Sunday, February 18th, 2024
Scripture: Acts: 8:26-40
Theme: Baptism

Welcome
Announcements  Giving Options-Special Offering for February Human Relations Day; Furnace is Funded! Thank you all very much; Rainbow Acres performance and potluck on March 10th; Lent Study to begin on TODAY, February 18th at 3PM in Mingus Room.
Song
Call to Worship
L: Bring your lives, full of sorrow and joy.
P: Bring yourselves, full of hope and despair.

L: Come in your brokenness, ready for fullness of life.
P: Stay in your weakness, ready to receive strength and the power of God.

 

Unison Prayer
Source of hope, bring us into the presence of hope.  Inspire us with the strength of faith. Shower us with the waters of mercy and grace, that our hope may be renewed as we learn to trust your promise and love. Amen.

Song

Scripture: Acts 8:26-40 NRSV

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,

and like a lamb silent before its shearer,

so he does not open his mouth.

33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.

Who can describe his generation?

For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Message: Baptism

Water is the foundation of life. One of the primary ingredients for life as we know it is water. Water is found in the vacuum of space in nebula’s spread across the galaxy. We see water in space in our solar system whenever we track a comet. Comets are made of water and leave a trail of ice behind in their wake. Water has been found on multiple planets, often in the form of ice, and this has given hope that eventually we will travel to the stars and meet other beings. All because water exists.

Water has the power to reshape the surface of our planet. The earth’s oceans cover 71% of our planet’s surface. The vast majority of species ever found on our earth or that currently exist on earth live within the waters of the ocean. It contains the largest animals on the planet, the blue whale, as well as incredible life cycles that power much of our planet’s ability to deal with CO2. The deepest spot on earth is underwater, the Marianas Trench, at a depth of over 35,000 feet. We haven’t discovered or explored most of the ocean and have only really just begun to document the sheer number of creatures it contains. As scriptures might say, the seas hide the leviathan in their depths.

We need water to survive. Every year we see people being rescued from trails here in Arizona, trails they weren’t prepared for often because they didn’t take enough water. Water defines the boundaries of our lives. How far we can hike but also the borders of our states and our nation. Arizona’s western board is all scraggly and almost random, till you realize it follows the course of the Colorado river. The Rio Grande has been the border between Texas and Mexico since Texas’ independence, and the river finds itself back in the political spotlight as the boarder issues escalate and we make the water even more dangerous by adding razor wire to the middle of it.

In the Old Testament, God hovered over the face of the waters in creation, saved a small part of humanity in an ark that floated on the flood waters. The matriarchs and patriarchs of the Old Testament met by rivers and wells. When God’s people were exiled into Babylon and no longer had a temple to worship in, Ezekiel tells us the people of God met by the river, a place they knew God would be.

At the beginning of the New Testament Jesus is nurtured in the waters of Mary’s womb, words we often say in liturgy in church. Then Jesus is baptized by John in the river Jordan. He meets a Samaritan woman by a well and tells her of Gods love. He teaches the masses of people by the shores of the sea of Galilee and walks across the waters to meet with his disciples. And as he hangs on the cross and is stabbed with a spear, not just blood but water flows.

As the new Testament continues, we see water used in baptism, not as John uses it at the beginning of the gospels for repentance, but as Jesus taught the disciples to use it as a sign of community. We see Paul shipwrecked on the sea, bringing the gospel to the authorities in Rome since he was under arrest. And in Revelation we see not only the tree of life, but the waters coming from the tree of life, and the renewal and new life that they bring.

Water is something that we assume we know what it means, what it stands for and how valuable it is. But we don’t really understand those things until we don’t have it, or until we stop to think about why we are baptized. Many of us grew up with the idea of a believer’s baptism. Rachel Held Evans writes “Believer’s baptism strikes me as something of a misnomer, anyway, suggesting far more volition in this circumstance than most of us have. Whether you meet the water as a baby squirming in the arms of a nervous priest, or as an adult plunged into a river by a revivalist preacher, you do it at the hands of those who first welcome you to faith, the people who have—or will-introduce you to Jesus. “In baptism,” writes Will Willimon, “the recipient of baptism is just that—recipient. You cannot very well do your own baptism. It is done to you, for you.” It’s an adoption, not an interview. Pg 8-9. Rachel points to the point of baptism in wording that we can very much understand. Baptism is less about you and more about the community which you are being a part of.

All of us desire community. We all want to be a part of a community; we want a sense of belonging and the feeling that someone cares. Our scripture story today tells us of the Ethiopian eunuch, and how Philip is miraculously brough to this person who is reading the prophet Isaiah. We often tell this story as one of evangelistic opportunity. Philip listened to God, was in the right place and right time to share his faith and was open to sharing his faith. All of this is true, but we say these things at the expense of the eunuch’s story.

