” for students everywhere. Only recently have our leaders decided to quantify and systematize learning into separate categories based on age, gender, and what the policy makers in our nation deem important. In elementary grades through college discussions and debates on important issues seem to be absent. School success depends on test grades. Not so in life.
Where can we find true education, real enlightenment, that leads to wisdom? As Christians, a great start is to go to the Bible. In Biblical scripture there is a bit of history. There are biographies of great heroic men and women, some of whom were also great sinners! There are poems to help us understand what metaphors are, how to compare good with its opposite, sin. There are stories that reinforce the concept of consequences for good or ill, based on our decisions of how to act toward God, ourselves, and others.
There are tragic stories, love stories, funny stories, stories teaching morals and ethics, and stories about how to act, and behave when we live in a chaotic, dangerous world.
Real education, whether discovered in schools or churches, is a matter of coming to see, understand, think, love, and act in the world and for the world. Therein lies wisdom.
What will lead us to this wisdom? If we can honestly be true to the creation and on-going development of all knowledge, which is God, then church, bible study, small group discussions can be places where we meet the transcendent God as he leads us to the practicality of the sacred. It’s one thing to see God as holy and to worship him. The extension of that is to find holiness in how to live, serve, and interact with one another with grace. All too often we do not see the holy, inspiring aspects of life in current movies, television series, newspapers, in political debates, or on news programs. God has been left out of our national and international relationships and conversations….to the detriment of us all.
Today churches are needed more than ever! The gathering of people of belief, standing strong together, might help move humanity forward in the best possible of ways. We need to learn, then rely on, proven ancient wisdom written in the scriptures. Be assured Christianity is not anti-science, rather spirituality and science work hand in hand. The more we know who Christ was and is, the more we can be tolerant of one another, and see the absolute need for forgiveness. We must accept non-violence as ultimately more powerful than war, and true justice...judgment based on love...as far more important than monetary profit.
So let us recommit during the coming months to not fear reading the bible nor finding it boring. Rather learn to love it for its basic wisdom which includes the power of Christlike love for all. Let us be educated in spirituality, bringing forth in all of us the recognition of the intriguing mystique of biblical lore. Then fall in love with the knowledge that correct answers to all challenges are gifts from the divine. They are always before us. They lead to peace, patience, understanding, and wisdom beyond our normal lines of sight.
My questions today are who do you listen to? Who is teaching you? And what are you learning? Please give yourself time to think about these questions. How you respond might add to the quality of your life.
In closing, don’t diminish the absolute necessity of churches. Recommit to knowing the Christ philosophy. It changes your life, making you stronger and more peaceful. You will be happier, more forward looking with less fear, less anxiety. Together, let us be better educated by reestablishing our foundational commitment to God as the source of truth, wisdom and blessings. No better way to live. No better way to love.
Sermon, September 27, 2020
The Focus of Love
If Christianity, our Christian faith, is based on love, then we need to talk about love this morning. In many ways, we have trivialized the meaning of love. We love peanut butter. We love the newest series on television. We love the new fall sweaters on sale. We love our houses and cars and friends and family...oh yea, and we love God. Spoken with the same passion, the same spontaneity. It shows why the Christian faith seems to be losing its power, its attractiveness to others.
Perhaps in all honesty we might say we like peanut butter. We enjoy the new series on television. We hope we might buy one of those nice sweaters on sale. We are grateful for our homes and cars and friends and family. Those words seem more appropriate. Let us use the word love for what it is intended.
All deep, abiding, authentic love is to a degree sacrificial. Sacrificial love is life-altering, life enhancing, life expanding, lifting human beings up to a deeper understanding of who the Christ is and who we are as his spiritual heirs. We want our world to be safe, where dignity and respect come again into popularity, where we learn to cherish the fact that doing either right or wrong has consequences...and in some cases serious consequences for good or ill.
A sacrificial love is like this: if a child becomes ill and needs a kidney what parent wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to give one of his kidneys so his child could live! A sacrificial love is like a single mom with three children struggling to make ends meet. She meets a neighbor, old and frail, unable to cook decent meals for herself. And this mom gives up some of her own dinner every night to feed the neighbor in need. Sacrificial love is like a teacher who gives up a higher paying office job to be in the midst of children in special education classes where she can offer love, support, and encouragement as she teaches the ABCs of learning. Sacrificial love is when a person is so moved and touched by a desire to improve the lives of others that this person who is as poor as anyone on the planet comes to the alter and puts a quarter in the dove so he too offers kindness to others.
Years ago I read Nikos Kazantzakis’ “The Last Temptation of Christ.” If you saw the movie, it is a bit distorted from the book. But the story is amazing. The book is a work of fiction...but the author uses Jesus and the disciples as characters in the book. The story shows divinity is not a given, but rather as a process Jesus explores through his humanity.
In this story, while Jesus is hanging on the cross dying he has a dream. In the dream he refuses to accept his role as messiah. Instead, he marries Mary Magdalene and together they have children. This family moves into a home on the crest of a hill that overlooks Jerusalem. Years later, Mary dies, and Jesus stays on with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Toward the end, when Jesus is quite old, the destruction of Jerusalem begins. People flee from the burning city and run up the hill to escape death. Jesus stands near the edge of his property and watches as people run by. One by one his disciples arrive at the spot where Jesus is standing. The disciples are withered, worn, haggard, desperate. In their frailness they only nod at Jesus. He nods back. Soon another disciple strides up the hill. He is tall, muscular, powerful. His full head of hair and long beard blow in the wind and his eyes are aflame. He too sees Jesus and stops in front of him. In a raging anger he screams at Jesus. “You are a coward. No Messiah are you. You should have gone into politics!” Jesus doesn’t speak. Then he recognizes this angry fierce man as Judas. The one who betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver. Jesus recoils. Judas in a seething voice says to Jesus, “Lord, I was the only one who loved you enough to sacrifice my reputation and my life to do what had to be done. Someone had to make the prophecy about you come true so you could be the Messiah... our savior! I became that person. I sold you for 30 pieces of silver. I pointed you out to Herod’s soldiers so they could arrest you! Those are what our sacred scriptures prophesied, told us had to happen for the Messiah to be the Messiah. I loved you. I loved you. We needed you to be the Messiah. You were to sacrifice yourself for love, love for all. I know the personal cost of sacrificial love. And had you gone through with the crucifixion, it would have all been worthwhile...salvation for every human.”
Then in the dream, Jesus recommits himself to his Father God. He awakens. He realizes he is on the cross and he is dying. Jesus is at peace. He did complete the mission and his purpose on earth. In Jesus’ final moments on the cross his divinity is fully revealed. No greater love!
How do you forget a story like that? How are you not changed by learning stories of fierce, unselfish love?
Understanding that part of Christ’s nature, which was truly human, helps us understand and love him. His humanity aimed toward divinity is what enables us to pursue his passion as though it is our own. If Jesus the man had not had within him the warm human element of deep, sincere caring for the condition of human beings, he would never have been able to touch our hearts with assurance and tenderness; he would not have been able to be a model for our own lives. With his gifts of persuasiveness, his tender compassion, his personal power Jesus could have been a forceful politician, as Judas suggested in the story. Jesus could have been wealthy, held a position of high esteem. Instead, he chose to be without a home of his own. Without wealth. And opted to live among the poorest, the neediest, the sinners of the world who struggle even today to find meaning in a world full of hatred, where they and some of us are considered the least of all.
If the Bible and ancient scriptures teach us anything at all it is this: love of others, sacrificial love of others, is the one and only activity that will ever save any of us, and our world. God help us all.
Sermon, September 20, 2020
Our ancient beliefs seem to say to us: “If you do not trust God you live in a mental and spiritual prison of self doubt, angst, and fear. So, let’s talk about trusting God.”
The scripture today is from the Old Testament book of Exodus. Approximately 80 percent of the New Testament is a re-telling of Old Testament stories and lessons. Therefore, it is important to realize that the Book of Exodus has had much influence over the faith of Israel, as well as Christian theology...that is the study and knowledge of God. Several themes in Exodus can also be found in the life and ministry of Jesus.
For example, Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus delivered the new law of love. Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness to give life to the people; Jesus was lifted up on the cross to bring eternal life to all who trust him. The Jewish Passover served as the base on which Jesus developed the Last Supper as a spiritual memorial for his followers.
Thus in the very beginning of our Judaeo-Christian belief, trust in God is named as an essential element in living an abundant life. Trust.
Many people seem to feel faith and trust are the same thing. Both are needed, but they are different. Faith needs no evidence for belief or practice. The nature of faith itself suggests tangible evidence does not exist. On the other hand, trust is based largely on evidence that is real according to our senses, human history, and human reason. That is why stories of real life are essential to gain knowledge and wisdom. They teach us to trust. One of the earliest stories in the Bible comes from Exodus. It is about the Israelites living in Egypt who were reduced to the status of slavery and forced to work on Pharaoh’s building projects. The were beaten, starved, and held as prisoners. When the Israelites finally turned to God for deliverance from their bondage, God quickly responded by saving them. Other stories of deliverance followed, such as God’s call to Moses through the burning bush to lead His people out of Egypt into the promised land. Many plagues were sent to the Egyptians to encourage Pharaoh to free the people. The miraculous crossing of the Reed Sea (Red Sea) followed by the destruction of the Pharaoh’s army is another story of trusting God for deliverance. And then there was the provision of food and sustenance for the Israelites in the wilderness. These stories have continued for 4000 years to reassure us that God is still available and still is asking us to trust Him. But we must do our part and surrender to his superior will and way.
How do we learn to trust God and trust him with all things including our lives? We recognize trust may take a little time to develop. That is true because doubt seems to fly around inside our minds. To defeat doubt we need to be aware of doubt, then follow through with a plan to trust God more.
There are four practical steps that may help us learn to trust God.
1. Make a decision not to worry! Oh my, that is a biggie. We all worry and the more we worry the more we worry. To consciously decide you do not want to worry you train your mind to stop worry when it starts and begin to trust God’s desire to care for you. If you have trouble accomplishing this step, keep this verse close by and read it as often as you need to. It is from Philippians 4: 6-7 “Do not be anxious about any thing, but in everything by prayer and requests let your needs be made known to God and the peace that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ.” That is trust!
2. Develop a habit to monitor your thoughts and feelings. Begin training yourself to notice when you are falling into negative thought patterns, stop them, and give them to God. He can handle any and everything about you. Be brave and wise enough to try this monitoring...it is essential that you control yourself and your emotions do not control you!
3. How do we stop these negatives? You find something to replace them, like staying mentally in touch with God. Every time you bring up a negative, stop yourself and tell God you need his help. He is ever ready to monitor your thoughts with you, not for you. Read scripture, read the stories in the Bible about what happened to people once they learned to trust God completely. That is evidence! Amazing stories will give you positive ways to respond to your destructive thoughts. It may not seem easy, but the more you practice changing your thoughts the easier it will be. Ephesians 6: 13 tells us to persevere. Know the word of God. It helps keep you alert. The only thing we really have that successfully overcomes the wrong and the negative in us is the reassuring word of God. That is theological truth, that is psychological truth, and that is wisdom.
4. Replace negative thoughts and feelings with the promises of God. Here are some of His promises for you to memorize, think about, and live by: God promises: I will be with you always; I will protect you; I will be your strength; I will answer you; I will provide for you; I will give you peace; I will always love you.
If you live by these assurances, you will be trusting God. Then the relief and freedom you feel will be well worth the effort to arrive at this place of serenity.
Remember this verse too: “Trust in the lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge God and he will direct your paths and your actions.” Proverbs 3: 5-6
May we encourage one another to love and trust God which helps us gain wisdom, peace, patience, and a more thorough understanding of God’s abundant grace which is for us….his people.
Sermon, September 13, 2020
Luke 14: 27
Today I want to talk about two important aspects of life that are far more closely connected than we might think. Those two aspects are worship and work, or as the Bible calls it, labor.
I am often disturbed by the fact that over the centuries we as Christians have tried to over-holy scripture which leads us to consider scripture too sacred to realize its practical uses. We have misunderstood Jesus’s basic message which is to love and respect ordinary people while they are doing ordinary things, and to see ordinariness as sacred. We forget worship and work are equal partners in keeping human beings human and humane. Worship is a major part of being a Christian...but the word worship simply means to give reverence to your God at all times, in every endeavor. When you work and revere God while doing so, then you will never labor in vain, and you are indeed responsibly taking up your cross and doing as Jesus did.
The scripture says, “anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” That may sound pious or arrogant...but it means just the opposite. This “take up your cross” language has a powerful and a practical meaning. Taking up your cross means in what ever endeavor you are involved with, do it as a gift to your God. God is at work in and through everyone of us for the sake of the world God created. God gives you life, your gift to God is how you live your life...in labor and in worship.
There seems to be a disconnect for many Christians between what they experience during Sunday worship services and what they do during Monday through Saturday. Is there anything that happens during Sunday worship that assists you in making sense of your life, your challenges, your disappointments, your hurts, your illnesses during the rest of your week? Does church worship really make a difference in the way you live every day? Do you believe that what you do at home, at work, at school, or in leisure really matters to God? Do you think that what you do is holy and sacred? The answers to all of those questions should be YES. Your everyday efforts are important to God because you are God’s partner in doing good work in the world. Labor, hard work, earning wages to support your family are holy yet practical experiences. Without people being willing to labor in thousands of ways, none of us could exist.
Whether you run a large corporation or work underground in coal mines or make up beds every morning, the labor you exert is part of your walk with God. Each one of us can choose to see all work as dignity. My grandmother once told me that it isn’t the job you do or have to do that makes life grand...it is the attitude you have toward the labor you do. If the only way you can earn funds to support yourself and your family is menial, like washing dishes in a restaurant or cleaning bathrooms in a hotel, do it with self respect and dignity. Appreciate the fact you have an opportunity to labor. Give thanks for it. And for other people who are willing to do tough jobs. Toward that end, how often do you thank a store clerk for working on a holiday while you have an opportunity to shop? How often to you thank a waiter or waitress or the cook at a restaurant so you can dine and be served? How often do you thank plumbers, electricians, policemen, firemen for being available to work any time to keep you safe? How often do you stop and say thank you to anyone in military uniform who lives so you can raise your family in relative peace? How often do you thank doctors, nurses, hospital workers so you can receive help when you need it most? How often do you thank your children or grandchildren’s teachers and administrators for their labor on behalf of your family? Just how grateful are you for the benefits you have living in a community of people willing to work?
If we do take time to be grateful and express that gratitude, and if we are aware of other people’s sacrifices so we can be free to do things on our wish list, and thank them for their labor, then we are following Jesus, we are taking up our cross to follow our Lord and redeemer. Gratitude is one of the biggest blessings Christianity has to offer.
The reason there seems to be a disconnect between what Christians do and experience on Sundays and what they do and experience the rest of the week is that worship often stops as people leave the sanctuary. However, scripture should help us make sense of our lives in the broader world of Monday through Saturday. The worship service should be the first step of the week enabling you to rejoice in your labors for the rest of the week. When you are trying to work through a problem or situation at home or school or work do you think about a spiritual solution, a godly solution? That should be your first consideration, because for every situation there is a divine solution. Just ask yourself how God would handle what you are dealing with. Realize you are God’s partner in life and God has elevated you to a position as co-creator of your world. Together you make it work, alone you seldom do.
True worship should be part of how you live every hour of every day. Take up your cross and carry it, work it, as though Jesus himself is the laborer. Your life will be enriched. So today, change an attitude if you need to do so. To make life better for yourself, those you love, and your fellow citizens, consider seeing worship as practical and all labor as holy.
Sermon, September 6, 2020
Today I want to talk to you about prayer.
For many of us prayer seems to be the words we use to talk to God or to petition God for specific things. There is nothing wrong with that approach...however, there is far more to prayer than words.
In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus used words to teach his disciples the Spiritual Concept of the best way to live. First, recognize that God is the Almighty One, the One we honor. God is “in heaven” because “heaven” is the best of all circumstances. Jesus told the disciples, and us as later followers, we are to assist God in making earth also the best of all circumstances...that is how His Kingdom comes to earth. In that prayer, Jesus taught the disciples to be grateful for the vast array of edible food God has placed on this planet...enough for all of us every day if we share. Another way to bring God’s will to earth is to forgive, as God forgives us of all sins, if we ask for that forgiveness. Then he ends his teaching by saying God does not offer us temptations, but he does lead us away from them. Therefore, the entire structure of the Lord’s prayer puts in proper perspective the way we are to live. God first, doing His will, then living the results. The totality of that teaching is to realize your life is your prayer….how you live each day, what you honor each day, how you treat others each day is who you are. So, what kind of prayer are you?
Another way to look at prayer is to hear from someone who has spent his life thinking, writing, and teaching about prayer. The man I want to quote to you is Frederick Buechner. Buechner is an ordained minister who preferred to teach in an all-boys school for most of his life rather than ministering a church. He is brilliant, comic, and his writings speak to all people, different as we are, because he speaks the truth. Here is what Frederick Buechner says about prayer.
“We all pray whether we think of it as praying or not. The odd silence we fall into when something very beautiful is happening, or something very good or very bad. The "Ah-h-h-h!" that sometimes floats up out of us as out of a Fourth of July crowd when the skyrocket bursts over the water. The stammer of pain at somebody else's pain. The stammer of joy at somebody else's joy. Whatever words or sounds we use for sighing with over our own lives. These are all prayers in their way. These are all spoken not just to ourselves, but to something even more familiar than ourselves and even more strange than the world.
According to Jesus, by far the most important thing about praying is to keep at it. The images he uses to explain this are all rather comic, as though he thought it was rather comic to have to explain prayer at all. He says God is like a friend you go to borrow bread from at midnight. The friend tells you in effect to drop dead, but you go on knocking anyway until finally he gives you what you want so he can go back to bed again (Luke 11:5-8). Or God is like a crooked judge who refuses to hear the case of a certain poor widow, presumably because he knows there's nothing much in it for him. But she keeps on hounding him until finally he hears her case just to get her out of his hair (Luke 18:1-8). Even a stinker, Jesus says, won't give his own child a black eye when the child asks for peanut butter and jelly, so how all the more will God answer when his children seek and ask. (Matthew 7:9-11).
Be persistent, Jesus says not, one assumes, because you have to beat a path to God's door before God will open it, but because until you beat the path maybe there's no way of getting to your door. "Ravish my heart," John Donne wrote. But God will not usually ravish. He will only court and woo.
Whatever else it may or may not be, prayer is at least talking to yourself, and that in itself is not always a bad idea.
Talk to yourself about your own life, about what you've done and what you've failed to do, and about who you are and who you wish you were and who the people you love are and the people you don't love, too. Talk to yourself about what matters most to you, because if you don't, you may forget what matters most to you.
Even if you don't believe anybody's listening, at least you'll be listening.
But do believe somebody is listening. Believe in miracles. That's what Jesus told the father who asked him to heal his epileptic son. Jesus said, "All things are possible to him who believes." And the father spoke for all of us when he answered, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:14-29).
What about when the boy is not healed? When, listened to or not listened to, does the prayer go unanswered? Who knows? Just keep praying, Jesus says. Remember the sleepy friend, the crooked judge. Even if the boy dies, keep on beating the path to God's door, because the one thing you can be sure of is that, down the path you beat with even your most half-cocked and halting prayer, the God you call upon will finally come.”
~originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words
“In honesty you have to admit to a wise man prayer is not for the wise, not for the prudent, not for the sophisticated. Instead prayer is for those who recognize that in the face of their deepest needs, all their wisdom is quite helpless. It is for those who are willing to persist in doing something that seems to be childish, yet crucial.” F. Buechner
[Shape] Remember, the most important and practical prayer you have is your own life and what you do with it. Amen Sermon, August 30, 2020
"Does God Use Sinners to Assist Him?”
For those of us who grew up in a Christian Church we became familiar with Old Testament iconic heroes... men and women who saved the Israelites, who preserved the Ark of the Covenant and Jerusalem, who did God’s bidding to save their families and later their tribes.
Having read and heard of these heroes throughout the years we tend to elevate them to people of absolute holiness, pure in their devotion to God, deeply spiritual, and free from recurring sins. Yet that image of them is absolutely false, NOT true. Everyone of these characters were sinful, doubtful, and generally self-centered or self-serving. In many ways they did great harm to their families, their friends, their enemies, and their own tribes.
My question, “Does God Use Sinners to Assist Him? Is answered with a YES, of course God does. He uses sinners because sinners are all he has to work with.
We are all sinners. We all fall short of the glory of God. Everyone of us, everyone we love, everyone we know, everyone we celebrate as our own heroes...we are all complicit in doing wrong, hurtful, sinful acts. We are all the same. When we look at humanity as a whole we get the idea that God’s pool of loving, serving talent is very very shallow.
Look at the major heroes who saved God’s chosen people and the laws by which we all still live. Noah left the ark, began to enjoy wine a bit too much. He passed out and did not know his own grandson slipped in his tent and raped Noah’s wife. Abraham, the father of our Jewish and Christian faith, was a schemer and liar. He gave his wife, who was also his sister, to a Pharoah to keep himself from being killed. Moses, who we call the first savior of the chosen people, was a murderer. He killed an Egyptian then ran off and hid for 30 or so years. Rahab, who saved two Jewish soldiers and allowed the Israelites into the city to conquer Jericho, was a prostitute who sold her body. She is one of only four women listed in Jesus’ genealogy. Samson, strong in body, weak in spirit. He was a lustful, angry, betrayer. He killed thousands of people. David, one of the most illustrious of all kings, was an adulterer. He had Bathsheba’s husband killed so he could marry her. Paul, the great missionary who set up churches all around the known world, began as a persecutor of the new church and killed hundreds of new believers. Peter, a liar, a denier of Christ, was also a coward.
These are just some of the biblical people we adore, admire, and look up to….but it isn’t their sins and shortcomings that draw us to them, it is what they accomplished when they did what God asked them to do. That is wherein their heroic deeds live, and live on forever.
So, why am I telling you about them? Because God wants to use you too. Your responses that you are not good enough, skilled enough, talented enough, or wise enough to work for God are no longer a valid excuses. That you are not good enough is the great lie you tell ourself that keeps you safely home rather than out doing love...which is the root of all salvation for all people. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, what you know or don’t know, you can be helpful to our Living and Loving God. In fact, God needs you to assist in helping to re-create this world that is in turmoil by living in and through the Spirit within you. Overwhelm people with kindness. Answer every angry word with a blessing for that angry person. Forgive the worst that has happened to you so you can be free to really live again. You are needed, wanted, counted on by our Lord. Don’t let God down with excuses.
When you are asked by God or others to participate in the work of God your answer must be yes. One glorious way to respond is “Here I am, I will go and I will do. “ Once you do so the Christ Spirit within you will give you the strength, the courage, and the wherewithal to do what you are asked to do.
By looking at the ancient heroes we learn even more about ourselves and God. God’s view of life and ours is different. We may look at intelligence. God looks at our hearts. We talk about what we have and own. God looks at what we give away. We might enjoy the fact we know important people. God notices whom we serve. We live for a good name. God looks for humility. We seek facts. God looks for wisdom. Our human condition is temporary, God’s is eternal. This God wants you to act for him.
If you are asked to sing, sing. If you are asked to pray, pray. If you are asked to read the Bible, read the Bible. If you are asked to share, share. If you are asked to help with Bible Study, help with Bible Study. And hear this...there is a powerful sermon inside each and every one of you. Tell it to a friend who needs to hear it.
In closing, never ever let fear or excuses stop you from living your faith. Just imagine what you can do when you say Yes to God’s work of loving all others, all others. Children learn to read, families stay together, walls of distrust and dissension fall down, churches are rebuilt, nations are saved. It just takes your participation and your “yes” to God’s life in you.
Sunday, August 23, 2020
Luke 4: 14-21
Does Jesus disappoint you?
Jesus certainly was not what his neighbors wanted him to be. Like them long ago, many of us want Jesus, as Lord, to cure all our ills, to fix our country, to solve all our problems...and when that doesn’t happen many of us say to ourselves...well, he must not be all powerful after all.
The scripture today tells us Jesus went to his own hometown synagogue. He was invited to teach there. From a scroll in the synagogue he read a portion of Isaiah which taught:
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed (chosen me) to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The other men in the synagogue knew Jesus. They were his neighbors...many had probably grown up with him. So, they were listening to every word he said. Probably sitting on the edge of their seats, thrilled that one of their own now had such a great following. All was well.
But then, after Jesus had read the scroll, he rolled it up and sat in their midst. Then he made one simple statement. All he said was, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Evidently this statement infuriated his listeners. Perhaps they wanted him to say Roman rule would be over thrown, perhaps some of them wanted an immediate healing, others perhaps wanted the same kind of recognition Jesus was getting. What ever they wanted, they must not have received it because we are told all the men in the synagogue were filled with wrath...anger...and they rose up together to put Jesus out of the city.”
Let’s look at what his statement to the men really said: in one brief comment he tells them what the year of the Lord’s favor really is, and that it is happening today and everyday. He says it is like a person who loves enough to care that the very poor are given good news of healing; it is like when a person cares that others are sad, hurt, brokenhearted and offers comfort; and it is like when there is someone who reaches out to people in bondage, either through external reasons or internal ones, and assures those people they can be set free. There is hope.
Listen to this: that is exactly what he is telling you and me today. We might think, well he was talking about Galileans 2000 years ago and not about advanced, brilliant, powerful Americans like our country produces. Not true...he was talking to us today just as assuredly he talked to his peers way back then.
Look at our community today. People are fearful. People are hungry. Many people don’t have medicines they need or can afford. Many young people go uneducated because of drug abuse, or sheer lack of determination. There is a huge gap between today’s haves and have-nots. Is that what the kingdom of God looks like?
None of us desires a socialistic government. But the churches and our own good will toward others can help bridge the gap even without government intervention. Maybe we as individuals and as a church can make more of a difference if we added the personal touch to our charitable work. Maybe we ought to listen to Jesus more often and with more commitment.
Let us reiterate this lesson. Jesus told us the kingdom of God will come when we dare to befriend people in trouble, when we show love and compassion to people who are lonely, oppressed, confused, and bitter. We can, and ought to, listen to people in pain, who are hurting, and listen long enough to hear their despair or their anger or their disappoint and offer just a bit of encouragement. Even a smile, a pat on the back, one word of hope from you might open a new door. The kingdom will come at any moment when we pray for those who are ill and when we offer a new vision of life for those who are blinded by hate or loss.
You might ask, how and when can we do this? Here is just one small example. Our give-away items in the back porch in our parking lot is one door to reconciliation. When you bring things to the porch, if people are here looking for supplies or clothing or books, stay long enough to talk to them. Be concerned. Be helpful. Ask questions like, “What is your name? What do you need, how can we help? Then listen to the responses. It will amaze you what you might learn about us and this community.
Many of us drop off items to the pack porch, and think we have done enough. We have not. Giving old clothes or things we no longer need is just the doorway to reconciliation. The items help, certainly. But the kingdom of God comes when we listen to the folks who need what you cast off. When we willingly inquire of what else they might need that we could either supply or offer suggestions of where that help might come from.
My questions to you today are: Do you want to be part of bringing the Kingdom of God here in Magnolia Grove? Or, are you disappointed that Jesus asked us to be uncommonly kind. How often in a day do you consciously ask yourself if you really care about the sick, the broken heart-ed, the poor, the homeless, the alcoholic who sleeps on our porch, or the pregnant young woman who already have 4 or 5 children she can’t support?
Do you care enough to take the time and the energy...of which we all have some of…and seriously do as Jesus asked? Do you want to participate in bringing the Kingdom of God to your hometown, your church’s back yard, your realm of influence? Really?
Today can be the day you help bring God’s Kingdom, his day of favor, to our community. Or, do you get up from your seat in church or in your home and in disappointment usher Jesus out of our church and neighborhood like Jesus’ friends did to him 2000 years ago? Do you silence him and his teachings, or do you embrace both?
Disappointment or life abundant?
Sermon, August 16, 2020
This is a day of remembrance for me. Fifty two years ago, on this date, my mother died. She was the best teacher I ever had both in school and at home. She taught me the importance of cognitive, creative, and critical thinking. Through her I learned individual responsibility, that is to willingly take responsibility for my thoughts, words, and actions always, which is of utmost importance if I want to live a useful, meaningful life. She also taught me that love of God and love of our country are closely akin.
For the past two or three weeks I have had these concepts at the forefront of my thinking. I feel compelled to speak a bit about them this morning. So today I want to remind myself and some of you who are willing to hear, about something we already know, but are often reluctant to discuss with others. Our reluctance perhaps comes from our fear of offending someone, or saying something we might later regret because some people might think it is all about that taboo topic, politics.
Let’s review for a minute. It is a fact the men and women who decided to form a government in this fairly new country called America were, yes, sinners. However, they were also godly people. These founders, as they are called, used Biblical concepts to help form this ruling body we call government. Most of these founders were either Christian or Deist. Most of them really did believe God created all people equal...in God’s sight...all were loved equally, all were given the basic emotions equally, all were given absolutely the same basic needs. These founders knew all people, regardless of race, religious beliefs, or other differences, were very much alike….and therefore, entitled to the same basic rights. Men, boys, women, and girls fought England to build a country upon these rights where everyone had a voice through the vote.
There were terrible snags making these desires realities...with slavery being a major one. Many people today falsely believe slavery began here in America. Slavery has been with humans since the beginning of time. Egyptians had slaves 4 to 5000 years ago, the African continent had slaves from the beginning of their time and still do in some cases. Slavery is, and has been, found in some form in countries around the world for thousands of years.
America finally outlawed physical slavery...however slavery still exists here. It exists in the form of utter dependence on this once powerfully, concerned government. In recent decades we have seen a decline in Christian or any religious affiliation and in respect for our nation. Today more people in America look favorably on the idea of more government involvement in our lives rather than less. Instead of being responsible for themselves, many American residents no longer look to God or church for guidance. Rather they turn to the government in Washington or Jackson or Harrison County to solve their problems and lessen their challenges. No longer is personal problem solving taught anywhere. No longer do families, churches, schools teach manners, civic responsibility, personal goal setting, or even how to manage life to benefit self and others. They want more and more government, and less and less personal responsibility, to the detriment of each one of us. There is real evidence of this happening today.
For example. Look at China. A lady name Lindsey Jansen wrote about it clearly. In China people and institutions are run completely by the ruling class in Beijing. All religion is restricted, all learning prescribed, and tragically all beliefs, organizations, learning opportunities must agree the Chinese government is the higher authority in any and all situations and endeavors. There is no freedom.
All people who reside in China are slaves to the ruling class. Bibles are destroyed. Preachers are imprisoned. Even Muslims can not wear clothing indicating their faith. The government rules every aspect of human life and to disobey the government often results in imprisonment or death. Is America becoming a China?
Because of the increasing failure of everyday, caring, spiritual people to speak up and act for what is holy, good for all, beneficial across the board, America may lose its reason to exist. Individual responsibility is waning. Love of God being akin to love of country, not government, is disappearing. Churches are weakened by the wooing of secular entertainment and lack of consequences for hurtful, sinful behavior.
As any government grows in power, people lose power.
Currently, there are pockets of faithful people who are trying to stem the flow and redirect to a more Godly approach to life where all people are equal, have equal opportunities, and where favor comes from personal industry rather than through hand-outs. The church should be the first place people look to for guidance and for help in coping with life and life’s inequities. It’s up to us who believe these things to act a bit stronger and get a bit more involved in local problem solving. We do not need a larger more controlling, costly government. Rather we need to move toward a spiritual approach to all life that once made this country a true lighthouse to others. Today we need open minds and open dialogue, to better determine how to govern ourselves, our families, our schools, and our communities for the benefit of all.
Personal responsibility is tough to learn if you did not learn it as a child. However, I can not emphasize it enough, it is worth the effort to be responsible...to know you, your God, and your country are closely akin and relying on each one of us to do our part to bring loving, thoughtful spirituality as a priority in every thing we do or attempt to do.
Today is when that responsibility is needed. To survive and thrive as individuals and as a nation we must come together to combat whatever is to come down on us...cold war, real war, or far worse biological warfare. Possibly, Covid 19 is only the first wave of crippling biological warfare. It isn’t going to stop unless we become more responsible and self reliant...as well as supporting our basic institutions of family, church, school, and community. Stop looking to government to tell you who you are and what to believe. Think!
God is in us all. He, as our creator, has given us the proper way to live and love. God has provided a role model for us in the life of Jesus. God himself designed the church, that is the sacred gathering of people, to be the vehicle by which God’s hope is offered to us all. It is not about labels. It is not about democrat or republican or independent or black, red, yellow or white...it is all about ceasing to be offended...we are better than that. We need to be brave people, willing to discuss any essential ideas which keeps us away from extended oppressive government. We must be willing to grow in personal responsibility, faith, trust, and love. Then as part of that effort strengthen our homes, churches, and schools through support, participation, voting, working hard, being responsible, and dialogues across all labels. Perhaps, hopefully, an embolden effort by each of us just may keep us safe and alive long enough to pass on that which is holy, good, full of grace, and eternal. You be part of the solution rather than the problem. Be responsible, a sacred God-given law.
Sermon, August 9, 2020
Colossians 3: 12-17
Today’s reading is a powerful comment on who we are meant to be and how we are meant to live, for God, for ourselves, and for others.
Perhaps as you heard or read these words you began to realize how very social we as human beings are designed to be. By social the Bible doesn’t mean Facebook, parties, cliques...though those can sometimes be meaningful experiences. Rather, I think, this reading helps us understand just how important we are to each other. How we treat ourselves and others creates the world in which we live in today.
If you read the paper or watch certain news shows, you will recognize many, many people don’t seem to love others. They don’t seem to care about others or what belongs to others. They don’t seem concerned about protecting communities or the values most of us hold dear. And, in some cases, these same people don’t seem to care at all about our country. They seem set to disrupt life as we know it. Perhaps a bit of that is important. Perhaps we do need to sit back and ponder for awhile some ways that our country or community can be of more value and service to its people. Maybe there are better ways to increase meaningful education, better methods of helping the poor rise out of their poverty, and better opportunities for young people who are not college bound. But solutions must not involve violence!
The nation we live in is ruled by a government that should be for all people. What seems to happen here is that a few people, granted people we voted to put in place, make the decisions for all of us and often without listening to the people who most need the assistance.
For example, just how many high school students across the nation have been interviewed about their career and work desires, followed by practical solutions to help gratify their needs. Just how many really poor people have been interviewed regarding what their real needs are? How many of us ever participate in a poll to express what we as local people see as the greatest needs, and the best ways to have them met?
Do we ever get together in a symposium, or panel discussion, to talk about what is really important in a democracy and how we can be helpful beyond behaving ourselves and voting. How many of us take the time to write to our senators and representatives, or to our mayor and supervisor, or city council person. I think some of us may just want to complain, throw in the towel and say, what can I do?
These should be the bases of some of our conversations with each other, with our elected officials.
Regarding the vital question of what can I do and when, we can always seek guidance and wisdom from what we consider our holy document...the Bible. Whether Christian or not, there is some proven common sense suggestions for us throughout the Bible...like today’s scripture.
Let’s look at one Biblical hero for a minute. In his early life, Paul’s name was Saul. In his early life he was a sinner, a law breaker, a murder of innocent people, and a political activist that didn’t mind using violence to get his way. Saul abused and often killed Christians and their families. It has also been suggested that since he was a member of the Pharisaic Guard, perhaps he was the one who brutally stuck the sword in the side of Jesus while Jesus was hanging on the cross.
Needless to say, Saul was a vicious man and a cruel one. Yet, he had an experience that radically changed him. Changed him so much his name was changed from Saul to Paul.
After this experience, Paul discarded the wrong inside of him, the hatred, the anger, the prejudice, the arrogance, his position of power, and opted for a new self. He clothed himself in Christ Jesus, adopted the behaviors of a loving, caring, non-biased person, and became one of the most poerful teachers ever. He spread the good news of Christ and love more than any other person at that time. He tried to brign the world into harmony and peace through the reign of Christ Spirit in each of us.
Most of us are sinners...thankfully and hopefully not as extreme as Saul. Isn’t it time for us to look at the way we sin, at what we harbor inside of us, and make the tough decision to throw away all the past sins and our reasons for committing them?
We can do this. We have the power and the Godly wisdom to change ourselves. If we do change, discard the wrongs and hurts in us, we will have space within to build up a sense of goodness, a joy of living the good life, the pleasant sleep we gain by clothing ourselves in actions suggested by Jesus himself.
If we don’t change, if we don’t want to change, if we think it is too hard or too late, then we can keep on hurting the world and people around us whether we realize we are doing so or not. Scientists tell us every thought we have is like an electric current that rises into the ether around our globe...if it is negative energy it actually makes our environment heavier. If out thoughts are loving, caring, forgiving, then they make our environment lighter. Teilhard de Chardin called that area around our globe the Noosphere, the sphere of knowing. He taught “we are one, after all, you and I. Together we suffer, together exist, and forever will recreate each other.” How we treat each other continues to make us collaborators in creation.
If we are willing to change by swapping our negative feelings for positive ones, we can help lighten our environment, lighten our own spirits and that might bring more peace and harmony to this tiny corner of our community. I want to make this commitment: To start each day with a prayer to help me clothe myself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. And to forgive all that needs to be forgiven. I want to be thankful and peaceful.
I want you do have these gifts as well. They come free of cost from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Our decisions regarding our thoughts and actions do impact and influence the world around us. Praise to our Holy God for creating kindness as a way for each of us to live.
Sermon, August 2, 2020
There is an Italian story about a king and one of his servants. Apparently, the servant was not very smart. The king often was frustrated by the servant’s ignorance. One day, in the midst of great annoyance, the king told his servant, “You are the stupidest man I know. I command you to carry this large staff wherever you go. If you ever meet a person more stupid then yourself, give the staff to that person to carry.”
Time went by. When the servant was in the market place he found many people he thought were stupid, but none more so than him. He carried that large, cumbersome staff every day for years and years. Many years later, the king became quite ill. The servant went in to see the king. In the conversation, the king said to the servant, “I am going on a long journey.” The servant asked, “When will you return?” The king told him that this was a journey from which he would never return. The servant asked the king, “Have you made all the necessary arrangements?” The king sadly replied, “No, I have not.” The servant replied, “Well, could you have made arrangements?”
“Yes,” said the King. “I could have but I was busy with others things that had more interest for me.” The servant said, “Let me get this clear. You are going on a journey from which you will never return. You have had your entire life and all the time you needed to make arrangements, but you did not?” The king with remorse said, “That is correct.” Then the servant handed the large staff to the king and said, “King, Sir, take this staff, for I have finally found a man more stupid than myself.”
Ok this is not a story about finding a lawyer and writing a will. It is about your own life, birth and death, and all that happens in between. It is about how you choose to live every day. For most people, from about 5 or 6 in the morning until 10 or 11 at night. Some, however, must work in the dark hours of night. Each of us has about 12 hours every day to do what is necessary to make ourselves and our surroundings better, expanded and improved so that others might benefit from our being alive.
If we spend say 10 hours a day, in a year we have 3,650 hours to create good. If we live 70 years we have 255,500 hours to help create and build a better, healthier, safer, kinder world. That is ample time.
Whatever your time schedule is, you have hours of living to do. What is your priority during those hours? Is it getting all the creature comforts you can afford, or charge and pay for all your life? Is it being the best dressed? The most handsome? The funniest? Is it being better in every way from your neighbors? Or, is it about how your treat your neighbors, yourself, and the community in which you live?
Is your priority self? Or others? Is it yourself and your lifestyle, or God and God’s chosen path for you?
We are all on a journey that will end in death. You have no real control of when death might occur. However, if...and its a big if...if you choose to be more self-less, more God centered, more loving toward every human you encounter, you never need to fear what death might bring for you.
If you choose to believe the words of Jesus the rabbi, the teacher, as well as Jesus the risen Christ, then when you ask his spirit to be in you and with you, you need never fear again. Because what ever is deep in you that makes you you, that is the you that will be eternal. So choose your life’s commitments carefully.
Every one of us carries a large staff with us everyday, because none of us do what we are put here to do every day. We often fail through circumstances, more often we fail through choices. However, perhaps the very best way to face each and every day is to make a decision about your thoughts, your words, and your actions and make certain your energy, your intelligence, your consciousness, leads you to have loving thoughts, kind words, and gracious acts toward all others. What kind of world would that be if just a few of us committed to this practice?
The world, our world, needs this kind of commitment from caring Christians today more than ever. Let us make an effort to pass the staff on to others who truly need to change in significant ways...truth be told we all know someone like that who needs to wise up, to make better, more loving decisions...and sometimes, that someone is you.
Please, talk to God about who God is to you and then listen, and act.
Sermon, July 26, 2020
Why God? Exodus 20:1-3
Why God? Several times during these Covid 19 months with the isolation and restrictions it is causing, some people have asked, “Where is God?” Those who believe in God ask, “Why did God allow this to happen, or why hasn’t God cured this disease and the confusion it is causing us?”
Good questions all around. However, they point to an even more significant question of “Why God at all?” Why do we have God if God doesn't do what we want him to do?
Most of us grew up in a nation that was founded on religious beliefs, but also religious freedom. God, either the Christian version or the Deist version, reigned supreme...up until a few years ago when secularism (having no restrictions except those we place on ourselves) took over as the number one competition for Christianity.
As a teaching minister, my response to these questions is to interpret what our spiritual scriptures say about God. Whether we like it or not, most of our morality and ethics come from the Bible. The first thing to consider is the Ten Commandments. America’s civil laws are based on these commandments. Our civil laws, like the Commandments, are designed to help all people in America live so that everyone is safe and everyone can benefit. The very the first Commandment is this: You shall have no other god before me.” Why? Because God said right before that sentence, this one: “I am the Lord your God, I am who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” God rescued us, back then and now.
Let me explain how ultimately important this statement is. All humans are born into a world, a land, of wonder, of unknowns, of no facts….we as infants and children are controlled by our emotions until we are old enough to be taught and understand that thoughts are more constructive, more helpful, than emotions. When God said “I brought you out of the land of slavery”, what he emphasized was “I rescued you from life lived through emotion.” Emotions can make you a slave to them. When you focus on how you feel and you identify with your emotion, you bring suffering on yourself. Identifying with your emotions is like throwing fuel on a fire. If you choose to identify with your anger, it will burn even hotter and take longer to die down. The same thing is true of the other poisons you choose, such as attachments to hurtful people or things, jealousy, or arrogance. Identifying with your emotions is a sure recipe for needing to be rescued. Only infants and infantile people continue to control others through their outbursts, yelling and screaming, their misbehavior, their anger, and their temper tantrums. We all want to stay away from people whose emotions make them demanding and dominating. (Most of the violent riots continuing in America today are carried out by people’s emotions of anger...look how they act out that emotion in such destructive ways.)
On the other hand, choices are available. God brings you choices. God created life, therefore in the broad scheme of things the entity we call God created you. At that time God built into you an intelligence and consciousness that can bring you joy instead of fear, love instead of hate, peace instead of anger, and forgiveness instead of holding grudges. God brings you life rewards when you choose what is best for you and others.” God is one “o” short of good...because when God’s laws are followed good follows. Good for us and good for others.