The eunuch, we never learn his name in the story, is reading a religious text from a faith and practice that wouldn’t allow them to participate. In the Jewish temple religion of the time a eunuch was an irreparably damaged individual. They were neither male nor female, and the worship practices that the temple followed excluded them from participation in worship. In the average Jewish community of the time, they wouldn’t have been able to participate either. Their status as a eunuch, while often highly considered in the non-Jewish world, had no standing within the community as they said in our text today. They couldn’t understand the scriptures because no one would guide them. Yet something within this person yearned for God and yearned to be a part of Gods work in the world.

Philip saw this. The first thing Philip did right was recognize a person seeking God. We talk often of Peter in the book of Acts opening the way for ministering to the Gentiles, then we talk of Paul later and his mission to the Gentiles. But here we have something even more fundamental, even more grand than just focusing on the gentiles. Philip taught as Jesus taught, he accepted not just a gentile, but from Philip’s religious roots a broken individual who needed to be accepted into Gods community. When the Eunuch says, “there’s water why can’t I be baptized” Philip doesn’t argue, he doesn’t call a meeting-he baptized the person into the family of God.

Baptism is a mark that can never be taken away from you. It is not only about your faith and what you believe. It is about how God has worked through water, that miraculous stuff that is everywhere. It is about recognizing that you are no longer your own, You are a part of a community of believers. A community that extends outside of these walls to include yes, even the Baptist and the Presbyterians. Too often we get caught up on how we are divided in our faith. We even get caught up on what baptism means. We argue about babies or adult baptism, among other things, and we forget that at the heart of baptism is not your acceptance of God, but God’s acceptance of you.

Baptism is a reminder of Gods ever lasting love for you. A visible sign of God’s prevenient grace, grace that is always at work in your life, and at work in you. Binding you into community gives you a place to belong. I often wonder if we actually cared more about belonging instead of saying the right things or avoiding the right topics that maybe we might actually catch a glimpse of what heaven really is supposed to be on earth.

Never forget that you are loved and covered by Gods grace. This is a fact. One that you can’t decide on, nor can you discount. Let’s be the community and the people of God’s love and grace for others. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer/Pastoral Prayer

Song

Benediction


Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2024
Welcome
Song-What Wonderous Love Is This
Call to Worship
L: People of God, set aside busyness of mind and body.
P: Create in me a clean heart, O God.
L: Let us gather in worship with heads unbowed with shame.
P: God, put a new and right spirit within me.
L: Children of God, receive grace from above.
P: Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and my mouth will declare your praise!

Opening Prayer
We give thanks, Eternal One, that we do not walk through life’s deserts alone.
You are ever with us, especially in our loneliest valleys. You bless us with friends who share this path, those who wear with us a cross of ashes to remind us that we are only human. Quiet the rushing thought of our minds. In this season, may we do less, so that you may do more. Receive our songs, our confessions, and our devotion, until we rise anew with Jesus, alive forever more. Amen.

Time of Silent Prayer
Lord’s Prayer
Scripture Joel 2:1-2,12-17
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near-a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.
Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;
gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.
Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

Meditation: Transcendent repentance
It’s happened before, and it will happen again. We will be sitting at home, maybe watching the news. Or we will be playing on our phones, floating around social media and we’ll see it. Tragedy has struck again. A violent storm slams into a community destroying homes and taking lives. A mass shooting at a school, which freezes countless lives in a state of panic and fear. And when these moments happen, the call goes out from public officials and from the lips of average everyday people, all we can do is send our “thoughts and prayers.”
“Thoughts and prayers” have become a curse for those who experience these tragedies. “Thoughts and prayers” lead to inaction and political machinations. If your social circle is big enough, and really it doesn’t have to be all that big, you will see on social media nonreligious people’s reaction to “thoughts and prayers.” A tag line that at one point in history meant something has become a phrase that people see and know means nothing will be done.
We begin our Lenten season, peering into the words of the prophet Joel. A book of the bible that many of us aren’t all that familiar with however this is a passage that’s on the reading list for every Ash Wednesday. Our text is a call to repentance, a call to turn your attention to God, rend your heart and seek Gods direction. I started with communal tragedies in this message because that is the source of Joel’s call to repentance. The in between verse, verses 3-11, we find that the Israel community is being called to repentance because of a natural disaster. Locusts have invaded, like an invading army, and have destroyed crops putting the community in peril.
If you grew up in the evangelical church tradition a call to repentance is something your familiar with. A traveling evangelist will call you to repentance for your sins. You have committed many sins since the last time I saw you, your life isn’t right with God, therefore repent! Confess your sins and turn back to God. There’s a key difference between this type of repentance and what we see in Joel. In Joel there is no mention of sin as being the source of the problem. There isn’t a mention of our own personal responsibility in the situation. Tragedy happens even when you do everything right.
I am often asked if I know why we are so divided within the church and within our society today. Why people don’t feel that Christians are genuine, why people don’t want to walk with God. There are all sorts of variations of these questions. There are a number of different reasons, but one of the ones we don’t want to talk about in my opinion, is how we don’t let our faith match what we are called to do and be by Christ. We are called to repentance, as individuals and as a community, and that means turning away and trying to do something about the situation.
Too often we escape responsibility to our community by saying “we’ll pray.” When what we really want to do is ignore whatever is going on. I know this because I struggle with this too. There are issues in our world and in our lives that just seem too big for us to do. Or there are times when I am so caught up in the problems of my own little life that I can’t focus on what our community or even what you may need. That’s something I need to repent of, that is something we need to repent of.
Recently the Grammys happened, and I have to confess I didn’t watch it. I caught some clips of “important” moments, read some people’s thoughts about it, that type of thing. One clip I did watch was of the folk artist Tracy Chapman, who is notorious for staying out of the spotlight, and country singer Luke Combs singing Tracy’s song “Fast Car.” If you’re not familiar with the song it is an introspective song about social and cultural issues and it is one of my favorite songs. Tracy, an African American lesbian, singing with Luke, a white country western singer. By most measures in our society, they should not have been singing together, much less moving people to tears with their song. It was a moment that showed us that some things, some experiences transcend all the things that divide us.
This Lenten season, I encourage you to repent, but focus your repentance on our community. Here’s a hint- if your repentance is “Lord I’m sorry that people abort babies,” you’re not repenting in the right manner. Your responsibility, using that example, is “Lord, I’m sorry that I have helped to create a culture where some women feel they have no choice but to abort.” You don’t repent for others you repent for yourself. “Lord, I repent for putting things that I believe are my right in higher order than another person’s life.” “Lord, I repent for putting the responsibility to act onto other people by saying I will think and pray.” The list can go on and on.
I think if we each find ways to repent for our part in the situation then we as individuals and we as a community will have a far more healthy and impactful testimony. We can’t say we want to share Jesus’ love if all we ever do is put aside our responsibilities. I encourage you to repent of how we have chosen to divide rather than join. Perhaps if we do that, people might realize how much our love of Christ and our desire to walk in his way’s will transcend the differences in our world. Amen.
Invitation to Observe the Lenten Discipline
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
the early Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration there should be a forty-day season of spiritual preparation.
During this season converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism.
It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins and had separated themselves from the community of faith were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness and restored to participation in the life of the church.
In this way the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need we all have to renew our faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to observe a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word. To make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of mortal nature, let us now kneel before our Creator and Redeemer.
Thanksgiving Over the Ashes
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth. Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, so that we may remember that only by your gracious gift are we given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
Imposition of Ashes
Song-Refiners Fire
Pardon – Words to Pardon
May the almighty and merciful God, who desires not the death of a sinner but that we turn from wickedness and live, Accept your repentance, forgive your sins, and restore you by the Holy Spirit to newness of life. Amen.
Song-Just As I Am
Blessing


Weekly Message
February 11, 2024
Announcements: Giving Options, special offering for February-UMC Human Relations, Furnace Replacement activated for online giving. Use drop-down option 3. $ amount needed $3,300. If putting in the offering box, please mark it furnace.
Ash Wednesday Service-Wednesday February 14th at 5:30PM. Searching for Sunday Lent Study 3PM on Sundays starting February 18, sign up in foyer. Educational Mission Trip.  Rainbow Acres Choir/ Church Potluck March 10th.

Welcome
Announcements
Call to Worship
L: As we live and as God lives,
P: God will not leave us.
L: When fire devours and storms blows us astray,
P: God will not leave us.
L: When truth is veiled and confusion reigns,
P: God will not leave us.
L: When the world changes around us,
P: God will not leave us.
L: When we long to speak but find no words,
P: God will not leave us.
L: When all around us is silent,
P: God will not leave us.
L: When faithfulness feels beyond us,
P: God will not leave us.
L: As we live and as God lives,
P: we worship the One who will not leave us.

Unison Prayer
Holy One, when the world is full of confusion and your message is hard to perceive, still, we can see you.
Still your presence shines-a light to illuminate the shadows.
When we cannot find a way to speak your story, let your being shine in us and through us, that we may reflect your glory, and your grace.
Amen.