That is “why God”? There is no other entity which inspired such non-self-centered laws that have passed the test of time than these biblical laws. These laws are called holy laws because they give us affirmation as worthy people. These laws teach us how to live, how to love, how to honor, and how to respect ourselves and others. They give life abundant when we make the choice to follow them as the way to live today and tomorrow.
But, how many of us can even name the 10 Commandments….and if so, how often do you think about them as a life plan...a plan that can and does rescue us from self-centered-ness, egoism, and unnecessary suffering?
Perhaps we each could spend some time this week re-reading the Ten Commandments. They are found in the 20th chapter of Exodus, the second book of the Old Testament. Read them, study them, and recognize the power and brilliance they convey. Why would we turn to anything less to help us live lives of goodness, joy, and peace. God, by whatever name you call that entity, is the first answer to any question we have about life. All other answers will be secondary.
When you read a book that has you confounded, don’t ask a friend, call the author. When you see a sculpture or a painting you want to ask about, call the artist. When you want an answer about your life, call God.
God waits to hear from you….your faith in the answer that comes will indeed rescue you. It will save you.
Sermon, July 19, 2020
Matthew 13: 1-9
This parable of the seed that is sown is an example of how Jesus explained the mysteries of faith in language that the people listening to him could understand.
The great commandment, on which all others are based, says we should love the Lord with all our heart and soul and strength. The Jewish rabbis asked Jesus what this meant. The response was that we should love the Lord with our intellectual ability, with our lives, and with all of our resources….financial and talents.
It’s interesting to me to understand the Jewish view of “our hearts.” To them our heart is not where we feel, rather it is where we think. Therefore, to love the Lord with all our heart is to love God with our mind. This was vital to the growth of Judaism….because the Jewish leaders knew that what we think is indeed what we say and what we do. The mind is first! (That’s why so many Jewish people are geniuses, they learn early that thinking and creating are two essential elements of human life.)
To love the Lord with our soul means to love the Lord with our lives, meaning our bodies. In Biblical times the soul was the body. Think how often we read “there were thousands of souls listening to the teachings.” When we love God with our bodies it means we take care of our souls/bodies...no abuse, lots of exercise, good nutrition, resting well, and keeping our bodies fit and in shape.
To love the Lord with our strength means to love God with what we possess...our abilities, our talents, our finances, our material possessions. Because these gifts enable us to serve God by serving those who are less fortunate than we are. The Jewish people recognized that God is all and owns all...what we have is virtually on loan to help all people come to a place of peace and respect.
In the parable we read, when Jesus says some of the seed fell on the path and it represents those people who heard the word without understanding it. Further, it meant they did not love the Lord with all their heart for they did not apply their intellectual ability to know God.
Likewise, when Jesus says some of the seed fell on rocky ground and it represents those who hear the word but deny it during time of hardship or tribulation, it means they did not love the Lord with their soul/bodies.
When Jesus says some seed fell on good soil and produced fruit a hundred or sixty or thirty fold. This means those who learn and obey reap the benefits of peace, joy, good will, and everlasting love.
Jesus told this parable so that we would realize we have a solemn responsibility to cooperate with the grace of God in our own lives. It is not enough to think nice thoughts about God to call ourselves believers. We must dedicate our minds, our lives, and all that we have to the service of he Kingdom.
Anything less will not produce true peace, nor active love.
Sermon, July 12, 2020
Note to the readers: the sermon will be enhanced if you will get your Bible and turn to the Psalms. There are 2 places in the sermon where you might want to read the verses: Psalm 77:1-15a, and Psalm 83:1-8. 15-18. Those passages are marked in the sermon. Enjoy and be stronger! Jane
All through our Bible, we read stories of men and women who were everyday. ordinary people, yet each one made an impact on their friends and neighbors by being obedient to the words of their Lord. These people often made an important impact on their families, clans, and even on the nation of Israel in spite of their lives being difficult, harsh, cruel, and oppressive.
One man stands out among many, and you may not have heard of him before. He lived 3000 years ago at the time of King David. His name is Asaph. Asaph was a Levite, meaning he belonged to the tribe of Levi. Levites were the people designated by God to care for the temple, to direct worship, celebrations, rites, and rituals. Asaph was King David’s chief musician. He also wrote the lyrics to 12 hymns, that we know of as Psalms. Asaph wrote Psalm 50 and Psalms 73 through 83. In the time of David, before and after, people sang, chanted, their problems, their concerns, their fears. They also sang, chanted, the devotion to God. It was a unifying process to share the words of anguish as well as joy and hope with all the people of Israel. Hopefully, we can read the Psalms with a better understanding that they are the backbone of Israel’s history. They are the way people were counseled and guided. They were what kept God’s chosen people together when everything else was trying to tear them apart and destroy them and their entire community of faith. It might behoove us to find a collective way to express our current concerns, and then find solace in the Psalms as well.
In our earlier reading we got the sense that music was important...and indeed it always has been. Early on in human life, when words failed to express a person’s or a tribe’s deepest feelings, then music was chosen as the way to express joy and sorrow, exultation, and fear. As a musician, Asaph was to express the emotions of the tribes of Israel. He was to display for all to hear the distresses, the disappointment, the terror. Yet he was to end the song or the psalm on an encouraging word.
Let’s just look at Psalm 77 (1-15a) Many of us may have felt this way...and this is the way the Israelites felt because of being oppressed for so many years. The lyrics are all too real and profoundly deep. Yet, Asaph ended the expression of loss with remembering all the good God has done. Can’t we do the same and rediscover true faith and trust?
In today’s world, where human life seems to have little meaning for many people, we must be the people who courageously counteract the negativity that is hurting all of us. When we don’t know how to express our deepest fears and concerns, we need to look again at some of the Psalms that express clearly what we feel today and what we must do. Listen to some of the verses of Psalm 83:1-8, 15-18.
In our own prayers, our conversations with God, we might say “God, we don’t understand the countries like North Korea, China, and sometimes Russia who seem to want to destroy all that makes America a caring, loving, creative country.” We might also say to God, “Lord, let all of those who are against you be ashamed and in disgraced. Let them know you, whose name is the Lord, that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.”
Many of today’s young people seem towant everything given to them so they won’t have to work to earn a living. We need to find ways to help them understand that labor is who we are and what we do. We need to illustrate the joy of earning our own way in the world. We need to encourage schools and universities to re-open dialogue so that our children will know how to speak their opinions as well as listen to others’ opinions and knowledge so growth can occur. We need to tell our young people, even our little children, our true history, warts and all, so that the generations to come will learn the good our America has done for the world. Yes, we are imperfect, but we can improve if we know where we have been and what we have done, and what we want our future to be. We must not be idle and leave those essential elements of society to others who may not be quite as interested in truth as we are.
Like Asaph, we as believers need to be honest with God, admit aloud our sins and wrongdoings to him so that we can be redeemed and forgiven. Let us go to God first with our concerns about our loved ones, our communities, our nation, and sing for joy to the God who is our strength. “Begin the music, strike the tambourine, play the melodious harp and lyre, sound the Ram’s horn and know your God is Good, 81; 1-3. Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever, from generation to generation, we will recount your praise.” 79:13
If we read the scriptures we will see and hopefully acknowledge that whatever befalls us, whatever challenges we face, if we stay connected to our God, live in our faith, then we too can sing praises of trust, joy, and love. Now listen to this: if you are angry about what is happening tell God. He can handle it! God would much rather you express any feeling to him, than to have none.
Whether you think God hears you or not, be assured God does hear and in his own way he will respond. Trust, trust, and in that trust sing, rejoice, believe, and love yourself and others.
Isn’t that what we all want?
Sermon, Sunday July 5, 2020
Today is July 5 and yesterday we celebrated the birth of America 244 years ago. At least that’s when the documents were signed to certify our freedom from the rule of the English king.
How excited these first Americans must have been to be free. And years later in 1865 Abraham Lincoln officially freed all slaves in American. How excited the slaves must have been to know they were free.
In spite of official declarations, real changes take a long time to accomplish. We live in troubled times because some of our American friends feel they are still not free. Some are white, some are black, some are Latino, some are Asian, some are trans-sexual or homosexual. Some are college students who want to spend the summer in protests rather than school or jobs. So across the spectrum of races and ethnic groups in America there is sadness, anger, fear, and desire for change. Many choose to protest peacefully, which is a lawful way to express the need for change. Still others resort to violence, hatred, and destruction to express their dismay. When those actions occur, when the rule of law is suspended, when there are few or no consequences for deadly acts, then our nation is in great peril and citizens everywhere are in danger and under extreme stress. I think we as Americans are there today.
As Christian Americans, are we willing to stand up for and act on the love and forgiveness that Christ teaches? What will it take for us to stand and speak out for the rule of law in our communities and our nation? Do we have it in us to make demands for safety and honest dialogue just as others are demanding hurt and harm even to innocent people.
I seek answers to these questions. I read philosophers, I read the Bible, I read about leaders past and present who also faced these kinds of terrifying actions. Many have answered my questions with varying solutions, but all of them, all of them, required individual faith and strength which then kindles the faith and strength of holy and sacred institutions such as the church. The church today should be the lighthouse for our difficulties. The sincere prayers of the followers of Christ, prayers for peace, patience, and understanding, could also be lights that lead the way for us and for others.
There is a hymn in our songbook called “Rise Up O Church of God.” The words in that hymn tell us one way to counteract the negativity that abounds. Hear the words: Rise up O church of God, have done with lesser things. Give heart and mind and soul and strength to serve the King of Kings. Rise up O church of God. His kingdom tarries long. Bring in the day of brotherhood and end the night of wrong! Rise up O sons of God. The church for you does wait. Her strength unequal to her task, rise up and make her great. Lift high the cross of Christ. Tread where his feet have trod. As followers of the Son of Man, rise up O Church of God.”
Can we do so as individuals and as a church? Can we do away with lesser things like complaints, ill will, bias, and disregard for others in need? Can we do better? Can we do more? Can we be more Christ like by learning more about his eternal teachings, then practice what we learn?
I think the next few months may be a critical time for us and our country. We must join together in unity to serve our holy God and thereby save our community and our country. I don’t think any of us, not even the violent protesters, want to live in an ungodly, unruly, unlawful nation...yet it will take each one of us doing our best to spread peace and love every single day to help preserve the values and freedoms we still have today. Perhaps there has not been a time in recent history when our own actions require more from us than now.
So I ask each one of you today to take a moment to renew your commitment to live as Christ has asked you to live...to love, to give, to serve, to pray, to extend kindness, and stay on the path of goodness, for goodness’ sake. We must act on the command to love our enemies by praying for them to see the light, to change hate into love, and to seek peace instead of violence. Now is the time to take our faith seriously and to rise up in spirit and faith and call on our holy God to come, come now, and give us the aid and guidance necessary to return to him...all of us.
Love to each of you. Be who God needs you to be now.
Sermon, June 28, 2020
The words to the holy hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness are inspiring. I often thing about God’s faithfulness through all the centuries that humans have been on earth. But I also think how Unfaithful most of us are or have been at some times in our lives. Yet God still loves us and woos us.
When we choose to participate in wrongful deeds we hurt not just ourselves but families, friends and communities as well. However, trouble can often help us change our thoughts and actions, and lead us to a better life. I think that is the aim of the biblical book Lamentations. Many preachers, ministers, do not ever teach Lamentations because it is a terrifying story. But let’s look at it. It may be a warning sign to those of us who sometimes get too complacent.
Just reading through the book of Lamentations tells us people have been faithful and unfaithful all through the centuries, in every era of history. Yet at one time most people neglected God’s way. That’s what the book of Lamentations teaches...the word Lamentations simply means “tears.” And the book of Lamentations is aptly named because it is about a people who lost everything. Their priests, who were also their leaders, were cruel, self-centered, and greedy, yet claimed to be holy and God-fearing. Their lack of faith and obedience to God’s word led the people to be unfaithful as well. The book of Lamentations is a series of laments by the prophet Jeremiah, who had warned the people over and over again to stay the course, be godly, obey God’s laws. However, life, poor leadership, and selfish desires got in their way.
When we read Lamentations we are taken right into the streets of the grief-stricken city of Jerusalem 2500 years ago. The city had fallen to conquerors who took all things precious to the people and destroyed individual treasures and holy icons as well. The beautiful holy temple is a heap of worthless ruins. Hungry animals are kinder to their young than are the distressed citizens. Those who once attended lavish banquets now hunt for food in garbage-heaps. The wealthy princes are now poorer than others. Those who died an immediate death by the sword are better off then those left behind who suffer the lingering death of starvation. The most tragic of all the verses in Lamentations is 4:10 “With their own hands compassionate women cooked their own children, who became their food.” The once impregnable city collapsed in total ruin. All because of the sins of the priesthood, their leaders. In the grief and dismay, the people of Jerusalem neglected their God and all things sacred and holy.
Lamentations is a horrible story of what happened when people refused to use good common sense God gave them, who chose to follow evil leaders, and who forgot who their God was and how faithful God had been in their past.
This same story has happened over and over again in our human history. It happened in Korea, in Japan, in Germany, in many African countries. It happened to Israel twice It can happen again if we don’t return to a God who knows what is best for us.
My question: how close to destruction is the America we love because of our unbridled divisiveness, our lack of interest in God, and/or the loss of commitment to God’s way of living? Just how close are we to being a nation that once was great and had the affection of our Great Faithful God but seems not to be so any longer?
Most of us can say, well I am doing my part. I pray, I come to church, I vote, I try to be a good citizen. Well good for us. But, is that enough? Jeremiah had done all of those things too. Many citizens of Jerusalem had done some of those things as well. But conquerors do not see the difference. They just want to destroy in hopes of gaining what ever riches and goods and intelligence we have and they want. Conquerors who do not worship and follow God cause the strife, grief, and terribleness of life.
So Jeremiah was lamenting over the devastation of his beloved Jerusalem and the people who were God’s chosen ones. Yet in the midst of this tragedy, Jeremiah had a transition, a change. Instead of listing the wrongs and the hurts and the tragedies, he began to recall who God is. What he says next is said to us as well as it was said to the people 2500 years ago: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. God’s compassion never fails. He is not a God who will let you down if you turn to him. His promised saving help will come but not always at the moment we feel we must have it! God does not willingly bring affliction. We bring it on ourselves!
We too are reminded to take our eyes off what we think we have lost and look to the unshaken God of creation, God of love. We must ask “pardon and forgive us” and mean it by ceasing to think or do ill will to others. We must ask God to comfort us because tragedy can be used for good and we must seek to do that which is good and godly. And we must earnestly pray, “Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may return to you.”
We are responsible for ourselves, our choices, our words and our actions. What would it take for each of us to seriously re-think how committed are we to doing God’s work, following all of God’s commandments, and being loving, ever forgiving people. Today is the day to make such decisions. Is there any room for improvement in our own way of seeing all people as children of our holy God? Or, do we still hold some bias against people different from us, people who seem to exhibit more evil than good, and how does those judgments put us and our nation in peril?
Perhaps this story is a warning to all humanity, including us today. Pray about it. Above all, seek God’s will while we still can do so.
Sunday June 21, 2020
Today is Father’s Day. I commend all men who act as fathers whether or not they have children. I remember growing up on Camp Avenue. We were a close-knit neighborhood...my friends’ fathers corrected, praised, scolded, and loved each of us no matter to whom we belonged. And, even the men who had no children participated in our upbringing. We were blessed children to have that kind of attention all through our formative years. Unfortunately, thousands of children in our community did not have that. It saddens me to think of it.
But let’s move on to something joyous for a minute. I like men. I have known a lot of them, I have married a few of them, and I have many as cherished friends today. But I have to admit, men are different in many ways from the women and ladies I know, or have known. For one thing, our brains don’t function alike, and our language is different. We females use language of nesters, while males use language of outer ideas. For example: men don’t always say what they mean.
When a man says, “Take a break Honey, you are working too hard.” What he means is, “Stop, I can’t hear the game over your vacuum cleaner.”
When a man says, “”That’s interesting, dear.” He means, “Why are you still talking?”
One more: When a man says, “I don’t remember saying that”, he means “Anything I may have said 6 months ago is not admissible in any argument. In fact, all past comments become null and void after 7 days.” Can any of you relate to those male rationalizations?
I know there are just as many confusing comments for men coming from women...but that’s for another day. Today, I want to talk about courage.
Over the last few weeks we looked at faith, hope, holiness, and today courage. When I think of courage, for some reason my mind moves immediately to men who are courageous. I know women are too, and I have known some very brave females...but I seem instinctively to see men as a synonym for courage. I suppose because most of my early education at home, school, and church involved biblical stories of the iconic heroes...who were primarily men. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, King David and certainly Jesus, just to name a few. What is amazing about these stories in each case God asked these men to go, and to do, and usually with no destination nor directions given. Look at Noah. He was told to build an ark but not why. At the risk of being made a fool of by his neighbors, Noah did as he was told. He had enough faith in his God, whoever that was, that he believed and obeyed. His courage to act in spite of years of criticism caused him to became the first savior of the human race.
Then there was courageous Abraham. He and his family had lived in Haran all of their lives. They had a home, animals, an extended family...but no children of their own. Evidently like Abraham’s father, they probably worshiped idols as gods and goddesses. Yet, the unknown God told Abraham to move but did not tell him where to go. God said “Walk and I’ll tell you when to stop.” Can you imagine what Abraham’s wife Sarai thought about that? “Move? where, why, when?” And Abraham answered “don’t know where, don’t know why, but the time is today!” And off they went. Because of their faith overcoming their fear, and their courage to move beyond the known, they became the founding dynasty of what became Israel and the chosen people of God.
There was Joseph. He was kidnapped by his brothers and sold into slavery to the Pharaoh of Egypt. He was imprisoned and survived by interpreting the dreams of his fellow prisoners. One day the Pharaoh's wife asked him to interpret a dream for her. He did. Then she wanted other favors from him. But he had the courage to refuse and stand on what he knew to be right. That could have gotten him killed, but instead, because of his faithfulness and courage, he became the Prime Minister of Egypt. When Israel was doomed by a famine, Joseph was generous, forgiving. He saved his brothers and all their families by sending food to Israel.
And King David. As a very young man, David had more courage than the entire army of Israel. He stood face to face with the Philistine Giant Goliath who threatened David and said come to me and I will feed your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. David responded, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin. But I come to you in the name of Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied.” David killed Goliath with a slingshot.
And the ultimate man of courage was Jesus himself. He knew if he kept on teaching the good news of love, forgiveness, and salvation the Jewish priests and the Roman rulers would judge him to be a rebel, and a trouble maker. They said he claimed to be King of the Jews and that was treason. He knew how his earthly life would end, but he believed in his mission and had the courage to pursue it at the ultimate cost of his life. After his physical death Jesus became the living Christ of Spirit who abides with us all, always. That Spirit helps us overcome fear and timidity and urges us toward courage!
It is true that all of us humans have fears. Our lives are minefields of challenges, problems, and terrible situations that take their toll on our courage and our faith. But God keeps nudging us to overcome our fear and not to give up. He is near. He knows best. And his timing is perfect.
The question I have for you today is: do you follow God in a way that requires faith and courage? Or, do you do anything at all that requires courage and confidence? When all seems hopeless and you are ready to give in and give up, remember you still and always have God. So consider these truths:
If you are lonely, you have a wonderful opportunity to discover God’s presence in your life.
If you are weak and fearful, you have an opportunity to discover God’s strength in your life.
If you are in pain, you have an opportunity to discover a purpose God has for you.
If you are ashamed of some of your behavior, you have an opportunity to discover God’s grace.
If you are depressed, or feel like you live in darkness, you have an opportunity to discover his light, the brightest light in the universe.
Stay strong. When you want to give in or give up and call it quits, recall what Winston Churchill said when he gave his famous speech to the boys at Harrow’s school. It was during a time of great fear, for England was facing Hitler and the vicious Nazi Army. Churchill stood at the podium facing boys who were terrified that they may have to join the army and fight... many did. But they took Churchill’s words to heart. Here are Churchill’s words: “But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this time, surely from this period of ten months, this is the lesson we must not forget: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never---in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” Stand for who and what God is, wait, and then rejoice in the blessings that come. Those are words of wisdom for each one of us as we face this rapidly changing, bewildering chaos in which we live this day. Stay strong in the faith. Be courageous. Your blessings will come. Amen
Sermon, June 14, 2020
Let’s talk for a minute about what it means to be holy. Holy and holiness are mentioned more than 900 times in the Bible. The Hebrew word for “holy” is Qodesh pronounced “Kaw-doshe’. It literally means “set apart.” The book of Leviticus tells us among God’s characteristics none is more important than his holiness.
And the book of Ephesians tells us the Christ not only saves us from sin and error, he saves so that we might become holy (1: 3-4)
For example, the in the 10 Commandments we are told to keep the Sabbath holy...that is to keep it apart, separate from the other days of the week. It is a special day for rest, for worship, for contemplation, for family and friends. It is not a day for business, commerce, sports, or yard work! It is a day set apart so we would have time without distractions to commune with our God.
God is holy because God, too, is set apart from all else. There is no one, no thing, no entity like God. God is unique. God is set apart. Yet, He imparts to his universe, including use, His spirit as a way of connecting to us. We are not God, but God is in us.
Because God’s spirit is in us, it is the very breath we breathe, God asks us to be holy. He asks us to live in the world but to be apart from the world in the way we behave, act, and share with love being the basis of our lives. He asks us to be unselfish, to consider others, all others, as holy too. That is a huge stepping stone for most of us. How in the world are we to see holiness in others when they kill, steal, lie, cheat, berate others? The answer is to understand they are not their behavior...within them is the God waiting to be let out in their thoughts, words and actions. That’s why we are not to criticize others because there is always hope they will see the light, change their ways, and live into the holiness just waiting for their recognition.
God through Christ asks us to not heed the wooing of the world, rather allow the word of God to woo us. Now, admittedly, that does not sound like fun to most of us. And, we are all about fun. But let me remind us all of something: God is the God of joy. God is the God of fun, and funny, and hilarity. He has to be or he could not have created a duckbilled platypus, a giraffe, an octopus, a monkey, or us humans, the glory, jest, and riddle of the world, unless he was a God of good humor. But, according to his plan, the way to have a fun life is the path toward holiness. Believe it or not, to be purer in thought is good mental health, to be forgiving of others makes us like ourselves more, to offer love to the unlovely helps us recognize kindness in all its human power! Holiness is not arrogance, it is not pride, it is not an attitude of “I’m better than you are”….not at all. Holiness is a recognition of your true nature, the real you under all the misconceptions and misdeeds by which we seem to live.
So, if you want to be real. If you want to feel a genuine sense of self worth and love, if you want to experience true joy and peace and happiness, then seek the path of holiness to become more like our Lord Jesus, who gave it all up so that we might learn who we are through his grace and goodness.
Having said all that, let’s assume you are willing to walk a path toward being holy. Here are a few things to consider: make a commitment to intend to be more Christlike to self and others; ask for the Holy Spirit to be more apparent to you in your own life... that is ask and you will receive; be willing to review the 10 Commandments and the sermon on the mount in Matthew Chapter 5 and ask for help in living by those holy laws; recognize that Jesus is far far more than just a moral teacher...he is a teacher of eternal gifts beginning with your own thoughts and behavior; then be kind to yourself. God does not expect perfection, but God would like improvement...in all our lives.
So, maybe this week you can re-think what being holy is all about...think of it in its broadest sense...and realize the personal power, confidence, worth, and fun you will have in your own life when you walk hand in hand with the Christ Spirit within you as you seek to become more holy, more like Jesus himself.
Have fun with this...and in the process grow enormously in spirit!
Sunday, June 7, 2020
Two weeks ago we talked about faith. Last week we focused on hope. Today I want us to concentrate on gratitude. These are three of the important gifts God built into us when we were created. He gave them to us to use in abundance. But, alas, I fear many of us don’t use them nearly enough to keep us healthy and balanced.
Take gratitude. Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. An important quality of gratitude that you may or may not know is this: gratitude can affect your emotions and your health. In contrast negative emotions such as fear, complaints, criticisms, gripes all zap your mental and spiritual energy and can lead to health problems.
It is vitally important to recognize your thoughts and your words, and be aware of their impact on your body, behavior, attitudes, and relationships.
So, let me ask you a question. During the past 24 hours were the words you spoke more often words of complaint or words of gratitude? If you said honestly that you offer gratitude and thanksgiving more than negative thoughts and words you are a unique individual. But, the facts are that many human beings operate in a deficient mode most of the time, because their primary words, attitudes, and thoughts are negative.
Negative words and attitudes create chronic stress, which upsets your body’s hormone balance, depletes the brain chemicals necessary for happiness, and damages the immune system. Chronic stress can decrease our lifespan. Anger, expressed or unexpressed, is related to high blood pressure, heart disease, and digestive disorders.
The cure for those negative words and attitudes is to increase your positivity and your gratitude. The scientist Barbara Fredrickson writes: “In order to offset negativity and experience a harmonious emotional state, we need three positive emotions for every negative one. Positive words, attitudes, and emotions can reverse the physical effects of negativity and build up resources that contribute to a flourishing, abundant life.
Brene Brown, the author of a number of books and articles on the subject of gratitude, teaches that there is a relationship between joy and gratitude. However, she shares a surprising twist. “It is not joy that makes us grateful, rather it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” How many of you truly want to feel better and be happier? Than listen to this: people who express thanks are usually healthier and happier than those who focus on the ‘poor me” attitudes, or the feelings of hopelessness.
People who live and express gratitude are more able to handle grief and frustration without falling apart. Through gratitude, some people are able to see challenging times with optimism and hope, knowing that their dilemmas will lead to personal growth and an expanded outlook on life.
Our Bible began teaching these important aspects of our humanity thousands of years ago.. But have we learned them? In the book of First Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul says, “Rejoice always, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
In Ephesians we learn, “Make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus, (Eph. 5: 19-20). In the Psalms we read, we are to “Praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.” And, “Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good and his love endures forever.” Not that God needs our thanks and gratitude but he knows we need to feel and express gratitude for our own good and sense of well being.
People who are grateful, who give thanks and gratitude for life, for love, for God, for blessings live happier, healthier lives. Many people spend hours in exercise, at gyms, they run, walk, eat right and all of that is good for us and does give us good physical health. But we need spiritual health even more than we need physical health...because one day our body will die, but our spirit never will. It behooves us to keep our spiritual lives growing in strength, peace, and joy so we too can help God co-create our world now and in the life to come.
Let us be good to ourselves and reverse the trend. Rather than having to have 3 positives to overcome one negative, let’s just commit to be more positive all the time, then maybe we will experience a reduction in the negative aspects of our own lives. We will no longer be living in a state of distrust, dis-ease, debilitation, or deficiency. Be aware of the moments you offer gratitude. Intentionally give thanks more often, praise God with gratitude more every day and experience your self feeling better, sleeping better, being more joyous more often. Take the time to make gratitude a large part of your every day experience….you will not only make yourself happier….you will certainly make the people who live with you happier as well. Develop that attitude of gratitude... Its worth it. Let’s do it together and learn to be energized people of faith, hope, and gratitude. It will please God, and I think it will please us as well.
Sermon, May 31, 2020
The Bible teaches a great deal about Hope. Here are several verses to read and remember:
Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
Psalms 146:5 “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.”
Proverbs 23:18 “Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.”
Colossians 1: 27 “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Having read those powerful scriptures we must realize there are in reality two kinds of hope: Christian hope and Non-Christian Hope. Non-Christian hope is fearful, uncertain, and is more like a wish than a hope. Examples of Non-Christian hope are: “Oh, I hope I don’t wreck my new car!” Or, “I hope I don’t get the Covid-19 virus.” Or, “I hope I can soon go back to the casinos and try to win a jackpot!” These kinds of hope are actually wishes, gambles, un-grounded.
In contrast, Christian hope is based on certainty. Christian hope is grounded on our accepting God’s word, knowing Jesus is the anointed one God sent to teach us how to live like him. Christian hope believes the promises God made to all of us such as the Christ Spirit is resurrected, raised from the dead, and set loose to embrace the people of the world and fill them with love, compassion, and forgiveness. Real power resides in the certain hope that God is with us and lives through us to do His good will. Christian hope is an anchor for our soul. It is firm and secure.
Here are some examples of Christian hope: This certain, Christian hope gives us a more positive approach to daily life and keeps us from seeing events and happenings in the negative. It keeps us from a “disaster” mentality, which harms us all. Christian hope helps us see disappointments as opportunities for growth, stepping stones, rather than the end of something. Christian hope counteracts fear, and gives us boldness. Christian hope keeps us from being depressed; we can envision a future that is good, healthy, and wholesome. Scripture assures us of this in the verse from Jeremiah: “God has a plan for you, a plan to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Certain hope keeps us reaching out in love and patience with others. And, it helps to keep a keen sense of humor...which we all need more of! We can readily see hope is a valuable asset for us to have and to use.
Christian hope is vital today probably more than ever before. We are all facing questions about the stability of life, our country, our way of governing, our relationships with other countries and countless other unknowns. However, when in doubt we can rely on the words of the old hymn The Anchor Holds. “Will your anchor hold in the storms of life, when the clouds unfold their wings of strife? When the tides lift and the cables strain, will your anchor drift, or firmly remain?’
Our Christian hope is a certainty that no matter what befalls us, what problems we face, what unknowns threaten us, God is with us and we have access to his majestic loving grace and strength in every situation and circumstance. We do have to reach out to God and ask for these blessings, then we receive them.
Let us remember hope is infectious and healing. When we feel the world and our lives are dark and fearful, use that marvelous brain God gave you and trade those negative feelings for feelings of peace that come only from reaching out to the God who loves and cherishes you. Instead of fear you will receive peace in the midst of turmoil. His hope will give you courage and boldness. This kind of hope will provide endurance and patience and can give you confidence in the face of doubt.
Each day, morning, noon, and night offer a prayer of thanks to God who made us, and praise God for adding the great and awesome gift of hope to us, as humans made in His likeness. I pray we will have the wisdom to use hope every day to counteract all the negatives in our paths, and also to the glory of God.
Sermon: May 24, 2020
This morning I want us to think about faith, faith especially when our world seems confusing and often chaotic.
We are living in changing times. We are living in a technological age where people beyond our kin make decisions we all must live by. Technology makes it easy to order groceries and any other items we might need; it can entertain us and keep us in touch with family and friends with no effort to write letters. It allows us to keep in touch by having church services and Bible Study on line. A lot of good comes from technology. However, there are many different forces that try to influence us to think and live as they want us to do. This is especially true of politicians and folks in high offices. Because of these constant influences, our world can be very dangerous.
Today might be a good day to re-look at the words of Paul from Ephesians 4:14, “do not be tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” In other words we need a true sense of stability to counteract all the rapid changes we are required to meet. As Christians, that stability only comes from a strong faith in our living, loving God through Christ, the Lord.
Faith is present tense; it is now; it is this minute, then the next minute, then the next one. We can only live one moment at a time. You use the faith you have now, not tomorrow. The faith you may have in two weeks or two years does not help you face the challenge you have this moment. Only practical faith in the now is reliable.
Faith means standing firm in your allegiance to someone or something that has great meaning to you. In our Christian life, that meaning is God as represented by the risen Christ Spirit. All faith is true faith only when there is evidence of it. The evidence of faith is obedience. Do you obey the teachings found in scripture? Do you obey the principles that Jesus lived? Do you abide by the 10 commandments? Just how obedient are you? How you answer that tells you how much faith you have and how faithful you are in your daily walk. I have had several people tell me they live by faith in God. On some occasions those people might drink too much alcohol which changes their behavior, or they may have verbally abused their family, or they take the Lord’s name in vain so very casually. Would you say a people like that are people of faith? Well, we are not to judge because God still loves sinners and hopes they change their ways. We don’t judge but out of kindness and concern we pray for those people to look more closely at their own faith walk. We pray instead of judge...that is also a show of faith.
Faith without obedience has no power to change lives, to alter attitudes, or to risk doing what is right but unpopular. Having said that, perhaps today is the day to rate our own level of faith by seriously examining our obedience to God and his way of living. A faith built on obedience can move mountains, can conquer doubt, can find peace in the midst of chaos, can provide patience in these unsettling times. There is a lot of talk in scripture about faith, but when we teach about faith we often leave out the tough part...the obedience part which is absolutely essential to be a faithful person. Please take some quiet time today and think about obedience in your own life. Who do you obey more often, God or your own desires? Great question. Answer it honestly and see if there is room for deep, abiding spiritual growth by being more obedient to your God who redeems and loves you.
We give thanks to the God who made us, and praise God for adding the great and awesome gift of faith. I pray we have the wisdom to use faith every day to the glory of God and our own sense of well-being.
May 17, 2020
Sermon on Prayer
Today what the world needs, what our nation and community need, and what we need is prayer...effective, honest prayer that is an on-going conversation with our God through Christ Jesus.
The urgency to connect or re-connect to God is greater today than ever before. To talk to God about our fears and our faith, is our only hope for a come-together, non-divisive country where political parties will work harmoniously together for the good of us all, and where people will put their belief in the power of a loving God into daily action in their own lives.
Many of us say a brief prayer in the morning and maybe another at night. But is that prayer? Is that effective prayer?
Let me ask this. I suppose most of you have had or now have a best friend. Someone you are comfortable with. Someone you can trust your secrets to and also someone who laughs with you. When you have access to that person do you just offer one sentence when you meet up and then say a nice good-bye? What about all the time in between those two bookends? Don’t you talk freely, sometimes with tears sometimes with laughter?
So how is it you are more at ease with a best friend than you are with God who nourished you in warm comfort to bring you safely to earth, who made you with love, and who created you with hope and unending possibilities? Perhaps we need to rethink what prayer is.
Here is one way to look at prayer that is effective: Prayer doesn’t only happened when we kneel or put our hands together, ask and expect things from God. Thinking positive and wishing good for others is a prayer. Your good intentions, whether you act on them at the time or not, is prayer. When you hug a friend, that’s a prayer. When you cook something to nourish family and friends. That’s a prayer. When we send of our near and dear ones and say “drive safely, or be safe,” that’s a prayer. When you help someone in need by giving your time and energy, that’s a prayer. When you forgive someone that is prayer. Prayer is a vibration, a feeling, a thought. Prayer is the voice of love, friendship, genuine relationships. Prayer is an expression of who you are and what you do.
In reality, prayer is doing, is love in action. Prayer is the way you live.
When Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer and made the statement, to God “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” he stated a profound but misunderstood statement that tells us who we are and how we are to live. He told his disciples and us that to live in God’s kingdom is here on earth, now, present tense. It is how we live and how we treat ourselves and others every day that creates heaven for us, because then we live in the presence of the risen Christ spirit in all its power and glory.
But who today believes that and lives by it?
Most people seem to think heaven, or hell, begins the moment we die. That is not what God, Christ, or the scriptures teach us. For most modern Christians, the idea of “going to heaven” is a key belief. But early Christians had very different ideas on the subject. They believed that by the resurrection of Jesus heaven had arrived on earth. N.T. Wright teaches that later, from the third century on, some Christian teachers tried to blend this belief of where heaven is and when it occurs with the Platonic belief that we leave earth to go to heaven. That thought became mainstream by the Middle ages and lives today in some denominations. But Jesus and his followers never considered that view point. The very early Christians did not believe they would go to heaven when they died, but that in Jesus, God had come to live with them on earth. That was the view which they saw as the hope of the world.
In contrast, if the only point of belief is to save souls from the wreck of the world so you can leave earth and go to heaven, why bother to make the world a better place? Great question. We must attempt to make it better because here and now is where Jesus lives, as well as in the beyond! Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit we are to make the world a better place by prayerful action, to love and forgive beyond measure, and to know that we will forever, beginning now, be in the presence of the living Christ who loves us and is here, now, today, and forever.
That is the heaven Jesus taught. That is the heaven we pray for. That is the heaven we can live in with Jesus. That is the heaven the Risen Christ Spirit offers us...to be with him.
Once we realize and live in that Presence, then we do not concern ourselves of our after life. What ever it may be, we are certain we will still be living in the Presence of our God and our Lord.
Pray and know! Pray and trust! Pray and be assured. Life now and life later is all God. When you fully grasp this mystical knowledge then you will know it is enough.
Sermon, May 10, 2020
Today I want to discuss mothers and trust. Sometimes, they are one and the same.
Today is Mothers’ Day when we honor and pay tribute to the courageous, un-selfish mothers who raised us to be sane, caring, and faithful people. But are we? Did the “raising”, the “rearing” take? I think most of us are a bit rational, sane, and do care about someone or something, but are we faithful? Faithful to God? To our families? To our church? To be faithful in any way requires trust.
Since to be human is to be in relationships, then all relationships that have meaning must have trust. We first, very early in life, learn trust from our mothers, and that leads to trust in God.
So, how are mothers sometimes like God?
Mothers and God are consistent. If they love you they always will. You can count on that fact.
hey both have compassion for others, and live it.
They both respect boundaries: in other words your mother gave you boundaries for your own safety, “Hey you, stay out of the street a car is coming!” and God gives you boundaries because God will not force you to love him. He wants you to choose to love him.
Mothers and God are respectful and expect respect in return
Mothers and God are grateful and are pleased when we are grateful too
At some time you learn you can not truly love with out trust. Any relationship you have that is not built on a secure foundation of faith/trust, that relationship will break. Trust is paramount in being effective, loving humans, because relationships are at the very core of our human existence. Nearly every drama, every song, every story is about our deepest needs, our deepest longings, our human struggles, our pain at loss. But relationships are also the source of our joy, peace, and excitement about living. In fact our being human is found in relationships.
The issue of relationships comes back to what most mothers teach their children about trust. Can you remember your mother saying, “ How can I trust you if you are not honest? How can I trust you if you don’t do what you say you will do? How can I trust you to have a healthy relationship if you don’t treat your friends with affection and respect?”
God asks us the same thing. How can he trust us to be faithful if we do things that are not kind, loving, compassionate, forgiving? Those are actions God trusts us to do everyday, in every encounter, and in every relationship. Just how trustworthy does God see you to be? And how trustworthy do you find God to be?
In spite of all the false teachings we listen to, in spite of all the popular slogans, and cheap sound bites, if we want personal peace, joy, meaningful relationships, then we must trust God first and foremost, wholeheartedly, always, and to trust him with our lives and the lives of those we love the most. Trusting God means obeying what he teaches us, which is this:... what you give out to life and to others is what you will receive.
You want love? Then act lovingly. You want joy in your life? Offer joy to others. You want a personal relationship with God, then trust God because you matter to God, you belong to God, and God wants what is best for you.
But do you want what is best for you? Do you really want it or your afraid God may ask you to do something you really don’t want to do? Are your relationships with God and with others meaningful enough to carry you through the best of times and the absolute worst of times?
If not, perhaps you have trust issues you might need to admit and begin to re-build into your own life more trust, more faith….what have you got to lose by doing both?
And while you are at it, remember this truth: We all belong to God. But we all also belong to each other.
So today, let us make a renewed and spiritual effort to trust God absolutely in every way. God does know best!
ermon, May 3, 2020
As Christian believers, people who follow Jesus and his messages, we need to know more and more about Jesus. Who he was, what calling he had, and what he actually did on a day to day basis. Toward that end, let’s talk about one aspect of the earthly life of Jesus...Jesus as a prophet.
Recently, someone asked me, was Jesus a priest? During his earthly life Jesus was not known as a priest. After his death the writers of the New Testament did call him the High Priest, the one we pray to. He was not known as a priest here on earth because priests had very specific tasks.
Their duties were always the same because everything was written down in the law. Jewish priests worked primarily to preserve the Jewish past, to keep its history unchanged. They were the chosen people and so they must not become different from who they were. Priests dealt with rites and rituals such as animal sacrifices, offerings for the temple coffers, provided readings and discussions in the temple, and services based on The Law, what we would call doctrine. Priests were provided payment for the rituals and services. A priest’s job was to represent Israel and the Jewish people to God.
Jesus was not a priest. Jesus’ task was to be a rabbi, a teacher, and a prophet.
In Israel, to be a prophet was a difficult, demanding job. A prophet may never know what he is called to do from one day to the next. Every day could be different and he did not have a prescribed text to refer to like the priests did. The prophets worked to change the present by changing hearts and attitudes. Prophets usually addressed an entire nation and was the conscience of that nation and the nation’s leaders. The leaders did not want to hear what a prophet told them because they did not want to change! Also, prophets had no guarantee of of income. They relied on friends, disciples, and others who saw the need for their words and at times offered food and housing to the prophet. A prophet’s job was to represent God to Jewish people. Let’s look at a few of the Old Testament prophets.
Some of the strangest, craziest characters in the Bible are the Old Testament Prophets. For example, God told Isaiah to strip off all his clothing and take off his shoes and walk around the town naked for 3 years.
Jeremiah hid his underwear in a rock and did not go get them back for along long time. Jeremiah also wore a cattle yoke he had fastened o his shoulders until another prophet broke it off of him.
Then there was Hosea. He was asked to marry a prostitute and to name their daughter Lo-ruhama, which means “unloved.”
There was Jonah who disobeyed God and ended up in the stomach of a whale until the whale vomitted him out.
The weirdest one seems to be Ezekiel. God told Ezekiel to cook bread on the street in front of the public gathering and to use cow manure as the fuel. Even though Ezekiel was to speak for God, God made him mute. So he took a clay tablet and drew a picture of Jerusalem being attacked. Then he lay down on his right side with an iron pan separating him from his clay art. He laid that way for 390 days, then turned over onto his left side and stayed that way again for 390 days.
These men were chosen by God to be His prophets...his conscience to the people. Their strange actions were symbolic acts that illustrated divine messages. For example, Isaiah being naked symbolized the future when Egypt and Ethiopia were conquered by Assyria...all those people would have nothing and therefore be naked. It was God’s warning to his people.
Jeremiah’s yoke symbolized the Jews eventually being conquered by Babylon and being their slaves. Ezekiel cooking bread over cow manure illustrated the fact that the Jews in exile would have to eat unclean food...which was a forbidden act for all Jewish people.
Hosea’s marrying a prostitute illustrated God’s forgiveness of all sinners.
Jesus as a prophet also did some very strange things...things not seen before. His actions were bizarre and confusing to the social standards of his day. He promised to rebuild the temple in 3 days, he enjoyed dining with tax collectors and prostitutes, he drove demons into a huge herd of swine, he healed a blind man by rubbing mud on his eyes, and he walked on water, just to name a few strange acts.
Each day, Jesus moved from place to place, and he spoke to large groups of people encouraging them to have a change of heart, to repent and do the right thing. If you read the stories about Jesus you will begin to see that many, maybe most, people rejected his message because they, like their leaders, did not want to change. But Jesus as a prophet continued his work because he was ordained and authorized to speak for God and declare God’s word to the people. Jesus represented God to the people of Israel.
Today, when some people hear the word prophet, they seem to think prophets told fortunes or were future tellers. In biblical times, and probably now, that is not so. A prophet often would speak about a present or current situation that might have an impact on the future….such as if you do not change your ways, results will not change. To change your future life, you must change your present one.