Scripture: Mark 9:2-9 NRSV
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling bright, such as no one on earth could brighten them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us set up three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Message: Only Human
Peter, James, and John. The three disciples who always seem at the heart of major transitions in the gospels set the scene for us today. Every year we read or hear this story of transfiguration, and this is probably the only time during the year where we even hear that word. The story is contained in the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, these are the three that share the most material between them, however each treat the material differently to serve their stories. A rare exception to that is this story which remains similar in all three.
Traditionally there has been a primary way in which to understand this story. It is the revelation of who Jesus is and an affirmation of who Jesus is by showing acceptance by an icon of the law, Moses, and an icon of the prophets, Elijah. This works, it is a great interpretation that helps us to see the story of Jesus not as something completely new but rooted in the prior works of God. But there is a problem with this interpretation. It’s even one that I have preached multiple times, and that problem is “who cares”?
While reading the story this week, I was struck by how many times I have preached this passage, probably at least 12 different times. I always try to relate scripture and the stories in scripture in a way that helps us in our day to day lives. Reading the passage this year all I could think of at first was “who cares”? Jesus shines white, pillars of the old testament appear, Peter says and does something stupid. How does any of this really apply anywhere in our lives?
Sure, I could talk about how wonderful and glorious Jesus is. How Gods’ acceptance of Jesus in this passage sets us up for understanding that God accepts Jesus’s work on the cross. I could talk about how Jesus has more in common with both Moses and Elijah than what we first expect. Moses and Elijah’s messages are both rejected by the audience of their day. They both have mountain top experiences of God, Moses receiving the law on the mountain, and Elijah hearing Gods voice on the mountain, and here we are with Jesus having an encounter with God on the mountain. There are also sharp contrasts as well. Moses and Elijah both have mysterious deaths. Moses is buried by God on the mountain, and nobody knows where his grave is. Elijah is taken up to heaven on God’s chariot, so he just disappears into the heavens. While Jesus is going to die and horrible death and suffer greatly.
I could preach on all those things individually and construct a very convoluted theological work out in order to show how this applies to our lives today, I know this because I’ve done that before. But I come back to Peter, James, and John. All of the high theological concepts I’ve mentioned bear little resemblance to the immediate experience of Peter, James, and John. We get no indication in the text that they were thinking deeply about the theological implications of what they were seeing. We don’t really get their reflection on the experience. We get a reaction from them, “let us set up three tents.” We read that and think, “stupid Peter of course Jesus, Moses, and Elijah don’t want tents they’ve got stuff to do, Jesus has to go and die.” As if any of us could come up with something better faced with this.
I have been in church my entire life. I have heard and seen time and time again how people want an experience with God. They want to see God, hear from God, know what God wants. But guess what? Even when we see, hear, or know God, we still get it wrong. We think we understand what is being asked of us or how we are supposed to respond but instead, let’s be honest we are reactionary creatures that grasp at straws to understand what God wants us to do. We are Peter, James, and John. We think we should honor the moment with “tents” because what we have just witnessed will change the world. When the reality is we don’t really understand what happened before our eyes. We have to think, pray, and learn what it is God wants from us.
Over twenty years ago I had an experience of God. I was on a windswept cold dock over a lake at a Methodist camp in upstate New York at a Jurisdictional Youth meeting. At the time I was the youth chair of the Conference Council on Youth Ministry. I had been in heated debates with my fellow attenders just moments before and had walked out to cool myself down figuratively and literally. As I looked at the stars and prayed aloud, I told God I knew he wanted something from my life, and I committed myself to serving the church. I felt God in those moments, closer than I have ever felt before or since. But do you know something? I got it wrong. In my experience with God, I thought I was being called to the church to stand against what was wrong.
There is a specific topic that I am talking about that I am not going to say because I don’t want my point to get derailed. I understood in that moment that I was supposed to stand against something, I was absolutely positive that I was called to speak out against this issue and change people’s hearts towards God. However, as I learned God had other plans. I was right in that I was called to stand against something. But I got the “something” wrong. I see my ministry now as being against exclusion, to creating a place where everyone is welcomed and loved by God. Like Peter, I got it wrong in the moment, but Lord willing, I now have it right.
The point of the message today is not that you have to run out and try to have a God experience, I’m sure all of you have had God experiences. We all have God moments and God experiences every day, but have we stopped to think about them? The point of today’s message is that just like Peter, James, and John, we are going to get the experience wrong. We are going to walk away with the wrong point, with the wrong idea of what we should do or how we should do it. That’s okay, what we need to do is give ourselves space for God to help us continue to grow from that experience.
I feel sorry for anyone who feels they have God or God’s plan for their life all figured out. That stops the mystery of God from being a present reality in our lives. It stops God’s ability to speak into our lives and grow our lives. I encourage you this week to create time to re-look at some of your God experiences. Worry less about seeking new experiences but reflect on the old ones. Some of you will be able to clearly see how God has used something to shape and grow you. Others of you might be surprised and find out something new about God and yourself this week.
God is still speaking today. Calling us to faithfully live as Christ teaches, but that can only happen if we listen and pay attention to what God is saying. Amen.


February 4, 2024
Announcements: Giving Options, special offering for February-UMC Human Relations,
Giving Tree Results-28 Wipes, 92 Hand Sanitizers, 78 Tissues; Ash Wednesday Service-Wednesday February 14th at 5:30PM. Searching for Sunday Lent Study 3PM on Sundays starting February 18, sign up in foyer.

Passing of the Peace
Song 1
Call to Worship
L: Have you not known? Have you not heard: Has it not been told to you from the beginning?
P: The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of heaven and earth.
L: God sits above the circle of the earth and stretches out the heavens like a curtain.
P: Those who wait for the Lord shall mount up with wings like eagles.
L: They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.
P: How good it is to sing praise to our God.

Unison Prayer
Everlasting God, you stretch the sky over our heads like a canopy filled with twinkling lights. Scarcely do the stems of our lives take root before the wind carries us away like stubble. Yet you care for us-healing the broken hearted, gathering the outcast, lifting the downtrodden, while casting the wicked to the ground.
Renew our strength this day, O God, that we may mount up with wings like eagles. Amen.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 NRSV
16 If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a wage, but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18 What then is my wage? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might gain all the more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to gain Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might gain those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not outside God’s law but am within Christ’s law) so that I might gain those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I might become a partner in it.

Meditation: Knowing Yourself
I have a confession to make. I cannot live up to your expectations. I have been doing ministry for over sixteen years now and the number of expectations that I have encountered over that time is almost staggering. So please remember as I list some of these expectations, not all of them have been expressed here at Mountain View. I’m not going to tell you even if they aren’t members of Mountain View, I’ve got to have some secrets.
Some of these expectations have been directly spoken, some are underlying ideas or unspoken expectations that I figured out through trial and error or from the culture of the congregation.
So, let’s make a list. A Pastor is a spiritual person, who spends hours every week in prayer. A Pastor is a bible expert who preferably knows both Greek and Hebrew to be able to give immediate interpretation to any scripture. A Pastor visits every shut in and every person in the church who attends one week and then isn’t seen for months on end. A Pastor is always friendly. A Pastor will always remember your name. A Pastor relies on the charity of the church and shouldn’t talk about money but should always look like they have extra money to spend on “looking nice.” A Pastor shouldn’t talk about things that I find offensive, they should stay away from talking about the political ramifications of our beliefs. A Pastor has a dotting loving family with no marital strife, will attend every church function, and will operate in the expected roles of church life. A pastor’s wife will be the Sunday School leader, music leader, and joyfully sacrifice time with her husband and children, for the sake of the church. A Pastor should look the part, not wear jeans on Sunday morning, always be dressed well no matter where they might be. They should have long hair, not have a beard- because that is not professional, and they wear shoes at all times. Above all, a pastor should be the shining example of morality and be the best Christian in the whole church.
I have learned so much about what a “Pastor” should be over the years. It should come as no surprise to anyone here, whether listening to this message or reading it, that I don’t measure up very well to any of these preconceived ideas. In fact, my response has been, and continues to be, do not put me up on a pedestal of any kind as I will gladly throw myself off of it and laugh as I land on the ground.
You may be wondering why I chose to start my message today by talking about expectations for the pastor. I start here because that is where Paul starts in our scripture passage today. The context of the passage is that Paul is discussing why he isn’t being paid by the Corinthian church. A mark of being a successful teacher at the time was to be paid by a patron. Here at the church in Corinth, Paul shows that instead he has a separate job, he works, and he has reasons for doing this that we will come back to. Paul does get paid by other churches in the New Testament. The Galatians church paid him, so there is something going on with the church in Corinth that factors into his decision not to be paid. I had a college professor who theorized that the Corithian church wasn’t mature enough to allow Paul to do the ministry he felt called to do and to pay him to do it. Perhaps they didn’t agree with his methods, or they wanted him to focus on certain things.
Whatever the reason, we have a passage today where Paul is very clear that he is not living up to the church’s expectations. Let’s take a look at his reasons. The primary reason Paul does not accept pay is because it enables him to share the Gospel with people who he wouldn’t be able to connect with. Paul makes a case that he can become all things to all people, a much-abused statement sometimes taken to mean that someone who is sharing the gospel needs to pretend to be something they are not. Like a salesman pretending to be friendly just to sell you a higher dollar item.
Paul’s reasoning in becoming all things to all people is more about authentic motivations and reasoning for his ministry. Paul looks at the question of “why” and makes a case that his reasons are so that he can effectively spread the gospel. It is very difficult to share our faith when we are busy wrestling with conflicting expectations, instead we need to look at the why of what we do as individuals. All the expectations I listed out of a Pastor are expectations I have met or have dashed at different points in my ministry, all based on the context of what I am doing and what the reasons behind it was/is.
For instance, if we want a church that is going to be a warm and welcoming community like we say we want, we will never get that if the pastor is the primary one who visits people. If that were the case, people become attached to the pastor, not to the church. If we claim that our church accepts anyone no matter what they look like, but we expect our pastor to look a certain way or behave in our defined parameters, then what we effectively tell people that we only accept people who look or act a certain way. Paul is doing the same thing here; he is saying look at the underlying motivations for the expectations you have. In order to effectively share the gospel, you need to look at the “why’s” behind your actions.
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This is still a very true statement today. Looking at what you do and why you do it matters. I want to give you a tool to help you look at motivations, it should be familiar to you if you have been a methodist for a long time. Please remember it is only a tool and is not the only way to look at your motivations and the motivations of others.
The historically methodist one comes from Albert Outler who wrote part of our doctrinal stances in the Book of Discipline, the rule book for the United Methodist Church. Outlter suggest that John Wesley filtered his theology through something that was later called the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” As Methodist’s it remains a useful tool to help us to look at our motives, but also to process issues we may be facing. There are four quadrants; scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Scripture means the Old and New Testament; traditions are the traditions handed down through the life of the church-this can be doctrinal statements but also includes things like worship style and songs. Reason is an old term, that really means science. And finally, experience is about your personal experience or the experiences of others and those of the community.
If you want to look at any topic or examine your motivations start by putting it into the appropriate quadrant and then work out what you believe. The quadrant can help you to look at your motivations and the motivations of others, which will help you live out the gospel better. I’m not offering you a compact easy answer. Looking at your motivations and the motivations of others is hard. Amen.
Communion
Lord’s Prayer
Dismissal with Blessing