Today, none of us are priests or prophets...however, as people of faith, God does call us to do specific, very essential actions for him. We are to stand on our faith, face any moment and any challenge, with full knowledge and assurance that if we obey, God will be with us, putting words in our mouths, strengthening our resolve, and giving us the wherewithal to be his servants for the benefit of his people. That is a calling every Christian shares. No one is left out. The only questions are: will you listen to what the Spirit of God is encouraging you to do, and then will you do it?
If we all answer “yes!” and do the God-given assignments to love unconditionally, to forgive all, and to have compassion, and do so without excuses, we would experience a different world. A world full of love, peace, joy, and hope
Don’t be a faith drop-out. If you believe, turn your beliefs into action. God is calling you by name today. Will you say “yes?” I pray so.
Sermon, April 26, 2020
Today I want to talk about the man Jesus...the mid-eastern, Jewish man...the one our faith is founded on. Sometimes, the image we have of a person, the image of his physical being, determines how much faith we can place in the stories about him and his life. When I see artists’ renditions of Jesus, the images that were painted or sculpted years after his death, I am a bit disheartened. It seems the Greeks and Romans re-envisioned Jesus. Archaeologists tell us as a Galilean Jewish man, Jesus was about 5’5” tall, had a sun-tanned complection, black curly hair and brown eyes. He was a bold, compact, muscular carpenter/stone mason. But the Greeks and Romans made him look like their own gods to meet their political/religious needs. They chose to depict Jesus as a tall, slender, pale-faced, blue-eyed man with long lanky hair. The Europeans re-created Jesus into a somewhat weakened version of the original Jesus.
The original Jewish Jesus could walk miles in a day and sleep on a hillside under the moon. He was loud-spoken so hundreds of folks on a mountain side could hear him. Or he could stand in a boat and preach to folks on shore and they could hear him. He spoke bravely and boldly about his God and the sheer earth-shaking power behind that God. This original Jesus convinced people everywhere that God was strength itself and love took a person of courage and confidence to express it and pass it on. Jesus was no weak, effeminate man. He was fearless. He touched lepers, those people no one else would go near. He met frightened rulers in the middle of the night to help them find peace. He spoke the truth about the God of the Universe who created each one of us in his image. Jesus was a rebel, he ignored his own faith’s dogma and strictness to set people free to be, to love, to grow in spirit and to do remarkable things under the guidance of God’s own Majestic Spirit.
Jesus was a brave, courageous, un-self-conscious man. He had no certificates of learning, no money or wealth, no political power, yet he defied the ruling classes and yes, the Roman occupiers and the Jewish priests murdered him on a cross for their own benefit, greed, and power.
But a strange thing occurred. Everywhere Jesus and his disciples went, grass roots swell of love began to infect the people he talked to, healed, encouraged, and embraced. One to one they told each other Jesus’ God is a God of loving power, life-altering power, not a vindictive, revengeful God. And these people, who had been oppressed for years and years, responded with awe, with a joy almost unbelievable. Person to person, tribe to tribe, people were shown unconditional love. They were introduced to forgiveness and redemption, they were offered grace. What the ruling class of people did not do and could not do, the masses of ordinary people who had no other power than that of friendship, courage, and inspiration did do and it has lasted for over 2000 years. The regular citizens began to care for one another and show it as never before. They began to see and know their God as the center of the world. He was approachable, willing to listen and to make a difference in their lives...lives that had been down trodden for centuries. Imagine the excitement they felt, the encouragement they experienced!
Just what kind of courage did it take to stand up to people with far more political and military power than Jesus ever had? It was confidence in his God, his spiritual Father, that strengthened and sustained
him. He persevered in the face of adversity. He did not back down. He stood firm on what he knew was right. It also meant he endured suffering, but he did so with dignity, faith, and forgiveness.
How did Jesus, or how do any of us, receive that kind of confidence, that kind of personal power? The answer is through his and our relationship with the God who made us, the God of love and peace, even in the midst of chaos. We know, and we ought to use more often, this truth: God has given each of us not a spirit of fear, but of love, and power and a sound mind! Where is our boldness? Where is our courage to speak out, to love those who seem to be unlovable, and to forgive the worst in us all?
In spite of knowing what his fate would be, death by crucifixion, Jesus continued to do as God asked him. He was rebelliously bold as he exposed the religious leaders of the day for misleading people with false teachings. He stood firm against the worlds’ contaminating influence. He continued to teach love and redemption despite pressure from all who opposed him, even those who tried often to kill him before his time came. Even after is arrest, when lies were told about him, when he was beaten, when his best friends betrayed him, he maintained his faith and his dignity. While he was being murdered, in the act of being killed, he showed his remarkable love for others by asking John to take care of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Even his last breath was one of triumph! Jesus is the boldest, strongest, bravest, fiercest, kindest change-agent who has ever lived. That is the Jesus I know, honor, worship, and talk to. No weak, watered down Jesus for me.
We as Christians need to keep before us this true image of Jesus. That image of courage and strength in the face of chaos and crisis needs to be our guide every day. That image needs to encourage us to do the right thing for the right reason. Today of all days, this time in history, we must act on a strong, brave commitment to serve one another with tough love and complete forgiveness. That is our job, our spiritual calling, today. We must say YES to God and do his work whether we want to our not. Our future depends on our courageous faith, loving actions and our confidence on God’s benevolence. We must imitate the same boldness Jesus lived every day of his earthly life. It’s because of his earthly faith, strength, and boldness that we now have access to his powerful risen Spirit that abides in us, awaiting our actions.
We must stand together as a people who believe in a better way of life, a way of love, of grace, of Christ like living, of spiritual courage. That life is one of boldness under-girded by unconditional love. Let us commit and live into the knowledge that God’s way is the best and only way to live, the only way to live every day. Can we become bolder Christians? Please, can we do it?
Will you do it?
Sermon, April 19, 2020
The lesson today is one that many of us do not like to consider, or take seriously, but it is the essence of our Christian faith. That lesson is Jesus is in us, and is present in our neighbors, the people we see in grocery stores and even in liquor stores, people we consider different, strange, unclean, or forgotten. Jesus said in our scripture today, “what ever we do to others we do to him.”
In her acceptance speech after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, Mother Teresa said “It is not enough for us to say, ‘I love God, but not my neighbor. How can we say we love God whom we do not see if you do not love others whom you do see, touch and with whom you live?” After several moments she continued, “If now we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten how to see God in one another. If each person saw God in his neighbor, do you think we would need guns and bombs?” Great and thought provoking statements. Do you see Jesus in others? This idea came to me in real life when I was about 12 or 13 years old.
I went with some other young people from my church to Ridge-crest. That is a Baptist Conference Center in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. I had never been away for a week with out my parents, so I was a bit anxious about the experience. But the mountains thrilled me...the cool weather, the rocky outcroppings we could sit on to see the horizon were new adventures for me and I was enthralled. However, once we went back inside the buildings, we had to attend classes to learn more about The Bible, Jesus and God, and our church theology. During one session, trying to make the lesson relative, our teacher asked each of us to name our favorite movie star. There were only girls in the class because at that time girls and boys were kept separate every minute of the whole week. So one girl blurted out “I like Bobby Driscoll, he’s starring in Treasure Island.” Another girl said, “I just love Brandon deWilde . He is in the movie “Shane!” When the teacher asked me I said, “Gene Autry!” Everybody laughed. One girl asked, “What in the world do you like about that old man?”
I was embarrassed and blushed a brilliant red. But I stood firm. I liked Gene Autry. When the laughter stopped, the teacher said, “Tell us why you selected him as your favorite.”
“Ok, I said, “I like him because he’s really nice to children and old people. He is never mean to people different from him. He helps people who are in trouble. And I think if I knew him he would be nice to me, too.”
The teacher paused for a minute then said, “Those are the same traits Jesus has. Why didn’t you name Jesus?
I said, “Jesus is not a movie star...that’s who you told us to select.”
“Yes, you are right. I did specify movie star. But we need to think about who we see Jesus in, because even though he is a risen Christ and is alive around the world, we see him most often in other people who choose to act on the teachings of Jesus.” She was a wise teacher.
Even today, we know Jesus is real, is alive, is active because he lives in, through and by those who honor, follow, and worship him. If you are one of those, then you have a responsibility to be sure that what you say and do reflects Jesus and not some lesser ideal. That is a responsibility we agree to take on when we proclaim to be Christians. And what the world needs today are Christians who are happy, healthy, who seek wisdom, and who follow the steps of Christ himself. The rewards are great because we feel good, we experience love, we know joy and peace...these are the gifts we receive when we believe that Jesus is the Christ and we choose to reflect him and his teachings in our own lives every day.
Some of us need to think in a revised, new way. We need to allow the mind of Christ to merge with our minds and lead us into new directions...in both thinking and acting.
God calls us into action, and the question we have to answer is: am I ready to serve Him as a first priority?
How you answer that question determines the quality of your life. Choose wisely and you will be guided every step of the way.
Amen Sermon, April 12, 2020
Good morning. It is a great morning, in spite of separation and isolation, because today is Easter Day, Resurrection Day. Today is a reminder that God is real; God is eternal; God is present. We live and breathe because God lives. Although Easter is celebrated by families, churches, cathedrals all around the world, in the final analysis, Easter is always personal!
We become resurrection people, Easter people, when you and I as individuals realize we are on this earth to live for the Jesus of long ago. We, as believing humans, keep Jesus the Christ and his Spirit alive by acting on his wisdom and living his way every day. When we place love above all other priorities we extend resurrection moments to those who are near to us, who witness our words and actions. When we live the power of a resurrected life there is no more darkness of depression or despair, no more sin of hating or belittling other humans, no more desire to be anything other than who we are with our own God-given skills, talents, knowledge, and attitudes. Because of the Christ faith in us, we can live our own resurrection. By so doing we have unending freedom to trust our God with every single person and thing we hold dear. That complete trust in our loving, capable God takes away our fears, our anxieties, and gives us peace, joy, compassion, and life eternal.
We are Easter people, people of the on-going, never ending resurrection. Because of the resurrection of Christ, God tells us we too can arise from the dark of night into the light each morning and can choose to live anew with a commitment to faith, hope and love. We are asked by the guiding Holy Spirit within us to acknowledge all life as sacred, all people as worthy of love. As Easter people we change, we grow in spirit daily, when we choose to live the path that Jesus himself walked every day. As Easter people we are the dams that keep evil confined and diminished. We, those committed to a Christian life, are probably the only dams that keep evil confined.
It is an honor that God chose our brand of life, humanity, as the way to live out His dream of ultimate reality...that each one of us will know and acknowledge that we are not God but God is the core of our being!
We know the eternal God, the Creator and Master of the vast universe, created our planet, and perhaps others as well, to be self-sustaining. Yet in His wisdom, He provided for us a sustaining Guide which is the ever-present Spirit of the Christ. Therefore, we are how God lives among us today because we are his eyes, his hands, his feet, and his serving attitude. We are Easter….and it is my prayer that we take that image to heart and live it fully for as long as we have left on this side of the eternal.
May your Easter be a re-newel of faith and a re-commitment to serving our God as a first priority in your own life. I pray that will be so.
Blessings, good will, and love to each of you...Amen
Sermon, April 5, 2020
One week from today we celebrate our faith tradition’s Highest Holy Day…Easter Sunday.
But today is Palm Sunday. This day can be colorful, uplifting, and exciting for us who are believers, who have experienced the saving Grace of Christ. But for Jesus, 2000 years ago, he felt two opposing emotions mixed together. One emotion was a peaceful joy that his mission on earth was coming to an end and he had endured to complete what God had asked him to do. The other emotion was one of intense sadness, that his people, the Jewish people, had for the most part not believed his message of Grace, Goodness, and God-love. When he topped the hill that looked down on Jerusalem, he tucked his feet up under him so he would not fall off the little colt he was riding, and he wept great tears of grief.
Perhaps he wept because he may have thought he failed in his mission to bring all people into the reign and realm of God. Maybe he wept because he knew his earthly life was very soon coming to an end...and he did love to live. But knowing his compassion, he cried for his people, the Jewish people, for not accepting the great peace, comfort, strength, and love Jesus offered them. They seemed to prefer cruel self-centered leaders, pomp, military might, and extravagance at the cost to common people. Jesus cried for the people he loved.
Today, he might still cry over most of us when we do not act on or give to others the powerful, unending love each of us has within to give away...to give generously to friends and enemies alike.
Does your withholding of love for some people cause Jesus to weep for you? That is a question each of us must take time to consider...and change our actions if needed.
We celebrate Palm Sunday as a special day, but do we really know why we do so?
We have heard the story over and over again about Jesus sending two men to find a donkey and the foal of a donkey which would be tethered close by and bring it to him to ride. We also know that as Jesus rode toward Jerusalem his disciples, a few followers, perhaps not as many as he had hoped for, lined his path and put down greenery, palm leaves, and even cloaks to honor him as worthy, a tradition long associated with Jewish heroes. But why did Jesus’ followers reenact this scene?
This is why: They were fulfilling a prophecy found in the Prophet Zechariah’s (9:9) writings that claim one day the Messiah, the savior of the Jewish people, would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey or colt, entering humbly with an offering of eternal peace to all.
The prophecy also told people would lay palm branches and other greenery in the path because a palm branch is a symbol of peace, but more importantly it is a symbol of victory. The people creating this scene knew the prophecy and they were proclaiming it is here, it has come to pass...this is the king, the messiah we have long awaited. And they sang from the Psalms (118:25-26) “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord.” Thus Jesus entered Jerusalem as the Prince of Peace, for all of us, yet being recognized as such by only a few.
Here is the rest of that story. Across town Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, was also entering Jerusalem at the command of Rome’s Emperor Tiberius, to keep the peace during the large Passover Festival which was beginning on that very day. Pontius Pilate and his parade of strutting horses ridden by hundreds of mounted soldiers and hundreds of others marching beside him, swords raised in anticipation of a rebellion, entered Jerusalem feeling and acting like they were the victorious ones.
To the dismay of Jesus, thousands of his Jewish people lined the streets cheering Pilate and his military might, singing praises to Rome. By comparison, Jesus’ entry was minor in appearance, yet eternal and truly victorious for us.
We know the glorious end of the story, which event is truly victorious. Yet that story is still a beginning for many new believers. We know what happened just a week after that first Palm Sunday. Jesus was murdered. But the power of his great love, concern, compassion and forgiveness lives on this day for us and in us to honor, cherish and to share.
As this day progresses, let each of us remember Jesus rode a donkey, not a war horse. Peace is still the way he travels and the way he asks us to travel, and to be, every day. Together may we repeat often these words, “Lord, we lift up your name. With hearts full of praise, be exalted, our Lord, Our God! Hosanna in the highest!
Sermon, March 29, 2020
The scripture today is from Philippians 4: 6-7. Paul wrote this letter to the people in Philippi while he was in prison...the prison was dark, damp, rat-infested, and dangerous. The letter Paul wrote in this hideous circumstance is all about joy and thanksgiving to a God of love. Sounds strange, doesn’t it...how can he rejoice while living in this horror of a prison? Perhaps the lesson here for us is we can rejoice in whatever circumstance we are in, because we are a reflection and representative of our God-given role-model for life, Jesus our Christ. So here are the scriptures for today: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and asking with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace that passes all human understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Thursday morning I was on my porch, swinging, meditating, and fretting about the sermon for today. I had outlined two or three and none seemed appropriate. So I just sat. Close to noon my phone rang. When I answered it, dear, sweet, loving Mrs. Ruth Irby began singing to me in a beautiful voice. The words she sang were, “The Lord knows his way through the wilderness. All we have to do is follow him! A cloud by the day, a light that lights our way, all you have to do is follow him.” What a blessing that was to me. Ruth ministers to me, as so many of you do, and I am grateful. All ministers need the loving spiritual support from their congregations. I certainly receive these blessings from our church family. Thank you to all of you.
No one can deny these days are full of irritation, inconvenience, fear, and anxiety. We are living in a wilderness because there is very little that is familiar in these days of separation and confusion. But, Ruth is right. The Lord knows his way through the wilderness and all we need to do is follow him. He has even sent to us and the world a role-model who shows us the correct, right, blessed way to live. And that is Jesus.
Yet who knows more about frustration and unfairness than Jesus himself? Jesus, the one who shows the rest of us how to love and forgive, how to be patient, how to care for one another, how to be joyous in all ways, was murdered for a crime he did not commit! Every day he preached and offered love to all people, even the worst of us, but he was cursed, beaten, spat on, and eventually killed. He was able to endure his misery because he had faith, he was willing to be patient, and he knew his mission of love was of vital importance to the entire human race. But most importantly he experienced a moment by moment, loving, grace-filled relationship with is Father, his God. Because of that relationship, he was able to rejoice with his family and friends in spite of every day’s hardships, losses, inconveniences, and a ruling class that wanted him dead! How did he live each day while he was here? He rejoiced. He followed his God. He found joy in the simplest of ideas, of experiences, of interactions with others. He knew joy as the road to peace. God never promised Jesus or us that we would have a life without burdens and difficulty. But God did promise to see us through what ever was dealt to us...if we followed his path of love. God knows his way through the wilderness and he will lead us through ours...if we allow him to do so.
It’s ok for us to have frustration, anger, anxiety...it is how we deal with those feelings that is important. Do you let these feelings linger and simmer into something stronger, like hate? Do they cause you to judge, to belittle, to speak ill of the people or events that create these situations causing grief? Do you harbor grudges? When we choose hurtful words and vengeful thoughts and actions we are harming ourselves not the people or situations that have caused our great inconveniences.
Each one of us can learn to rejoice in all things and praise life and love and hope and faith instead of moping, wailing, complaining, and grieving? Can you find someone to laugh with you? Can you find humor in odd and unexpected situations? Can you manage to see light even in times of darkness? You can do these things when you do them through the Spirit within you...the one God himself places into you...His Spirit. Rely on the God within you rather than on what is outside of you.
This time when thousands are ill, out of work, losing what little savings they may have, rejoice that you have a place to stay, food to eat, clean water to drink, and a God who encourages you to live the better part of who you are every day...but especially during these difficult days of this deadly virus. This too shall pass. In the meantime, may we learn the difference between grace and griping, and choose grace, always. So let it be!
In the name of the Father, the son, the Holy Spirit, go into this week with enthusiasm, with love, kindness and a joyful heart. You can do it. We must do it. Sending love to each of you.
Welcome to the Sabbath day on March 22, 2020
This week has been particularly hard for people both near to us and people around the world. Close at home we mourn the death of our beloved Drew Allen who has meant so much to us throughout our years at the Nourishing Place and before. We pray and offer our love and support to his wife Nancy, his children Grace, Andrew, and Darby, and his extended family. He will be missed.
Additionally, around the world millions and millions of people are hurting, are ill, are losing jobs or being temporarily laid off, are fearful and many are alone. It is a time where world wide people are experiencing the same hardships, fears, and dismay. How do we successfully and lovingly deal with such a crisis in the world and in our own families and community?
Perhaps our scripture today will give us some spiritual insight. From Matthew 5 we read, “Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come to fulfill them. I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law (and that law is love) until all things have taken place. Therefore I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not see the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to your ancestors ‘you shall not kill, and whoever kills will be liable to judgment’. But I say to you, ‘whoever is angry with his brother will be liable. Be righteous in all things.’
So let’s look at what Jesus means by “righteousness...what is it anyway? According to Biblical scholars, the biblical definition of “righteousness” is ethical conduct. Meaning God acts ethically, or in a right way, always. Righteousness is one of the chief attributes of God. The word righteousness is often used to designate a person’s moral and ethical actions toward others.
Too often we tend to interpret biblical commandments legalistic, in a narrow, legalistic manner. However, according to Jesus, we are to look for the spiritual intent behind commandments that tell people what the law really means. Our Creator God, and our teacher Jesus, tells us to take the basic ideas in the scriptural laws and spread them out beyond the physical words. For example, in scripture today we read “you shall not kill,” but Jesus says whoever is angry with his brother will be liable. Jesus takes, and asks us to take, the idea of not killing someone to the level of not even calling anyone a “fool.” To go even further, Jesus is not just talking about killing a body; he teaches not to kill a person’s spirit through abuse in language or actions.
How many precious young children, just starting out in life, full of positive energy, are by the age of 4 or 5 convinced they are not important because mom or dad or a sibling has repeatedly called them “stupid,” an idiot, or worse. They go to school already emotionally and spiritually diminished...their enthusiasm, their spirit, has been damaged. We must be careful of the words and phrases we use in talking to children and adults...in fact all of our communication with all others should exhibit a respect and love. If we are to do the works of Christ and be his followers, then all our communication with all others must be righteous, moral and ethical.
Today, because of some tiny virus that finds new life in human cells, many people around the world are cut off from friends and family, are lonely, some are angry and hurt...what does our righteousness have to do with hard and difficult times like these? The answer is, no matter what, we as followers of Christ must be righteous...not arrogant, not prideful, not better than anyone else, but morally and ethically responsible for our thoughts, words and actions. Today of all days, we need to be tender, loving, forgiving of each other. We are to be patient when all we hear through the media is that life is terrible and going to get worse. Each time we listen to these threatening words, we feel more anxious and alone. So instead of pondering them, go outside, breathe some fresh air and look to our loving Lord and trust him!
Let us remember, that all through the ages God has found someone, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus to provide for us laws and commandments to obey. And the law is made for our own good. God’s way is all about love for each other...love your neighbors as though they are you. Honor yourself enough to be righteous, morally strong, ethically wise...all of us need to use, practice and exercise these traits especially during these difficult times.
Let’s make it simple. Every time we open our mouths to complain, instead let us look beyond ourselves and bless the world with our own love and righteousness.
All of us sin and fall short of the glory of God. So why do we have these laws, commandments if we are not going to obey them? Because, if we use the sense and wisdom God has given us we know these are the right ways to live because they keep us healthy, safe, and happier than any other way to live. God created us and at the same time gave us the plan and instructions for right way to live. So our task to is examine our own righteousness and see how closely we live according to God’s plan for us. If there are ways to change to be closer aligned to righteousness, may God help us have the strength, wisdom, and desire to make those changes. We need to grow spiritually a bit each day...it keeps life intriguing, fun, healthy, and meaningful….even in the most stressful of all times. So today, trust God, love yourself, and be extra kind to all others.
Sermon, March 15, 2020
A New Meaning to An Ancient Meal
You do remember Jesus was a Jewish man. He was born a Jew, worshiped Yahweh as a Jew, was a Jewish rabbi, and later became recognized by some as the Jewish Messiah...or in the Greek language, the Christ.
In Jesus’ life there was one day of great importance...it was the High Holiday of the year. It was a time when the entire nation of Israel remembered that God through Moses brought the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. It was also the time when the Angel of Death passed over every household in Egypt that had sprinkled blood on its doorpost. This remembrance was and is called the Passover.
Even after 4000 years, it is still celebrated in kind every year throughout the world by faithful Jewish people.
At this Passover festive meal, there were five items that had to be served: lamb, unleavened bread, 4 cups of wine, bitter herbs, and apple/cinnamon dip. The wine made in Israel in the first century could be one of 3 different varieties: made from grapes, other fruits, or onions. Yes, onion wine. The alcohol content would be from 10 to 20 percent.
The bitter herbs served were usually romaine lettuce, horseradish, chicory, and radishes...they were dipped in a sweet paste made from fruits and nuts. The Jewish families could add to the menu and if so it would be with apples and boiled eggs. The 4 cups of wine symbolized the 4 promises of Exodus 6: God said I will bring you out from under the burden of the Egyptians, I will free you from their bondage, I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and I will take you to Me for a people. Today, the Jewish nation still considers itself the chosen people, rescued, redeemed, and loved.
The unleavened bread represented the fact that in the exodus the Israelites were in a hurry to cross the river to freedom and did not have time for their bread to rise. In haste they prepared the wheat, dampened it, covered it in cloth and hurried off to cross the river or the Reed Sea to their freedom. Unleavened bread is a clear reminder they are a free people.
And then there was the matter of the lamb. The lamb had to be without spot or blemish. The lamb was brought into the house several days before the Passover meal and in effect it became a pet for the children. Maybe as a child Jesus played with their lamb and maybe even slept with it. Then when the day came for Passover, the father would take the perfect lamb, slit its throat, and roast it. Every morsel was considered sacred.
Decades later, the symbol of the perfect lamb being killed was how the Jews who followed Jesus explained the death of Jesus. Just as the lamb at Passover was killed to nourish the people, so Jesus was killed and then referred to as the lamb of God. His death was a death that nourished and therefore saved God’s people.
Now with all of different food items that were integral parts of the Passover celebration, Jesus chose only two of them for special mention. He chose the unleavened bread and wine to become the meal of the New Covenant he made with his followers. These were the two items that even very poor people would have available, for Jesus never wanted anyone to be left out of any celebration of love and freedom.
He said whenever you are together, share your bread and wine and remember me. I think he meant not just as a rite and a ritual, but at every meal, at every celebration, remember the One, the holy One, who taught us the power of love, the joy of freedom, and the gratitude we should express for our lives in the Spirit of the ever living Christ. Toward this end, let us celebrate communion together.
Jesus broke the bread, gave thanks for it, and served it...this is my body which is given for you. Eat and remember me.
Then he took the wine, gave thanks for it, and served it….this is my blood which is given for you. Drink and remember me.
Let us do so as we share in the communion meal.
Sermon, Sunday March 8, 2020
Today let’s think about praise. God asks us to praise Him not because God needs our praises, its because praising God is good for us. It puts life into perspective. When we truly praise God with sincerity, we live in proper order. In other words, true praise keeps our egos in check...it helps us understand we are not THE most important part of the world, though we are important to the world.
Praising through words, thoughts, or songs changes us for the better...it makes us more hopeful. I become a relationship we have with God rather than a ritual. And, it helps us move from words to loving actions. Praising God is to our benefit and encompasses more than us and God, it encompasses all of life.
Here are some examples to consider. When you hear a masterful piece of music, one that is thrilling, that makes you feel something significant, you enjoy that music but you praise the composer who created it. It is that musical creator that gives you the gift of music.
Consider a painting or sculpture that takes your breath away like the statue of David or the Pieta. The statues speak to us, but we praise the creator, in this case Michelangelo. He was the artist who envisioned the magnificence of these two pieces of exquisite art.
When you read a book, or a poem, and are emotionally moved by the story, you are happy to read the piece, but you praise the author. It was the creator of the story who shared his or her self with you through their story telling.
Then consider our world...all the various plants, trees, flowers, vegetables...there are thousands of them for us to enjoy. Look at he variety of animals and creatures who share our environment. Again, there are thousands of different creatures. And then humans. There are billions of us on this planet. Some we love and cherish, some we ignore, and some we don’t even know they exist. However, when we love a human, or an animal, that love strengthens us, gives us peace and comfort, but we don’t praise that person or pet, we praise our God for creating love and people and animals to love.
So when God says he inhabits the praises of his people, he is telling us he is in us, in our thoughts, in our emotions, in our world and he shares all he has and all he has made with us. So to praise God, means we are expressing thanks and gratitude for all the good things about life that we experience. To praise God is being thankful for life itself, for love, compassion, forgiveness, hope, and faith...all the things that add quality to our daily lives.
One of the healthiest things you can do is wake up each morning and first thing, praise God, praise life, praise love before you even rise from sleep. It starts your day off in the right way...because the right way to live any life is to praise the life you have by praising God for it. So, here is something I have learned through 80 years of living...praise God when you are hurt, praise God when you are angry, when the folks around you are screaming and acting out, pause and praise God. When you are driving in traffic and someone cuts you off, praise God. When you are peaceful, happy, or content praise God.
Praising God gives us power we get no other way. And we all need and want personal power to make sense out of this amazing yet often confusing experience of living. There is power in praise.
I have a question for you: Seriously, how often during a day do you praise God, and mean it? If you don’t do so often, perhaps that is the root of any difficulty you may have...because whatever challenge you face in a day, there is always a divine answer to it...and you find the answer through praising God.
Sermon, March 1, 2020
How many of you remember the story of Little Red Riding Hood? There are 58 versions of that ancient story. It began as a folk tale in Europe in the 900’s, that’s over a 1000 years ago. Each country in and around Europe had its own version of the tale, and each one told it as a parable, fable, or moralistic story.
Some scholars believe it was also a way of summing up briefly and colorfully the core message of our Bible’s New Testament, including life, good vs. evil, a heavenly reward, a savior, redemption, and rising from the dead. Here is the story as you may have heard or read it in your youth:
Little Red Riding Hood lived in a wood with her mother. One day Little Red Riding Hood walked through the woods to visit her granny. She had a nice cake in her basket to give to her granny. When she was with her granny LRH felt special and loved.
On her way to Granny’s house, Little Red Riding Hood met a wolf. As the wolf said, ‘Hello!’ he seemed pleasant and friendsly. In a pretended gentle voice the wolf asked her ‘Where are you going?’
The wolf seemed charming, so LRH told him.
‘I’m going to see my grandmother. She lives in a house behind those trees.’ The wolf said, “Have a nice day.”
Then he quickly ran to Granny’s house and ate Granny up. He put on one of Granny’s night gowns and a lacy night cap. He climbed into Granny’s bed, and waited. A little later, Little Red Riding Hood reached the house. As she entered she walked toward the bed and looked at the disguised wolf.
‘Granny, what big eyes you have!’ ‘All the better to see you with!’ said the wolf.
‘Granny, what big ears you have!’ ‘All the better to hear you with!’ said the wolf.
‘Granny, what big teeth you have!’ ‘All the better to eat you with!’ shouted the wolf. LRH screamed and screamed.
A woodcutter was in the wood. He heard the loud screams and ran to the house.
With all his might, the woodcutter hit the wolf over the head. The wolf opened his mouth wide and Granny came rolling out, alive once again!!
The wolf ran away and LRH never saw the wolf again.
Let’s see how it resembles the message of the New Testament. The woods Red Riding Hood walked through is life…we know both the beauty and the dangers of life that we all experience. The girl, Red Riding Hood, represents all people, humankind. She, representing us, met evil in the form of wolf. In this story the wolf not only represents evil but also manipulation and cunning. Like most people who want to cause hurt, the wolf made himself appear to be nice and kind. Evil often appears to be loving to woo us to its own terribleness. When the wolf appeared to be kind and interested, he ask the little girl where she was going...she said to her grandmother’s house….of course that means she was going to where she would be safe and loved...an image of our heaven.
The wolf tricked her, as evil does. While the little girl slowly made her way toward her goal...i.e.granny, heaven, safety, the wolf ran quickly. He opened the grandmother’s door, went to her bed, grabbed her and ate her up...clothes and all! He then opened her closet and put on one of her nightgowns and a lacy cap to hide his ugliness. Sometimes wolves show up in sheep’s clothing. Shortly, Red Riding Hood got to the door and went in. She thought she saw the grandmother in the bed and walked toward her saying, I’ve brought you a nice cake.” That statement means we all have something to offer to help reach our goal...whether a daily goal or as an end of life goal.
As the little girl got closer she said, “Grandmother, what big ears you have!” “The better to hear you with,” said the wolf.
“Grandmother, what big eyes you have.” “The better to see you with,” said the wolf.
You see, evil always has a reasonable answer to its plot to hurt you!
"Grandmother, what big teeth you have!” The wolf jumped out of bed and said, “The better to eat you up!” said the cunning wolf as he jumped out of bed and grabbed the girl.
The little girl screamed and screamed. We all call for help when we need it...sometimes quietly and sometimes in dramatic ways.
A woodcutter walking by heard the screams, ran into the house. He grabbed Little Red Riding Hood out of the wolf’s hands, and saved her! Our redeemer! He hit the wolf in the head with his ax so hard the wolf opened his mouth wide and Granny fell out. Good always overcomes evil...ultimately good wins out. LRH was rescued and Grandmother rose from the dead, just as we are taught Jesus rose from death, and we shall do so as well.
The wolf ran off never to bother LRH again. Once we face our savior and realize his saving Grace, then we too eagerly avoid evil and are more aware there are people who want to harm us. We walk a safer, proven path.
That’s the story told in families for hundreds of years to teach children biblical stories about spirituality and morals.
How many grandmothers or parents are still reading this story to their children and explaining it in way that might encourage them to read more about them selves, the woodcutter who saved the child, the grandmother who is heaven, and life! Amen
Sermon, February 23, 2020
Read 2nd Timothy 1:7
Have you ever heard a parent say, “Oh, I wish my child would misbehave.” Or have you ever seen a book entitled How to live an unhappy life? No, of course we have not. Most of us know what is good and right for ourselves and our children. But sometimes it helps to be reminded of who we are and what we are all about. Not fear, but we are power, love, and a sound mind.
What kind of power is this spirit of power God gave the disciples and gives us? I think its like this: When you believe something and you act on that something, you have a boldness about yourself that you may not be aware of in other times. Example, when you discuss an issue that is extremely important, something you believe in wholeheartedly, usually your voice gets louder, you use your hands to help emphasize, and you are completely absorbed in defending what you believe; you are energized. That is a kind of personal power God gives us when we desire to be heard. When we forget ourselves enough to speak boldly about what is right and good and healthy and safe, we have an added power to our thoughts and our speech. This power is God given…..to all of us. But do we use it?
Paul also told Timothy that God gives us a spirit of love. Most of us probably relate love to emotion. To God, love is action. It’s what you do. It’s how you treat yourself, how you treat others, and how you treat your God. That power of love enables you to care about life and most people. To love is to reach beyond yourself and hope that your family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances have their needs met and do find some joy in life. Love also enables you to pray for your enemies and be good to those who persecute you. To us in the 21st century that might seem foolish. However, the spirit of love is what helps you save yourself...it gives you confidence, patience, and freedom to be all you are intended to be. You are not subject to another’s rule! The results are you like yourself better, you see yourself as a part of bringing God’s Kingdom to the here and now. You are an expression of our living Lord. So, act lovingly!
The third thing Paul wanted Luke to live by is to know and act on the fact that God gives us a sound mind. Biblically speaking a sound mind means good judgment, or self-control. Sometimes our emotions run amok and we get embroiled in situations that are not healthy and that we need to move away from. However, most emotions are like glue...they stick to us. But, self control gives us the strength to take a step back to evaluate the situation. Then with thoughtful consideration the riaght, appropriate decision will probably be made.
Think of the courage it took these early apostles and disciples of Christ to be brave enough to speak eloquently about the saving grace of Christ. The people they reached out to did not want to hear their message. They wanted to destroy not only the teachings and messages of Jesus but they wanted to kill the messengers. It is due to centuries of struggle, hardship, yet joy, that today we still have the biblical stories and the amazing teachings of Christ.
We all are here to serve an Almighty God. We acknowledge and remember the thousands and thousands of people who have gone before us determined to keep God alive for us today.
Then why do we worship the God of convenience? Or the God of money? Greed? Unhealthy power? Listen to some very current statements by some of our friends and co workers: Oh, I can’t come to church. I have to sleep in on Sunday mornings. I party too late on Saturday nights. No, I can’t give to that charity; I want to buy a new cell phone. No, I don’t want to study the bible, it is boring. I don’t need anyone telling me how to live and what to do.” These common comments run through our communities and this neighborhood today.
So, what happened to us? Where has the fervor gone? The commitment to our loving, compassionate, forgiving God? How has the greatest gift ever given to humanity, the grace of Christ, been turned into an inconvenience, an out of date idea, a concept not worth pursuing? Our Creator God asked you and me to help bring the Kingdom of God to earth...to here in this community. And to do it willingly, joyously, and with power, love, and good judgment. That is our task our life’s goal
I leave you with a question: what are you doing with the life God gave you? And, is it enough?
Sermon, February 16, 2020
Today’s scripture comes from the book of Colossians. Paul wrote this book, which is really a letter, while he was in prison. Unlike other letters Paul wrote to churches where he had visited, he had never been to Colossae nor met the people there. Colossae was in Asia Minor, which is now Turkey, and that was about 100 miles from where he was probably inprisoned. However, Paul had heard the congregations in Colossae were troubled by false teachers. The people there were in fear, for they were not sure of what a believer in this Christ should do, or how they should behave. So Paul sets out in writing to offer assurance that they were not under the control of hostile powers, because they had their minds and hearts which were free to worship the one God and obey the teachings of Jesus, the anointed one. Paul strongly desired for the Colossians to become deeply rooted in Christ alone, who is preeminent. Knowing that Christ alone can teach the truth was especially important in view of false teachers who would lead them astray.
This particular part of Paul’s letter points to the centrality of Christ and tells Christians how they ought to behave as Christ’s people in their homes, at work, and in society at large.
Read the scripture: Colossians 3: 12-17
In this letter Paul urges the believers in that community to a live lives of virtue...of goodness. Early Christ followers knew it was essential for them to live at peace with one another so that pagans (any one not a believer in this risen spirit) could see how virtuous their relationship to Christ was, and hopefully that might lead others to their community of faith. To draw others’ attention to their way of life, they were instructed to live compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. If they chose to live with these virtures as priorities, then Christ would be the only one to control their hearts.
This concept of true, active living the way Jesus did is just as important today as it was in the time of Paul. Often we hear about people going to church but do not seem to live their faith on an everyday basis, especially in the way they treat their own family, or people different from themselves. Remember, in Christ we are all one...one God, one spirit, one church.
None of us can hope to fully practice our beliefs unless we are first filled with a sense of gratitude. Giving thanks always, rejoicing in our God always, is the virtue that reminds us how much we depend upon our Lord and our God...giver of life, author of love, creator of compassion and forgiveness. As believers we must encourage expressions of gratitude rather than complaint or criticism.
One way Paul taught the early believers in the way of Jesus live was to make sure they knew if they loved Jesus, then part of them died with him. But the good news, the gospel news, is that Christ was risen and we are too. In Christ we are new souls. Paul said it like this: put off the old person you were and put on the new person you are in Christ….having in your actions the same traits of love, compassion, and forgiveness that Christ shows us even today. Each one of us as a believer receives from God forgiving love, harmonious love and corrective love...which we in turn must share with others. By practicing our beliefs in the God of love, illustrated best through the life of Jesus, then we too help bring the Kingdom of God here and now, in this place. The Now-ism of Christ love is ever present.
Let us remember, Jesus’ divine nature is the image of the invisible God. And when we believe, and practice that belief, then we too are the images of the invisible God who lives within the temple of our physical bodies and speaks through our holy actions. That is a high calling for each of us….but what an incredibly joyous church and community this would be if we all did what our Lord and God asks us to do today and all our tomorrows. Let each one of us try with a courageous heart and a willing mind to tear down the barriers of hostility wherever we find them and to open the doors for love to flow, to flow especially to those people we tend to disregard. We are the visible images of the Living Lord.
Sermon, February 9, 2020
Today is a birthday celebration. Our Nourishing Place is 23 years old today. The idea of this church lived in my imagination for years before it became a reality. I imagined a church as a gathering of people who would be open to worship with all people, in a come as you are state of being, where the gathering would acknowledge the human Jesus as the essence of unconditional love, and the purpose of the church would be to share that kind of Jesus love to all people within their realm of existence. Through the years the image of that church grew and became clearer with each passing year. However, it was eventually brought into being primarily due to 4 unexpected events. One event was disastrous, the other three were God- created miracles delivered through human hands. These 4 events changed my life and created a church.
The first unexpected event that brought me to my knees involved my oldest son...my golden boy. He caused serious legal problems for himself. He was convicted as a felon, and went to prison. Because I had invested everything I owned in his business, I lost it all. I truly had no money nor assets left except I still had an old truck, which I did not want to live in. I was homeless. I stayed with a friend for month or two and spent every weekend driving my son’s children to prison to visit him. I wanted a place of my own to live in but I did not see how that was possible. I laughingly said Jesus’ teachings became very personal….I was as poor, marginalized, and outcast as any of the people Jesus favored.
At that lowest point in my life, a second unexpected even occurred which proved to be a miracle. I went to the post office where I got my mail, opened the mailbox and there was an envelope addressed to me, with no return address. I opened it and it was a gift card in the amount of $3000. I thought it had been sent to me in error. I called the bank where it came from to tell them. The agent looked up the card number and said it was purchased in my name for me. I tried to discover who had sent it, but to no avail. I prayed and asked God what to do with the funds. The card stayed in my wallet. But every morning I took it our and stared at it as I asked God, “Hey, what do I do with this unexpected money?” One day I held the card up in the air and said, “Please God let the person who sent this know I am grateful.” Then, I went directly to my architect...which was actually the place on highway 49 which built sheds. I bought a 16x20 foot shed, had it moved to the yard behind my friend Gail’s house. She and I insulated the room, put sheet rock up, painted the inside. Within 2 weeks I moved in. I called that time in my life my minimalist period, living in a tiny shed. What that statement really meant? I was dead broke. But, I prayed hours of gratitude to God and my unknown benefactor. I was happy in my nest….just a bed, a tiny couch, a small table, a little fridge, and a hotplate. I had all I needed. And that was enough. I was at peace. In that shed, on my tiny table, I began reading theological books, commentaries on biblical chapters, books by noted ministers. Hour after hour I studied. I was fascinated by the books I read, bout biblical characters...the odder they were the better. The more colorful, the more human they became. In the midst of this obsession, the third unexpected event occurred. It too turned into a miracle.
I had gone to the post office again, got my mail, and there was an envelop addressed to me with a return address from an attorney in Jackson. I was so fearful it might tell me something more terrible about my son in prison that I would not open the envelope. It sat on my table for a couple of days. Finally one morning I opened the envelope and a check fell out in the amount I could hardly take in. A dear friend of mine, Mrs. Gertrude Ford, the richest woman east of the Mississippi River, whom I had befriended when I lived in Oxford, had died. I was shocked to find that in her will she had left me money, as the accompanying letter said, to “see me through.” I was overcome with gratitude for her unexpected generosity. Eventually, I knew I would use her funds to attend seminary. For the next 31/2 years I studied the Bible and Spiritual development from two different seminaries: Columbia Presbyterian Seminary in Decatur, GA, and the Universal Christian Church. I both fearfully and somewhat excitedly, wondered if indeed one day my imagined church might be a reality. But I knew I would never be a preacher. I did not ever want to preach at people and insist they had to live by rigid dogma rather than by love, compassion, and forgiveness. If I ever had the opportunity, I just wanted to open a window to minds and souls to see a bigger, more embracing image of God given to us through Jesus, the anointed one. One thing I did learn beyond a doubt is this: If God plans it God sees it through.
During the last month of my seminary experience, I knew I was destined to have a church of people who wanted to know the truth. The truth about the holy scriptures, about the who-ness and what-ness of Jesus, and of themselves. I told God, “I will go anywhere you want me to and do whatever you want me to do. But do not send send me to Gulfport. I will never be accepted there as a minister because of my multiple divorces and my son being in prison. And God said, “Trust me.” Then I told God “do not make me ask people to give money. That’s your job.” Can you imagine telling God what he can not do? Well, God ignored one of my requests and sent me home to Gulfport. However, through his graciousness he honored the other request. Here at TNP we do not ask for money nor preach about money. The congregants, like all of you, are so generous our dove and the mail box are full enough each week to do what God asks us to do. And we can never out give God.
I agred to go to home to Gulfport but wondered where the church building would be? All I heard was, “It is under your feet.” My shed, my home, my only home, was to be the church? I was ok with that, but I asked, God where will I live? His nudging reminded me there was an empty garage just around the corner. I could use the rest of Mrs. Ford’s money to buy the garage. I did, and once again Gail and I insulated, sheet rocked, and painted my new abode. It even had a small kitchen and bathroom! I was living high and loving it.