Message for Sunday, January 28, 2023
Announcements: Giving options; Church Conference and Leadership council meeting on Monday starting at 5:30; Ash Wednesday Service, February 14, at 5:30PM, Lent study starting on February 18th at 3PM Educational Mission trip in April-See Jeni O’Callaghan.

Call to Worship:
L: Fount of Life, Glorious One, your great works are full of honor and majesty:
P: the earth that we stand on, the trees that shade us, the birds that soar above us.

L: Ever-Living God, Generous One, your goodness and faithfulness endure forever:
P: the wisdom we learn, the justice we long and work for, the hope you offer.

 

L: Sheltering God, Healing One, you remember your covenant and its promises to us:
P: the grace and mercy you give, the healing you offer, the tenderness you show to us.

 

L: the works of your hands are faithful and just. Your teachings are trustworthy and true.
P: Your praise endures forever! Amen.

 

Unison Prayer:
Faithful God, we stand in this congregation to give you thanks with our whole hearts, for your works are great.

Your massive power upholds the universe, and yet it is so intimate, it upholds our lives, tiny in the scale of the galaxies.

 

You provide food for us and for all your creatures, from goldfish to whales, hummingbirds to eagles, ants to elephants.

 

You nurture life in the seas yet watch over the deserts; Your work is full of honor and majesty.

 

Thank you for being mindful of us all, remembering your promises. May your creative love and faithful power endure forever. Amen.

 

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 NRSV

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge, but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11 So by your knowledge the weak brother or sister for whom Christ died is destroyed. 12 But when you thus sin against brothers and sisters and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never again eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

Message: Culture vs. Christ

Navigating a dark room at night isn’t for the faint hearted. For years I would navigate dark rooms with barely any light in an effort not to wake Katie or the girls up. Even today, If I come to bed late, I don’t turn on a light unless I absolutely must. When the kids were little, this meant stepping on the occasional toy the most feared of which was Lego, a favorite play toy. Since living in Arizona, the fear has been slightly different, and no I’m not talking about scorpions, even though I really don’t want to step on one of those in bare feet. What I’m talking about is the ever-present danger of stepping on goat-heads. The problem with goat-heads is that even in the daylight you might not notice it on the floor and but if you are bare footed, you’ll know it pretty fast.

Navigating unseen issues or concerns is always a struggle. I often think that things would be easier if people just said what they meant and actually mean what they say. If I’m completely honest, I don’t even do that all the time. Like you I’ve been in positions where it is easier to agree or feign enjoyment so that things move along, or people are happy. This of course doesn’t mean that we all don’t struggle with navigating difficult situations. The reality is we all have to navigate around conversations, behaviors, or situations that just aren’t worth the trouble they give.

One of the perennial struggles in the church is the issue of culture and the church. Many of us struggle with when things change and something that we were taught were wrong is suddenly socially acceptable. How are we to respond to that? Some things we were taught we don’t realize are rooted cultural practices that have little to nothing to do with our faith. Other things we take as deep matters of faith are actually just cultural practices and are thus subject to change.

Here’s an example you might be familiar with. I saw this many times in college and with young people. They get “on fire for Jesus,” really, they just had a deeper focus on their faith, and they assume to remain strong in their faith they have to cut out “things of the world,” or secular things. I watched many a young person collect all of their music CDs, sometimes hundreds of them and throw them into the dumpster. Secular music doesn’t talk about God or Godly things, at least that’s their reasoning, therefore they need to get rid of it. Anytime I talked with someone who did that, years later they would express regret over their zealotry. They matured in their faith to realize that God can and does speak through anything.

1 Corinthians 8 is dealing with a very specific cultural issue that is facing the church. That is the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. This is clearly not an issue we face today; this passage is not about accepting vegetarianism as a way of life. It is not even about other religions worship practices. It is about what is best for the individual and what is best for the community. Remember that this is a letter, so we are reading a conversation between Paul and the church. Paul is acknowledging to the people that many of them know that meat sacrificed to idols doesn’t mean a thing. Those idols are not real. The knowledgeable believer knows that God is one, and that God doesn’t reside in those idols. However, there are weaker Christians who don’t understand this, so the meat causes an issue, it causes them a crisis in faith.

In a twist Paul sides with the people who struggle with meat sacrificed to idols. He essentially says that for the benefit of the community if eating meat sacrificed to idols causes a problem, then he won’t do it. Paul has all the knowledge and understanding of the wisest Corinthian church attender but for the sake of the community he will abstain.

Here lies one of the problems the church has historically faced in this teaching. The way it has been taught and understood is that if someone struggles with it then you cannot or should not do it. This gives rise to all sorts of wrong-headed thinking. One of the biggest things it does is it lends itself to a mindset of legalism. You cannot dance because this person over there might have an issue with it. Women cannot dress a certain way because it might cause a man to stumble. (Never mind that we do not teach men that they can and should control themselves.) If we are not careful this teaching can be regressive and oppressive. Morality legislated so that you must agree with everything. If you do not believe me, just look at the current issue with books. The people who want to legislate books for others do not do this out of love, they do it out of a desire to control.

The heart of Paul’s teaching today is that there is a mutuality that is expected of us as we act and respond in community. We are living our faith together and sometimes cultural things get in the way. I used the book banning issue as an example and I know that is a hot button issue even here in our community. There are those who want to ban books because they deal with issues they don’t want to address. Be it sex, sexuality, drugs, mental health, racism, or violence. The reality is the decision they are making is a cultural issue, not a faith issue. If it was a faith issue, by necessity, the bible would be banned for all the reasons listed above.

Culture and faith often get mixed up, and we are in constant danger of deciding something as being a faith issue-when it is really a cultural one. If you have never wrestled with this just ask yourself this question. How do people in other cultures practice Christianity? Any in depth venture and you will discover that there are stark differences between Christianity that is practiced by you and by another group in another country. What they emphasize is often different, what their concerns are, are also very different. How do we address those concerns that are different?

We need to be cautious in how we seek to apply our faith to people around us. Paul’s defining characteristic is that the actions in the community are a result of mutual love. He will give up meat not because the weaker members are right, but because it may help someone else. If we are looking to apply our faith and it is actively hurting someone else, if we have placed membership in something else above our faith, we are in the wrong. We could talk about all sorts of hot topics today about this, but I am intentionally not doing that. If your faith-based policies actively hurt others, or deliberately deny them the respect the deserve as created children of God, then you have placed more of your faith in a church culture or Christian culture than you have in Christ.

Christ asks that we respond to one another in love. That we seek to live in peace with one another and help each other see God’s love at work. Let’s focus on that together. Amen.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Message for Sunday, January 21, 2023
Scripture 1 Corinthians 7:29 – 31
Announcements:   Lent Study and Sign up in foyer; De-decorate the church on Jan 26, sign up in foyer, Charge Conference on Jan 29th at 530PM, Educational Mission Trip in April to Frontera de Cristo-See Jeni

Call to Worship
L: Gathered in worship with silence and sound,
P: we wait upon God’s grace.

L: Gathered in worship with focused heart and mind,
P: we anticipate the time we face.

Unison Prayer
God of unifying grace, we come distracted by the world. Our minds wander and are filled with thoughts other than you. Our hearts are confused, and we are uncertain where we belong.
Call us to follow you once more.
Redeem the night and bless the day that greets us this morning.
May your relentless ways never fail as we strive to live as your beloved people. Amen.