“What do you want me to call this church of yours”, I respectfully asked God? The answer came in a delightful way. One night, my friends Gail, Jo Kennedy and I were having supper together and drinking cheap wine. Jo reiterated her desire to have a small cafe and cook for people. She was a marvelous cook and wanted to nourish people by feeding them healthy food, beautifully prepared. Laughingly, I said, “You want to nourish people with food and I want to nourish people’s soul and spirit with Christian truth.” We all laughed. Then Gail said,”That’s the name of the church. The Nourishing Place! Jo can cook for the congregation and you can teach. The Nourishing Place was born with the help of these two mid-wives and God’s generosity through loving, caring human beings.
Soom later, I was reflecting on all that happened and thrilled by it. But then I realized there was a missing piece. I had my ordination and certification. I had a place for the people to gather as a church, and I was ready. I knew of all of this planning came together in harmony, and the church became a true reality, I knew I would do this work for God our of love...so I would never take a salary or any income from the church. But I did need income to survive and to support the soon to be church. I didn’t think I could hold a full time job somewhere else and build God’s church at the same time. I gave that problem to God, and I asked God...what should I do? Clearly I heard a voice that said, “About this church? I asked you to do it, I will see you through it. Trust me”?
I felt ashamed for doubting.
The very next week the fourth unexpected event occurred...it too proved to be a miracle. I met Max Peck. We had lunch together once a week for a year and never really had a date. One day he spent over an hour telling me what a terrible man he was. He listed his weaknesses, his past sins, his fears, and he never once mentioned the many, many good wonderful things about himself like his generosity, his love of young people, especially those in trouble, is desire to use whatever he was or had to make life better for those he loved. After listening to his list of misdeeds, he then said it would make him happy if I would marry him. I said nothing for a few seconds then I burst out laughing. I couldn’t stop. He said, “what is so funny?” I said. “that is the worst proposal I have ever had. If we marry it will be because you will have to support me and our church. He said, “gladly.” Then there was a caveat: one more thing. I want a real proposal, on bended knee at the end of Courthouse pier under a full moon with a witness. Would you do that? He did. I’ve worked for God as my only boss with delight and pleasure for these 23 years without worrying once about having to pay a bill. God sent Max to me and to the Nourishing Place. God’s grace is always more than sufficient.
These miracles created by God are offered by human hands.
So that is today’s chapter. At another time I would like to tell you to the story of our second church building and then our third. So stay tuned. But for now, be brave, be loved, trust God to meet all your needs and beyond. If you choose to make God’s abundant love your life’s priority, then enjoy and embrace the fireworks that will surely follow.
Sermon, January 26, 2020
Have you ever been in complete, total darkness? Well, I have. Years ago I was visiting my son Harry in Zurich. He insisted we go to a restaurant called in German “The Blindy Coo” which means the Blind Cow. It is a restaurant owned, operated by blind people. When we arrived the manager took our watches, our telephones, and even our eyeglasses and said we would get them back after lunch. We were led to a space that enclosed us in dark curtains. Then someone (we don’t know who because it was too dark to see) took each of us by hand, led us to a table, helped us sit down, put a napkin in our laps, and handed us a fork. There was no need for a knife. Then the waiter told us what our food options were. I literally could not see my hands 3 inches in front of my eyes, and I surely couldn’t see Harry across the table. I felt under the table to see if I could touch his feet with mine to give me comfort. That utter darkness was a terrifying experience for me...I could hear voices around me but could not see anything. I don’t know what I ate, but I do know Harry had dessert. I knew, because when we entered the light again he had chocolate pudding all over his face and shirt.
So, I learned more than ever that physical darkness is to be avoided at all cost. I want to take really good care of my eyes and eyesight. Darkness is not where I want to be. I was so happy to see light again, and completely relieved.
However, having said this about physical darkness, it is internal darkness that causes most despair in today’s world. It is internal darkness that seems to force us to look for crutches to get us through the day...crutches like drugs, alcohol, sex, acting out in disrespectful ways, blaming others for our wrong doings. This internal darkness is usually caused by fear, anger, guilt, insecurity, jealousy, being easily offended, and not following the way the Lord asks us to live. Those are the ingredients in darkness that is within us.
Because we all have intellect and awareness, we choose how to spend each moment of our lives. But, in some cases, we become creatures of habit. Once we start belittling people and getting away with it, we belittle more. When we tell a lie and get away with it it becomes easier to lie again, and again. When we take something insignificant that is not ours and we don’t get caught, then we are likely to attempt to steal something of more worth. So, that is what is really wrong with sin...it easily becomes habitual...and the other thing really wrong with sin is that it usually hurts someone besides just the sinner. Yes, all of us sin and fall short of the glory of God. But, if we know the commandments, if we know how Jesus lived morally and ethically, we can usually recognize when we do wrong and then stop ourselves from doing more of it. We repent and cease to behave in destructive and damaging ways.
In scripture the gospel of John tells us Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have he light of life.” John wrote these words 80 or 90 years after Jesus’ birth. So Jesus may or may not have said them. What we do know is that John saw Jesus as the light...the one way to empty ourselves of darkness. When John told us Jesus was the light of the world he meant Jesus shows us the way to live. The life of Jesus is like a steady beam from a flashlight in the darkness leading the way to safety, to joy, to peace. When we choose to live his way, we can rejoice because we are free from the habits that wreck havoc with us, our souls, our families, and our entire lives. The light is what we want and need…but all too often people choose the darkness which can and often does lead to more darkness.
So here is a recipe to live in the light: learn about how Jesus lived. What his values were. How he treated others, all others. What he taught as the most important aspects of life. Then imitate him through doing your own good deeds; seek the truth. Don’t believe everything you hear or read from secular, money making sources. Seek God’s truth in every situation. Don’t conform to what your peers want unless they want what God wants….and that is real shared love for one another.
In another verse the early church taught that “Jesus is the light of the world. No one comes to the father but through that life.” In this verse the word “father” is the fullness of life...life in abundance of love and grace. And when it was said the only way to that abundant life was through him it meant to walk and talk the way Jesus did in regard to all other human beings. There is no other path to joy, goodness, righteousness, or peace except through living every day a life full of love. Love in your actions, for God, self, and others...it is the way of life...and we are people of the way.
This is the truth. Believe it and live it.
Sermon, January 19, 2020
What does it mean to be human and humane?
Scripture tells us we were the last of the major animals to appear on earth...science tells us there were approximately 27 different types of hominids who preceded homo sapien on this earth. The last of those to die out was the Neandertal people who lived until about 30,000 years ago, leaving only homo sapien (thinking man) to rule the earth.
Physically we are similar to our predecessors as well as the great mammalian apes...we all have a brain of different sizes, two eyes, two ears, one nose one mouth, two arms and hands...however we are the only mammal that stands up straight without using our arms as legs. So the primary difference in us and other animals resides on the inside of us, not the outside.
We as humans can communicate not just through guttural sounds or songs like animals and birds, but through an elongated larynx and flexible tongue. Through those traits we are able to communicate ably using words and symbols as well as body gestures, posture and facial expressions. As humans we make our own decisions and bear the consequences of them. We make and wear clothing to keep us warm in winter and cool in summer. We are able to think about thinking, and to ponder our past, present and future. We are also able to fit into different groups such as racial, cultural, religious, and political ones. We have curiosity and intelligence...all God given at our births. These are what we inherit from our ancestors genes.
Humans are not specialized as other animals are. Because of our intelligence we can run like a dog, climb like a squirrel, swim like a dolphin, and fly (using our own creations) like birds.
All other animals are specialized and therefore limited in scope and reason
Those are the most important things that make us human...in the image of a flexible and non-specialized God entity. We as humans are truly amazing creations that have only now begun to understand all that we are in the image of our creator.
Because of our intelligence and awareness of life around us, we can learn to be humane humans. To be humane means we have compassion for others, we show gratitude, we live frugally in the midst of plenty so that we can share with others, we live not just for ourselves but also for our families and neighbors. In other words, being humane means advancing the creation of God, in both tangible and intangible ways.
There is an age old conflict among intellectuals: some say we are born compassionate through our human nature, others say we learn compassion and love by the way we are treated in our formative years. I believe we are born with the capacity for compassion and love, but we must learn how to accept those traits as gifts from our creator and learn to act on them to enhance life and bring the kingdom of God to where ever we are at all times. I believe that is one reason Jesus the Christ lived and died when and why he did. I don’t think he died to appease the wrath of God. I don’t think he died to save us from our sins. Rather, I think he lived and died to teach us the glory of being humane, which is another word for love of self and others. That was the great divide that occurred 2000 years ago ...when people stopped centering their lives on power and greed and began to understand the power of loving others at all cost!
Being humane encompasses the best qualities of mankind. Where animals are limited in being compassionate to others, we as humans can show tenderness, compassion, love, and acceptance to other humans and animals. If someone is inhumane, he or she lacks compassion for the suffering of others.
I expect God expects his creation, human and otherwise, to respect him and the ways of living he has planned out for us...not to benefit God so much as to benefit our selves. It has been scientifically proven that the more love you give the better you feel about yourself, and the more you like yourself.
Someone once told me then love is selfish...aha...this is the beauty of being both human and humane...life is a circle. What we sow we reap. What we give to others returns to us 30, 60, 100 fold in many different ways. Life, love, compassion, and all eternity is a circle with no beginning and no ending….in between we have our own personal lives to choose how to live and with how much humane-ness. God has given it all to us, but he allows us to either be miserly in giving love and forgiveness, or to be so loving, so forgiving, so compassionate that we are truly happy and peaceful no matter what else happens to us. That is great secret of human success hidden or expressed in every Biblical story, every proverb and every commandment.
We can and need to rejoice in our humanity, and to be as much like our humane God Spirit as we can be. It makes life an exquisite experience filled with love, joy, peace, and grace.
Sermon, January 12, 2020
The Baptism of Jesus
I am often asked the question, why was Jesus baptized? The people who ask this think the Jewish baptism was/is the same as the Christian baptism. There are similarities, but also differences. The people who ask this question also believe Jesus was “without sin”, so why did he have to repent and be baptized?
Jesus was not a Christian, because Christianity did not come into being until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. So, when he was baptized, he was baptized as a Jewish man. And he was baptized by a Jewish man we know as John the Baptizer.
Moses initiated Jewish baptizing or cleansing baths during the Israelite 40 year journey in the wilderness. The earliest ideas of Jewish baptism concerned cleanliness: a person could become unclean by touching a dead body or touching someone who had touched a dead body. One could be unclean if he came in contact with a hog or pig, or had unauthorized sexual conduct. A woman after giving birth was also considered unclean. Early on cleanliness was strict to keep the Israelites healthy and safe...the very beginning of our idea of salvation. Where purity was once closely associated with your external bodies, it quickly began to include our purity regarding our thoughts, words, and deeds. These too can make people sick, or unclean.
In the Old Testament book of Exodus, the Lord told Moses to make a vessel for washing. He was told to place the vessel between the meeting place called a tabernacle, a temporary movable tent where God could live, and the altar of stones where animals were sacrificed and also eaten. Moses was also told to put water in the vessel for Aaron and his sons, who were priests, to wash their hands and feet in the water when they go into the tabernacle or when they come near to the altar to minister….they will do this washing or they will die. When natural water was available (rivers, streams) people were to submerge fully into the water.
In Leviticus, the message was enlarged to include anyone who had become unclean must wash their entire body in water before they could be considered clean again and enter the tabernacle.
The Hebrew noun for a ritual bath or washing is called a mikveh. That word is similar to tikvah which means hope, or alignment with God. The idea of mikvah meaning pools of water and tikvah meaning hope and confident alignment with God is beautifully explained in Jeremiah (17: 5-6) where the prophet poetically expresses the ideas through metaphor of trees are either rooted and flourishing beside water or drying up for the lack of water . The meaning is we thrive and flourish when we submit ourselves to God. But, when we put our trust in humans only we dry up for the lack of choosing God. Jeremiah wrote: “Lord, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be dried out, meaning ashamed. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.”
Some biblical scholars think that quote may be a play on words. The text actually says, “the Lord himself is the Mikveh of Israel, the one who gives abundance of a new life in God, the hope of Israel. Remember all through scripture God shares the message that he is the water of life, the well of living water that springs up to eternal life….because that is exactly who he is.
So Jesus asked John to baptize him to cleanse and refresh him so that he could enter the tabernacle to worship his God. It was a perfectly normal thing for a young Jewish man to ask and do.
It wasn’t until years later the Christian version took on an altered meaning of baptism. Depending on which denomination focuses on which aspect of baptism, we see a wide range of beliefs from “be baptized so your sins will be forgiven. Or be baptized to publicly admit you are repenting of your sins. Or, be baptized to receive the Holy Spirit. Or to let your family and friends know you want to change the focus of your life from yourself to your God.
Sometimes a combination of all those reasons is why we baptize. We have no scripture of Jesus ever baptizing any one ever. However, Jesus asked his disciples to go into the world to preach the good news, to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This last phrase “baptizing in the name of the Father, the son, and the holy spirit, was added on to Matthew’s words, because the phrase was not first used until the eyar 180 when Theophilus o Antioch used it in reference to God, God’s word, and God’s work. Three hundred years later the doctrine of the Trinity came into being.
In Matthew’s scripture he did add, teach these new disciples to obey the commands I have given you.” And remember his command was this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Then love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.
So today as we celebrate the Sunday set aside to remember the baptism of Jesus, let us also remember our own baptism.
So a question: If you were baptized, why? And if you were, are you living into the meaning of your baptism? And do you relate your baptism to being refreshed and safe?
Sermon, January 5, 2020
Tomorrow, January 6, is the day churches around the world celebrate the 12th day of Christmas, or the Three Kings Day, often called Epiphany. The word epiphany means an aha moment! It is a sudden realization or insight. In the story of Jesus’ birth and the following years, several epiphanies happened.
Epiphanies can have both negative and positive impacts on a person and his/her life forever after!
An example of an epiphany that had a negative impact: King Herod, who lived in a palace and had the whole of Israel under his rule, thought he was the most important person in the world. He lived as though his power was real and true. He controlled thousands of people through any whim he might have. Can you imagine his stroke of insight when he realized a tiny baby, born in the backwoods of Bethlehem, was considered a king...a king more noble and powerful than himself. That moment of sudden comprehension set a rage in him that had dire results on the people of Israel.
The original epiphany occurs in the Bible when three wise men, also known as The Magi, or as the Three Kings, see a divine star in the sky, which leads them to the Christ child. This child’s nature as a king is revealed to these men while the rest of the world was unaware. The wise men had a stunning realization when they met the Christ child at home with his mother. How could this child be a king, a light to the world? But that awareness was what made them take a different way home to avoid King Herod and his murderous desires.
As Mary nurtured this child which had been promised by God to come through her, she also had an epiphany. Perhaps what God’s angel had told her just might be absolute truth!
In literature across the ages and in most countries, epiphanies are used to point out a turning point for a character in the near future. It is sometimes used to change the opinion of one character about other characters, events, and places after a sudden awareness of the situation. For example, in
Shakespeare’s play HAMLET, he uses an epiphany to explain why Hamlet ultimately ceased to want to avenge his father’s murder. While Hamlet was contemplating revenge, he suddenly had a flash of realization when he understood, “There is a divinity that shapes our ends.” He realized there is no wisdom for him in trying to inflict the perfect revenge on Claudius, his father’s murderer. He must take hold of his thoughts and deal with his loss in a more acceptable way.
Now, not all epiphanies are so dramatic. Some are sweet and simple. Others are thought-provoking. And some, do change the way we deal with events, challenges, and life.
Every Christmas as we celebrate the birth of goodness, as we sing the hymns of angels and shepherds and wise men, we also might have epiphanies when we realize we are here to proclaim this marvelous good news that Christ and all his name contains lives within us day after day. He is known as Emmanuel...God with us. Once we are clear and see this knowledge, then our lives do change..and always for the better.
So during 2020 how will you become more aware of the power of this Christ Spirit? How will you proclaim his love and acceptance of all to those who may not know this majestic energy we worship. Will you bring light to the dark places on this coast? Will you choose to seek the divine in every person you meet? When you walk outdoors among trees, plants, and flowers and become aware of both the sunlight and moonlight will you realize that in every moment of your life God is longing to show his Godself to you? And when you do recognize your intimate connection to God what will your response be?
At one time in a later biblical story, Jesus asked his disciples, his best friends this question: Who do you say that I am?
On this day of epiphany, perhaps Jesus is asking you the same question: Who do you say that he is? And what do you do about your answer?
Sermon, December 29. 2019
Four days ago was Christmas...the day Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus. That birth and the ensuing stories about Jesus changed the world...and that was God’s proposed plan of action from the beginning. Humans had been naturally evolving for a million or more years, but their main focus seemed to be on survival, self-centeredness, and any kind of control or power. Those characteristics evidently were not enough for God. He wanted more for his human creations. He wanted them/us to know the only real power on this earth is love. To learn to love and act on love are crucial to our existence.
To put his plan in action, God chose one ethnic group to lead the way....he chose the Jewish race. Jesus was born, raised, and died Jewish. Neither Jesus nor God had planned on creating a new religion….the world already had many of those. Rather, God planned for the humans he created to think about who we are as his created offspring, and to look within and beyond ourselves to experience love. God desired life to be abundant. He wanted people to have life experiences, to know the differences in good and evil, hopefully so humans would choose good and resist evil. God also, we assume, realized we needed a role model to show us how to live and how to die. Therefore, Jesus.
Jesus’ first mission was to show us he was just like us...fully human having the same emotions, the same joys, the same fears, and suffering that the rest of us have. Yet how he dealt with those emotions, fears, and sufferings has given us a new way to live...a way of love, acceptance, and trust. There was a caveat that his spirit would be within us and around us always to guide, guard, and comfort us.
When Jesus was born he was human with flesh and bones just like us. Jesus lived a life of caring, giving, loving and he remained in his human body for more than 30 years. And then he was murdered on a tree by jealous priests and foreign powers. Through his death and the powerful resurrection of his spirit and holiness, he became a man full of glory. His incarnation was not a one time event, but a new beginning of God with us. In a way each one of us is an incarnation of the divine...meaning God is within.
What an example for us! Jesus willingly went through everything we face to show the depth of his love. Because he first loved us—and proved it by his words and his example—we can love him and through loving him we learn to love others. By Jesus becoming human, he shows us compassion and that he understands how to best comfort a suffering world. He shows us we are never alone.
So Jesus was born to set us free from preconceived ideas that we are not worthy, that we are less than, that we are insecure, and fearful by nature. Jesus blew those misconceptions away...he saves us from ourselves and our poor self images. [Shape] His birth and his life, his rising as a powerful spirit of goodness and love, abide in those of us who choose to follow him, his teachings, and who are willing to see the divine in all people. That is what love is all about, that is what Jesus taught, that is why Jesus was born...and why God still sends that risen holy spirit to live within us...to claim for this day God’s kingdom on earth.
Sermon, December 24, 2019
In our Bible, the story of Jesus’ birth is told in many different ways. None of the 3 tellers of this story (Matthew, Luke, and John) were intending their version to be accurate or historical. All three of these story tellers wrote the story in their own ways and for their own readerships, telling a spiritual truth about an event of huge importance. It was an event so important that it can not be expressed with a simple reciting of human facts.
Today we take all three stories and weave them together into one story...stars and stables, wise men and shepherds, and a baby in a feeding trough wrapped in swaddling cloths.
The power in the story of the birth of Jesus, whichever version you like best, is really a much larger story that can be told best using metaphors. It wasn’t just a holy baby born that night. What was born for the whole world to try to accept and live into is the birth of the truth and power of love. Love is as eternal as God is, for God is love. If we try to understand the story only in human terms we miss its majesty and its glory. It is a divine story showing us in human terms how to be messiahs, how to be Christs to one another, how to live abundantly in the midst of poverty, powerlessness, pain and suffering.
What all the stories of Jesus’ birth bring to us is new possibilities...a new light that shines through all human weakness and human bewilderment and points to the Almighty Creator in each of us. The stories tell us the truth about who we are...beloved people made in the very image of our master creator. That birth doesn’t happen just once or even often. Every day is a new Christmas, a new birth, a new potential to trust the light, give birth to more light, and be the light for all to see, especially in our own areas of darkness. We can be the light because it is already within us...It is our consciousness that Jesus calls the kingdom of heaven. It is here now and we are it.
My prayer is that realization will break through the doubts, the confusions, the apathy and set us free to shine like the sun, the bringer of light and life.
Sermon, December 22, 2019
4th Sunday of Advent: Peace
Today’s sermon is about peace, yet the reading we had this morning sounded more like stress for Mary and excitement for Elizabeth. So why is this scripture important?
I think the story is a challenge God has given to each of us to accept his peace when loss, hurt or disappointment comes to us.
The scripture tells us Mary listened to what the angel Gabriel said and she questioned him. “How will this be so?” The angel re-assured her and said, “Fear not” you have found favor with God.” Now if the Bible is a living document, written for believers throughout the ages, and reassures us we are loved by God, isn’t Mary a symbol of all of us? Doesn’t she illustrate that peace is available to all of us especially when our lives are not what we expected or wanted?
Jesus repeatedly says, “Fear not, for I am with you”? But how many of us listen to him and believe him? We are all fearful at many times in our lives...and even though we are assured over and over again, we still fear. Peace is the opposite of fear. Peace comes from God, fear comes from us when we listen to anyone or any situation that is not godly.
Did Mary, the mother of Jesus, ever have peace? She had to hide her son all the days of his youth from an evil king to protect him, she watched him move away and roam the dangerous countryside without a home to stay in or money to survive. She watched him being murdered on a cross by cruel priests and foreign rulers. Yet she maintained her belief in God’s commitment to her and her commitment to him. And that was enough. She survived and moved on to the tell the holy story of grace and love offered to us all.
Every day people lose loved ones...some to illness, some to old age, some to accidents, and some to war. There is another story about a mother’s fear for her son that we know about through the song “Danny Boy”. Even though the Irish claim the song it was actually written down by an English lawyer. He heard and was moved by the story of this mother’s travail over not knowing what happened to her son during World War I. These words tell us in another way, how we find peace with the worst that can happen to us. Hear the words of this mother’s quest:
“Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountain side. The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling.
Tis you. Tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow. Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow. Yes, I’ll be there in sunshine and in shadow. Oh, Danny Boy, Oh Danny Boy. I love you so!
But when ye come, and all the flowers are dying, if I am dead, as dead I well may be. You’ll come and find the place where I am lying, and kneel and say an prayer there for me.
And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me, and all my grave will warmer, sweeter be,
For you will bend and tell me that you love me, and I shall sleep in peace until you come to me. And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me. Come to me.”
The words to Danny Boy could be Mary writing about her son, Jesus. Or, Elizabeth writing about her John, the Baptist, who also was violently murdered. It could be any mother or father any time who sends a son to war, or loses any child who moves on to places unknown to family or friends. The words of the song beautifully portray sadness yet a peace available to all of us...for God’s peace, like love and life, never goes away.
So this is God’s challenge to us. To have a Mary-like faith in God which in itself gives us peace. In Danny Boy, the mother was comforted by knowing her son would find her and say, I love you.” And Mary was comforted by knowing her son’s spirit was still alive an active...and still is, even unto today.
Isn’t that what we all want? Inner Peace which provides the strength to face life in all its glory and its sorrow. Peace, no matter what, makes life livable and lovable.
As Elizabeth said in our scripture “Nothing is impossible with God”. She also added a lesson for each one of us. Blessed is the one who believes that what the Lord has said will be accomplished. And what the Lord has said is “Fear not, I give you peace, and I will be with you always.”
Sermon, December 15, 2019
3rd Sunday of Advent: Joy
Joy, joyful, joyous, and rejoice. Our scriptures are full of statements about joy. Joy is a state of existence, a state of being, that comes to you when you are at peace with who your God is, who you are, and what you do with your time here on earth. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is freely given by our Creator to all people who choose to accept the gift. Joy provides stability, confidence, and assurance for daily living always, even in the midst of sorrow.
Joy is often confused with happiness. Happiness is a temporary exultation that seems dependent on something external such as people, places, possessions, and/or situations. Happiness is not stable; it comes and goes. It influences your emotions rather than providing a base for abundant living.
Both joy and happiness make life wonderful for us. They are both traits we seek and we need. Yet, since happiness is fleeting, we as humans look for deeper meanings to keep us sane, upbeat, energized, and positive. That is what the gift of joy does for us.
Joy is a fundamental aspect of a life lived as a Christian, that is a follower of Christ. In my opinion, joy is based on our connection to God and to Jesus who showed us how to love God, self, and others.
The major aspect of joy is its source...where it comes from. The source of joy is our Creator God. The scripture tells us to rejoice always...so if Christ is in me and I am in Him, that relationship is not a come and go kind of situation. It is permanent, it is solid, it is a base for living in the kingdom of heaven right now in this place and time. A true believer is always in God and God is always in the believer and that is a reason to rejoice. Therefore, our connection to God, who reaches out to us first and asks us to respond by reaching out to Him, is the connection that makes joy possible in every circumstance.
You lose a cherished loved one and you grieve, hurt, cry. Yet you have within you a sense that even that sorrow is doable because of the joy planted deep within you. We weep for sadness yet we rejoice in the Lord who is always present and available. That is not a sometimes experience...it is an always experience.
There are other connections to God that illustrate the joy of the Lord. Have you ever been to the beach to watch a full moon come over the horizon and illuminate the water with diamond like lights? The awe, the wonder, the beauty is one answer to “where are you God and am I ok?” Of course you are in every set of circumstances.
Have you ever had a friend you enjoyed so much you looked with great anticipation for your next visit? And when you are together your memories blend, your laughter rings out loud and clear, and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that friend will stand by you through darkness and light? That is another example of a connection that is holy, sacred and based on spiritual joy.
Have you ever walked through the woods on a cool, crisp, sunny day and felt the fallen leaves crunch under your feet and wondered at the seasons you pass through during your life time? Seasons are God planned experiences for us to remember he is God through storms, and rains, and springtime burst of flowers and greenery and new births? Your connection to nature is a gift reminding you of the power God has in his natural creations which provide joy for us year after year after year.
This is important. We all face hardships, deal with circumstances that are difficult, and experience loss that breaks our hearts. But remember, even if we pass through these painful circumstances we know with assurance we can still have joy because we rejoice first and foremost in the Lord. Since He never leaves us for forsakes us, we can rejoice, have joy, always.
There are two scriptures we ought to memorize. From the psalms, “You, God, make known to me the path of life for in your presence there is fullness of Joy.” And Jesus said, “These things I have told you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
The answer to joy that is different from happiness is simply your connection to and relationship with our God, who loves us beyond measure and wants joy to permeate his world through you.
Sermon, December 7, 2019
Faith. There are hundreds of scriptures on faith in both the old and new testaments. Faith is paramount to being a believer of God Almighty and a follower of Jesus Christ and his teachings. This past week I have read many of these scriptures and each one has its own interpretation and speciality...all are enlightening and inspiring. Here are two familiar ones:
Recognizing that each of us have our own views of faith, what it means, how we use it, and how if impacts our daily lives I will share with you my own view of faith..
I am going to use the letters in the word faith to share what it means to me. But, first and foremost, faith to me is a state of being that is God given, yet up to us to discover it within our selves and use it to help bring the kingdom of God into being in our own environments and surroundings.
First the F. The f in faith to me means fun. Faith is fun. The reason is, if we have faith, are faithful, then we do not dwell on the demeaning, hurtful negatives of life. We do not succumb to troubles, woes, or problems. We deal with life including the joys and sorrows each day with a gracious attitude, an ability to smile and laugh in spite of the sorrows and disappointments we experience. We are able to laugh at ourselves and take no offense at all. We see the humor in being human.
2. The A in faith stands for adventure. If we are persons of faith, we are less fearful and more eager to experience life in abundance. We are willing to take a few more risks, if they are not life-threatening. And we are more able to follow our instincts, our talents and skills, wherever they take us. We are not bound by our past and we look forward to each new morning and what that day may bring. Adventures make life exciting and meaningful...never dull or boring because they are action oriented. Faith is action.
3. The I in faith means faith is internal. It is inside of us live right next to the God cells in us. It is what we experience, feel, and know internally without exterior knowledge interferring. It gives prominence to our internal lives...that is what we think before we speak or act. It is the place we make the most important life decisions. We don’t wear our inner beings on the outside like clothing. We cherish the live within in all its glory and majesty.
4. T stands for trust. If we don’t trust life, if we fail to trust the universe, if we deny the greatness of God and the strong trust in him, we have no faith and we live in fear, anxiety, insecurity, guilt, and anger. Trust is the bond that connects us to all that is holy and sacred. Trust is what gets us up and out in the morning to face whatever life brings on us for right or wrong, good or evil, happy or or sadness. Trust is probably the greatest gift we can give back to God for the joy of human existence he has given us. Trust is foundational to our Christianity. Trust is what enables us to read a biblical scripture from 4000 to 2000 years ago and still get present day meaning from it. Trust is crucial to living and all the joy we can gain from life...it is all God and God’s any way...so we may as well enjoy the fruits of trust.
5. H means health. Faith is the healthiest thing you will ever do. Faith brings physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and those together mean safety, salvation, and sanctity. You may now have a bit of faith...we all do, for God gives it to us at birth. However, we never get more until we use the little bit we have...and with each use, our faith grows and grows until we become willingly and joyfully Christs to one another. And that is why we are all on earth now together. To bring us all to the fullness God has made for us.
So today, consider the faith you do have. Look for ways to increase you faith and find fear, anxiety, anger disappear from you life. You will like and love yourself and others more every day. You will sleep better. You will take better care of yourself in every way. Faith is well worth the effort.
I believe in faith and I base my life on it...and because of faith I have seen, experienced, and witnessed on unexpected miracle after another, simply because of faith. Just one of those miracles is where you are sitting this day.
Praise God for the gift of faith, and praise each one of you who is willing to step out of these doors this morning and start growing a whole garden of faith for yourself.
Sermon, December 1, 2019
First Sunday of Advent ~ Hope
We use the word hope almost as much as we use the word love. I love God, I love Max, I love peanut butter, I love symphonic music...on and on. Likewise, I hope I can get out of bed today without aching all over. I hope that it won’t rain today. I hope my grandson passes his test today. I hope our world can have a day of peace...on and on. These are self-generated hopes. They set up expectations for us that we move toward. They motivate us to keep moving forward, from one expectation and hope to another.
But there is another kind of hope that resides in each one of us that is God-generated. It is powerful, and sets determination in us, especially in difficult times. This kind of hope saves lives, inspires greatness, solves problems, and is the cause of most reconciliation in the world.
I call this hope, spiritual hope, Holy Hope. Holy Hope is a reservoir of emotional and spiritual strength for any occasion or situation. It is the same kind of hope that Jesus used as a reservoir to face the horror of the cross and still offer encouragement to the criminal hanging next to him.
Do any of us have that kind of hope, the kind that resides so deep within us we too can face terrible experiences, huge disappoints, and death itself with an assurance that all is still well with our souls?
You have this Holy Hope, but are you aware of it? If so, you live your life with calmness and wisdom and trust. If you are not aware of it would you like to be? And if you would like to be aware of Holy Hope, how can you ? And how do you use it?
The answer is look to the creator of hope...the God of the universe who abides within us in every cell of our being. We look also to Jesus, the Messiah Christ, who above all others illustrated Holy Hope by his own personal life. God is the initiator, Jesus is the experience. We are the ones to use Holy Hope and pass it on to others...if we don’t, as believers, who will?
To be alive to Holy Hope and to use it in our daily lives, get in touch with your Creator by talking to God, by listening to God, and by learning to live by the teachings of God that he gave to you through Jesus. The teachings that are eternal in nature and create within us the ability to live into life eternal, beginning now. To live without hope is to cease to live. So, know more about yourself as you learn more about the Christ within...the very image of hope itself.
As humans, we all have many troubles. We are often burdened with tragic sorrows. We are perplexed by the needs and griefs of those we love when we can offer no or little assistance. We struggle with the desire for peace when it seems peace is too illusive to be real. At these times we look to our Guide, our Redeemer, Jesus and realize he too faced all those harrowing experiences...but he always chose faith over fear. He chose courage over cynicism. He chose inner strength and trust rather than fall into the realm of darkness where life collapses. Can we too choose the better way? The answer is “yes, we can” when we rely on the faith of the Christ spirit within rather than our own weaker version of hope and wisdom.
When life is hard, which is often, let our eyes, hearts, and minds turn to spiritual power and say prayerfully, “I see in you, God, your vision and your power and your hope.” Then you might add something like this, “Give me grace to accept the pitfalls and joys of my life and use all of them worthily.” With tapping into your Holy Hope you can change the way you see your enemeies, you can act lovingly to those who hurt you, you can overcome shame and guilt, you can see light where before there was only despair and darkness. Holy Hope is a creative and glorious gift God has planted in each of us and it can change our lives for the better in ways we perhaps have thought not possible.
As Christians, followers of the way of love, we need to open our minds to see opportunity when we struggle and be challenged to rise to the occasion rather than succumb to the troubles. When we do so we know the powerful, unending spirit of God is for us and we can overcome those who situations and people who are against us.
For each of us, no matter how strong our faith is today, there is still a deeper and better way to live...and that is as co-creator with the spirit of God in your own lives. Face the challenge and don’t succumb to wooing emotions that threaten your strength. Realize that when you ask for it, you will receive the wisdom to live your journey filled with Holy Hope. You will say and do things that bring honor to your beliefs and glory to your God. That is a uniquely powerful partnership. Our God, desires to fill you with the light of his presence dispersing all darkness. Let the spirit of Holy Hope guide you in your daily walk, in your prayer time, and in your fellowship with family and friends. You can be and often are the only face of Christ that others will see. And you may be the only live witness to the power of Holy Hope. Look for it within you and let it give energy, strength, and power to yur personal existence.
Be available to your God just as he is always available to you. This day, right now, let us encourage one another to not only have some hope but to live fully into the actuality of Holy Hope. That is my prayer for each of us this day.
Sermon, November 24, 2019
Christ the King Sunday is about many things:
First, it is the last Sunday of the liturgical year...that is the last Sunday of our traditional church calendar. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of a new church year...it is also the first Sunday of Advent when we await the birth of Jesus.
Second, Christ the King Sunday asks us to look back over the past year to see how intently we obeyed the teachings of Christ...and if so how did our faith in Christ change us and our community?
As a group of people you have made an amazing difference in the lives of children in 5 elementary schools by providing tutoring to help children read, to be confident and successful. You have shared books by the hundreds with children all across the coast. You have shared your abundance by donating to the back porch which helps moms and grandmoms care for their young ones. You have helped deliver and disperse bicycles, clothing, household goods that are sent to us from a donor in Maine. You have shared breakfast and dinner twice a week with fellow Christians getting to know each other better through fellowhsip. You have participated in worship services and Bible Studies. You have prayed for healings, for hurt feelings, for forgiveness, and you have been an essential part of an ever growing ministry….this one that reaches people who need to be touched with love and compassion. You are as individuals and a group a true Christian fellowship. With each passing day, we can ever grow stronger in faith and works!
A third important aspect of Christ the King Sunday is to ask you: is Christ your king? Is Christ the one you obey? Is He the one you follow every day? Is He the one by which you measure your own words and actions? If so, is there still room for improvement and growth in your spiritual life?
If Christ is not your king, if He is not who you follow and obey, then who or what is?
Today our nation, community, and neighborhoods are in the midst of challenges, emotions, and sometimes bewilderment. But hopefully through these times we will cling more closely to the values by which Jesus himself lived. He came to show us a difference in living in the light rather than the darkness. He lived to illustrate how to love, really love, your enemies by wanting for them the same thing you want for yourself and your loved ones. He lived to give us hope. He lived to encourage us to try his way of living rather than our own self-centered way. He lived to make us more like God designed us to be.
Then He died. A cruel and greed driven priests and a foreign government killed him. Yet He used that horror as one more opportunity to get the message across that forgiveness of all hurt to you is absolutely vital if you are to be mentally and spiritually healthy. He died to set us free from guilt, fear, anger, and insecurity. Everything about Christ, as our Spiritual King, taught us to trust God through his teachings as our guiding light.
Christ is not a typical king. He had no wealth, no army to control people, no acts of violence toward those different from him. He was and is a king in spirit which is the true nature of human beings. We are physical bodies having a spiritual existence. And to grow spiritually we must feed our spirit through an awareness of the God within us, the divine in every human, the love in us all that is waiting to be shared, knowing the more we give, the more we help bring into fullness the Kingdom of God.
So on this Sunday the question you might consider this coming week is: how do you worship this strange kind of king? And what difference does it make if you obey what he taught, or not? Please pray about this question, because how you answer it determines the quality of your life.
If Christ is your King then daily, hourly, be the faithful servant to Him. Christ counts on you.
Sermon, November 17, 2019
Today’s reading sounds harsh. But, as we ourselves have observed, whether in churches or government, some leaders’ actions do not match their words. Jesus instructed then and now, do as they say regarding law, but DO NOTdo as they do!
Gospel passages like this one remind us that the Church has always been both blessed and burdened in its leadership. Some leaders, of course, were saintly, caring, living as Christ had asked. Others however, were real sinners, that is they desired a leadership position to gain power. Then they used that power for the possibility of greed leading to wealth could occur. How many church and public leaders are true servants to their people?
I remember the first time I went to Mexico City and saw the great Metropolitan Cathedral of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, I was amazed at the hundreds of poor, hungry, threadbare adults and children sitting on the steps begging for pesos. I stumbled over several people to enter the Cathedral. Upon entering I was stunned at the magnificence of art work, crypts, and religious relics, and towering ceilings..all of them coated with pure gold, millions of dollars of pure gold. I sat in the back of the cathedral and wondered what Jesus himself would have thought of this magnificence. That magnificence cold have fed hundreds and hundreds of people. And rightly invested could have continued to assist human beings. Did Jesus ask for such riches? Or, did he ask us to show love for the poorest of us, for the outcasts, the marginalized, the ill and wounded?
All through the world there are huge structures, gorgeous beyond belief, dedicated to Jesus, Mary, the Trinity...on and on...but again, are these the kind of things Jesus wants us to do to honor him? Yes, these cathedrals and temples are cultural phenomena, and hugely beneficial to societys that maintain them for tourism, celebrations, and spectacles. And we don’t want to see them demolished. But, in actuality, how many are still used for worship, for the teachings of Christ, or Budda, or Hindu principles? I wonder if Jesus finds solace and comfort in these places, or in simpler structures where people are important and gold is not?
In the scripture today, the first sentence tells us Jesus spoke to a crowd and his disciples. In that part of his speech he indicts the leaders of his day for not doing what they claim they do. But then he turns to his listeners directly and tells them who their one and only master is. The Lord is one as we are. This lesson is for the disciples back then and for us today: the greatest among you must be a servant, warning that whoever exalts himself will be humbled. But whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
That became a message repeated by Jesus over and over again. He came and lived to be a servant to his people, and he asks us to be and do the same.
Yes, earn money to have enough to care for yourself and your family. Absolutely save some for hard times and when your are old or unable to work. But after those issues are secure, then use your time, energy and resources, money, to share with those who are ill, maimed, unfortunate, and in real need of help. Having said that, Jesus also taught in Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Scripture also teaches that if we want peace and happiness we are to give back to God first, then all other matters will be taken care of.
Even though the American way is to work hard, and save for your olden days, that is not an excuse to hoard money or other resources. Listen and learn this statement from Jesus, the Christ: “In everything I did, I showed you that by hard work and labor we must help the weak, for it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
I pray we learn this lesson and practice it daily. It is what God sent us here to do.
Sermon, November 10, 2019
Veterans Day acknowledges men and women through the decades who have given their time, sometimes their lives, to help keep us free. That kind of freedom means peace. Veterans day honors all who have served our country in war or peace, dead or alive, although it is largely intended to thank living veterans for their service. At the end of World War I on November 11, 1918 it was called Armistice Day. People thought this was the war to end all war! Peace was at hand. However, very soon after other wars occurred: World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, on and on even unto today. Peace is illusive and world peace is only a concept...not a reality.
The concept of world peace is the idea of a state of happiness and freedom among all people and nations on earth. This is an idea of nonviolence to solve national and international problems. It is a motivation for people and nations to willingly cooperate so that people around the world can utilize lives and resources for beneficial aims rather than to use for development of weapons of mass destruction. Today, with all the wisdom gained through the centuries, world peace is still just a concept, just an idea, not a reality. All the ideas put forth up to today have not been successful. So, how do we achieve world peace?
Perhaps world peace will not be a reality until human beings themselves desire personal peace, inner peace, peace that passes understanding. There is a difference in world peace and personal peace. World peace is an external phenomenon. If it ever happens it will happen outside of us. It will happen through mediation, through treaties that are honored, and wise leaders getting together to solve world problems.
But personal peace, inner peace, does not happen outside of us. It happens inside of us. Peace, inner and personal, is a state of psychological or spiritual calm in spite of stress and free from the effects of stress. Inner peace comes with personal self acceptance. And that occurs when we as humans learn how to release anger, guilt, pain, sadness, or anything that limits us from being strong in our own lives.
Most people associate peace with the absence of trouble. And that is a negative way to view inner peace. There is a positive way to view inner peace and that is through our own spiritual being. Our spiritual side is closely associated with the God who created us...so we can learn about inner peace from the stories about God in our bible. The great spiritual teacher Paul found peace even in a damp, dark jail chained to a wall. He wrote he had peace in this jail and was able to remain confident that in his heart and mind God was still gracious to him. So he sang in jail, praised God, and eventually brought the jailer and his family into the arena of love. There are other biblical stories of people who experienced peace...Mary when she accepted her role in bringing Jesus to life, the apostles once they understood what Jesus had given them, and the great missionaries who told the story of peace around the known world.
However, the greatest story is from Jesus himself. The night before he was arrested, beaten, and murdered, he took time to be with his disciples, to comfort them and to offer them peace. He is quoted as saying, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you, not as the world does, but as I do. Therefore let your heart not be troubled, nor be afraid. John 14:27
The Jesus kind of peace helps us remain calm in the most awful of circumstances. This peace does not come through situations and circumstances. Rather it rises above all situations and circumstances to affect them and over-rule them. This kind of peace is not an emotion, rather it is a fact, one we put our minds on to do and to accomplish. This kind of peace is a gift to you from God himself. It is a gift you accept, unwrap and use through his power. This peace is experiential. It is a tranquility of the soul, a positive peace that changes the circumstances in life. It is a divine gift available to you when your want it enough to ask for it, accept it, and make it a permanent practice. This peace that Christ offers us is a peace that stands guard and keeps worry from corroding our hearts and unworthy thoughts from tearing up our minds. The peace of Christ is also an unending source of strength in the midst of difficulties.
The task set before each one of us is this: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” You already have this peace. It is a gift. You know you have it, now you are to use it, today, tomorrow, and every day. It makes you one with the source of all peaceful living...the Christ himself.
Sermon, November 3, 2019
Hundreds of years ago, Socrates, the first moral philosopher, taught “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We need to know who we are, why we act the way we do, and what we believe. How many of us take time to consider life in general and our own lives in particular? It seems to be an important thing to do.
Shakespeare took up where Socrates left off and wrote: “This above all: to your own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, you then can not be false to anyone.” Another way to speak of wisdom and spiritual power.
If we listen just to national news we get the feeling no one knows who he or she is anymore...newsworthy people are either trying to please a political party, or deny another one’s right to exist; or they are trying to please a group they want to be part of; or people are just not seeming to care what they do, what they believe, or give any credence at all to being inspired by someone or some belief. So, by listening to the media we think our world is rotting from the inside out.
Yes there are huge issues, challenges, and problems galore...but remember good news does not sell...so we must expect media to print, write, say, or show only bad news, which they relish in doing 24,/7.
What we as Christians can do is not be fooled by all the bad news. There are actually many many good, happy, healthy stories...maybe we have to tell those to each other because they will never be written about or told on the national news. Let’s commit to telling each other good stories, miracle stories, stories of blessings that come unannounced every day in some way! We can be the antidote to negativity by our own words and actions. And our community needs lots of positive talk and positive live-altering actions right now.
If we don’t listen to media, to whom do we listen? My hope is we listen to the word of God as lived by Jesus, the Christ. Here is some good advice from the Psalms 1:1 and 2 “Blessed is the person who does not walk in step with wicked people or stand around with sinners, or sit in the company of those who mock God. But blessed is the person who delights in the Lord and understands his laws of love and righteousness.”
How many of us truly read the Bible to be counseled by those ancient words of truth? And if you don’t utilize the Bible for that kind of instruction, how do you know how to live? Who is your guide or your God?
This we know to be true: our actions and our words tell other people who we are and who we worship. No matter how you choose to live your life, you are at all times representing whatever is of real value and importance to you. We are imitators of the God we worship...whoever or whatever that is.
Do you represent a self-centered life or a God-centered life? Are kindness and forgiveness hallmarks of your daily life? Or, are complaints, criticisms, prejudices your hallmarks? How do you answer?
Of course, to examine our lives is to look carefully at how often we choose to do loving acts? Then ascertain if there is room for improvement...and if so, do so.
God designed us to be healthy and at peace when we choose the follow the path he set for us. That is to think first of God’s grace and goodness then to look for it in others, especially when it might seem to be lacking...or maybe goodness is hidden under fear, anger, guilt, or loneliness. Be aware that you can not read another’s mind, so tread carefully with friends and strangers alike.
Scripture also tells us in 2nd Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but he has given us a spirit of love, power, and a sound mind.” We just need to use them more often and more prolifically.
As individuals and as a church, we grow in wisdom and joy when we act on the power, majesty, and goodness of God to transform our lives into more lives for the Spirit of Christ to live in and through. When we desire to do what is kind, helpful, and right, even in difficult situations, then we are enhancing God’s kingdom here on earth in our own way. Then perhaps others will see the life of Jesus showing up again in human flesh...our human flesh.
May God guide us toward his goal...and may he have mercy on us.
Sermon, October 27, 2019
Luke 20: 27-35
Anytime the Bible talks about a woman who has remarried five or seven times..I get nervous. Therefore, I am grateful for a loving God who forgives, reinstates, and has compassion for those of us who have failed in previous relationships.
So, the story we read today is about a woman who was bound by a the Jewish Law. Stated in both Genesis and Deuteronomy, the law said if a man dies without having any children, the man’s brother had to marry the widow so there could possibly be a child to carry on the deceased man’s name. That was one way the early Jewish people thought they could live eternally. Having children was highly important to Jewish men. The Law also protected the widow, because in Judaism a woman’s identity and sustenance depended on her being married to a man.
The scripture today tells us the woman married seven times and none of those relationships produced offspring.
The Sadducees, who were high priests, and wealthy merchants, were members of the conservative aspect of Jewish law. They did not believe in resurrection and they denied the immortality of the soul and body. It was these cunning, Sadducees who hoped to entrap Jesus into a false statement so they could have him arrested and put away. They asked Jesus a question: “In the resurrection, whose wife of her seven husbands will the woman be?”
Since the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, they tried to show that resurrection could be complicated and complex. They tried to make Jesus look stupid as he defended his belief in resurrection.
They had thought out this question before they came to ask Jesus about it. In their minds they thought there were only two answers: If Jesus said one of the husbands would be the only one she would have after death, that would not be defensible because it violated Jewish Law. The second answer, they thought, would be that Jesus would have no answer, proving resurrection is false...making the Saducees be right! Which they loved to be.
There seemed to be a large flaw in the thinking of the Sadducees. They thought the resurrection was just an extension of life as they knew it. But Jesus surprised them. He said, “in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead no ones marries, nor given in marriage.” He didn’t stop there. He went went further and quoted Moses to them: “God of Abraham, the God of Issac, and the God of Jacob...is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” The Saduccees, much like some of us, try to understand the resurrection in a very narrow way. We too think when we die we will go to heaven, be reunited with our families, and life will go on much like here. But, is that what scripture really teaches?
Like the Saduccees, we too tend to put God in a box we are comfortable with and fail to see that God has a much larger vision than our limited imaginations allow.
Jesus looks at the resurrection through a lens of love for each one of us. This is the gospel, the really good news, that we are loved both now and in the life to come...whatever that is. In other words, anyone who was or is ever a part of God’s life, never stops being a mystical part of it….never. We must trust God. He chose the time and place to put us on earth….he will indeed with great compassion and love place us where he desires to be with us when we receive a new life...and that is either here on earth or in a world to come. Or both.
The real message here is our perception of God must grow bigger, larger, more wrapped in unconditional love and not limit God or his love and care to what we want or expect it to be. We are spiritual people...having a bodily experience….so today we must open our minds and hearts to a broader, more loving relationship with the holy The one...in so doing, we too experience the eternal sacred every day!
The point is that God’s love is eternal, and our relationships with God never end. He is the God of the living and we are given new life both in this world and the one to come.
So be it. Amen
Sermon, October 20, 2019
What does it mean that God, or God’s Spirit is near?
We as human beings are complex creatures. We talked last week about including thoughts of God for a focused moment at least once in every hour. We learned our brains are amazing in too many ways to list. We are told 80% of human brain activity seems to be negative thoughts. But, that can change, and hopefully as individuals, and as a church, we will encourage each other to make that changes that help us better serve God and one another.
Having one focused thought on God each hour will make you experience his nearness.
We have all had spiritual experiences where we did feel the sacredness of that moment. And usually those moments occur in nature, in sharing with family and friends, and in church. Full moon, huge moss covered oak trees, the lavender and orange of winter sunsets, thrilling music and people who express love to us and us to them can and usually do help us experience God, Spirit, and the holy. But we can also acknowledge and feel the nearness of this powerful spirit of love and patience even in frustrating moments...like being caught in a traffic jam when we are in a hurry, or when we are disappointed about an event...or person, or in any of the mundane moments we face on a daily basis.
Perhaps it is in these less than perfect moments that we need to feel the God Spirit more than any other time. So how can we accomplish this? One way is to convince our stubborn selves that the Creator of the universe loves us, individually, in our uniqueness. To help convince us of that fact, perhaps we ought to write out this verse from the Psalms: “God, where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Hades, you are there as well. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” Psalm 139: 7-10
You see, when we read and study the Bible there are things written that don’t necessarily ring true to us today. But this statement from the Psalms reads like a fact, a true, indisputable fact….that God himself designed you, created you in his own image giving you special traits that you can use to live abundantly, full of love. There is nothing false at all about this statement. God is near. He is built into every single one of the billions of cells that make you you. He resides in your body, in your brain and mind, and in your soul. He should also exist, if you allow it, to reside in the words you choose to use and the actions you take every day. You are indeed unique...exactly who God wants you to be. But he also gave you free will, free choices. He wants you to choose to love him because that’s how you attain joy, happiness, and a healthy, enlightened sense of self-worth.
So, you can doubt some items in the ancient scriptures...but some you can not and must not doubt. And that is you are a loved, cherished, made-to-order individual whom God loves beyond measure! The Lord is near. Accept that fact, live into it, and share your life with the One who is sacred above all else. And nearly everything else in life will fall into place as it should. Remember this Biblical promise: Seek ye first the Kingdom of the Lord and his righteousness, then all other good you need will be added unto you. Matthew 6:33 If you truly want to experience God’s nearness, commit to memory this proverb: 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on you own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge God and he will make your paths straight. We might say to God: Have mercy on those who choose to believe anything other than your love...God, Father, Creator, Image of Kindness, and Giver of life and love.
Sermon, October 13, 2019
When Jesus first started his ministry he was exclusive...he wanted this good news about God’s love and freedom to be just for the Jewish people...his family, friends, and the tribes of Israel. Toward the end of his earthly life he opened his heart to all people.
After his death and resurrection, little by little, the apostles began to tell stories and write down the initial gospels and letters for the Gentiles..all people who were not Jewish. The apostles, especially Luke, changed What was exclusive to be inclusive. He reached out in unity to all people of all nations. Earlier than Luke, tho, Paul went directly to the Gentile countries and clearly stated our God is also your God...almighty, omnipotent, and omniscient.
People around the known world began to feel included in the good news of God’s love, forgiveness, compassion, and freedom. There were inspired to live by love rather than by hundreds of laws and rules. People everywhere began to understand the first and only law Jesus ever taught and that is to love the Lord you God with all your heart and soul and body and your neighbor as yourself.”
But that is not the only inclusion we need to consider. We need to make conscious efforts often every day to include God and God’s expectations of us in our thought processes. Experts on our human brain estimate that a human being can think 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day...or 2500 to 3000 thoughts an hour. Your brain, your mind, is extraordinary, powerful and busy. Think for a moment on just one thought and let that thought be about God’s love for you...If we all did this we would experience some amazing transformations.
We would recognize a closer relationship with our spiritual nature and with the sacred and holy. We would feel less afraid and more confident. And, we wold express our spiritual side that is healing and life-affirming.
What we must include, be inclusive about, at least for one moment an hour is a focused thought on God and love. It could be as simple as “thank you, God.” It could be as pleading as “have mercy on me, God.” Or, you could ask God, “what do you want from me today?”
Those are inclusive attitudes that we must learn to develop in the midst of our often chaotic, random, and busy thoughts. Our clear focus on God for one full minute an hour will change who we are for the better in many, many ways
An additional fact, of the 2500 to 3000 thoughts an hour that we have, experts agree that 80% are negative thoughts and 95% are repetitive thoughts. How do you think that influences your moods? Your attitudes? Your drive and ambition? The greatest computer in the whole world resides in your own skull. We must decide to use that in-grown power we have for good, first for ourselves. Then and only then can we use that power to help influence others for the betterment of all...especially our societies, regarding health, wisdom, joy, peace, and compassion.
We’ve been told humans tend to think more negatively than positively. How can we change this phenomenon? Again, experts tell us we must learn to change the negative into positives if humanity is to survive...they give 6 suggestions:
1. Focus on God and goodness at least once full moment every hour
2. choose positive people as friends
3. take a moment each hour to breathe deeply and discover what it does to the tension in your body and mind
4. Take a walk daily and observe nature...trees, bushes, flowers, birds, clouds. Nature is amazing and full of the genius of God...of which you are an important part
5. Every morning make a list of what you are grateful for...do so again at night before bedtime
6. Be creative. Do something today that is different from what you did yesterday!
The world is an exciting, complex, amazing place to be and you are an amazing part of it all...primarily because our Almighty God resides within you, in your brain, in your thoughts, just as God is totally present in our entire galaxy and beyond.
Realize your blessings. Every day all day long. Decide today to be inclusive and add God to the 2000-3000 thoughts you have every hour. Including God makes you more willing to be inclusive yourself. Pray about it.
Sermon, October 6, 2019
I want to start by telling you an old story...one you have probably heard many times. But, it illustrates some Christian teachings that are important to all of us.
Here is the story: Each Friday night after work, Bubba Jones would get his grill our and cook a large, juicy sirloin steak. All of Bubba’s neighbors were Catholic. And, since it was Lent, the neighbors, as Catholics, were forbidden from eating read meat on Friday. The delicious aroma from the grilled steak caused such a huge problem for the Catholics that they went to talk to their priest to complain about Bubba cooking steak on Fridays during Lent. In answer to their concern, the priest went to visit Bubba and suggested he become a Catholic. That should solve the problem. After several classes at the Catholic church Bubba attended mass. After the mass, the priest sprinkled holy water over Bubba and said, “you were born a Baptist. You were raised a Baptised. But now you are a Catholic.
Bubba’s neighbors were greatly relieved until Friday night arrieved and the wonderful aroma of grill sirloin steak once again filled the neighborhood. The priest was immediately called by the neighbors.
As the priest rushed into Bubba’s yard clutching a rosary and prepared to scold Bubba, the priest stopped and watched in amazement. There stood Bubba holding a small bottle of holy water, which he carefully sprinkled over the grilling meat while chanting, “You was born a cow. You was raised as a cow. But now, you is a Catfish!
There are three specific things this old joke can remind us of, or re-teach us. First, many of us are Christian in name only, rather than living the actions our Christ has instructed us to do. Jesus and his teaching are change-agents...helping us grow and change to be better servants to our Lord, and living in more loving ways. Calling ourselves Christians is not what empowers us to serve with love, rather actions are what make a difference.
The second teaching is when change must take place we usually want the other person to make the changes while we stay the same. For example: I have a friend whose husband smokes constantly. It makes the house smell terrible, it makes thier clothing have a stale odor, and the wife is scared of second had smoke. She doesn’t want to get cancer. Even though it is a known fact smoking will kill a person her husband continues to smoke. So she told her husband he had to change. He had to quite smoking. His response was: I like to smoke. If you don’t like it you need to change your attitude and let me enjoy my cigarettes. She wanted him to be the one to change. However, we must realize, you can never change anyone anytime except yourself.
The third teaching is obedience. When we profess our Christianity and try to live as Christ has instructed, we often look for the easiest way to change...the way that really doesn’t require us to be too different from before. Most of us look for easy solutions rather than do the work necessary to obey the life-altering good news of God through Christ Jesus. We as humans are great rationalizers. He can often convince ourselves that our wrong doings are justified, that they really don’t hurt anyone so we keep on keeping on our own sometime self-destructive ways.
Life is about change. Everything about us changes. Change is inevitable. If you look at yourself you see you are different from even 3 or 4 years ago. Look at our society and culture. We are experiencing change more rapidly now than at any other time in history. We see change in our government, change in our economy, change in our health care, change in our technology. Even change in our religious and national foundations. So, if change is inevitable, how do we handle change.
Most experts in the field suggest we base our lives on the one and only thing that does not change and probably never will...that is the love our God has for us. If we want joy and peace in the midst of constant change, we must follow the tenets of God, shown to us through the life of Jesus...love, forgiveness, compassion, and peace will be far more important in the near future than ever before. And if we don’t live it...who will?
If the world is dangerous, perhaps we attempt to make our own homes and neighborhoods safer by living and loving as Jesus taught us. If change is occurring too rapidly to suit us, let us hang on the precepts of Christian living that has lasted for over 2000 years. We can stay strong in faith, learn to trust God more and more for therein lies the solution to life and life struggles. Perhaps when we don’t like something or someone maybe we could try to find ways to change ourselves...changes that bring peace to us and those around us. At least we can try. Christianity is not always an easy path….but it is ALWAYS the best way.
Sermon, September 29, 2019
This parable has many aspects to it. It is primarily about inclusion. Who may be incluced in God’s embrace and generosity? Who may be included to be effective members or leaders in the church: Women? Gays? Minorities? The story springs from the fact that Jesus came to rescue and save his Jewish family, friends and tribes first and foremost. However, most of the Israelite refused his offer. So the last people to be invited to his faith were the Gentiles...all who were not Jewish. So the Jews were first who became last, and the Gentiles were last who became first by spreading the good news of God’s love.
This parable in the gospel of Matthew is one which compares human justice with God’s justice. It discredits our prejudices toward others who receive what we might want for ourselves. Living in a capitalistic democracy has taught us that all people should only get what they work for and think they deserve. Thus, the parable shows us God’s ways are not like our ways.!
In the parable, the land owner pays all the workers enough to support their families. Jesus uses this story to focus on the fact that in his day, work was difficult to have. The social situation in Jesus’ day was that many small farmers were being forced off their land because of debt they incurred to pay Roman taxes. This violated the God of Israel’s command that land could not be taken away from the people who work it (Leviticus 25:8-13), but of course this was of no concern to the Romans who were ruling Israel a the time. Consequently, large numbers of unemployed men gathered each morning, hoping to be hired for the day. They are the displaced, unemployed, and underemployed workers of their day. And we have many people like that today. Those still waiting at five o'clock have little chance of earning enough to buy food for their families that day. Yet the vineyard owner pays even them a full day’s wage. This section of the parable is comparable to folks who say prison conversions are not fair. Last minute conversions are not fair. Those people did nothing for God while there were able so why should they received God’s blessings? Is this how you thin? Would you deny God’s blessings to a last minute converter? Would you if God asked you to be more generous and forgiving than you are, imitating him and his grace?
If the vineyard owner represents God, this is a powerful message that in God’s kingdom, all people deserve their food...and salvation.(Matt. 10:10). The parable is a message of hope to everyone struggling to find a place in God’s kingdom.. The parable is also a challenge to all of us who might could have a hand in shaping the structures of inclusion in today’s society. Can Christians do anything to advance God’s kingdom as a place of acceptance of all people right now in our community? And if so, who do we show that acceptance of all God’s people?
In the parable those who had worked only a short time were paid first. So, those who worked all day long were pleased, for they reasoned that if those who had worked only a couple of hour got all that money, then they should get more. Yet, when they came forward they were given the same amount of money as those who had worked only a couple of hours.
Those who had worked all day became very upset. It just did not seem fair. But the owner of the vineyard answered them by saying that was none of their business if he wanted to show generosity to all his workers on an equal basis. Those who worked all day were paid what they deserved and that should ave been enough for them. Is it for us, or do we get envious when people we don’t really care about are given more in this life than we think they deserve?
Spiritual Question for you to answer: would you be pleased if the person you least liked in the world ended up along side you in our heavenly state? Do we pray for the good of those who harm us? Are we concerned when someone hurts us because it hurts them as well?
This parable then is an example of the incredible mercy of God, a mercy that we should be willing and eager to offer to those around us regardless of who they are? Or are you comfortable passing judgment on others and determining what little or a lot another person deserves. We are not God...but as Christians we are to plan our days so that more and more often we can imitate God in the grace, love, acceptance and encouragement he gives to his people.
Sermon, September 22, 2019
According to today’s scripture (Luke 18: 1-8) we might get the idea that faith is persistence. Or we might think faith has something to do with praying day and night, as scripture tells us to do. But, in this reading we see the widow expected something to happen.
Faith does include persistence and never giving up. It does include praying day and night to and with the God you honor. And it does include the expectation of having what you need. But then, why does today’s scripture end with the question: When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on the earth?
That is a heart wrenching question, because what it is really asking is how essential is faith to you or how central to your life is faith. In the Lord’s prayer we ask that God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. One way to look at the second coming of Christ is to say he comes again in each person that chooses to live for him in the now. His Spirit is here on earth. But is His spirit what impels your heart and your mind and your actions, now?
The question, will Jesus find faith on earth, leads us to a different approach to faith than what we described early as persistence, prayer, and expectation. Faith, the kind Jesus teaches, is a way of life, a way of living every day which includes how your treat your self, your family, your friends, your neighbors, and all other human beings. It means you stay on the path that God laid out for us when humanity was created. That path is the teachings that came through Jesus.
God did give us map showing the path we must take to reach a sense of wholeness while on this earth. And he chose a special person, we know as Jesus, to walk that path first helping us know we too have that potential within us.
Most of us have been taught in some way that the path God designed for us leads us up to heaven. That may be true, but on this earth God’s path is a circle and it leads back to you. The path God made for us is sometime steep. It does have stumbling blocks. But each time we struggle to stay on the path we feel good about what we are doing. Every time we fall over one of those stumbling blocks and get up to keep going then we learn a lesson that is valuable...be a bit more aware, looking more carefully about where we are walking.
The path God planned for us takes us through beautiful scenery...that is life events that are breath taking in their meaning and power and love. We experience laughter and joy and excitement. But also takes us through desserts where we feel parched and unsure, afraid and weary. If we stay on the path we will eventually cross the dessert and find nourishment again. Sooner or later, if we choose to stay on the path, we realize God was in all of it and was walking it with us minute to minute. On the path, following the teachings of Jesus, he sculpts us to be who he has asked us to be...representatives of him in the now. And that is indeed heaven on earth.
No matter what befalls us we trust God and God’s goodness and give thanks for all that is because we have come into our own knowing we only have to answer to God. We are free to forgive all hurts and all people. We are free to find a spark of the divine in every single human being, even those we wish we could hate. We are free to let go of our dependence on all our worldly goods and trust we will have what we need when we need it. That is the Faith Jesus wants to find when he comes again into this world through you.
My question to you today is: what faith does he find in you...on earth, here and now?
Sermon, September 15, 2019
The world today is over loaded with knowledge...facts, data, information in unbelievable amounts. So says some researchers, knowledge, if we include technical as well as practical, is doubling every 4 to 6 years. Education of the future then will be not learning facts, history, literature, etc., but learning how to find out what it is you need to know and want to know….and that involves computers far more then it involves human teachers.
So what is wisdom? Most scholars define wisdom as the ability to know what is true or right, common sense, or the collection of one’s knowledge put to health generating activities. An example of wisdom is the quote: the best mind altering drug is truth! Let that sink in for a moment.
Wisdom is more valuable than straight knowledge because wisdom is an outcome of a chain of actions...such as learning to know and gain knowledge, knowledge to gain experience, experience to gain understanding, and understanding to gain wisdom.
Knowledge is the accumulation of data...everything you observe, everything you listen to, everything you read and write gets stored in your memory. This stored data is just your knowledge. Wisdom, on the other hand, is the application of that data and information in your daily life. However, wisdom will not be gain without proper knowledge.
Let’s look at a man who is often considered the wisest person who ever lived...of course that claim is debatable, but let’s spend a minute with Solomon...the 3rd king of Israel.
He was the son of King David and Bathsheba, and he was the 17th of David’s 19 sons. The oldest living son, Adonijah, was to be king. However, by the cunning manipulations of Bathsheba and Prophet Nathan, they arranged to have David declare Solomon as king. Solomon’s 40 year reign over Israel is considered Israel’s golden age. I was a time of prosperity and national unity.
But let’s go back a few years. Solomon was a very young man. He was at the altar of Gibeon offering extensive sacrifices to God. Solomon must have fallen asleep because while there he had a dream, a vision. God said to him, “Ask anything of me and I will grant that wish.” Solomon responded by saying, “You have favored me by making me King after my father. But I am a mere youth not knowing how to act or to lead. Therefore, give to me, your servant, an understanding heart to judge your people so that I with distinguish right from wrong.” God was pleased with Solomon’s request and said I give you a heart so wise that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one equal to you.” (I Kings 4:30-32)
Some validation of this claim is that in his lifetime Solomon wrote 3000 proverbs and 1005 songs. He is credited with writing Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, the Songs of Wisdom, and editing Ecclesiastes. Leaders throughout the world came to seek his wisdom and counsel. One of those persons was the Queen of Sheba. Solomon was a wise statesman who traded with foreign leaders. These foreign alignments might have been the first sign of trouble for they led to him taking many wives.
Solomon was aware of three warnings found in the book of Deuteronomy. It commanded kings Not to do these three things: Do not take many wives for they will lead your heart astray. Do not multiply your horses for they will lead you to make a huge army. And do not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. (Deut 17: 16-17) Of course, Solomon disobeyed each one of those commands. True to the commands of what he should not do, Solomon began to worship the pagan gods and goddesses of his wives. He turned away from his Lord God, and built altars to the foreign gods of his trading partners.
In spite of his disobedience, he was still wise in many ways and helped to solve problems of his people. Here us just one example of his wisdom. Two women,who were harlots, came to him. One woman said, “we live in the same house. We both gave birth to sons, At night her son died and she came and took my son and nursed him. No I did not, claimed the other woman. It was your son who died. So Solomon said, Bring me a sword. When the sword was brought to him he said, “Divide the living child in half and I will give one half to each woman.” Then one woman said, Oh no do not kill him. Give him to this woman instead.” But the other woman said, not divide him in half for he will be neither mine nor yours. Solomon said, “Give the first woman the living child and by no means kill him. She is his mother.” When all of Israel heard of the judgment they fearedthe king, for they saw the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice.
After that Solomon continued to gather lots of gold and silver and build the temple, buildings, palaces and roads. He then purchased 12,000 horses and conscripted men to be in his army, though he never fought a war. And he continued to marry 700 wives and kept 300 concubines...some of whom he never even met. He married and kept them to gain their property. God told him because of his disobedience the united kingdom of Israel would be split in two but that would not happen in his lifetime. So during the reign of his son Rehboam the country was divided with Israel in the north and Judah i the south.
The tale of Solomon is a moral one...and a sad one. Failing to heed God’s commands and warnings brought destruction to both Solomon and his kingdom. This story could be the story of any one of us...perhaps not with the opulence Solomon gained. If we too are not careful to persevere in the ways of our faith and devotion to God’s love and forgiveness, we too might fail as bright, wise, caring people. Lust, greed, fascination with worldly things and goods, are all human problems and temptations. When prayer and church attendance is less important to the majority of people in a community, that community is on a downward slide that is hard to reverse. Where do God’s teachings through the Christ reside in your priorities? How important is it to you to obey God’s commands...do you know better than God? Have you replaced God’s desire for you with your own desires and wants?
I know I’m speaking to the choir because all of you are good and faithful servants. But, what about your children and grandchildren what do they really know about obedience and God’s will? The younger generation of American children could be in danger of losing it all….just like Solomon. Pray about it. What can we do?
Sermon, September 8, 2019
Religions throughout the world and throughout time have been great vehicles for nation and culture building. They have been amazing at bringing people together in mass to teach rules, regulations and doctrines that help people have common values, morals, and heroes . These common traits make it possible for people to share traditions based on stories and lore that defines who they are and how they are to live. By following specific teachings of a specific god or gods.
A possible downside of most religions is that each religion thinks the God they have chosen, named, and followed is the only God all people should hold dear and worship. Most religions, attempt to keep people in line to follow that religion’s primary goals. To modify behavior religions usually include in their faith the concept of rewards and punishments. Such as, if you break this religious law you will burn in hell. Because of that some people stay with their religion because it is fire insurance for them!
In religions, people are asked to abide by specified teachings. Thus arises some questions like these:
Have you ever wondered if you have truly disappointed your God? Do you think your chosen religion simply means trying to be good? And if so, and you fail fail doing good from time to time, does that ever make you feel guilty? Do religious rules, dogma, and doctrine, those that maybe not so godly after all, sometimes make feel like you are just going through a routine while you think about other things? If so you might find that your religion has influenced some negative feelings in you. By and large, religions don’t often encourage creative thinking about their faith, their teachings, or their God
Religions are corporate which means all the adherents accept the same ideas that frame their religion. When a nation or culture based on a single religion moves away from that specific religion, that nation and culture begin to fail its people. And chaos reigns.
Spirituality springs from religion. Religion can be a foundation for spiritual thinking. However, spirituality goes beyond the rules and dogma of a religion to encourage and inspire a more personal relationship with a God. Spirituality moves beyond the threats of if-thens. One example is if you are good enough then you will be rewarded in heaven. Spirituality uses no specified punishments or rewards. The reward is your own inner happiness, your own self contentment. You willingly do what is right and good according to what is right and good for you and those around you. There are no set rules in being a spiritual person beyond the basic law of love for all.
We can recognize that most religions have fear as some component of their faith system. People who experience only the age old current forms of religion are often fear-based, wanting to avoid hell and judgment. In spirituality there is only love. It encourages you to be love based. Love will empower you to face just about any challenge, regardless of the consequences.
Religions teach their form of truths, and fail to admit there may be other truths equally as helpful and useful as theirs is. Spirituality lets you uncover truth through your own experiences and reading of hearing about the experiences of others. Spirituality encourages you to know your religions’ iconic stories and see how they apply to you today, how they may assist you in personal growth. Spirituality wants you to interpret scripture not just memorize it.
Religions tend to separate people according to belief systems. Spirituality helps you find ultimate truths that give guidance and aid to all people. Spirituality unites people regardless of the differences in stories that help to explain the divine message.
Religion talks often about punishment. Religion tells you what you must do to be true to that specific religion. On the other hand, Spirituality talks about forgiveness and pardon. Spirituality knows you get in life what you give to life.
Religion recognizes and accepts differences in races, ethnic groups, belief systems, and doctrines. Religions have specific people and acts that are taught to be deplorable and despicable. Spirituality sees us all as one and the only constant is love.
There are religious people who are deeply spiritual. And there are deeply spiritual people who are religious. We can appreciate the strengths and powers of both. The important thing for spiritual people to recognize is that even though we may discover our own righteous paths, it is good and healthy to have group experiences, such as church, synagogue, or temple, where we do celebrate our one-ness regardless of differences. We are gregarious creatures by nature. It is healthy to have a shared faith based on religion that brings us together for the betterment of the community and nation in which we live. I hope and pray that this church, the Nourishing Place, does recognize the inherent divine qualities of both religion and spirituality and that we can therefore celebrate worship with all people for God is in each and every one of us and he loves us all equally. Sometimes differences are good because they give us impetus to look at our own beliefs and either change them or strengthen them.
As we come to church each week, let us re commit ourselves to taking our own spiritual journeys to heart and pursue the journey while at the same time we worship together each Sunday paying homage to the Creator God who made us all in his likeness.
Sermon, September 1, 2019
Grace. God’s grace. What is it? Why do we need it? And how do we use it?
First, what is grace? Grace has a lot of definitions; here are a few:
Grace is the love of God for unlovely people; the peace of God given to the restless and those with angst; and it is the unearned, unmerited favor of God.
Grace is the opposite of Karma. Karma is all about getting what you deserve. Grace is not getting what you deserve...as in punishment. You get love, acceptance, and pardon instead of punishment.
Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it.
These are just a few of the definitions of Grace.
Second: Why do we need Grace? It is most needed in the midst of sin and guilt. It is present in the midst of suffering. It is available when you are broken and hopeless, as we all are at times. In America, we expect to earn, work for, deserve and merit good things when we do good things. We don’t often expect grace or favor when we do harmful, bad, sinful things. Rather we expect judgment.
By grace, we do not fall victim to extreme depression due to our guilt. We understand that harsh judgment can kill either a body or a spirit, but grace makes us fully alive. That is why we need grace in all our daily work or play, in every relationship, and in all our experiences with other people. Actually, it is God’s grace bestowed on us that keeps us sane in hostile or bewildering situations.
We all need grace. But, grace is not about us. It is all together and wholly a word about God and his relationship with us. Grace illustrates to us the extravagant care and favor God grants to each of us, whether we recognize it or not. When we sin, misbehave, act in rebellion toward God and his teachings, we receive forgiveness according to God’s grace. God’s grace is what makes us gracious people, full of gratitude. It is what strengthens us to live according to God’s law of love for all people.
Ultimately, we need God’s grace because grace is the risen Christ Spirit that inhabits each of us when we invite that Spirit to abide with us. As Christians we need grace to live as God designed us to live. We receive grace when we need it most. Otherwise, we might just take off on paths and roads that are harmful and destructive but also have the power to woo us. It is the grace of God that guides, directs, and keeps us on the path of love, compassion, forgiveness, and hope.
Third, how do we use God’s grace? We use it to help us imitate God’s love for all people. Jesus teaches us this important fact: “As the father has sent me, so I am sending you.” God’s mission is to the whole entire world. When you agreed to become a Christian you agreed with God to do your best in serving him and his people, caring for those who are less fortunate than you, and encouraging others to kneel before the power of a gracious God and learn to be gracious yourself.
You can not give to another what you do not have yourself. Look at Bible stories about Grace. Abraham and Sarah were sinners; they rebelled against God. By all thoughts, they should have been punished. But God blessed them, gave them a son in their old age, and created a nation of people who were to show the rest of the world the “right” holy way to live. Even when they did not do this, God blessed them.
Look at Noah. Originally he was devout and did what God asked him to do. But in later life he planted and grew a vineyard. He got drunk just as if he was at a corner bar with fellow friends. However he had no friends for they had all been killed in the flood. Maybe he was just sad and wanted to forget this troubles. But one night as he drank his libation he passed out. His son Ham disrobed him which ultimately led Noah’s grandson to rape Noah’s wife. Yet, God continued to bless Noah and most of his family. Though Ham and Canaan reaped the wrath of their wrong doings.
All the great men and women in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, slipped from the holiness, sinned, caused harm and yet God still used all of them to bring his word to the world. If that doesn’t give us Christians comfort I don’t know what will.
To acknowledge God’s grace is to share God’s grace, especially with those who are hurting, who feel punished, who are rebellious, and who are in need of a loving friend. We are called to be friends of God and each other. Is it easy? No. Can we do it? Yes. How, by recognizing and acknowledging God’s grace in our own lives and offering it to others...all others.
To live and speak gratitude is sharing the grace of God.
Sermon, August 25, 2019
Let’s talk about health and healing from a biblical perspective. We have all asked the question, why are some people healed when we pray and others are not? A universal question. The Bible and Jesus speak about that mystery.
How many of you have electricity in your home? What is the source of that electricity? In our community, it is the power company. This company, the source of electricity, generates the power and delivers it to your home. However, when you want to turn on a light you don’t call the company and ask them to flip the switch for you, You flip the switch. The company generates the power but it is under your control. You are not the power source. If you screwed a light bulb into your mouth, it will not turn on. But you will look foolish! No, if we want electric power in our homes we must use the tools the company tells us we must use...ceiling and floor lamps, stoves and microwaves, heaters and air conditioners. We need to know when and how to use each of these tools. Then we use our own authority to control these tools.
Our health and healing is a similar relationship. God is the source of our health, healing, and well being. He puts wholeness into us the moment we are born. As our Psalm told us “God knit me together in my mother’s womb, and I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Our bodies and brains are among the most complex and unique organisms in the world. That complexity and uniqueness speaks volumes about the mind of our Creator. However, from the moment we have any decision making opportunities, it is up to us to keep our selves healthy. We have the control and authority to choose to be physically active, avoiding things that harm our health like cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, and massive amounts of sugar. When we have children of our own it is our responsibility to raise them as health conscious humans making right decisions for themselves. To live with healthy choices can prevent some illnesses. So God is the source of health and wholeness, but we are in control of how we use what he gave us.
However, as scripture tells us, the rain falls on the just and the unjust...and sickness, tragedy, and infirmities fall on us in a seemingly random fashion as well.
In many biblical stories, when Jesus or his disciples found ill and infirm people, they did not pray for them...they simply told them to be healed, or to get up and walk, or to rise up our of unconsciousness. In other words they commanded the people use what was already within them. If they relied on the faith that God put health in all of us, perhaps that knowledge and reminder enabled them to get up and walk, or to overcome illness and disease. Yet, and here is the conundrum, even with full faith, sometimes our desires and prayers for health and recovery seem unanswered. We become disappointed, disillusioned, and sometimes our faith wavers.
There are basically two ways to answer this dilemma. One is, no matter how infirm, how full of suffering, how disease ridden people become, as long as they have breath they can be helpful and live with some degree of contentment. The truly sick people who encourage others, the broken and wounded who won’t give up, these are the heroes. The children and adults who accept their condition and do so without undue complaint can give hope to all of us. Humans are remarkably strong even with sickness or disabilities. So we don’t discount them...they are vital lessons teaching the rest of us how not to become victims, how to remain in the faith when we are hurting, and how to praise God for the life we do have no matter how much we think it is bad, or wrong, or even evil.
The second way to handle unanswered prayers, at least not answered the way we want them to be, is to recognize God’s thoughts and plans are not ours...and we always have a treasure inside of us to help us cope vigilantly and enthusiastically with disappointments...and that is TRUST. T R U S T. Trusting God
with our own lives and with the lives of those we love and cherish is a rewarding, comforting, and power building act of faith. When we surrender to the God who made us and loves us above all else, we come to the point of acceptance of what is. When we give our lives and the lives of our loved ones into the almighty hands of God we are relieved of the stress of trying to know all things at all times. With trust comes surrender, and with surrender unto God comes peace...no matter what else is happening.
When we can surrender and still have faith and hope, then we know our Christianity is for real. When our faith endures all things we know for certain we walk with God, from this moment on. That is the blessing we all strive for, to be one with the Holy One in all moments of our lives. Thank God he is God and we are not, yet we can trust him always and in all ways. Sometimes life hurts. Sometimes life kills. Yet love and hope and faith can remain...we are in control over those vital aspects of being human. No answer of “no” or “not yet” is never a final answer. Because we are not final people. We are one with the Holy One on this planet and beyond, for ever. We all are.
Amen meaning so let it be.
Sermon, August 18, 2019
When I think about the last meal Jesus had with his best friends, I feel sad. These friends were his disciples, his brothers, cousins, and neighbors. He knew them well and he loved them. But they were an odd lot, because not one of them seemed to be, at least to us, what Jesus needed. They were not brave, they did not stand up and admit he was their friend, they vied for which on of them was the most important, and so we suspect they were pretty selfish, self-centered men.
As with so many leaders, Jesus must have hoped for more from them than he got while he was alive. Even this last meal together, was a celebration, the Passover meal Jesus seemed excited about having with them. He had told them he would be killed surely within the next day or two. But they all let that go.
We think they should have spent that time offering comfort and support to Jesus. They perhaps should have toasted him and shown their gratitude. They could have esteemed him and served him and praised him but they did none of those things. In fact, just the opposite. Jesus washed their feet. Jesus served the meal to them. And one of them betrayed Jesus. After the meal, Jesus asked them to remember him every single time they ate together. And even then, they did not.
In fact, the next day, when Jesus was tortured and killed they ran away. Yes, they were confused. They were bewildered, and they were without a leader. After a few days of wondering what they should do next, Peter solved the problem for them. Peter said, “I don’t know what to do, so I’m going home and going fishing.” The others said they would do the same. In other words, they went back to their previous jobs as fishermen in the Sea of Galilee.
During the days and weeks that followed, they surely must have talked a great deal about Jesus...who was he, how did he act, what did he teach them! Then for some unknown reason, suddenly they were inspired. These uneducated fellows left their nets once again, recruited their own disciples, and began a journey to villages and cities throughout the know world sharing the life of Jesus, the stories he told, and teachings about how to have life abundant through love, compassion, forgiveness for all people.
And they changed the world. At last they became the people Jesus had counted on and needed. And today, even this day, he is asking us to at last come to be the people he can count on and needs to spread his words of grace and goodness to all we meet. Let’s not disappoint our great saving Lord and recommit ourselves to him this day...as we share the communion meal together let’s do remember him.
Sermon, August 11, 2019
The Wedding Banquet
Matthew 22: 1-14
This is a parable written by Matthew nearly 60 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. The early church was ain a state of confusion...people were asking who is Jesus, really... a human being, a son of God, and the leader of a new faith, or all three? Others asked can anyone follow Jesus or do you have to be Jewish? These were the questions the New Testament struggles with, especially the gospels. Matthew and Luke included this story in their gospels, however Matthew wrote strictly for Jewish people, where Luke, wrote for the new gentile believers. Gentile meant anyone who was not Jewish.
But lets look at what Matthew is telling us about Jesus:
In the parable, the King is God who is giving a wedding feast for his Son, who is Jesus. The bride of Jesus, of course, is the church. So this story is to be about a celebration! God, the king, sent his servants, meaning his prophets, out to summon the invited guests to the feast. These invited guests were the Jewish people… they were also the people who had refused to accept Jesus as the messiah. They refused Jesus, therefore in the parable they refused the feast….that is they refused the many blessings that come to us when we follow the teachings of Jesus, the Messiah.
So a second time, God sent his servants, his prophets, out and told them to tell the invited guests, the Jewish people, that he has prepared this feast especially for them...the chosen people, by providing the finest there is available to them...represented by the fatted calf killed and ready to eat.
Some refused the invitation and went away one to his farm and another to his business. In other words other things seemed more important to them than the importance of God and his anointed Son
Other invited guests, Jewish people, captured his servants, the prophets, and killed them. You remember most of the prophets were killed by the Pharisees, priests and Roman soldiers.
These killings made God angry, so he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. This statement is regarding the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD.
God then said the feast is still ready but those who were invited did not come, therefore they were not chose darkness and misery. God then sent his servants out into the main roads...meaning the whole known world… and invited to the feast whomever they saw. The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. These were the Gentiles who were the last ones to be invited to know Jesus, and become his followers. They are the ones who so to speak took up the cross and carried it to cities and countries far and wide.
When the king, God, came into meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment...meaning he was not prepared to be converted, he spoke the words but did not walk the walk. When God approached him and asked, “My friend, why are you here without a wedding garment...but the man was reduced to silence. Then the King, God, said to his attendants “bind is hands and cast him into the darkness outside where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” This is a horrible condemnation of the man, but what it actually means for him and us is if you or we choose not to follow Jesus in our actions and not just our words, we too will not see the light that is available to us. We do live in darkness and some degree of misery when we choose our own path of living and disregard God’s path of love, compassion, and forgiveness. God did not punish that man, the man punished himself by choosing darkness over the light of love and service.
The story ends with the saying, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” The original translation says, “God chooses all, but only a few choose him.” Do you choose God’s way, or your own? Are there times and days when darkness seems more appealing and easier to live into than the glorious light that is available to us every moment of every day when he learn to trust Jesus, the son of God, and live by his teachings….the results are what we all seek: peace, especially in times of turmoil and hatred.
Think about the gifts and grace that are offered to us that we choose not to accept through fear, or ignorance, or just plain stubbornness. Thank God we have the ability to see and to change...but only to change ourselves.
Sermon July 28, 2019
I recently had a friend call me and tell me about the death of her nephew. He was an outstanding student, an artist, handsome, funny - an all around good kid. He was 22 years old and had been in remission for a year after 6 grueling years of cancer treatments. He had gone to the doctor for a routine followup visit and while there suffered a massive stroke and died a few days later . I told her that I loved her and God did as well. I told her I was also so very sorry for the pain and loss she and her family were feeling. She asked me, “Why did God take him after he had won this battle, was about to enter college and begin his life? He was a great kid, why was he taken instead of one of those people who do nothing but bring misery to others ... It doesn't feel like God loves us at all, Judy - I can't understand that!” I was dumbfounded. It is one thing to treat people like you believe your God to be, and quite another to defend Him to them. I replied, “I know your are hurting and angry right now, and that's perfectly understandable, but God doesn't see the difference in you, me, your nephew, or anyone else on this Earth. He loves us all the same.” My friend was gracious enough to not hang up on me and even thanked me for listening, but the stretch of silence had grown by the end of the conversation.
Immediately after getting off the phone, I was regretting what I had just told my friend. I had basically told her “In God's eyes, everybody is just as special as your nephew you miss so much. He thinks of the cruelest psycopath the same way he thinks of any one of us.” Well, maybe not in those words, but I would bet that's what she felt like I had said. It wasn't what she needed to hear and that was NOT the answer she sought.
Now, I do believe we are loved the same, but at the same time I began to be pulled and challenged and stretched and just generally made uncomfortable about my truth could feel so wrong. I was and am not seeking to understand the mind of God, I don't think we humans have the capacity; I just want to settle in with another temporary peaceful co-existence with my beliefs. After all, I am a pretty good Christian until you start mixing in people, life situations, jerks that cut me off in traffic, politics …. you get the idea. I am the never ending “fixer upper” to the Master Carpenter....way over budget and something going wrong every day. Anyway, I have prayed, I've read, I've thought, I've meditated and I've just plain stewed. What I had done is answer her question with MY truth (God loves us all equally) without taking into account her circumstances, her pain, her emotional state or even HER belief system.
One of the books I read is “God's Problem”. Theologian Bart Erhman simplifies the problem with God in three statements:
God is all powerful
God is all loving
There is suffering
The top two statements appear to be in direct conflict with the third. Why is there still suffering in the world if God is (a) All powerful and (b) All loving; wouldn't he stop the suffering of His children he loves so much?
Erhman goes on to describe the different ways in which we try to reconcile the three truths. He talks about the free will of man as a variable in God's plan, but goes on to say that doesn't explain the babies born with horrible birth defects or innocent lives taken before their times by incurable disease or natural disasters. Man's free will doesn't enter into the suffering in those cases. He discusses Rabbi Kushner's book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” in which it is proposed that God doesn't like it when bad things happen and is there to love us and give us strength to overcome those things. In this case God is all-loving, just not all-powerful. He also tells of people like Elie Weisel, the Holocaust Survivor, who no longer believes in an all loving God. He is angry at a God that allows such suffering by His people. Then there are other people who actually believe there is no “true” suffering in this world only the natural state of mankind and the chaos it leaves in its wake. Bart Erhman was a minister and is a theologian and it is this “problem” that has made him lose his belief in God.
How can all three statements be true when there seems to be such a contradiction? A contradiction is two things that cannot be true at the same time. Our human minds are basically dualistic. We find it difficult, if not impossible to hold two contradicting “truths” in our brains at the same time. This results in 'this-or-that' thinking. If it is not this, then it MUST be that. Black or white, right or wrong, smart or dumb, good-or bad , conservative or liberal - It is a type of thinking that creates labels and assumptions about the labels. Contradictions are based on logic (if not this, then that), and a set of assumptions or expectations we think are true. If we expand the definition to be more precise, we can say a contradiction is two things that cannot be true at the same time with your present logic and assumptions. A PARADOX, on the other hand, is a seeming contradiction that may nonetheless be true if seen in a different frame of mind. The word paradox comes from the Greek prefix para meaning “beyond” or “outside of” and the verb dokein (dock-ein) meaning “to appear or to think”. A paradox is beyond the normal way of thinking. It isn't 'this-or that' thinking. A paradox opens the great middle that is in truth. It creates a 'both this and that' thinking. Labels and divisions aren't as clearly made.
We are all quite familiar with paradoxes. Our religion is based on the ultimate paradox - the Trinity... God the father, God the son, God the holy spirit. The Bible is filled with paradoxes:
We see unseen things
We conquer by yielding
We find rest under a yoke
We reign by serving
We are made great by becoming small
We are exhalted when we are humbled
We gain strength when we are weak
We live by dying
Jesus began His ministry by stating a set of paradoxes called the Beatitudes. He said
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth......” Jesus was a rabbi, he was trained and taught in parables that were often paradoxes. The Apostle Paul was a master at a style of teaching called dialectic teaching. He did not move a subject forward with a straightforward conclusion. He would play two ideas off the other to arrive at a third larger truth. It is quite simply 'both this and that' thinking that allows for a third, more encompassing, idea. Read the Bible with paradox in mind. Don't think in terms of “this part is true, this part is not true”, “if this happened, then this must not have happened”. It not only becomes a good spiritual exercise, but also becomes a lesson in faith.
We “religious” or “spiritual” types are quick to tell you God's love, grace, and mercy are the answers to all life's pain and general horribleness. But then something happens to our spouse, or our children, or our health. Can we then live into the “truths” that God is powerful, God is all loving? When someone hurts me, or tries to hurt those I love, is God there reassuring me that all is well? The truth is, like my friend, there were times I just wasn't feeling the strength and love. My friend and I were clearly seeing an all powerful and all loving God from different lenses that day. We both had our truths, but we were seeing it from different perspectives. Making room for the possibility of a broader or different truth, a paradox, is harder to do in our lives. We have unlimited access to INFORMATION, not knowledge, not truth, not fact,and certainly not wisdom. I think we are taking information, unchallenged, unchecked and becoming more convinced of our particular brand of this “truth” and we stick to it to the point that the middle in our world has all but disappeared. We don't bother to think that the same information may yield a different truth for another person. We cling to our own version of the truth like it unchangeable, and indisputable.
We are so caught up today in 'this-or-that' thinking that we are moving farther apart as a country, as people, as friends, and even as families. There is an air of discord, separateness, political and social unrest in our world. None of us are all good or all bad. We are all walking paradoxes.
What would happen if each of us looked honestly at our “truths”? What would change if you called your own assumptions and expectations into question? Can you let go of your ego that fuels your opinions? Why do we argue ? It seems that the purpose of social media is to fuel arguments. Why does it make you feel better if someone equally uninformed or even knowledgeable agrees with you? Does it matter if 1 or 1,000 people “see it as we do” In our dual thinking minds we are on the “right” side if we are agreed with at all – that is ego. The real truth is one in which you can separate your ego and pre-conceived ideas and stand back, view the concept from another's viewpoint. If you can open the middle of a paradox you can begin to think with a different mind... a mind of compassion, a mind of love, a mind that recognizes the humanity in all.
All truth,is indeed a paradox.
Drop the labels that are meant only to divide people. It's been said that if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
It is possible to be gay and Christian.
It is possible to believe in God and science.
It is possible to be pro-choice and anti-abortion.
It is equally possible to be a feminist and love and respect men.
It is possible to have priviledge and be discriminated against, to be poor and have a rich life, to not have a job and still have worth.
It is possible to believe in sensible gun control legislation and still believe in one's right to defend one's self, family and property.
It is possible to be anti-war and pro-military.
It is possible to love thy neighbor and despise his actions.
It is possible to advocate Black Lives Matter and still respect and support police.
It is possible to NOT have an education and be brilliant.
It is possible to be Muslim and also suffer at the hands of terrorists.
It is possible to be a non-American fighting for the American dream.
It is possible to be different and the same. - (author unknown)
I accept that my faith and even my very being is paradoxical. I'm convinced that
leaving a space in the middle for my “unknowing” is the very meaning of faith but also the meaning of self-knowledge and wisdom. God leads me even in the darkness that cannot be predicted or controlled by my ego or my rational mind. I am going to work on seeing views of others differently, especially those with whom I don't agree. I am willing to step back, open up, and let humanity and love win.
I had lunch with my friend; I still believe we are all loved equally by God, but I apologized for that original answer because I now understand why it is not HER truth at this time. It does not mean I am right and she is wrong or visa versa. I told her another truth I believe – I told her, I don't know. I don't know why you and your family lost this young man. Moreover, I don't KNOW a whole lot, but I am searching. We talked about other things and even laughed a bit and when we were ready to leave she thanked me and said that it was OK that I don't know why her nephew was taken. It was important for her to know that I cared enough to listen. Neils Bohr, the physicist said, “ The opposite of a true statement is a false statement, but the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth. I am going to leave space for another profound truth that neither my friend nor I can see at this time. I am at peace with that.
Sermon July 21, 2019
Unity...it seems to have its ups and downs. We hear about a unified front, but where do we actually see one in action? We hear about families, clubs, organizations, etc. having unity. I’m not so certain we ever have unity. I think unity is something we do. I think, as Christians, do unity by sharing common values, attitudes, and actions such as respect for one another, gratitude for the lives and freedoms we do have, compassion for those less fortunate than we are and hard work to accomplish goals. As followers of the Christ, we also do unity by attending church and fellowships together, participating in worthwhile projects that help our local communities and work on them together. We do unity when we pray for faith, hope, and love to be apparent in our church gatherings.
I also think Jesus did unity when he gathered together his motley crew of disciples. Though they do indeed seem to be motley, Jesus specified they be unified in their beliefs and actions. That desire was never completely done, but at least most of the disciples did seem to move in the direction he desired.
But, for the doing of unity, we go further back than the disciples. We go all the way back to God when he chose the Jewish nation to be his model of what a nation of believing individuals could be if the individuals worked together to fulfill God’s plan. It seems not to have worked so well yet.
Perhaps that was when God came to the conclusion that 2000 years ago was the right time to give to the Jewish people what he had promised them all along...the messiah. However, the messiah God planned and the messiah the Jewish people hoped for were two very different characters. The messiah the Jewish people desired was a warrior with a large army that would physically destroy all the people and nations that had made the Jews and their nation suffer.
The messiah God sent to them and ultimately to us was a Spiritual messiah. That messiah was to be the visible image of our invisible God. Paul in writing to the Colossians called him the firstborn of all creation, for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Isn’t that a marvelous way to describe Jesus who became our Christ and our Lord...where the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
We learn a little bit about God when we read the Old Testament, especially the Law and the Prophets. But realistically, for Christians, all we can actually know about God is what we see in Jesus through his teachings, the stories told about him, and the stories he himself told.
To have a group of believers do and experience unity, we agree to some degree about who Jesus was and is. That doesn’t mean we all interpret scripture in the same way. It doesn’t mean we have had exactly the same revelations of Jesus. But we have all read in the Bible ( our book of instruction )that Jesus was a healer, a teacher, a lover of the downtrodden and outcasts. He forgave all manner of sins and continued to love the sinner. He cried when his friends were hurt or died. And, he did show a bit of anger and impatience with the arrogant, intolerant, aggressive leaders of his day. However, he did pray for these unrepentant leaders and tried to show them a better way to guide their people. Was Jesus 100 percent successful? From our perspective perhaps not. But we must not forget God’s plan is still unfolding, and we are it.
Do we do unity here? Do we agree that Jesus was an accurate image of our God? Perhaps the best question is are we an accurate image of our God and our Christ? Through the words you use and the actions you live by, would others know to whom you paid homage and to whom you worshiped?
We see what happens to a world when there is little unity found anywhere. So perhaps one of the ways this church could do more unity is to talk to each other, compare actions and outreaches, and see how similar we are, yet still respecting our differences. If the divide is great, perhaps conversations about what actions and words are truly important for Christians to do and to use, then maybe unity could be enhanced. True unity done with continuity and love produces peace and comfort for those who live by spiritual and moral truths taught by Jesus, the Christ.
Let’s try it. It might be fun, it might be enlightening. But for certain, it will be important for us to grow as images of the loving, forgiving, compassionate Lord.
Sermon, July 14, 2019
Today’s reading is the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is a story Jesus told as an answer to a man who asked, “Who is our neighbor?” We all know this story and we know what it is teaching us. But let’s recap: A Jewish man was walking along the Jericho road to Jerusalem. Robbers attacked him, beat and robbed him, and left him on the side of the road.
Soon after, two holy Jewish men walked right passed the badly wounded Jewish man and did nothing to help him: one was a priest and the other was a Levite, that is someone who was in charge of the Temple. You would think that of all the people who took that road those would be the two who would stop and give aid. They did not. I’m sure they had their excuses for not doing so.
Then a man hated by all Jewish people, a Samaritan, came along. The reason the Jews hated the Samaritans is they intermarried with heathens, broke most of the Jewish laws, and even defiled the Jewish temple by placing pig blood and bones in it. So this hated man, who also hated all Jews, did stop by to give aid. He cleansed his wounds with wine and oil, lifted him up on the Samaritans own animal, and took him to an inn to be cared for. There he gave the inn keeper money to care for the wounded one and said he would return the same way and if more money was needed he would pay it.
So obviously, according to Jesus, our neighbor is anyone anywhere who is in need, whether we love, hate, or fear that person. According to the teachings of Jesus when it comes to being compassionate towards your neighbor there are no conditions applied! No conditions...such as I’m too busy to help, I don’t have time, I don’t know this person anyway, I can’t afford the money to help, that person is different from me and my friends, this person may not be a Christian….on and on and on...Our excuses are endless. Again, according the Jesus, we, his followers, must serve those in need without considering the parameters that divide and separate us. That may be heavy for us to even consider...but otherwise, what good do we do if we only serve those we think deserve to be served. According to scripture that attitude is arrogance and is spiritually harmful to us who live by Christian ethics.
To help a neighbor means a great deal more than giving a dollar or two to someone who asks...rather it is to recognize compassion is the ligament that unites all humankind. As Christians, our ultimate purpose is to love and serve humanity irrespective of where those in need come from, who they are, or what they have done. To be a good Samaritan, like Jesus asks us to be, we must serve all with complete willingness...often times without regard to the cost. We either live in faith and become an integral part of the Kingdom of God here on earth, or we fail in our mission that brought us to earth in the first place. All of you here are good, kind, loving people. No doubt about that. But if you were to truly and honestly evaluate yourself and your attitude toward the needy, I hope you will ask yourself these two questions:
Where do you stand on the continuum of true, wholehearted compassion?
Is there room for improvement in your attitude and actions?
Sermon, July 7, 2019
Prayer is as diverse as humanity itself. It can be anything from deep meditation and kneeling with formality to singing in the shower or taking God while driving. Prayer is as diverse as humanity itself. Everyone has his or her own image of the god or goddess prayed to. Everyone has his or her way of addressing or communicating with the god or goddess of choice
Throughout most of human history, children were taught what God to pray to and how to pray. In the Christian tradition most prayers include some of the statements found in the Lord’s prayer...both praise and requests are included. However, in today’s busy world prayers and prayer times have changed. Family prayers, except for saying grace at dinner, are mostly left out of family togetherness. And sadly, prayer, God, Bible and Christianity have become something to joke about on the media and in the movies.
Sometimes I think we believe God is like a vending machine. In a vending machine we put in our request, punch a button to indicate what we want and then we expect to get what we asked for. When we receive what we asked for all is well. However, when the vending machine gives us potato chips instead of a Pepsi, we often curse the machine and on occasion slap or kick it. God is not a vending machine nor a Santa like dude in the sky granting wishes.
I believe our prayers are influenced by who we think God is and what God does. Some of us feel so self efficient we think we don’t need God except in emergencies Others of us are so full of fear of God we become like fundamental Christians who have very little freedom of thought or doubt. So where does that leave those of us who want to expand our minds, who want to grow our relationship with the sacred one, and who do want life to be balanced for those we love?
How do we pray? In a way, God has some of the same traits our verybest friends have. WE can tell our best friends the worse about ourselves and that friend will not tell others our secrets, will not cancel our friendship, and will continue to love us and want to be with us. We trust our best friends with our lives. Shouldn’t we do the same with God?
If our image of God is that of a loving energy, patient creator, a forgiving deity, a powerful comforter who is within us then taling to that God is easy. WE tell that God we are thankful for his presence, for love for abundance and grace. That God does not need the praise we give but we do so for it is healthy for us...it provides confidence, assurance, and comfort, sustaining us through every day. That loving God is trustworthy. Even if our request to him is answered with “no”, we handle that “no” because we trust God will still be with us, guiding us in every joy and sorrow.
If we see God as a vengeful creator, one who would create a hell for people who have made mistakes, and terrible ones at that, then that God requires more of you. You must live by dogma, doctrine, and rigid rules...all man made. You may become less free, less happy, less trusting because you are fear based rather than love based.
Too often we want God to change other people, change our circumstances, and to change himself to like us better than anyone else. Therefor, in sincere prayer we don’t ask God to change. Rather we seek God to change us in the way we think, believe, and act. It is God who nourishes, strengthens, empowers and enables us to face whatever life sends to us.
In effect, whatever we ask God for God is the answer. God is the answer to any prayer...God’s presence in our lives, God’s gifts of forgiveness, compassion, mercy, beauty, guidance love and life itself is the answer to anything we ask of God. We need to be aware that our loving, trustworthy creator God is eternally with us, within us, around us, below and above us...able to share every moment of life regardless of how we as humans view our own lives.
Praise God because it is good for us. Say to God what you think you need and do so with a spirit of gratitude and trust. God is indeed the very best friend you can ever have and more than that, so trust God with your own life and with the lives of those you love.
A delightful modern theologian, Anne Lamont, said for her the perfect prayer is “God have mercy! And thank you, God!” Both show trust.
What about you and your prayer life?
Sermon, June 30, 2019
Forgiveness is essential in our walk as Christians. It is a combination of three fruits of the Spirit which are given to us by God. Forgiveness combines kindness, goodness, and love toward ourselves. We forgive because God asks us to and because it keeps us in control of our words and actions...if we don’t forgive we have given power over us to the one who hurt us.
We forgive because at some point in time everyone of us has been deeply hurt by the actions of another. These betrayals, wounds, heartbreaks cause us distress, disappointment, and sometimes great anger. It is difficult to forgive those wrongs, but why do we cling tenaciously to our resentment and our desire for revenge? I think we cling to these resentments because we feel the person who hurt us should ask for forgiveness, because we seem to receive some kind of sick pleasure by hanging on to anger or hurt, and because we allow our ego or pride to control us.
If you think the one who hurt you must do something to repair the relationship or ask to be forgiven then you are not ready to forgive. Forgiveness has nothing to do with how the person treated you….it has all together to do with how you want to live your life...free of stress and anger, or harboring those feelings, remain burdened, and live as a victim.
If you receive pleasure by hanging on to your anger or hurt, you are absolutely not hurting the person you need to forgive...you are hurting only yourself day after day. Make that life-altering correction today!
If you fail to forgive because of your pride, then you are in inner trouble and turmoil...they are the causes of stress in your body. Pride is a dangerous emotion for it makes you think you are better than others; it seems to elevate you above all others and that is a false state of existence.
Think of Jesus for a minute. Being led to the cross, he was beaten and tortured, yet while he was being killed, but still able to catch a breath, he asked God to forgive his murderers. In that way, Christ is a role model...to live this earthly life in peace and calmness regardless of the behavior of others!
Forgiveness does not mean condoning or excusing the wrong.
It doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong.
Forgiveness is not pretending you were not hurt.
WE admit we were hurt and we do remember who hurt us. It is because we remember that we must forgive so that we are set free from that burden. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself so that you can be at peace, sleep well at night, and know contentment. By forgiving, you are set from the hurt that kept you attached on an emotional level to the person who hurt you.
Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does change and enhance the future.
Forgiveness does release resentment or vengeance toward the person who hurt you.
So, to forgive the worst that is done to you is sanity. It frees you to move forward with your life and your dreams rather than holding you back going over and over again the pain of being hurt. If you live in the past you are not truly living.
To forgive is a choice and a step forward in good mental health. Once you choose to forgive, your memory will keep trying to call you back to the pain of the past. But, you have control over that calling...emotions do not control you, you control your emotions. Every time you want to re-live or re-think the harm, stop yourself and say “No more. You have wounded me enough.”
Forgiveness can be done and it can be done best and quickest by asking the Christ within you to amp up the power of love and strength in you...that partnership with Christ never fails. Peace of mind, the peace that is God-given, is what you have when you let go of grudges, anger, and resentments. The moment you say “It is time to let it go, is the time you forgive.” That is the moment you find peace.
I found through tragic personal experiences, that the person who hurt me the most, the person I began to despise, became a friend again once I forgave. I truly felt free of all hostility and could interact with that person with joy, not fear. When hate turns to love you know the power of the God of love and there is nothing like it in the whole of the world.
Most people in the world of healing will tell you that forgiving the person who hurt you has physical and spiritual benefits. Here are just a few of the benefits: improved mental health; less anxiety, stress and hostility; lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, a stronger immune system, improved heart health, improved self-esteem, and healthier relationships. I you accept that is truth, then why hang on to resentments when they hurt only you.
So remember. A rule of life is we get what we give and we reap what we sow. Let today be the day you seek true peace by utilizing the power of love and give yourself the gift of forgiveness.
Sermon, June 23, 2019
In our weekly gatherings to worship our God and enjoy each other, we often talk about happiness, joy, and other fruits of the spirit. But in today’s often hostile, confusing, low-morale, divisive society I believe it is essential that we re-capture a gift our Creator has given us and live into it...that gift is inner joy. God created us to be joyful...God wants us to be joyful.
From a spiritual view, joy and happiness are related, but are not the same thing.
Happiness is a fleeting feeling. It is a mood that changes with situations and circumstances. Joy, however, is God within you. It is a positive position that does not depend on external stimuli. Joy is believing with confidence, that is with faith, that God is in control of life, although immediate evidence might try to suggest otherwise.
To say it briefly, joy sustains itself through the sacred within us...happiness needs a reason to be happy.
Here is one example of joy. When you make a decision to live by the teachings of Christ, you have within you a glow, a warm, shining light, that nothing can extinguish. That warm, glowing core of you fits right between your heart and your stomach. It brightens every aspect of your life. Now, we all know LIFE happens...problems arise, tragedy strikes, loss and betrayals occur...but, these events will not make your inner joy disappear. However, they do bring your attention to the trouble of the moment. As you rely on your inner joy, you calmly look at the current problem or event or loss, tell yourself you must act, then do something about that situation. It may take time but whatever the problem is, you now have the warm energy to deal with it. You have energy, you have focus, you have strength, and you have patience and optimism to face and deal with whatever needs to be dealt with….and when you begin to approach and deal with the situation, happiness, which is temporary, arises and joins joy and your life is enhanced.
Our bible tells us all through the Psalms to “Clap your hands, all people! Shout to God with the songs of joy...especially in times of trouble.” And in Isaiah, the book Jesus loved and quoted often, tells us “Shout and sing for joy, for great in your midst is the Holy One.”
Any sane, fairly normal person can feel happiness for moments at a time over events, happenings, memories, etc. But only your decision to be the vessel for the living Spirit of God will give you inner and eternal joy. Like peace, joy comes from the relationship between you and God. All else is temporary and fleeting.
Do you want to live a joyous life? Remember the words of C.S. Lewis “Joy is the serious business of heaven. And it is the serious business of your decisions and choices. You mayt choose joy, become committed to it, and joy will remain that inner, strengthening, comforting glow. Or, you can live your life on your own terms, experience happiness occasionally, then wonder all too often why you are disappointed, depressed, down trodden, miserable...on and on.
God respects you enough to give you the right to make the decision to have joy or not.
What is your decision?
Sermon June 16, 2019
Who is God the Father?
Most of us were raised to a degree on biblical stories and teachings. Therefore, we have been taught the original creator God fathers us all.
In the Old Testament God is called “father only 8 times, and that is primarily in reference to being the Father of the Jewish nation and the patriarchs of that nation. In that sense Father is a title and not a name. However, when we turn to the New Testament the word “father” or “Abba”is used by Jesus and his disciples hundreds of times. In this sense, the word Father illustrates kinship, a familiarity and intimacy with God’s entire creation and especially his people.
Sometimes I don’t like the word “God” because it has different meanings to every person who ever thinks about a divine entity. The word “God” for some means love, joy, peace, affection...but for others the word “God” means fear, judgment, condemnation, and guilt. I think the same goes for the word “Father.” So what do we make of these disparaging images? It illustrates that what we are taught and what we experience are often not the same thing.
Perhaps the only way to accept these differences is to choose how we see or image God as the Father of creation. To literally see God as an entity is not possible because he, she, or it is intangible, unable to be physically seen, heard or touched... except through his creation. And, toward that end, some folks will see aspects of creation as hostile, like hurricanes and tornadoes and earth quakes and some people, while others will see those things as helpful in keeping the planet viable and healthy. By observing the power and majesty of nature, and by being aware of the orderliness of nature, we can mentally glimpse a divinity or a Father type entity maintaining a universe that is benevolent to all.
Knowing people the way our Creator does, this Creator evidently chose not to be seen or heard or touched except through creation and created people. Through all of creation we get the sense that a Father Entity is everywhere at all times, guiding, guarding and sustaining this creation. We who are made in his image experience God through all of nature...its majesty and orderliness, through love and peace shared among each other, through the events of history, and through words written by men and women but nonetheless deemed holy and sacred.
With the title or name Father, we, again as people of the Bible, know God as the life-giver, the authority and the powerful protector often known as omnipotent, and omnipresent. If we want to see or hear our Father God, just watch a sunset or a full moon rise, listen to the sacred music from around the world, read the stories of how love changes people and events, and look at the faces of new mothers as they hold their tiny infant for the first time. These are glimpses of the power of God the Father’s relationship to each one of us on an equal basis...God favors us all.
As far as we now know, God is gender-less...that is God is neither male or female...but in the roles God uses we see the strength and protection usually associated with a Father...and also the tenderness and caring of one another that we often see as maternal. For me, having been taught early on that God is the Great I Am, I am still comfortable referring to the divine power in my life as God, Father, Spirit, and or the Christ. To me, they all point to the same unknowable, but experienced holiness available to us moment to moment as we choose to be open to such experiences.
The thing I find most appealing about God as father is that of his being a life-giver….a life-giver in two ways. He creates physical life….God the father’s breath is the breath of life….he brought into being all that exists. But life-giver also means meta-physical...that is beyond the physical. The Father inspires the quality of life that involves his authority...he does know what is best for us, his attention to each of us, his generosity of the plenty he provides on this planet, his faithfulness to us always as in always available to us, his never-ending desire to forgive us even when we disobey, and his great love for his creation including us.
Sometimes as Christians we focus on the life and miracles of Jesus and tend to pay less attention to God the Father who is himself life...all of it, and has been since the beginning of time. He is not just Father the life-giver, he is Our father, meaning we have an eternal relationship with God the Father and each other...and that in itself should give each of us peace not fear, love not hostility, and trust...the true basis of all relationships.
On this Father’s day, let us make a commitment to include God the Father in our prayers, in our worship, in our relationships with each other and give God the Father gratitude, thanks, and praise for life and all the glory and grace it includes.
Sermon, June 9, 2019
Last week, when I introduced my grandchildren, I told you about 3 year old Tyler. The others in the house were playing a game in another room. It was quiet in the back where Max and I were sitting. Tyler, who doesn’t speak very clearly, came and stood in front of me. He patted my knee and said, “I’m a good boy.” I said, “Yes, you ARE a good boy.” Then he said, “I’m a good boy. I count to four.”
I thought about that all week long...and I think that little boy probably gave me one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard and all in 5 seconds!
Wouldn’t it be a grand world if each one of us, in an unassuming way, could honestly say to ourselves and others, “I’m a good person. I do simple things that are helpful. I’m a good person.”
We live in a prosperous world, where goods of every kind are available. The more we have seems to define the quality of life we have. But that prevailing attitude seems to push us toward wanting the finest of clothes, the biggest house or car, the most important job, the best reputation...on and on. Some of those aspirations are indeed vital, but some when overemphasized are neither needed nor healthy. Often if we do have the finest of things, the cost to keep them fine like insurance, utilities, taxes, maintenance, causes us to use even more resources that might be better spent to enhance life in more authentic ways. The simplest way to live is often the best way to live.
If we have to live on limited income, if we wear hand-me down clothing, if we have menial jobs , then we should do all of that with dignity, doing the very best with what we have and doing so without complaint or bitterness.
If we look to the Bible for guidance we find that even 2000 years ago Jesus challenged the conventional convictions concerning what life was about and how it should be lived. Through all of his parables and teachings, Jesus gave us snapshots of first century Jewish life in their homeland. Jesus diagnosed the human condition and expectations of his time with the words “the broad way.” He saw his people justify almost any action no matter how hateful or cruel. He saw his fellow Jewish men and women as preoccupied with their self-centered concerns not the real needs of their neighbors. Their limited vision was turned inward toward themselves without regard to consequences. They were controlled by social conventions and were manipulated by the convoluted culture of the time set by the leaders in politics and religion, rather than what was good, helpful, beneficial, and loving. What was true back then seems to still be the way things are most of the time today. Don’t some in our government and media bosses allow Hollywood to set standards for life styles rather than listening to the saner aspects of our society? Who knew sane caring people would ever follow and attempt to live like the lurid, bawdy, arrogant self proclaimed important people who happen to be on television? On what are our living standards based today?
Jesus offered an alternative way to the broad way...he called it the narrow way...the road less traveled is how Scott Peck said it. It is simple and easy. It puts God, righteousness, respect, and love above all other considerations, all the time, every time. You either serve God, or you will serve another lord of your life. When you choose a Lord that is not God, it will put you in spiritual exile and make you blind to the abundant life that is the Christ way. The narrow way also involves repentance. Admitting what might need to be corrected or improved in the time you have left in this life. It means turning around, going back to God. Think new thoughts, loving thoughts that even include your enemies. See with the mind of Christ.
The social order of our day is extremely manipulative. It often puts recreation over church, money spent on wanted items rather than needed items, or charitable giving. Remember, you can never out give God.
Our manipulative society often woos us to do things, say things and participate in ways we know are not healthy or good for us, but we do them anyway to be liked, included, or tolerated.
Sometimes, maybe many times, we don’t like what Jesus taught. We don’t like what the Bible teaches. I think it is those times that touch something within us that needs to be looked at and pondered.
So, the question this Sunday is: What would it take today for you to re-arrange your life to really put God first in all ways and to say with sincerity, “I am a good person. I do simple things that are helpful.”?
Sermon, June 2, 2019
The Rest of the Story
Last Sunday we talked about Jesus and man who had been an invalid for 38 years. He waited by the Pool of Bethesda for someone to help him, rescue him. When Jesus came by the pool he went to the invalid and asked, “Do you want to be well? The man did not respond, but Jesus told him to ick up his mat and walk. Which the man did. We talso alked about the fact that in a healing more than just the physical impairment is involved. The person being healed must be part of the healing process.
Since the man evidently was made well enough to walk, he should have been thrilled, happy, and grateful. He had a new lease on life! Surely he would have thanked Jesus. However, just the opposite happened. When the now walking invalid left the pool carrying his mat, some Jewish authorities stopped him and told him it was the Sabbath and therefore against the law to be carrying his mat.
The newly healed invalid’s reply was, “well I was only doing what the man that healed me told me to do.” The authorities asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up?”
The man who was healed did not know who it was because Jesus had slipped away into he crowd that was there.
However, later, at the temple, Jesus found the man who was healed. “I see you are well again. But stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Why did Jesus say this? Knowing his benign and loving nature perhaps He meant it as a real caution. The man had not really had any opportunities to experience life. Now that he was strong and well, he could venture into the world and might easily fall into evil activity before he was ready to face it and deal with it rationally. But he man didn’t listen. He immediately ran to the authorities and told them who had healed him. They began to persecute Jesus. The authorities claimed Jesus had broken the Sabbath Law of no work can be done on the Sabbath and they considered healing as work. Also because Jesus had called God his father, the authorities accused him of claiming himself as equal to God.
From the beginning of this story through to the end Jesus acted from his divine nature...loving, forgiving, caring, and claiming the glory of God. For people like the invalid, the hurting, the wounded, and the lost Jesus was and is the answer to human despair. Jesus never gives up hope, he never stops loving and encouraging, and he always shows what God’s will is through his own actions.
Jesus acted on the truth that the love of God includes the ones whom we have defined as despicable, unclean, or unworthy. So the basic messages in this story is two-fold: one, we are not to withhold caring, compassion or divine love from anyone, but especially from those we think less of, those we might consider unworthy; second when we act lovingly, we too are living from our divine nature. In that regard we are like Christ to the people we serve. I think what Jesus illustrates in this story is to allow others to do and be their worst and care for them anyway, even without ever receiving a thank you or grateful comment. Life is at its greatest worth when it is given away.
The teachings of Christ tell us to be kind, understanding, compassionate and to spread unconditional love through our daily actions. However, Jesus never asked us to do anything that he did not do himself. He was utterly obedient to the will of God.
If we are called to be Christ like in our daily actions and relationships, we must ask ourselves to what degree we are utterly obedient to the traits of Christianity? What in your daily life are you willing to sacrifice or give up, if necessary, to assist someone in need? Do you first determine if you think the person in need is worthy? Will be grateful? Will share the goodness? OR, you do like Christ did...see a need and and without regard to the person’s worthiness, and to the best of your ability, offer assistance and help anyway?
If we claim to be followers of Christ, that is Christian, how closely do you live by his standards?
A question to ponder.
Sermon, May 26, 2019
The story today is in the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel is full of symbolic imagery. It is esoteric in meaning. It gives us a kernel of knowledge from which can spring an entire change in attitude, belief, or action. So let’s read this part of the story with that idea in mind. (Read John 5: 1-9.
Some people see a slight difference in the words “cure” and “heal”. The words may be used interchangeably. However, “cure” is usually used to express a discovery such as “we now have a cure for polio, or there is a cure for smallpox, or he was cured of his addiction, or she was cured of insomnia. Cure sometimes means something outside of you was used for the healing process. And we are grateful for cures of all impairments.
Healing, on the other hand, seems to indicate something a bit more than just being cured. Healing leads to wholeness and involves something within you. In today’s reading we get a glimpse of what is truly involved in healing.
The story is about a man who has been an invalid for 38 years. He has gone to the pool of Bethesda every day for 38 years hoping to be healed. Bethesda means House of Mercy. However, the man at the pool, according to him, was not receiving mercy. Many of us today are also in a place of mercy, yet we feel strangled by our situations and circumstances.
Our scriptures call Jesus a healer. Jesus came to us to set us free, but some of us are still living like we are blind, lame or paralyzed. We are stuck in one place for a long time and are doing nothing about our condition. Like the man at the pool many of us are waiting for someone to rescue us. Waiting for a change in our circumstances. Waiting for something to happen...yet we do not move out in faith and trust like we have been asked to do.
If you are bored and lonely, what or who are you waiting for? If you are in a job you hate, what or who are you waiting for? If you are depressed and discouraged, what or who are you waiting for? If life is too much for you right now, what or who are you waiting for? If you are suffering from an illness that is life-threatening or causing life-altering circumstances, what or who are you waiting for? Remember, waiting doesn’t solve the problem. God and you are always the major players in any kind of healing.
That is why Jesus asked the man, “do you want to be healed?” He asked that question because Jesus was surprised the man had waited 38 years when he could have done something for himself. He was close enough to the pool that he could have rolled into the water instead of waiting for someone to pick him up. Jesus knew this man had the potential to help himself, yet the invalid wanted to depend on someone else to solve his problem.
Our Biblical account of Jesus teaches that Jesus solved most of our problems 2000 years ago. He came to empower us to overcome our circumstances and earthly situations. He is telling all of us that we need not sit by any pool of despair when we all have the potential to assist in our own healing, whether that healing is physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Jesus asks us to be in relationship to him and his teachings thereby providing us with what we need to take action in the healing process.
Notice this about the story. Jesus did not pray for the invalid. He did not help the man get in the water. He did not give the man any money or handouts. He did not ask people around the pool to help. And, Jesus did not pick up the man’s mat for him. Instead, Jesus spoke to man’s potential and said, “Pick up your mat and walk.” Jesus simply spoke to him and told him what he must do to be well, to be whole. The miracle of healing was that Jesus spoke and the man responded. He acted. He did something. He got up and walked. Healing and being made whole includes being responsible for yourself.
Today, maybe Jesus is telling you to pick up your mat and walk. So, what is your mat? What is holding you down, keeping you from realizing your potential? In other words what is your excuse for not taking responsibility? What has kept you chained to poverty, or unhappiness, or illness? The mat is whatever symbolizes your inability to take charge of your circumstances and overcome them with the power and knowledge that is within you….given to you by your God and your Lord.
Through this story, Jesus is telling all of us it is time to exercise the power of God inside of us...when we do so, nothing shall be impossible to those that believe and act on that belief.
We all know each one of us will one day die an earthly death...and there are illnesses from which death and permanent impairment can occur. So where is our self-responsibility in those times? The answer is the same: take responsibility for the change life has forced on us. We can be bitter, live in a state of pity, whine, curse, be angry which is ok for a while...but real responsibility recognizes we still have life in us and it can be used for good by loving, being faithful, even laughing occasionally, and above all trusting that God does know what is best for us and is with us and for us in whatever circumstance we are in...and never ever give up hope. It is in times like these that we can still manifest the greatness of God through us, his people.
What a terrible shame it would be if we choose to not recognize that divine power he has placed inside of us. So let each one of us be serious about activating the healing power of God within us. Let’s not wait, but do so today.
Sermon, May 19, 2019
What do we mean by Oneness or Wholeness when we talk about our spirituality? We sing songs of “We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord.” We read Jesus saying, “I am in my Father and my Father I in me and I am in you as you are in me.” So, what about it?
Scripturally speaking, Oneness with God is not a dream. It is the only reality we have. Everything else is an illusion. That statement means there is only one eternal, creative, benevolent energy we call God. Likewise, there is only a single divine Spirit which manifests itself in millions of ways...through Jesus the Christ, through other spiritual men and women who teach and illustrate the power and presence of God, and through you and me as believers. We are all one, just an extension of God and each other expressing ourselves in different human interests, intellects, and actions.
I want to give you an analogy. An analogy is a comparison of two things to show their similarities by which we can better understand both.
The best way I can explain and accept this concept of oneness with God and each other is to look at our Gulf of Mexico...our round gulf so very close to us. Picture our gulf as representing God who fills the universe. God is all the water of the gulf. Each one of us is a wave that rises up from the water, to live for a brief time as an individual wave yet connected to the water, and to all other waves close by. When our wave time is up we roll back into the water to live unified, as One, forever.
This image of our complete connectedness to God and one another is comforting to me. It speaks volumes regarding how we as humans need to see each other through the eyes of our divine Lord and God. If we do so, we will have more peace, a clear identity, a life everlasting embraced by God, and a powerful sense of humaneness with all other humans.
One day, go to the beach and just watch the gulf, watch wave after wave rolling ashore then submerging again into the larger body of water. I don’t think you will ever see one wave being unkind to another...they make room for all, for they live and work in connection with each other, all based in and on the large water itself.
To me, the whole physical world is an illustration from God’s creativity to teach us who God is and who we are in relationship to him and each other.
Our task is to fully understand this concept, live into it, and rejoice in being part of the whole, being One with with All.
Sermon, May 12, 2019
Today is Mother's Day. Celebrated across the country in recognition of love, caring, and compassion.
Have you ever wondered where the word mother originated? It was developed centuries ago in a very old language, and the word was modor. Interestingly, the word modor is a verb, not a noun. And, it includes both genders, male and female. Modor really means to take care of.
In the language of earlier times, we learn God modors all people...he takes care of all people. He mothers all people!
Because most of us associate mother with females, we often lose the true value of the word. For example, we know and understand mothering of children, that is taking care of children; but even today taking care of children and each other is for both fathers and mothers to do, and sometimes other family members as well. God intends for all of us to participate in taking care of one another. However, and this is important for Christians. God also intends for us to take care of his Holy Spirit that resides in us.
Remember, we are told over and over again in the Bible that God’s spirit lives within us. We are God’s temples where God’s powerful spirit abides. So, as Christians, we need to be very aware that God is within us...in our hearts, minds, and bodies. We are to take care of that Spirit so it can grow within us and become a powerful change agent for Good.
We are to nourish, feed, and take care of God's Spirit actively living within each of us. For that spirit to grow and become powerful we must nurture it, feed it, let it live, let it guide us, let it change us. How do we nourish it? By loving expansively, forgiving all hurt, and opening our hearts to all people. It also requires us to know our Christ and what his main teachings are. We learn about his teachings through scripture, biblical stories, and observing one another as we live according to those teachings. When we do nourish that Spirit, we grow into co-creators with God, creating a holy universe, God’s Kingdom, in the here and now, this day in this place.
We know we are helping to build God’s kingdom now when, amazing things happen. Barriers of all kinds of prejudice are broken. Addictions are overcome. Races are reconciled. Hope, in spite of any and every problem, is established. People are blessed. Unity arises. And, church happens.
When we decide to seriously nurture and mother the spirit within, discouraged people cheer up. Dishonest people confess up. Fearful people open up. Gossipers shut up. Angry people make up. Mean people sweeten up. Boring folks wake up. And lukewarm Christians get fired up.
Mothering, from both men and women, is all about lifting up, ourselves and others, to a plane of living where no matter what happens around us we express confidence, experience peace, share joy, expand love, willingly offer forgiveness. Its all about being enlightened, letting God's love be the power in our lives.
Father Richard Rohr stated this in his recent writings:
"Most of us were taught that God would love us when we change our behavior. In fact, God loves you so you can change your behavior. What empowers change, what makes you
want to change and grow spiritually, is the experience of love. It is that experience of love that becomes the engine of change."
Change means growth in all the ways that matter. Enhancing the traits that makes life better, richer, more fun, more productive, more joyous. These are the very traits God himself chooses for us to have and to use ... and we do it best when each of us makes a commitment to mother and nourish the God Spirit within us, thereby taking better, more intentional care of each other and ourselves.
I hope and pray that as we come to experience our loving Lord more fully we will be more active individuals and a more compassionate church to the glory of God, but also for our very own happiness.
Sermon, May 5, 2019
Have you ever had an idea, or an aha moment that changed your anxiety to joy?
I’ve had many of those, but the earliest I remember was when I was very young. My mother told me I was a whiny baby scared of everybody and everything. I was a fearful child. I do remember as a very young child I saw a globe and was told our earth, our planet, was round like a great big ball. I became so fearful of falling off the earth I remember walking everywhere with baby steps, looking for the possible dropoff spots. Often I was so anxious I would not go outside. My lesson about the roundness of the earth was not complete...my mother should have added knowledge gravity holding on to me, thereby ensuring me I would not fall off the earth into outer space. Had that fact been added to my knowledge perhaps I would not have been so anxious. However, when I was assured that gravity worked it was in this way. My mother said, “Jane, when you fall do you fall up or down? “Down!” I said knowingly. “Well, that is gravity at work. It will always hold on to you as long as your feet are on the planet.” I changed my anxiety into rejoicing that I would not fall into open space. And, believe it or not, I remember feeling lighter...no burden.
The same sort of learning occurred years later when I was told joy, and joyful living, is based on trust. I thought joy was the same thing as happiness and it only occurred when good things happened to me. When I was hurt, or others were mean to me, I couldn’t possibly be happy or joyful. Anxiety cancels out joy.
So lets look at what the spiritual meaning of joy, joyful living, and rejoicing really means.
Our scripture today teaches us about joy. Joy depends on trust in our God. Joy and joyful living comes from the inside out, not the outside in. It is a character trait that is a result of complete trust in the creator who created you.
I realize most of us love our God and honor our God. But how many of us truly trust God, or others? Trust them with our lives? I began to learn about real trust as an 11 year old girl scout. Our counselor, who was Sybil Fant, wanted us to take a trust training. Here is what happened in our trust training. Ten of us girl scouts were taken out to the deep woods with no phones, no cars, no adults except Sybil. In the training session each one of us was blindfolded and told that we would be shoved hard, and if someone did not catch us we could fall to the ground and be hurt. Sybil told us this would be a fun experience. None of us wanted to participate because none of us trusted each other. It was a fearful experience. We discovered for ourselves that when anxiety is present joy is not!
When it was my time to be blindfolded and shoved, I jumped out of the way. That was not allowed. We were there to learn to trust that a friend would catch us. Reluctantly I allowed my self to be pushed knowing I would hit the rocky ground and be wounded. Imagine my surprise when I was shoved hard and was caught in the arms of a friend. I was amazed that my friend came through for me. We had to do that exercise over and over again until we could joyfully be blindfolded, pushed hard, and relax knowing we would be caught. When the fear and anxiety were gone, joy erupted from all of us.
When all the trusting exercises were over, our counselor simply said to us: that is how you trust your God to guide your life...because God is smarter than you are and loves you more than you love yourself.
You want to be joyful? Then learn to trust in your God with every aspect of your life.
When you let go of your own ego, give up your own pitiful sense of thinking you are in control, when you trust your entire life to your God, you will have joy that will not disappear...no matter what is happening on the outside of you. That kind of joy is a state of being Circumstances or situations will not change the internal joy you have by trusting God to lead and guide you, and by allowing yourself to experience the privilege of co-living with your God.
I honor this verse from Isaiah: “I, your God, will keep in perfect peace and joy those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in me and my eternal wisdom.” 26: 3 That kind of trust will result in your not panicking, not fretting, not obsessing...the joy is resting in His plans for you. Whether you think what you experience is good or bad, helpful or hurtful, nonetheless God will see that you have the experiences you need to be the person he sent you here to be.
Psalm 86 assures us that God is more than able to gladden the soul and fill a servant’s heart with joy. When you request God to make your heart glad, His response is “sure, yes, always. Your joy depends on your trust in me.”
So when you feel your life is not what you desire, if your job is not what you want, if life is too big of a challenge for you, if your friendships are struggling, if your family is in distress, if your finances are weak, if your stress is way too high, then I have great news for you. Ask God for joy, for joyful living...and you will receive it and more when you trust God more than you trust your self, your spouse, your best friend, your bank account, and your insurance.
Do you want to trust eternal God or man made stuff that is always temporary? Which is better for you and longer lasting? It’s your choice. However, if you want joy, and a joyful, rejoicing life, then allow yourself to choose to trust God with every aspect of your life. It is a choice.
As the Psalmist taught us, “bring joy to your servant, Lord, for I put my trust in you.”
Let’s make the healthy choice... trust makes our lives and our world a more loving, joyous place to be. That is the spiritual take on joy and trust. Think about it. Amen
Sermon, April 29, 2019
21st Chapter of the Gospel of John
Jesus was dead. His disciples...they were his bothers, cousins, and friends, had all abandoned him. Jesus died on the cross alone.
Peter, probably Jesus’ closest friend, not only abandoned Jesus in his time of great need, he rejected him and declared to the authorities he did not know Jesus at all.
Can you imagine the guilt Peter experienced. Can you imagine the dismay, the self condemnation, the horror of what he had done to one he loved, and cherished, and followed.
He was so dismayed, so terribly afraid, that he threw his hands up in the air and said, “I don’t know what to do, so I am going fishing. That is, he returned to his old life as a fisherman. Six other disciples decided to join Peter, for they too were discouraged, angry, and sad.
Early in the evening, they put their nets in the boat and went out for a full night of fishing.
The dawn came, and they had caught no fish. There old way of life had left them destitute...no fish, no livelihood. Suddenly, a man standing on the shore called out to them, “Have you caught any fish??
They answered back, “no, we have caught none.”
Then the man said throw you net over the RIGHT side of your boat and you will catch many. Peter argued with the man and said they had already done that and caught nothing. The man on shore insisted they try again.
The fisherman cast the net over again and caught so many fish they could not pull the full net ashore.
Then one of the disciples saw that the man on the beach was Jesus. When he told Peter, Peter put back on his tunic and hurled himself in the water and scrambled himself to shore. The others followed and when they climbed out of the boat they saw a charcoal fire burning with fish on it, and some bread.
As Peter struggled to get to the beach, he must have been terrified of the coming confrontation with Jesus...or he just wanted to get to Jesus and get the confrontation over as quickly as possible.
I imagine Peter was expecting the worst, that Jesus would disclaim him and maybe even destroy him. But what amazed Peter the most was that when he finally stepped on shore, the Prince of Peace, the Hope of the world, The Son of the Almighty God Jesus was there with his hands open to Peter and said, “Come, I have cooked breakfast for you.”
Can you even think how relieved Peter must have been, probably to the point of tears in his eyes and unspeakable joy in his heart.
After breakfast, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I do,” Peter said. Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” Again, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said, “Them take care of my lambs.” And a third time, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” And Peter said again, “Yes, I do.” And Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
These three questions and answers erased Peter’s earlier three denials of Jesus. His sin existed no more.
The power of forgiveness to give life back to another is Easter. To love someone who has rejected you is Easter. To tend to one another, to help those in need, to encourage the flock, to befriend your neighbors, to give of yourself to God’s guidance, and to live by the teachings of Jesus every day is Easter. It never stops. Easter goes on and on and on. Jesus asks us every day to feed his sheep.
But there is a counterpoint to this: Allow Jesus to feed us. To nourish us through the Psalms we read, the hymns we sing, the music we hear, the words of scripture, the biblical stories of sinful people like us who find comfort and peace in the midst of chaos and fear...and place of safety. Allow Jesus to speak to you in the faces of hungry children, in the eyes of single moms who are hopeless and without support, in the open palms of people who need us.
This story of one of Jesus resurrection narrative which puts a special emphasis on what Christ demands, what he asks each of us to do. The risen Christ meets us and sends us out to love like he taught us to do. But personal, individual commitment matters most, whatever the cost.
In closing, please remember on going Easter is emotion, love, caring, selfless living. But above all Easter is action. Easter is not just words, or good intentions, or prayer. It is us as individuals and as a church doing, not just being.
In so doing something of the light of Christ will drive back any darkness in us and we will live with renewed energy, awareness, and love that alters for the better, all life.
Easter is who we are, and acts of love are what we do.
Sermon, April 21, 2019 Easter Sunday
The word Easter is not found in the Bible. However the Easter experience, meaning the resurrection of Jesus, is told in a variety of ways in the gospels, Acts and Paul’s writing. Easter can not be explained. Easter can only be experienced, one person at a time, one day at a time.
We have the story of Jesus, a man of great love and compassion, who believed with all his heart, mind soul and body that God is the one and only way to live. But Jesus was murdered, murdered by men who were hungry for power and greedy for fame and wealth. After death Jesus’ spirit rose up to show us in amazing imagery that God said “no” to Roman and Jewish unloving ways of living, and said “Yes” to Jesus’ way of life.
Jesus himself represented Life...God’s Life. He lived each day as God lives….loving all people. Through his everyday actions Jesus showed us how important it is to love God and live by his love, because therein lies human joy, peace, and abundance.
In our scripture reading today, there are two important points we need to understand . One is the phrase “on the third day was raised again.” We have all been taught that from late Friday afternoon until dawn on Sunday is three days. The phrase “on the third day” is not a number. Throughout the Old and New Testaments the phrase “on the third day” is used to tell us a new way of living, a new direction of life is now occurring, and can occur in you. He is risen is always present tense, on going. Scripture simply says it this way, again, as in ever possible.
With Jesus’ resurrection God is telling us we too can arise from the darkness of night each morning and choose to live anew...with renewed commitment to faith, hope, and love; renewed commitment to treat all God’s creations as sacred, including yourself. We are Easter people, which means we are changing, growing in spirit daily when we choose to live as Third Day people.
The second important point in the scripture is this statement. “The women bowed down with their faces to the ground but the men said to them, why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen.” In this passage we read. “the men” not angels, were at the tomb...and they told the women he was alive because he was risen. The word risen means to move from a lower position to a higher one. Jesus did just that...he moved from just a man located in one space, at one historical time, to a spirit who lives always in every place and every time. His resurrection should be the catalyst for us to rise up from a lower humanity to a higher one where we put God first, where we treat all people as though they are worthy of love, and that we offer forgiveness and compassion to all fellow human beings….as Jesus did. That is the Easter experience. It is personal, and it involves a choice...good vs. evil within our own thoughts, words, and actions
Love and life will continue long after we are gone...however, while we are here we are to use our energy, and consciousness, to keep love and life going the way God planned it and the way Jesus lived it.
The joy and experience of Easter comes to each of us when we realize that we, Christian followers of Christ’s teachings, are the only dam that keeps ill will and evil confined and diminished.
Today as we think about the resurrection, remember the tomb represents a darkness that evil acts bring. And evil acting people tried to keep Jesus in that tomb. But Life, God, Love broke open the tomb of darkness insuring real Life and extravagant love can continue to roam the earth through each one of us. To be Christian about it, the on-going Easter experience will continue again and again. That possibility depends on………. you. Amen
Sermon, April 14, 2019 Palm Sunday
Verses from Luke 13:34 and 19:41
A week before Jesus was murdered, crucified as a political criminal, he and a few followers walked toward Jerusalem. As they came close to the city his brothers and cousins and neighbors, a few other believers, and probably a few curious on-lookers joined the procession.
Every person who was in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover Festival was either Jewish or Roman. There was not a single Christian present because Christianity had not yet been established. So those Jewish folks surrounding Jesus knew the old Jewish stories...they remembered years ago the prophet Zechariah prophesied that the king of Israel would enter Jerusalem riding on the foal of a donkey. Jesus’ friends and followers wanted him to be their king, and believed he could be, so they borrowed a foal of a donkey and placed Jesus on the back of the small animal. They began to walk together toward Jerusalem. Then like in years of old they waved greenery and palm branches and shouted “Hosanna, Blessed is the king of Israel.”
To show their honor of him they placed their own cloaks on the ground to pave the road with their meager offerings. It was a sad little parade compared to the one that brought Pilate to Jerusalem...he was surrounded by hundreds of mounted soldiers and hundreds of others marching beside him, sword raised in anticipation of a rebellion. But in Jesus group of followers the excitement of was of a different kind. Jesus’ people there were ecstatic...they believed that after 2000 years this man, this anointed one, would free them from oppression and reinstate their homeland to its former glory. They were anticipation a celebration of glory.
Jesus rode on this small donkey’s back, with his feet tucked up under the beast so he wouldn’t fall off. As he crested the hill and looked down on the city of Jerusalem the procession stopped. Jesus moved a few feet forward, looked again at Jerusalem and Jesus wept. He cried. He wept great tears of loss and sadness, saying to Jerusalem and his people, “even today you do not know the things that make for peace.”
Jesus cried tears of sadness and loss. Not for himself but for Jerusalem, the city of peace, the hope of the world, that was now divided, and harshly ruled by cruel, greedy, men who knew not love nor forgiveness. Even then Jesus’ tears were for every other future city like Hiroshima, Saigon, Berlin, Calcutta, New York, London, Paris, Cairo, and Gulfport, Mississippi, cities which do not know the things that make for peace and thereby live without it.
Today Jesus, and other caring persons on the planet at some time weep for African cities, Russian and Chinese cities, Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans and other places that are being destroyed by a darkness more evil than war. Darkness like teenage gangs with guns who murder at will, drugs which are destroying families and the fabric of society, children who are hungry and cold for lack of parental love; homeless men and families who sleep in the winter on the open grates of Manhattan to keep warm, for the very wealthy who have so much but give so little to others, and by good, hardworking, loving people who are turning away from God and church because of more interesting distractions.
You and I are not saints. Much of the time our faith is weak. Sometimes our God seems far away or maybe absent. But we do on occasions think about God and Jesus. It is because of the urging of the holy spirit that we go to church to honor our God and all the blessings Jesus and his teachings give us. We gather together for something akin to love. We realize we are all human beings on the same journey, full of the same hopes, the same misgivings, the same longings and fears and confusions about tomorrow and about today. But we come to be together anyway and I hope we keep coming because for many this is the only family we have, the only hope we have, and to share in each other’s faith is life altering.
We all know what happened just a week after that first Palm Sunday. Our Lord Jesus was brutally murdered because his message was a threat to both Jewish and Roman leaders. They were afraid of him and his impact on people. So they killed his body.
But the power of his great care and concern, his love for each of us, lives on this day for us to cherish and to share. His love is omnipotent, everywhere. His love is for all people. Those who do believe him are asked to share love and not with hold it. I suspect tears still flow in the spiritual realm when you and I disobey Jesus by withholding love and compassion from others. We must not ever with hold love and blessings from another, especially those who need love, like our enemies or those we don’t like. That is a reckless behavior we must never act on for it leads to darkness within ourselves. I also think that today, Jesus also weeps over us too for we too either do not know the things that make for peace, or we ignore them.
In closing listen to the words of Fredrick Beuchner: “I believe that to draw near to that life that sprang forth like a rose out of death is to know at last the one thing that makes for peace truly and always. In our heart of hearts to have faith, to trust, to hope against hope that not even death can put an end to that life is the one thing that changes Palm Sunday from a Last Hurrah on the eve of unspeakable loss and sorrow to first great Hosanna at the gates of dawn...the dawn of unconditional love.”
Sermon, March 31, 2019
Are you an authentic Christian? Or to ask it another way, is acting on the teachings of Christ the top priority for you?
Most of us would probably say, “Well I want to put God’s way first, but other things do get in the way.”
What other things? What is more important than putting God, Christ, the teachings of Jesus, first in your life?
We would all probably say something like family, loved ones, enough money to keep family and loved ones safe and secure, and our sense of well being are vitally important things. Then we might add a job you like, a meaningful social life, money to do the things you want to do, and not just need to do, on and on.
Well all of those wants, desires, and needs are goals, aims of life. They are the results of the way you live. God wants you to have a plentiful, joyful, meaningful life...so God has a way of helping you receive these things. And that way is to put him first.
If God, Christ, and the teachings, are the most important priorities it means you are living a life of trust, confidence, faith, hope, and love...that is the way of Jesus. The way you live, Jesus’ way or your own way, determines how well you get the results you desire. Furthermore, if being an authentic Christian is your top priority then even if you don’t get the exact results you want, desire, and need, you will still live a life of peace, calmness, no panic, and joy.
To see life the way our scriptures tell us to live, is to put God first and all these other things shall be added unto you. In Matthew 6:33.
Also in Proverbs 3:5-6 we learn this vital lesson: “Trust in the lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. But in all your ways acknowledge God and he will direct your path.”
God designed us and also gave us a way to live a meaningful, abundant, love, joy filled life. So what is that way, that path? There are 6 ways to order your life for God:
1. Acknowledge God as the creator of all things including you...which means God is part and parcel of you. He is in your cellular make-up, he lives in and through you on this planet. Therefore you sing songs, or make a joyful noise, with a thankful heart. That is a great way to honor God’s name...whereby your power comes. You study the Bible because the stories are about people and God in relationship, past, present, and future.
2. In your prayers affirm you do belong to God and are responsible to live the way he has asked you to live. When you affirm God you spend your time, energy, and money on first things first. Take care of yourself and family by including God in your everyday life. Find a job, hopefully one that pays, but work none-the-less because God made us to be laborers for good. When you have a job or any income at all, you pay for food, house, transportation, educational opportunities, and necessities before you pay even the first dollar for video games, cable tv, cigarettes, booze, or any other entertaining distraction. By paying for fun things first instead of necessities you build your life upside down and you create havoc for your family.
3. You add goodness to the world be serving God and others...part of that serving is you don’t criticize, complain, or belittle another human being because they are as much God as you are...even the slightest unkindness is an unkindness to our God. Therefore, learn to love yourself so you can love others...even your enemies.
4. You make forgiveness a priority. You rejoice when you quickly forgive an offense. And stop being easily offended. You are better than that.
5. Believe and act as though you are already worthy, full of esteem, because you are. God loves you as your are, hoping that love will encourage you to grow in the spirit. If you don’t see your own worth you will always choose to be with people who don’t see it either. Seek friends and acquaintances who encourage you, help build you up, and who share goodness.
6. Know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has a body. God’s body is our universe, our planet, and all of nature. Jesus, the risen Christ spirit, has a body and that body is the church of which you are a part. Therefore, God acts through his body. So be willing to live every day as the voice, hands, and feet of Christ. In that way we learn to be Christ to others.
By practicing these daily actions we become authentic Christians...and that is what our world our nation our community needs from each one of us this day, and all days to come.
Sermon, March 10, 2019
The Prodigal Son
Throughout the New Testament we see ordinary people grumbling because Jesus loves sinners and was even accused of going to their homes, enjoying meals with them, and befriending them. What does that tell us? Jesus loves all people, yes, even sinners, even people who stray so far away they feel lost. That’s what today’s story is bout.
This story, often called the Prodigal son, is really about three people not just the son. It is about the father, the younger son, and the older son. We need to understand what the word “prodigal” means. It means extravagant.
The younger son wanted to live his own life. He asked his father for his share of inheritance so he could go to a far country and “find himself.” The father granted his wish, the son went off, and yes he found himself destitute. He had spent his money on selfish living, wining and dining prostitutes, probably gambling away his inheritance. Where did he find himself? He found himself tending to pigs and hogs and wishing he had as much to eat as they did. In the Jewish world, swine were unclean animals. So to tend to them would be the very lowest estate you could be in...the bottom of the social rung. The younger son was wastefully extravagant and lost all he had.
The father missed his son. Eagerly waited to hear from him. But he did not receive any information about this son for years. Then one day the father was out in on the grounds and he saw a poor, bedraggled man struggling up the path and the father recognized him. Did he wait for this man to come to him? No, he ran toward the man, realized it was his lost son, and he grabbed him, embraced him, loved him and yelled for his servants to bring a robe, a ring, and sandals to his son who was lost and was now found. The robe, the ring, the sandals means he reestablished this young man as his son and rightful heir. He said bring out a fatted calf and we shall celebrate his return. The forgiveness was easy and natural...for the father was extravagant in his love for this child. The father in this story is like God. No matter how far we stray, no matter how lost we become, no matter how wrong we treat him, God is waiting for us just to look toward him, take one step toward him and he races forward to grab us, embrace us, and reestablish us as his beloved children….forgiveness is easy and natural because God is extravagant in his love for each of us.
The third person in this story, of course is the older son. He was also extravagant. He was extravagant in his self-centered-ness, in being resentful, and even hateful toward his returning brother. He was jealous of his brother. He complained that he, the older son, had always done what was right but his father never gave him a celebration. But his father said you have always had everything I have but you refused to enjoy it. This son was so extravagant in his jealousy that he failed to enjoy the fullness of the life he already had.
This story tells me lost people matter to God. And most of us at some time in our lives have been, or are, lost, even if temporarily. We are human and we have a rebellious streak in us...it makes us strive for independence. It makes us want full control of our lives and not have to listen to what other people teach and say and do, and most of all we don’t want God interfering in our lives. We want to be free!
And, yes that desire for control of our own lives without the love of God as our guide, is often our downfall. When we feel life has let us down, that we have been hurt too often, that we don’t have what we think we want or deserve, we let go of the one thing that can and does save us from ourselves, and that is the love of God that is always available, always eager to reconnect us.
Both of the sons in this story learned a lesson that you and I also need to learn: Hell on earth is knowing the truth too late. The truth is, God is life, God is all of life, God is love, God is forgiveness, God is compassion and all of that plus so much more is offered to you when admit you need God and his guidance.
Each of us is a rightful heir to the kingdom of God today. Come home to God. Bring your friends and family and feel the joy of belonging to a family whose center and strength is God...shown to us through the loving kindness of Jesus, the Christ who loved lost people, who loved the outcasts, who befriended the beaten.
My question to you today is: Can you be a prodigal Christian? Can you be extravagant in the love you have for all people, especially those who are different from you? A better question is this: Will you this day choose to be an extravagant lover of humans of all races, all political persuasions, and all who are different from you. If each of us attempts this ideal of life we can change our lives, our church, our community and God will take care of the rest.
Lets encourage each other. Be a prodigal, extravagant Christian starting today. Amen
The Nourishing Thought: “Love is not just something you feel, it is something you do!
Words of Wisdom: “The greatest happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved, loved for ourselves and loved in spite of our selves.”
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” LaoTze
Sermon, January 20, 2019
Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell stories about Jesus, his life, his way of dealing with others, and most especially about his relationship with his God. These three together are called the synoptic gospels. They have a common view about the life and works of Jesus. The gospel of John is different. It takes a different view of Jesus and his life...but adds in more detail the meaning of his life, the eternality of it. For John it’s almost like saying, so Jesus lived, loved, forgave, and died...but so what. He then tells us the so what. His gospel is known as the spiritual gospel.
The gospel of John was written at least 100 years after the birth of Jesus...within those 100 years Rome had destroyed the Jewish nation, torn down the great temple, and scattered many of the Jewish people to other areas and countries. Also, during this time Christians were being persecuted and killed by the order of the Roman emperor Nero and his successors.
Because of his strong belief in the Christ figure of Jesus, and promoted him as the true Son of God, John himself had a compelling desire to encourage all Jewish people to grow from Judaism into Christianity. He did so by writing stories like this one today….the Wedding at Cana.
Look at the story. The very first phrase, “on the third day” we immediately know this is a story about spirit...on the third day is not the number 3… it is a phrase used throughout the bible to indicate a special significant event that leads to a new direction, a new a better way to live…The next phrase tells us this story is about a wedding, meaning a story about love and commitment. The story tells us Jesus’ mother is there...but she is not named at all. Mary is never used in this story. So what mother is the writer talking about. Well, we know from other sources, it was common to refer to a man’s mother being his homeland, his city, his place of residence, or even sometimes his God...like son of…. So we assume the writer is talking about Jerusalem and Israel as Jesus’ mother. Jesus and his disciples were also at the wedding, or involved in something having to do with love and commitment.
The story then says, when the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother (Israel or Judaism) said to Jesus “there is no more wine” meaning there is no Jerusalem, no temple, no Jewish people left here. In other words, “Jesus, do something.” And he wasn’t quite ready yet. But the mother Israel says to the servants...that is the followers of Jesus...do whatever he tells you. In other words, here he is, the leader of your new faith so obey him.
Nearby stood six stone water jars the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing or purification. Jesus said to the servants, fill these jars to the brim and take a cup to the master of the banquet. They did so and he realized it was new wine, better much better than the old wine. Which tells us John felt Christianity was better than Judaism because the Messiah had come and it was all about love not just the Law and Prophets. Faith had taken a new direction where people did not have to take baths of purification because God made all people pure through the resurrection of the Christ spirit. The master of the banquet said, you have saved the best for last.’
Now in Jewish tradition, the bridegroom was totally responsible to house, feed, and serve entertainment and drink to wedding guests. When Jesus provided the new wine he became known as the bride groom. So who was the bride? The people gathered there...or the church. Us. The church universal is known as the bride of Christ.
So this story is vitally important because it recaptures in spirit form the very beginnings of Christianity. The Christian church welcomes all people with love and compassion, and honors and worships Jesus the Messiah or in Greek the Christ who is the full human representative of the Almighty God.
Two thousand years later here we are together in the church, which is the gathering of people who love the Christ and who have made a commitment to live as he did and as he does.
The gospel of John reminds us Jesus was the one who saved them from oppression and the heavy limiting Law by which they had to live. Jesus also was the one who broke every barrier of prejudice and led the way for us to live in love.
That is the so what. We are descendants of that developing faith and like in ages old we are responsible as believers to love our God and obey his tenets. By so doing we keep the Christ Spirit and the church alive.
Those are our greatest needs, and our greatest deeds. Amen
The Nourishing Thought: “Be kind whenever possible; it is always possible.” Dalai Lama
Words of Wisdom: “Being nice to someone you don’t like doesn’t mean you are fake. It means you are mature enough to tolerate your dislike for them.”
“Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does no have to be cruel to be tough.” Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you, not because they are nice but because you are. Always be nice to your children because they are the ones who will choose your rest home!”
Sermon, January 13, 2019
The Dali Lama is a holy man to Tibetan Buddhists. He is recognized by most other religions as a wise and spiritual person. Even though he is in exile in India he is still considered the leader of the Tibetan sect. Every day he sends messages to his people, and he usually includes this quote every time: THE purpose of our lives is to be happy.
We hear that from Jesus as well. He taught “rejoice, rejoice always, rejoice even though we face challenges to joy. So, how many of us act on this tenet? Do we rejoice always? Do we know we are meant to be happy?
One of the many ways we can be happy, we can rejoice, is through emotional intelligence.
Now, we all know what mental intelligence is...being smart, being wise, making good and right decisions for ourselves and others.
We also know what physical intelligence is...how to care for our own bodies through eating right, exercising, sleeping well, and avoiding drugs and alcohol.
But what about emotional intelligence? What is it? It is the ability and willingness to be empathetic with others and yourself. It means recognizing all others experience the same moods, responses, and needs that you do, and then be aware when those experiences happen to others. To have empathy you are willing to understand and to share the feelings of another person. It also includes the ability to put yourself in another’s position and frame of reference. The native Americans said it like this: do not complain about another until you walk in his moccasins.
Emotional intelligence is related to a higher consciousness. Higher consciousness is that part of being human that is capable of transcending our animal instincts. In comparison, lower consciousness is an awareness of and focus on our animal instincts of hunger, thirst, pain, pleasure, as well as basic drives for safety, security, and a sense of belonging. A higher consciousness is also aware of these instincts but it does not focus on them. A higher consciousness leads us away from a self-centered existence to a spiritual existence where our God, and our God’s core values, direct our behavior. Higher consciousness is the next ladder up in human existence which makes us eager to seek and experiece spirituality. In other words, when we develop our higher consciousness we know and can relate to a power and an energy that is larger and longer lasting than we are; we call that God. All humans, who can willingly put aside self-interest at times for the benefit of others are in truth seeking a higher or a God consciousness.
To further our God consciousness, our higher state of being, involves sharing. For example, we come to church to share the joy of communion with each other and our shared God. It also involves each of us living each day, and encouraging others to live the primary universal God morals of love, kindness, compassion, gentleness, and peace. These living traits have far more to do with God than do dogma, doctrine, creeds, formulas, or literal readings of scripture. If we are true believers in God and the risen Christ spirit, then we should want and desire to nourish the minds and hearts of one another so we grow and change together toward a higher existence for us all.
It’s not hard. Every simple act of kindness, especially to others we often deem unworthy, are the most powerful actions we can take on behalf of our loving Lord. Every single act of kindness leads directly to and adds to our own divine-ness, our God consciousness, our higher state of being.
We only need to have loving attitudes towards all, and to act on God’s rightness, to experience God’s kingdom on earth right now!
Are you happy? Do you rejoice always? If not, try living a different way. It is a choice. Amen
The Nourishing Thought: “No one has ever become poor by giving.” Anne Frank
Words of Wisdom: “Remember the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.” “H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” Charles Dickens
Sermon, January 6, 2019
At the beginning of this new year we might need to remind ourselves that the Bible, and Jesus, are more than 2000 years old...yet if the bible is a living document, and Christ’s spirit is still active in our lives, then the stories in the Bible about Jesus are still relevant today. Now, again, you are free to believe anything you choose to believe. But this morning, I would like you to consider, just consider, an interpretation about the Magi, also known as wise men and kings, that makes sense today.
Two things you need to remember as we talk about this story: In 70 AD, 70 years after the birth of Jesus, Rome and its armies totally and completely destroyed Jerusalem, the holy temple, the synagogues, fields of grain and people’s homes. There was nothing left of the Jewish way of life in and around Jerusalem. And the second thing to remember is that stories in the Bible were oral stories for years before they were written down. Today’s story was told as an oral story from about 71 AD until it was written as gospel in the year 80 AD.
The reason this story was written was to attempt to unify, unite, and urge the Jewish people and the new Jewish Christians to keep the faith, stay together, don’t go off looking for other gods to worship. This was an earnest plea by Matthew to try to save the Jewish faith and the people. Matthew did so by reminding the Jews and Christians of the Biblical heroes who have saved them throughout the centuries. Six of the most popular Jewish characters were Noah,Moses, Joseph one of Jacob’s twelve tribes, Queen Esther, Daniel, and King Solomon.
I ask you to keep an open mind and consider the characters in Matthew’s birth story of Jesus.
1. Jesus was put in a manger. In Hebrew the words basket, manger, and ark are all the same word. Noah and his ark saved the Jewish race from a massive flood. Moses as a baby in a basket grew up to be the second savior of the Jewish people through his rescuing them from the cruel Pharaoh of Egypt. Jesus in a manger came to save both Jewish people and Gentiles...meaning every one, all people...including you and me. That is he saved us to live his life and to know the spiritual power of love, forgiveness, compassion, and joy.
Next in the birth story Matthew mentions a man named Joseph, whose father he named Jacob, as Mary’s human husband. The old Joseph was guided by God through dreams and interpreting them. In the birth story, Mary’s Joseph was guided by God through dreams and his interpretation of them.
Next came the story of the wise men, also known as Magi, and Kings, coming from the east guided by a star. Have you ever wondered why these three strange men are called by three different titles? Well, apparently Matthew went back to the Old Testament to use the stories of Esther, Daniel and Solomon to further cement the importance of the birth of Jesus and to continue to urge his people to keep the faith.
Here is where the Wise Men originate, through the story of Queen Esther: Esther became the Queen of Persia...her husband King Xerxes was confused about how to save Esther’s Jewish people from an edict that demanded all Jewish people be killed within three weeks. Wise Men who knew the Jewish faith and the terrible temper of the times came to the king giving him the gift of wisdom and problem solutions. Consequently through the gift of wisdom from the Wise Men and Queen Esther the Jewish people where saved from the plan to mass murder all of them.
Then Matthew uses the character of Daniel to promote the importance of magi. Daniel, who had served as a slave administrator to the empires of Babylon and then Persian, was known as Rab-Mag, meaning he was chief of all the magis. Magi were astrologers who studied the stars and prophesied about the future. Daniel’s claim to fame is that he told a certain group of the magi’s a messianic secret...that is he foretold of a time when a Messiah, the anointed one, would be born and magi’s around the world would know when that happened because a strange star would appear at that time. This prophecy by Magi Daniel is a perfect story to accompany the story of Jesus’ birth.
Lastly, Matthew turned to a favorite Jewish king, King Solomon the son of King David. It seems he was known from near and far for his wisdom. There is a biblical story of the queen of Sheba, from Yemen and Ethiopia, coming with a number of kings from the countries she ruled, to meet with Solomon. Her caravan carried many camels toting bags of gold and spices of every kind. These gifts she laid at the feet of King Solomon. The story continues that while Sheba stayed in the palace with Solomon she became pregnant with a child by Solomon. When time came for her to return to Yemen Solomon sent hundreds of Jewish people with her to help raise his son as a Jewish man to ensure the Jewish race of faithful people would people the known world. To this day there is a large Jewish population in Ethiopia, Yemen and other countries that were ruled by Queen of Sheba.
This story, told orally for 5 to 10 years before it was written as gospel, is Matthew’s efforts to preserve the very foundations of Judaism through Biblical characters, proving Jesus is who they say he is, and asking Jews and Christians everywhere to keep their faith...because elements everywhere try to destroy it.
My question to you: of what value is this story and its history to us as 21st century Christians? This is one extremely important value: if we don’t know and remember our historical and spiritual past we are condemned to repeat the ills of it!” If indeed we desire to follow our Christ and live by his tenants we need to know what the tenets are and where they came from. The Bible was good enough for Shakespeare to base his plays and characters on so it should be good enough for us to desire to know who we really are and why we really exist as spiritual people. The Bible was good enough for our founding fathers to use it as a base to create a nation of laws and freedom. It should be good enough for us to desire to know what it says about us.
I urge you to read and learn the Biblical characters on your own, or come to Bible study and know your own history as a guide. You might just find yourself among characters who have lived with us for thousands of years. We must keep them alive in our day and beyond. We all need to be enlightened if Christianity is to survive past these current and upcoming generations. Matthew’s plea for unity is as needed to today more than ever. Please keep the faith, learn more, live into the power and majesty that is ours, stay with us, bring your loved ones...it is as essential today as it was in the days of the gospel writers.
The Nourishing Thought: Peace is not something you with for; it is something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away.
Words of Wisdom: Peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.
Each one of us must find peace from within, for there is the power and majesty of life.
Sermon, December 9, 2018 Second Sunday of Advent
This is the second Sunday of Advent. The Christmas season is in full swing with carols, parties,
celebrations, musicals, family and church activities. It is probably the largest celebration left in our
churches where families participate willingly and joyfully. We can not allow that tradition to diminish.
The second Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of Peace...and what does it take for us who listen to bad
news, and experience angst and worry, to have peace? Scripture tells us that acknowledging the risen
Christ spirit and abiding by his teachings are the only way to the kind of peace we seek and need.
Repeatedly, Jesus taught “fear not, for I am with you always.” He said again and again with almost
every greeting, “peace be with you,” meaning he, as the essence of peace, is indeed with us and within
us. But sometimes we seek peace in other ways...and not nearly as effectively.
Years ago Dr. Seuss wrote a popular book entitled “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” Those of you
with small children at the time, or grandchildren, are probably familiar with that book. But if not, let’s
remember the story. In the story there was an ugly green creature called a Grinch who lived in a cave
above the village of Whoville. The Grinch was mean...so mean the book described him as being
“cuddly as a cactus with garlic in his soul.” He was a vicious creature. This Grinch hated Christmas
and he despised anyone who celebrated Christmas. He decided to do something about his hatred...he
decided to destroy Christmas for all the happy Whovillians.
On Christmas eve while the villagers were sleeping, the Grinch broke into every house and stole
everything that had to do with Christmas...presents, food, lighted trees, stockings, and all the
decorations. It was dawn before the Grinch got back to his cave, but all the way up the hill he was
delighted he had ruined Christmas for all the happy residents of Whoville. However, that is not the end
of the story. I quote the remainder: In the morning, “Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the
small, was singing! Without any presents at all! He HAD NOT stopped Christmas from coming, it
came! Somehow or other, it came just the same! And the Grinch, with his Grinch feet ice-cold in the
snow stood puzzling and puzzling how could it be so? Why, it came without ribbons, it came without
tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags! And the Grinch puzzled three hours, till his puzzler
was sore. Then he thought of something he hadn’t thought of before. Maybe Christmas, he thought,
doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas..perhaps...means a little bit more.”
Like the Grinch, does Christmas mean more than the gifts, decorations, parties, and feasts? And if so,
what does it mean?
Perhaps it means something different for each of us, but, as Christians we realize the common
ingredient is that Christmas means something sacred, holy, more than we are, and full of mystique. The
mystique of Christmas is a bewildering truth that a baby, who grew into a holy man spreading peace
and joy in a time and place that was full of corruption, hatred and hurt, proved to be everlastingly
powerful and majestic. The forever-ness of that man and his holy teachings make it possible for us
today to live in peace and joy even in our own chaotic and unpredictable world.
I hope what each of us takes home with us today is the knowledge that through the birth, the life, the
death, and the resurrection of the man Jesus who became our risen Christ Spirit, we would learn that
our God is a God of love, a God of joy, a God of peace, and a God of power. And most importantly,
God gifted us with a son, a light of life, through whom God’s kingdom has already come to us, yet is
waiting for us to live fully as active citizens in his kingdom.
Are we those who can and will continue to live the life, the love, the joy, the peace, and power of our
I pray on this day the answer is Yes. If your answer is not yet “yes,” please make it so soon. And say to
your God and your Lord, I will be who you have birthed me to be.
The Nourishing Thought: “Each of us is an inn keeper who decides if there is room for Jesus.” N. Maxwell
Words of Wisdom: The joy of Christmas is not the presents, but His Presence.
“For outlandish creatures like ourselves, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning...not home but the place we must pass through if we ever are to reach home at last.” F. Buechner
Sermon, December 2, 2018 First Sunday of Advent
The word means coming or waiting. The Scriptural meaning- waiting for the Messiah to be born to safe us ...and when that type of Messiah was not forthcoming, prophesies and stories were written to say “Wait” he will come a second time as a warning Messiah...so says the book of Revelations. But to all wise people, the Messiah that came, the anointed Messenger Jesus, was who God knew we really needed.
The tradition of four weeks of Advent was first established in the fifth century in the form of a six-week fast leading up to Christmas. In 567 the early Christian church asked all monks to fast every day during the month of December including the Christmas celebration….which was actually a celebration of the winter solstice when the days of planet earth began to lengthen, bringing light back to the world...that also is the theme that surrounds Jesus as the Messiah...he is the light of the world by enligtening us, making our lives lighter by given him our burdens. Advent is a special time in our church calendar set aside to give us time to pay attention to the great gift of love and light that is brought to us from God the creator through Jesus, the Christ.
Now, here the words of Mark 12: 33-37
Have you noticed there is in today’s media world no news? There is no plain ole news, that is the imparting of factual information. The word “news” comes from the first letter in the words north, east, west, and south. So news means information from all around our globe. All the news from broadcasting media and social media today is Breaking News! Developing News! Latest News! The First and Fastest News! From the broadcasters everything seems to be a crisis, intense, stress ridden. Breaking news is catastrophic..spoken so to get our attention, make us have to listen. We hear and see the horror and say, “Oh, My, what now? What’s next?” And we are filled with anxst.
Stressful, breaking news is repeated over and over again ad nauseum until we don’t want to hear it again. But, media news is fear based on purpose, by design, so that we will look to the airways to save us, to depend only on them. News media and social media have taken the place of families, churches, schools and governments by loudly and incessantly telling us what they think we ought to know and by the way what will make their sponsors wealthy. We have allowed the media of all kinds to become the vehicle by which information is disbursed, some of which is vital, a lot of which is not even news but opinion.
So where is the good news? The unadorned life-saving news? Well, today we have it. By way of scripture we get the good news, the very good news. That is, love is primary, above all other solutions, love has the potential to make life safer for all of us.
With the advent of Advent we recognize our Messiah has been born here on earth. Now, realistically, the Messiah you and I look to was not what the Jewish people wanted. They thought the Messiah, that is the anointed one, would be a military man of war who would gather an army and destroy their enemies. That did not happen. So, by and large, the orthodox Jews today, are still waiting for that war like Messiah.
The Messiah we have, the one we call Jesus, is good news indeed. As far as we know now, we only have one life on planet earth to live, so we must live it to the maximum possible. And that anointed Messiah Jesus teaches us how to live fully and abundantly with grace. This Messiah came to help us destroy our inner enemies such as fear, anger, guilt, depression, envy, dependence on crutches, and insecurity, so that we can live abundantly, peacefully, and joyously while we are on earth...we need not worry about where we were before we came to earth nor about where we will be when we leave earth. God has already handled it all for us now, in the present. When we choose to live God’s way shown through the life of Jesus, we are building the kingdom of God on earth. So, how does this Messiah save us from ourselves and help destroy our inner enemies? He teaches that if we use the tools God gives us, such as love even for our enemies, forgiveness, compassion, mercy, hope, and faith, then we have within us the armies that do conquer our inner enemies. When we use these tools we can be set free from the enemies within which try to control our lives to make us miserable. Don’t we want freedom from these despicable destroyers?
We are given opportunities in this life to make investments of our time, energy, and resources. This amazing Messiah teaches there is only one investment that never fails and that is goodness, or Godness. From God the father we are created as intelligent beings, from Messiah Jesus the Christ we have a model of how to live every day how to treat our selves and others in every instance, and from the ever existing Holy Spirit we have the conscience and motivation to do good by being Christ to one another.
So during the next four weeks of Advent, let’s not just wait for Christmas eve and day to come….let’s live it like Love has already come and lets spend Love with every bit of energy we can gather...spend love, share love, don’t wrap it up, deliver it personally...that is what Christmas really is...face to face love, face to face forgiveness, faith and hope in spite of all the bad news we see and hear...when we do spend love like it has no end, which is true, we do help make life better, safer, more joyous and peaceful right now in the right way. Let’s encourage one another to destroy these inner enemies and find the peace that is promised.
The Nourishing Thought: “But charity means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all. Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.” G.K. Chesterton
Words of Wisdom: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste your time living someone else’s life.”
“We are who we choose to be.” G. Gibson
“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.” O. Winfrey
Sermon, November 18, 2018 Sunday before Thanksgiving
Thursday of this week we will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. The last few days of October, I went shopping in more than one store. I was surprised that all I saw was Halloween and Christmas decorations and gifts. Thanksgiving was absent.
It is a fact that Halloween and Christmas, primarily because of Hallmark stores and television programs, spend in excess of 8 billion dollars each year on promotions, selling decorations and gifts, emphasizing witches and jack-o-lanterns for Halloween and Santa Claus, the Grinch, and reindeer for Christmas. Fun days. Family gatherings. Nothing wrong with that. Yet, it is Thanksgiving that reminds us and teaches our young ones about the very beginnings of our America...our nation. Its emphasis is on unity, sharing, and caring. But there are no posters or cards of pilgrims and Native Americans dining together in the open air. On the store shelves there were very few papers plates or napkins reflecting Thanksgiving images or ideas. Not too long ago Thanksgiving was a special day. Schools, churches, and even stores reflected the sentiments of Thanksgiving...but no longer. We have truly become a secular society. So, what happened.
Commercialization as overtaken our lives. Children are are being raised by television, electronic games, Iphones and Ipads and the programs they all promote. Where are parental restrictions? What are schools teaching? What are parents emphasizing? Where is our nation headed?
I think it is a moral dilemma and a shame there is only one day set apart to give thanks to God as a nation. Actually, we should have a time each day set apart to give thanks and not just lipservice, but deep felt gratitude for our blessings.
As Christians, that is as people of God, we should want to give thanks, to live lives of grace, and to give our attention to God’s gifts to us then to thank God appropriately by living into these gifts of love, respect, forgiveness, and compassion.
To me, through a variety of life experiences, I have learned that gratitude is the very foundation of healthy, joyous, grace-filled life.
I was in the Post Office the other day and a man I know slightly stopped me and said, “Can I ask you a question?” I responded, “Sure, what is it?” He said, I see you in here often. You are alone, but you are always smiling. Why is that?” I was surprised by the question, so I took a moment to answer. Then I said, “I guess O smile a lot because I am blessed and grateful for life.” He snorted, “Grateful for life? My life is a mess.” I said back to him, “I regret that for you. But I believe on our worse days, our most horrific moments, we are better off than 90 percent of the rest of the world. That means something to me.” He shook his head and walked off. I went on to my post office box. As I was leaving he was waiting at the door for me. He held the door open and said, “I’ll think about what you said.’’ I smiled and went to my car.
I wondered how many people refuse to recognize the blessings we do have. It may not be true but it seems to me that we are a society of complainers, grippers, critics, and people quick to find fault and place blame. But I hope those words and feelings are mostly spontaneous reactions and not deep feelings. If we consider our situations, even though some of us have burdens some of which are huge, we are still blessed.
Look at David’s Psalm we read this morning. David was an intriguing man. He was a sinful man, a sometimes cruel man; he did terrible things to his clan and country. Yet, he also knew God and worshiped God. In this psalm you might notice that David had no plea, no request, no prayer of want...rather it was pure praise to God for the blessings. These words are passionate, full of energy and life. I can just picture in my mind David dancing around and around singing this hymn to God.
Do you ever do that? Get so overcome with joy for your life, those you love, the plenty you have that we just twirl around saying “thank you, thank you, thank you” to God and the universe? If you haven’t done so, I recommend it..that action and those words of praise lighten every burden and puts all events into perspective.
God himself, or herself, however you choose to image God, that entity gives purpose and meaning to live...far more than possessions, money, power, position or things can give. God and his infinite mercy keeps our lives from staleness and hopelessness. He restores our souls so that we can live the life he designed for us...to love, to be grateful, and to share.
Happy Thanksgiving. Amen
Sermon, November 11, 2018
Today is Veteran’s Day. This special day began As Armistice Day on November 11, 1919, which was the first anniversary of the end of World War I. In 1926, our Congress passed a resolution for an annual observance. But it wasn’t until 1938 that it became a national holiday. In 1954, President Eisenhower officially changed the name of the day to Veterans Day to pay tribute to all American veterans, living or dead. The day reminds us to pay special attention those people who have willing served their country honorably during war or peacetime.
Today is a special day when we have the opportunity to give thanks and appreciation to all members of the military and in all branches of service.
However, today should be a time of even more thanksgiving. We are so busy thinking about our present and our future, that we tend to negate the importance all that has gone before us to give us the freedom and peace we enjoy today.
There are several things we need to be aware of, remember, and be grateful for. Here are just a few:
It is the veteran, not the preacher, who continues to give us freedom of religion.
It is the veteran, not the reporter who continues to give us the freedom of speech.
It is the veteran not the lawyer who continues to give us the right to a free trial.
It is the veteran not the politician who continues to give us the right to vote.
It is the veteran who salutes the flag and serves under the flag and who continues to give us the freedom to proudly wave the flag.
Where would we be today had not these veterans stood up and stood tall for America? And what will happen to us in the near and distant future if others are not willing to take that giant step, leave the comfort of their homes, endure endless hours of training, to keep us safe and at relative peace.
My question today, is, as Christians, followers of Jesus, the Christ, what can we do in the present time to make better the lives and careers of each veteran, every military person, and every person who works in public service. Think about it: military men and women are on call to keep us safe; law enforcement exists to keep us safe; firemen keep us safe...so to help these people we need to be more determined to keep our own selves safe...and we do that by being personally responsible for ourselves and our own well being. We do so abiding by the rules our society has set for us so we all can be safe...we must abide by such laws as wearing seat belts, obeying the speed limit, talking about politics and participating in our governmental system with common sense without hostilities and divisiveness. We befriend friend and foe alike. We consider people on the other side of the world without judgment, condemnation or prejudice. We get to know people who are on the other side of our own philosophies. Also, we don’t blame other people for the challenges we face nor do we expect others to solve our problems. We take full responsibility for who we are, what we do, and how we act. The answer usually lies in living and loving in all the appropriate ways. Above all we must be kind..because every act of kindness adds kindness to the world. We are safer as a community when we all do the right thing; we are safer as a country when we all do the right thing; and we are safer in the world when the right thing is expressed openly and willingly even if it is rejected by others.
So today, as Christians, followers of Jesus, our Christ, we recognize and give honor to our veterans, our military people, our public servants. My prayer is that we pledge to them that we will individually and as a church try to prevent problems that they have to solve. Big Job? Absolutely? Can we do it? Well, my answer is we certainly should try to do so.
God bless all his servants, all his followers, and even all his enemies. Amen
The Nourishing Thought: Give us pure hearts, that we may see you; humble hearts, that we may hear you; hearts of love, that we may serve you; and hearts of faith, that we may abide in you.” Dag Hammarskjold
Words of Wisdom: Life is simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time. This is not just a fable or a nice story. It is true. If we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently. God shows himself everywhere, in everything—in people and in things and in nature and in events. It becomes obvious that God is everywhere and in everything and we cannot be without Him. It’s impossible. The only thing is that we don’t see it.” Thomas Merton, Trappist monk.
Sermon, November 4, 2018
There is a book by Philip Newell called “Listening to the Heartbeat of God.” Newell is a teacher of Celtic Spirituality, and in the book and his teachings he expounds on the natural and practical aspects of being a follower of Christ. For Celtic Christians, God is in every bit of his creation. We as humans have the ability to sense little bits and pieces of God every day in every action...however knowing His Allness is not yet possible.
Celtic fishermen climbing in the boats at dawn hear and see God in swoosh and laps of waves and the foam that flows over the sides of their small boats. The women see, hear, and feel God in the flames that light up the dry wood as they build their morning fires. They feel the heartbeat of God in wind whipping through the trees, in lightening and thunder, in a dog’s bark or the running feet of red deer. Their hear and sense the very heartbeat of God in their own bodies and the hearts of those they love and hold close. We too just have to touch our chest to feel the beat of God’s heart in our own hearts, and to watch the rise and fall of a heart in a sleeping child.
With these things so very present and close why do we not pay more attention and realize these are the ways God speaks to us today, every day, all day long.
WE know, or think, God is spirit and therefore without a body….yet every aspect of our cosmos and this planet is part of his body...and our church is the very body of the living Christ.
If then God has a body, and we are made in his image, I think God has thoughts, ideas, emotions no more or less than we do. I also think the very strongest, deepest, most profound place of God’s heart is in the passionate, unconditional love he as for his creation, especially his people, all his people.
I think one of the most remarkable aspects of our bible, both old and new testament, is that it holds the story of our entire human history...the generating of us, the degenerating of our selves, and the regenerating of us by God...or in other words, God created us, we reject God, God redeems us...no matter what! Perhaps this is how we can tell that we are indeed the heart of God...because even after we reject God over and over again, he goes to every extreme to encourage and enable us to return to him in a healthy relationship. Those of us who know of God and attempt to be more like him are pleasing to him...and more-over because we more or less stay in line with him, he has more time to spend with the marginalized, the outcasts, the lost.
Just look at all the scriptures that point us in that direction: Jesus, the very reflection of God, spent most of his earthly time with sinners, with losers, with the diseased and the dishonest.
There is a story that Jesus told about a shepherd who left 99 sheep to go find the one who was lost. The woman caught in adultery was rescued by Jesus. He reached out the short, ostracized Zacceus, told him to come down from the tree because Jesus was going to his house to have dinner with him. Jesus cured the lepers no one else would touch or even go near. He healed the woman who touched the hem of his garment, he healed the blind man, he raised from the dead his best friend on earth. He forgave the woman at the well who had 5 husbands and was living with one who was not her husband. On and on we read again and again Jesus loved, cared for, identified with, and socialized with the lost, the wounded, the not-too bright ones...and he even made some of those his disciples. How can we not see God’s passionate love for us, for you and me, even when we feel battered, and guilty, and not worth much. God’s love rescues every one of us and raises us up from the depths of our own created hell into an existence with Him that is all we ever need...the stuff bliss is made of.
All of these stories talk about changes in a person’s life. I think that is the grace, the love God gives us. He offers to each one of us, no matter who we are or what evil we think we have done, an opportunity to come into a radical, life-altering, relationship with him...the God of all, the creator God that made an infinite universe but thought you needed to be in it now. God is available every second...perhaps God is waiting for you to realize how vital you are personally to our planet and our community today. Think about it. Are you ready for a healthier, happier, more peaceful existence...if so, try God. He has all the answers just for you. Amen
Scripture: Deuteronomy 18: 10-13
The Nourishing Thought: “The challenge of the saints of the twenty-first century is to begin again to comprehend the sacred in the infinite things of this world. Let us encourage one another to see and honor the holy in things and moments that we usually view as ordinary or devoid of spirit.”
Words of Wisdom: “For centuries the church has confronted the human community with role models of greatness. We call them saints when what we really often mean to say is ‘icon or hero or star,’ ones so possessed by an internal vision of divine goodness they give us a glimpse of the face of God in the center of the human. They give us a taste of the possibilities of greatness in ourselves.” Joan Chittister in “A Passion for Life”
Sermon, October 28, 2018
Halloween is only 3 days away...and did you know that last year $8 billion was spent on Halloween decorations, costumes, candies, and parties? $8 billion...second only to Christmas spending. Another thing we need to know about Halloween is that it once was a celebration of the church. Halloween originally was the eve or evening before All Hallows Day...the day the church remembered and celebrated the church’s saints and all believers who kept the stories of love and life eternal alive.
All Hallows Day later became All Saints Day which Pope Gregory designated as November 1 for all church calendars.
Once Christianity began to move into the upper regions of Ireland, England and Scotland, the Christian faith became entangled with some pagan festivals. In these areas of Europe, the Celts celebrated a festival of summer’s end called Sanhaim (Sew een), which also marked the eve of the Celtic New Year, November 1. In Celtic lore, transitions like the change of one year into the next, were considered thin times...when the veil between life and death thinned. On the eve of the Celtic New year, spirits of the dead could roam around their previous areas of life. These ghostly meanderings could cause trouble for the living, like ruining crops, destroying homes, or farm buildings. Therefore, the Celtic people set out food and goodies to appease the spirits...hoping no harm would be done. They hoped by offering treats bad tricks would not be played on them...hence trick or treat.
During the middle ages, superstitions increased and witchcraft flourished. October 31 became a potent day for spells, curses, wicked incantations. Therefore, the more ominous symbols of Halloween grew and included witches, black cats, bats and skulls. These images came to American through the English and Irish immigrants during the 18 and 1900’s.
All the while, the Christian church was spreading….and in each new area the church came face to face with whatever pagan rites and rituals were present in those geographic areas. So the cultural aspects of the Christian faith began to place its own rites and rituals on the same dates as the pagan festivals hoping to move the pagans into the Christian faith….but more often than not, the pagan and Christian festivals and holy days became intertwined which added confusion and complexity to the simple faith of Christ which was to love, forgive, act kindly and be merciful.
Having said all that, perhaps it is still a good idea to take some time in the church calendar to remember and thank with great gratitude all the saints and believers throughout the centuries for keeping the powerful story of Christ love alive. To look back at the mistreatment of saints and believers, the horror many withstood to save the church and its belief system, is to see courage unabated, bravery in the face of torture, and lives crippled to maintain a faithful stance. Do any of us today even begin to understand what history has done to our faith and its holy traditions. How many of us today would willingly face torture rather than deny our God? How many of us would even be willing to be inconvenienced to stand up for God in the face of harm?
In truth, we have that facing us today. Secularism is taking over Christianity at an amazing rate. What should we do to preserve our faith and all its miraculous traditions? Or more specifically, what are you willing to do today to keep and preserve for the future your belief in a risen and loving Christ?
The Nourishing Thought: “Humans are never helped in our sufferings by what we think for ourselves, but only by revelations of a wisdom greater than our own. It is this which lifts us our of our distress.” Carl Jung
Words of Wisdom: Rumi believed we must learn to dance even in the midst of our pain. “Dance, when your broken open; dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off; dance in the middle of the fighting; dance in your blood. Dance, when you are perfectly free.”
“Believe God’s word and power more than your believe your own feelings and experiences. Your Rock is Christ, and it is not the Rock which ebbs and flows, but your sea.” Samuel Rutherford
October 14, 2018 23rd Psalm
When I was about 20 years old my husband Neil and I lived adjacent to his grandmother’s dairy farm in Lyman. One huge pasture had Golden Guernsey cows. The pasture beyond that had sheep. Being a town girl I had never touched a lamb or a sheep. So one day, Neil’s grandmother Mrs. Ritchie asked me to go with her to give her sheep some treats. She carried a large bag of something that looked like smushed up cheerios. When we reached the fence line, Mrs. Rictchie called in a loud voice, Sheepa, Sheepa. And the sheep came running to her. She talked to, sang to them, then them threw their treats in a large arc so they all could have some goodies. We watched the sheep for awhile and then Mrs. Ritchie walked the fence line to make sure her sheep were safe. I was impressed. So much so, that about a week later I went to the sheep pasture by myself and in the same style as Mrs. Ritchie I called to the sheep. Sheepa, Sheepa. The sheep ignored me. I called again and again. Then the sheep ran away from me not to me.
I later confessed this to Mrs. Ritchie and she laughed. She said don’t you know sheep only respond to the voice of their shepherd? I did not know that. But it did bring to mind what the 23rd Psalm teaches us. We should respond only to the voice of a loving Lord.
The language used in the 23rd psalm is figurative yet it clearly leads us to an understanding of the meaning of the message. The overall theme is to welcome our God’s divine nature as our own and to utilize that internal connection to the divine to begin to experience heaven today, in the now.
We do that by accepting the truth that God is our shepherd and only his voice will keep us safe...that is, will provide salvation for us. His voice is his teachings and his leadership. He naturally provides for us the things that matter and the things that lead us to wholeness in connection to holiness.
Toward that end, the poem assures us God places in our paths comforts such as still waters and green pastures. Then we begin to desire his kind of loving peace in our own lives. When we feel at peace in the now, regardless of what is happening on the outside of us, God is restoring our souls to their original oneness with God. By leading us in the paths of righteousness, God affirms that indeed our souls are still part of his all. He is saying to us, I am alive in the very cellular structure of your humanity.
Then because we are human, and live in a more or less hostile world, we will face challenges...some very hurtful and serious challenges. Those are the times we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We do experience those times, but the psalm again reassures us we are not alone...God’s own rod and staff (that his his laws and teachings) are with us. They provide hope in the fearful moments. These holy laws and teachings of love and forgiveness can be the defense we have against going astray ourselves.
If we cling to God and his abundance during these tough times, then there will be provided a table for us, a table, a life, full of unconditional love which is the anointing oil, and wisdom, the overflowing cup.
The amazing aspect of the poem or psalm, is that all the action except one is done by our God. The only action we take as his sheep is walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Other than that, we trust God, we follow the teachings that make us wise and joyous, we accept the good blessings that flow to us and through us daily.
As modern day Christians, it is sometimes difficult to understand imagery from 3000 years ago when this psalm was written. However, the truth of it is eternal. That truth is that God loves each of us as individual reflections of God. He loves us so deeply he has invested his own holiness, love and wisdom inside of us so that we too will share that freeing love, that compassionate wisdom, with those we both love and do not love. When we do so then love will grow to include the even the unlovely who need love to become more humane themselves.
Because God created us he knows us very well. And he knows only choosing to join ourselves to him by living this teachings, will ever make us truly happy, joyous, and full of light. In that state of being in the now, we begin our eternal journey of enveloping heaven...that state of being that makes us forever one with him through our consent. Amen
The Nourishing Thought: “The only significance of life consists in helping to establish the kingdom of God in the here and now.” Leo Tolstoy
Words of Wisdom: “The kingdom of God is not a matter of getting individuals to heaven, but of transforming the life on earth into the harmony of heaven.” Walter Rauschenbusch
“If you have not chosen the kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.” William Law
Sermon, October 7, 2018
One of the amazing and stimulating traits of the teachings of Jesus is his reversal of conventional wisdom. Again and again, Jesus turns things upside down to show that the kingdom of God is different from the earthly kingdoms we establish. The morals of his parables and teachings are usually not what we expect...they have surprise endings, such as the last is first, the poor are more blessed, the master is a servant to all, and God’s ways are not our ways, nor his thoughts our thoughts.
One of the most important teachings is that to have authority, to be a leader, is to become a servant. In our expectations, we look at men and women who have authority and we expect them to be powerful and wealthy. But Jesus taught the opposite. In the Kingdom of God, the really great, powerful, life-altering people are those who willingly serve others...at all costs. God honors his servants because he knows his servants will never harm others or manipulate them to gain power for themselves. God’s power is sufficient for his servants.
Another major teaching probably makes no sense to us humans...and that is to love your enemies, be good to those who persecute you, and give to those who take from you. We don’t want to do that; we want to get even, we want to have revenge. But Jesus taught (Matthew 5: 43-44) you shall love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. In our holy scriptures, they are holy because if we obey them they make us whole and healthy, Paul stresses that teaching. He stated that we are to love our enemies and by doing so we actually get back at them because we are relieved of the burden of harming someone. God will handle the one who hurt you. Revenge is the Lord’s. But here is an interesting verse: The Lord says, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” In the first century people carried things on their heads. If they were moving from one place to another, they would bind up the coals from their fire, and take them with them to their next place of residence. That way they did not have to start a fire all over again.. and therefore the burning coals would enable them to cook and stay warm without undue effort. So in effect, by heaping coals on their heads is actually a way of helping and assisting your enemies...which is God’s desire for us
Another strange teaching is to become rich, give your money away. To our human way of thinking to have money we hoard it, invest it, or save it. Many people don’t give because they are afraid of being without themselves. But Jesus says, “Give and it will be given to you. (Luke 6: 38) The world works on the principle of buying and selling. But the kingdom of God works on the principle of giving and receiving. The Kingdom of God is upside down from how we think and feel. Jesus said that giving of our selves, our time, energy, and money, triggers a reaction. It causes the things we give away to come back to us 30, 60, 100 fold...not necessarily in kind but often something even better. And this principle applies across the board. You can not out give God, even when you give out of need rather than out of plenty, you will gain more. Ultimately it is not about money. It is about our attitude towards money. IF the only reason you give money in order to receive it, you have totally missed the point and that attitude will have a negative impact on you. But when you give out of a true desire to help and bless others, then the harvest will come for you to receive. Jesus said, “Seek you first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33
There are other teachings that turn your ideas upside down….read the New Testament and look for these stories...they will bless you, they will give you the skills you need to enhance your life by focusing on something other than your ego. So, where am I going with this?
The answer: conventional wisdom is cultural, societal, and man-made based on ego...that is, what’s in it for me, or what is good for me? Christ wisdom is the death of ego to set you free to ask, not what is best for me, but what is best for others and me. Christ wisdom is love...and the greatest experience of love in action comes when we are kind to all others, when we do not judge others or categorize someone as less than we are. Through Christ wisdom we are enabled to accept others’ weaknesses, differences, and shortcomings, and to have patience with someone who has let us down or disappointed us. Christ wisdom resists becoming offended when another doesn’t act the way we hoped or handled something in the way we wanted. Christ love refuses to take advantage of another’s weakness then forgiving someone who has hurt us. Christ love chooses to see the best in each other.
You have a choice of ego driven, conventional wisdom which does involve stress, conflicts, and a desire to control all….which is impossible. Or you can choose Christ wisdom, and follow the flow of life that leads to peace, hope, and stress-free living based on trust and faith in a gracious God.
Your choice. Amen
The Nourishing Thought: “The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.” Anon
Words of Wisdom: “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.”
“Forgiveness is the surrender of our victimhood-taking back the power of full personhood that was stripped from us by another or our selves.” D. Prisbin
Sermon, September 30, 2018
Today I want us to think about forgiveness. It is one of the foundational concerns of our faith. As scripture tells us, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But thanks to the good news of the gospels, we don’t have to wallow in guilt over our wrongdoings. We have been given a gift from our Creator...and that gift is forgiveness.
We know from life experiences that every action has a consequence...either a positive one or a negative one. It seems we often keep doing the harmful things we do hoping we don’t get caught...
rather than just stopping our harmful tactics. Getting caught and having consequences, however, can be the best most corrective thing that can happen to us.
For example: a lady wanted a pet, so she purchased a parrot that could talk. The parrot was mean and spoke only unkind hurtful things to the lady. He told her she was ugly and useless. Every time she tried to feed him he pecked her on her arm and laughed. After several days, she had had enough. She grabbed the parrot and threw him in her freezer. For a few minutes he kept talking but then there was silence. The lady thought, “Oh, gosh, I’ve killed him.” She rushed to the freezer, opened the door, and the parrot was there shivering. The parrot said, “Lady, I am sorry for the things I have said. Please forgive me and I’ll only say nice things from now on.” The lady replied, “I accept your apology.” Before the parrot flew out of the freezer, he looked beside him and said, “May I ask you a question.” Yes, she said. He asked her, “What did the chicken do to you?”
That is so corny, but it makes a great point. The parrot suffered consequences, but he noticed the chicken perhaps suffered more stringent ones than he did. Is that not how many of us look at life and the wrongdoings therein? We compare our sins to those of others and often excuse ourselves because ours isn’t nearly as awful...or so we think.
Young people feel immortal and think they are smart enough to misbehave and not get caught. That is rarely the case. Knowing this about us humans that God himself created, he loved us enough to build in a saving devise available to all of us. It is called forgiveness: we are to utilize forgiveness as we forgive ourselves and others. It keeps us humane and opens doors for healing, for getting rid of guilt, anger, and fear.
In the Lord’s prayer we say most Sundays, there is a phrase that states: Father forgive us our trespasses (sins) as we forgive those who have trespassed or sinned against us. That word “as” has two connotations. WE are forgiven as we forgive, that is in the very act of our forgiving others we too are forgiven. The other way to look at the word “as” is we are to forgive as much as God has forgiven us.
It is my opinion that forgiveness is the great test of a Christ filled life. You can look at almost any thing humans desire to become, and tests are always part of that becoming. For example if you want to be a pro-football player you have to have a certain skill set...but you have to pass the test of running a certain distance in a certain amount of time, or tackling someone without seriously hurting them our yourself. There are tests you must pass to become a football player. If you want to be a doctor, you have to have intelligence, caring, and an ability to spend long hours wide awake, because you hold another life in your hand. You take many tests to make sure you can legitimately call yourself Doctor.
The same thing occurs as we become Christians. To be a Christian means you live every day the way Jesus the Christ lived. One great test we must pass in order to legitimately call ourselves followers of Christ is to forgive all, all the time, and do so willingly.
Many of the greatest minds have discovered the power of forgiveness of self and others. Paul Tillich taught that there is no condition for forgiveness...it is a choice Henri Nouwen stated “Forgiveness is love practiced among people who love poorly. It sets us free without wanting anything in return. Francis of Assisi said, “It is in forgiving that we are forgiven.” Robert Frost learned that to be social at all is to be forgiven. Francis Bacon said that a person who wants revenge keeps his wounds open, which otherwise would heal and do well. Confucius taught that to be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it. Lastly, medical and psychological researches have documented the positive effects of forgiveness on the forgiver. They say forgiveness reduces stress, lowers the risk of heart disease, and aids people in having happier, better adjusted, and healthier relationships. Sounds like forgiveness is worth pursuing.
Once we decide to be Christian, then we are making a commitment to live like Jesus did in regards to loving others, forgiving self and others, and being kind and compassionate. I think those are the real tests of being a Christian. How do you rate yourself in those areas? Amen
.The Nourishing Thought: “There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that is your own self.” Aldous Huxley
Words of Wisdom: “Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” Les Brown
“If you believe it will work out, you will see opportunities. If you believe it won’t work out, you will see obstacles.” Wayne Dyer
Sermon, September 23, 2018
Several years ago I was in Oxford keeping my grandchildren. Charlie was 8 and Camille was 11. I had asked them what they wanted to do that afternoon and immediately Charlie said let’s jump on the trampoline. Camille said, “No, let’s go bike riding.” An argument ensued. Charlie became adamant and insisted, “Let’s jump, its fun. I want to jump on the trampoline.” Camille kept saying very loudly, “No, I’m not jumping. We are going bike riding. Charlie countered, “NO, trampoline.” Finally, fully exasperated, Camille looked at Charlie and said, “Whaat eveah!” Then she walked away. Charlie gasped, like he had been hit! He immediately felt completely dismissed, of no value. He started wailing and crying, “Camille said whatever to me. She can’t say whatever to me.”
I was a bit surprised by Charlie’s apparent devastation, until I realized the word “whatever” conveyed at that moment what Camille felt about Charlie and his wants. He got the message that who he was and what he wanted simply didn’t matter to Camille. He was completely unimportant.
Words are powerful because they reflect our thoughts. They never just stand alone...they always reflect our thoughts...they are symbols of our inner most ideas, feelings, and thoughts.
The word “whatever” held dire consequences for Charlie.
Interestingly, in recent years Marist College on the Hudson River in New York took a poll attempting to discover the most annoying words Americans use. 47 % of those surveyed said “whatever” was the most annoying. “You know” came in as the second most annoying, and the words “anyway” and “at the end of the day” were the third most annoying words we use.
But also interesting is that the very same word can have a completely different meaning depending on how it is spoken and in what context.
For example, look at our scripture today. Every phrase starts with “whatever. In this instance the word is used to reflect the importance of the teachings of Jesus. So we must first think then speak “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
There are other “whatevers” in scripture. Paul used it in several of his epistles” “In Philippians he wrote, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am.”In Galatians, he states, “Whatever a person sows, this he will reap.” To the Corinthians he wrote, “Whatever you do, do all to the gory of God.”
Perhaps the hardest things in life to control are our thoughts and the words we use. Scientists tell us humans have 10,000 thoughts every day! Most of us probably think our words and actions make up most of what we spend time on. However, not by a long shot. Our thoughts are never ceasing...when we are awake, when we are asleep, even in our unconsciousness words march across our brain in unending fashion. Our thoughts compose the major part of who we really are. That’s why today’s scripture warns us to train our minds, or as God calls our minds our hearts, to think in kind, lovely, honorable ways. Admittedly it is hard to do, but have you listened lately to a movie or a tv show? The language used even by young people is pornographic, it is negative, it is beneath us a people of a holy God.
Someone once said, “”Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions they become habits; watch your habits, they become your character; and watch your character for it becomes your destiny and your fate.” I think this statement is completely true.
Wise people have stated through the centuries that we as humans do nothing without thinking about it first...maybe fleetingly yet it still flashes through our minds prior to action. So if we could control our thoughts better, our actions would improve tremendously. If we want to grow spiritually, if we want to increase our sense of peace and joy, if we want to be more who God wants us to be then we must win the war over bad thoughts because they become harmful words and can create disharmony or chaos.
Now in America, we do have the right to free speech….that is a civil law. But it works best when used with a spiritual law to speak no harmful words and think no damaging thoughts.
Just how Christian, how Christlike are we, in the control and use of our thoughts and resulting words.
Use this week to ponder that question. In the meantime, don’t say “Yeh, God, what evaaah”...rather say, “God, whatever you want is what I want.” Amen
The Nourishing Thought: “There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that is your own self.” Aldous Huxley
Words of Wisdom: “Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” Les Brown
“If you believe it will work out, you will see opportunities. If you believe it won’t work out, you will see obstacles.” Wayne Dyer
Sermon, September 16, 2018
This week is the first anniversary of being in our new, beautiful sanctuary. One year. I asked Max what this week might mean to him. This is his reply: “It’s amazing. You get a square of dirt, stack up on it a lot of bricks, hold them together with mortar, love, and compassion, then you open the door and God walks in. All of a sudden thus is a holy, sacred place for all time.” Then he said, “That doesn’t happen when Walmarts are built.”
Yes, this is a sacred place...and I see it as a birthing place...as we birth the true spirit of Christ inside in our hearts and minds; I see it as a nursery...like plant nursery...where we encourage each other to grow, expand, become more open and mature. Where we fertilize one another with good food, great companionship, and a commitment to study together the Bible and our faith founder Jesus, the Christ. Taken all together it seems to be a recipe for abundant Christian living. The gifts of caring, participating and your funds create an amazing outreach...because your caring, your love, is taken out into our broader community where hundreds of little school age children are adored and encouraged, taught confidence and reading skills, and where success at home, school and in the community are enhanced. We reach out to neighbors in need to provide food, clothing, household items that help struggling families. Our scholarship program gives young, determined students funds to gain further knowledge and skills. In a year, we have even expanded by purchasing the red house behind us as a meeting place...we want it to be used to further friendships, a place where knowledge and laughter go together. God has blessed this church, this place, and all of us together because I think we are doing what He has asked us to do….be kind, be compassionate, be loving, be forgiving,be humble, and trust him...the God of all.
Now you might wonder why I read some of the genealogy of Jesus this morning….it is because the Jewish people found meaning in their own history. They looked to the past for their purpose. And, it told who Jesus was. The original readers of Matthew’s gospel were Jewish people and Matthew believed they could best understand Jesus if they knew their history of past saviors: Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David...and the best of all, the real anointed Messiah, Jesus.
In our case, we look at our Christian history and have gratitude for those who have gone before us to protect this story and this holy possibility in spite of the horrors so many faced. Our meaning, then, is not just in the past, it is in the present and the future. And what does the future hold for us?
I think first and foremost we are responsible to God to keep the stories of Jesus and his life-altering love alive. And how do we do so? We have a responsibility to young people to help prepare them for life ahead that right now may be quite scary and hostile. They need skills beyond what schools can teach. They need churches to teach hope, to value faithful living, and to give of themselves as a way to live.
We have a responsibility to older people in our church and community. We need to help meet their needs in a world that is changing too rapidly to keep up….technology changes minute to minute and older citizens struggle with phones, and Ipads, and things unheard of 10 years ago.
We have responsibility to this community to be examples of Christ’s unfailing love. Nearly everywhere I go people remark about you, people of the Nourishing Place, and they are astounded at what you do without all fanfare and advertising. You humbly and meekly and wonderfully serve our risen Lord and people take notice.
And we have a responsibility to continue being part of this church, to come together to learn more about the power of love, the majesty of grace, and to strengthen you, prepare you, and propel you into the next and coming years of ministry in this place and this community.
So today, let’s remember who we are in Christ, remember where we have been, and then look to the future, remembering what we have been put here to do and where we are going. Let us infuse the future beginning today with God’s wisdom, Jesus’ love, and our own commitment to serve one another as God’s people...He is here, he walks among us, he depends on us to spread the good news as we become more and more aware of our own sanctification...we are set apart to work and to make life holy, sacred, and meaningful. God is faithful, kind, merciful and we must be so as well. May we live in gratitude for the lives we have been given...and may they produce even more grace in this place and this community. Amen
The Nourishing Thought: “You receive what you give!”
Words of Wisdom: Some people look for a beautiful place. Others make a place beautiful.”
H. Inayat Khan
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” Albert Einstein
Sermon, September 9, 2018
Today’s scripture is one of those stories that makes us think things we don’t want to think about...it forces us to ask ourselves just how far we are willing to go to serve the purpose of a loving, forgiving God.
So let’s put this story in today’s setting. Suppose we are all here in the sanctuary, listening to spiritual music, getting in the mood to think about our relationship to our God, and there is a knock on the front door. We open the door and the infamous murderer Charles Manson is standing there. He announces in a loud voice, “Hey, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to kill people any more, I want to know Jesus and serve him.”
What would you think, and what would you do?
I think we would be afraid, terrified. We certainly would not trust him nor want him to come inside. Someone might call the police to have him removed from our presence. Some of us might drop to the floor or run out to the kitchen. Perhaps we would be too afraid to move, and not know what to do.
Well, what if Jesus himself was part of this congregation and he was here that day. What do you think Jesus would say to Charles Manson and what would he do?
Now, hold that thought for a minute and look at today’s story again. When Saul came to Jerusalem to see the apostles they did not believe Saul and they were afraid of him. He had murdered Christians by the hundreds, he was part of the Pharisees...those men who despised Jesus. But one day as Saul was going down the road to kill more Christians he had a vision...the risen Christ Spirit spoke to him. And Saul changed his mind. He no longer wanted to kill people, he wanted to serve this new faith based on Jesus’ teachings of love and acceptance. Even when he told the apostles what had happened to him they still were not sure of him. They wanted proof that his words were backed up by his actions. Fortunately for Saul, he had a friend named Barnabas who vouched for Saul. Barnabas told the apostles that Saul had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. Reluctantly, the apostles allowed Saul to stay with them in Jerusalem. One day Saul was preaching to some Greek Jews. They tried to kill him, so the apostles took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. And an amazing thing happened. Once the leader of the band of Jewish murderers, Saul, was converted, the murders of Christians stopped for a while, and the church throughout the Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. The church was strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit and it grew in numbers.
Now back to the earlier question. If Jesus was a part of our congregation, and each of us must decide if he is or not, then we need to think about what he would have said and done to Charles Manson. This is my opinion and only an opinion. Knowing Jesus through scriptural stories I think Jesus would have gone to the door, probably embraced Mr. Manson, and walked him a far distance from the rest of us to keep us safe. Then I think Jesus spent time with him. He might have taken him down to the Waffle House, fed him, asked him about his change of mind. Jesus would care for him. But, that is Jesus’ job. To take the bad, the horrible, the terrifying aspects of our lives and help us make peace from them.
What we need to realize is that Saul, before he was converted and became Paul, was just as terrifying, horrible, cruel and vicious as Charles Manson. Yet, God anointed Saul to change his mind and teach the rest of us how vital to life faith is, how essential the teachings of Jesus are in order to live abundantly.
Remember Moses? He, was a murderer, but God anointed him to write down the laws that direct humane behavior. So my conclusion is Jesus never discounts anyone for any reason...and neither should we.
We claim to be followers of Jesus, of his teachings, and we claim to trust him with our lives. So, what would you do about possible unwanted visitors at our own door? Is there any real redemption for them? If so, what small part would you be willing to play in offering grace to such people?
We may not have murderers come through our doors, but we do have people who have sinned terribly and I am certainly one of those people. As are some of you. We have people come to us whose actions and words have hurt others and damaged spirits. We have people here who have spent time in jail, who are hungry and lost and come to us for nourishment. Some of them come fresh from jail and stand in the breakfast or supper lines and then sit at a table all alone while others of us quickly go sit with people we know. We meet people in the aisles of grocery stores, the post office, hospital waiting rooms, on and on, who are starving for a smile, a kind word, a warm touch. A forgiving spirit. How do you treat these people? As discards, unworthy of your attention? Or are they people worthy of God’s love and yours?
Today’s message, that is difficult and sometimes frightening, comes straight from the teachings of Jesus himself. The message is all about how you treat other people with special attention given to the outcasts or the different ones.
As Christians what should we do? What will you do? Amen
The Nourishing Thought: “Words which do not give the light of love increase the darkness.” Mother Teresa
Words of Wisdom: “Would it appall you or delight you if Christ revealed your thoughts to others?”
“Humans look at each other’s outward appearance; but the Lord looks at our hearts.”
Sermon, August 19, 2018
Jesus, Moses, and an old bearded guy were playing golf. On the first tee Moses shanked the ball into a lake. He parted the water and hit his ball onto the green. Jesus teed off, hitting his ball into another water hazard. But he walked on the water, and stroked his ball just short of the cup. Then the old bearded man stepped up for his tee shot. He hit the ball with tremendous force, but hooked it badly. The ball bounced off the clubhouse roof, hit the cart path, and rolled down a hill into a pond, coming to rest on a lily pad. A frog hopped over and picked up the ball, then an eagle swooped down, snatched the frog, and flew over the green. The frog dropped the ball and it rolled into the cup for a hole in one. Moses turned to Jesus and said, “I hate playing golf with your dad.”
Yes, God can do anything...he is powerful, creative, brilliant, and a master of all good things. However, he depends on one of his special creations to carry out his plans of goodness. That special creation is you and me...us frail, faulty, sinful, uncaring humans. He trusts us at some point in time to come to our senses and realize God knows what he is doing and he is wiser than all of us put together.
So he sends a special someone to earth to show us what to think and how to use our lives for a greater good. One way we do this task is to use the mind of Christ that is already inside of us.
As a young man, Jesus would have been familiar with the prophets of old. He would have known each one by name, when and where that prophet lived, and most importantly what that prophet taught him about God and God’s will. From the prophets Hosea and Micah, Jesus would have learned what God expected of him: not burnt sacrifices but goodness. “God has shown you young man what is goodness. Here is what God requires of you. To do justice, to be merciful, and to walk humbly with your Lord.” Jesus not only practiced those aspects but he taught his own disciples to do likewise, and hopefully us as well.
So what does it mean to do justice? Throughout history it seems people associated God’s justice with punishment. However, if you carefully read scripture, you see again and again where God’s justice is fair, it is righteous. In Job he says, “the Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; yet in his justice and great righteousness he does not oppress or hurt.” From the Psalms we read, “God is full of unfailing love.” God is upright and good, he is fair and equitable. He doesn’t show preference to some over others...his love is abundantly available to all people in the same portion. His love does not show favoritism. Therefore, we are to emulate those traits and attitudes. As followers of a good and grace full God, we too must love without prejudice, stand up for what is right for all people...all races, ethnic groups, nations, and religions. God cares especially for the outsider, the marginalized, and we should emulate that all-encompassing compassion as well.
The second thing Jesus learned and taught about what God requires is mercy. God’s mercy means that when we deserve punishment God does not punish us. Rather he blesses us instead. We might punish ourselves through our actions and poor choices, but God does not. He blesses, he loves, he forgives, he anoints, he lifts us up, he is indeed merciful, he does not give us what we deserve, he gives us love. If we live into the mind of Christ that is within us, we too must show mercy. We might condemn an act of hate and harm, but we must encourage the perpetrator to seek forgiveness and repent….meaning the perpetrator will cease his harmful acts. Sound impossible? Sound improbable? Yes. However, God’s truth prevails and our task is to at least attempt to emulate and imitate his kind of mercy. When we choose to do so, the spirit within us will help and guide. So we are here to do God’s will and leave he results to him.
The third thing Jesus taught about what God requires is that we walk humbly with God. That means we walk side by side with God, for indeed his breath, his life, is within us. We must seek a close friendship with God flavored with adoration for his majesty and gifts to us, recognizing all good things, all good things, come from God...through us. Do not put Godly life in the back of your mind...rather keep those truths as guides for each day of your life. God resists pride in people, but he gives grace to the humble. The more humble you become the more God will work through you.
As Christians we are to have the same characteristics that Jesus had while he walked this earth. That means we have his mind as well as his spirit. Having the mind of Christ means sharing the plan, purpose, and perspective of Christ. The plan is for all people to recognize and accept the love of God for all people. The purpose is to be personally involved in living your life with the intentions to follow the way of Jesus, to have the faith of Jesus, and to share your experience of the risen Christ spirit within you. The perspective is obedience to his teachings...they exist to guide us into living lives of abundance in all the areas that make life meaningful: like love, peace, forgiveness, grace, compassion. If we do these things we will love ourselves and others in a new light, a refreshing experience. We will know we are doing what we were put here to do. And we will reap the benefits which are joy and fearlessness. Isn’t this way of living at least worth the effort to try it?
As Gandhi once said, “I thought Christianity was the best of all possible religions, until I met a Christian. Then I realized the way of Christ has not really been tried.”
Is that a condemnation, or an urging to try it, do it, live it. We can’t possibly go wrong. Amen
The Nourishing Thought: “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist seeks opportunity in every difficult.” Winston Churchill
Words of Wisdom: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply what we know. Wishing is not enough; we must do our wishes.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“Creativity is intelligence having fun!” Albert Einstein
Sermon, August 12, 2018 The Widow’s Mite
Contrary to popular thought, this biblical lesson isn’t about money...it is totally about trust in God’s way of living. The story indicates that Jesus and his friends were standing near the Women’s Court in the temple watching who tossed money into one of the 13 receptacles that were spaced throughout this court. The wealthy made a great show of throwing enough coins in to make a noise...to be noticed. However, the indigent woman, the widow, only had to of the smallest coins...the two equaled a penny. She put both in and they made not a sound.
Here was a woman herself in need of charity, however she had a giving heart and willingly gave her last money to God.
Listen to this modern day parable that teaches the same lesson. A Sunday School teacher had a class of children 7 to 9 years old. She was teaching a lesson about obeying God and being generous. Very excitably she asked the class, “If you had a million dollars would you be willing to give most of it to help people in need?” Equally excited the class shouted “Yes! Then she asked if you had a hundred thousand dollars would you be willing to give most of it to help the poor?” The class shouted “Yes!” Then she asked, “If you had one dollar, would you be willing to give most of it to help people in need?” The class shouted “Yes” except for one boy who shouted “No!” The teacher asked him why he said “no”. His answer was, “Because I have a dollar.”
Think about it. Altruism, helping, loving, being generous are wonderful to think about, delightful to ponder, nice to consider...but actually doing loving, giving, being altruistic at your own risk and cost are altogether something different. We want to keep what we have even though our faith says we own nothing...God owns it all. God allows us to use what we have, what we have worked hard for and earned, to assist his people in need.
The story of the widow is her life and livelihood means very little outside of her devotion to her God. She trusted God with her livelihood which was her life.
Some folks don’t like to think about offering what we have to God’s work for fear we will lose what we have….but let me remind you. Thirteen years ago many of you in this room lost every possession you had...house, car, jewelry, photos, lifetime memories to a storm named Katrina. But look at your now. Some have more than you ever had. Some have had those important things replaced. God did not leave you alone….through people who have a willingness to help and give came forward and resurrected this community.
The moral of this teaching is we must never, ever, ever blame fear, our fear of loss, for not obeying God’s call to give yourself away in caring...in whatever way it comes to you at whatever the cost. A radical teaching? “Yes.” Isn’t that what a Christian, a follower of Christ is asked to do? Live radically on God’s terms not your own.
If and when you decide to do so you will never regret it. It is the way of Christ. Amen
Sermon, November 11, 2018
Today is Veteran’s Day. This special day began As Armistice Day on November 11, 1919, which was the first anniversary of the end of World War I. In 1926, our Congress passed a resolution for an annual observance. But it wasn’t until 1938 that it became a national holiday. In 1954, President Eisenhower officially changed the name of the day to Veterans Day to pay tribute to all American veterans, living or dead. The day reminds us to pay special attention those people who have willing served their country honorably during war or peacetime.
Today is a special day when we have the opportunity to give thanks and appreciation to all members of the military and in all branches of service.
However, today should be a time of even more thanksgiving. We are so busy thinking about our present and our future, that we tend to negate the importance all that has gone before us to give us the freedom and peace we enjoy today.
There are several things we need to be aware of, remember, and be grateful for. Here are just a few:
It is the veteran, not the preacher, who continues to give us freedom of religion.
It is the veteran, not the reporter who continues to give us the freedom of speech.
It is the veteran not the lawyer who continues to give us the right to a free trial.
It is the veteran not the politician who continues to give us the right to vote.
It is the veteran who salutes the flag and serves under the flag and who continues to give us the freedom to proudly wave the flag.
Where would we be today had not these veterans stood up and stood tall for America? And what will happen to us in the near and distant future if others are not willing to take that giant step, leave the comfort of their homes, endure endless hours of training, to keep us safe and at relative peace.
My question today, is, as Christians, followers of Jesus, the Christ, what can we do in the present time to make better the lives and careers of each veteran, every military person, and every person who works in public service. Think about it: military men and women are on call to keep us safe; law enforcement exists to keep us safe; firemen keep us safe...so to help these people we need to be more determined to keep our own selves safe...and we do that by being personally responsible for ourselves and our own well being. We do so abiding by the rules our society has set for us so we all can be safe...we must abide by such laws as wearing seat belts, obeying the speed limit, talking about politics and participating in our governmental system with common sense without hostilities and divisiveness. We befriend friend and foe alike. We consider people on the other side of the world without judgment, condemnation or prejudice. We get to know people who are on the other side of our own philosophies. Also, we don’t blame other people for the challenges we face nor do we expect others to solve our problems. We take full responsibility for who we are, what we do, and how we act. The answer usually lies in living and loving in all the appropriate ways. Above all we must be kind..because every act of kindness adds kindness to the world. We are safer as a community when we all do the right thing; we are safer as a country when we all do the right thing; and we are safer in the world when the right thing is expressed openly and willingly even if it is rejected by others.
So today, as Christians, followers of Jesus, our Christ, we recognize and give honor to our veterans, our military people, our public servants. My prayer is that we pledge to them that we will individually and as a church try to prevent problems that they have to solve. Big Job? Absolutely? Can we do it? Well, my answer is we certainly should try to do so.
God bless all his servants, all his followers, and even all his enemies. Amen