Scripture   1 Corinthians 7:29-31
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”


Message: Time

Time is a focal point of our lives. When we start the service, I am worried, as well as other people, that we start “on time.” There are myriad of books, and seminars that I have been to that drill the importance of starting exactly when you say you are going to, it is almost as important as when you need to end your message or the service. We need to use our time effectively if we, and by extension, time, is to be productive. It is the idea that,

“Prioritizing is an important aspect of productivity. Listed tasks should be things that matter things that are in alignment with your objectives and do not distract you from what you really should be doing” – Romuald Andrade
Some people focus on time so much that they lose focus on what time they have. I would argue that most of us do this upon occasion. When I have a deadline, or a meeting, those activities occupy more than just time, they occupy my understanding of the future. What I can accomplish in a given amount of time. People can also reflect so much on the past and how time moves, that they forget to live in the now. Always seeking to relive their glory days. George Harrison says of time,

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”

Albert Einstein posited his theory of relativity which explores the idea that gravity affects everything-including how light travels. Since gravity affects light, it affects time and our perception of time. It has been theorized that if you were to fall into a black hole, not only would you be strung out infinitely into smaller and smaller bits, but there would come a point where you would be perceived as having frozen in time, with everything not caught in the black hole, moving at what we perceive to be a normal pace for time, while our existence would slow down.

Perhaps all of this is a bit ethereal. You don’t struggle with seeing time being about productivity, the past, the future, or with time being relative. Perhaps your thoughts are more akin to the writer Douglas Adams who said in his sci-fi novel “Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy,” “Time is an illusion, lunch time doubly so.”

Regardless of how you see or perceive time, all of us are aware that time marches onward. Constantly moving and our days can slip one into the next with very little notice. Over the years I have heard many people comment on how they “didn’t expect to be this old.” Time passes, and with it we pass as well. If we are not careful, we miss spending it on the most important things. If we are not careful, we are made to feel guilty about how we use our time.

1.  If we use it for self-care, then we are selfish.
2. If we don’t maximize productivity by not wasting time, then, well, it’s no wonder that you’re poor.

We constantly check our phones for the time, our watches if we still have them, and we even search around the room to see if there is a clock on the wall. All because we don’t want to miss our time, whatever we have that time set aside for. It’s enough to make you wonder what people did before they had clocks.

The scripture passage today does give a window into the past and how the early church wrestled with time and priorities. First, we need to acknowledge the context of the passage. Leading up to this passage today Paul is giving the Corinthian church advice on whether or not people should marry. He very clearly states that he is giving his opinion only. This is important because whenever something is written in scripture people take it to mean that it is true for all time and space and that is just not the case. Paul is telling people that he believes that you shouldn’t get married. His reasoning is simple, and we see it in verse 31 of our scripture today, “For the present form of this world is passing away.”

Paul and the early church were living in the hope and belief that Jesus was coming back any minute. Hence Paul advises, don’t get married because soon marriage won’t really matter because of Christ returning. Now I have been in churches that try to maintain a fervor for God that revolves around the idea that Christ is going to return any minute. Let me be honest, I can’t maintain that type of living. It’s the type of living that has a clock on the wall that you are always looking at because you are always focused on the minutes ahead instead of the moment that you are actually in. I have never been able to reconcile the idea of constantly looking towards Jesus returning and also paying attention to my responsibilities here and now.

This was actually Paul’s point. His advice to not get married revolved around the idea that if you are married your priorities lie not exclusively with God, but by necessity, with the person you have married. Many a person has found themselves in this problem of divided loyalties in other ways. The individual who constantly works, is available to their employment or employers at a second’s notice, and then doesn’t understand why their spouse is frustrated with them, or their kids cannot relate to them. If your family is treated as second to these things, it will be reflected in your relationships.

So, this is Paul’s advice. Don’t get married, focus on God and what God wants you to do because soon marriage won’t matter. Remember, as I said above, Paul clearly states that this is his opinion and guess what? His opinion was wrong. Not wrong in the sense of divided loyalty but in the sense that marrying now doesn’t matter. Because here we are 2,000 years later and still waiting for Christ to return.

If this passage is not about marriage, and if this passage is not exclusively about Jesus coming back at any moment, then what is the lesson, we take from it? Well, it’s simple. We take the lesson of priority. Where are our priorities? Time is a precious resource that you get to spend, and I’m not going to stand here and tell you that you should spend it exclusively on God. What you should do is make sure you include God in your list of priorities.

If you don’t prioritize things in your life yourself, then someone or something else will prioritize it for you. Jobs like to prioritize their needs over and above yours all the time. I just recently read that there is a movement among corporations to start their own housing programs, where they will own the housing, their employees live in. All that I could think of was the song “you load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go, I sold my soul to the company store.” Companies will always put their priorities above where you need to put them. If you don’t define your priorities someone else will.

How you prioritize your relationship with God is in large part up to you. The church has historically recognized corporate worship, what we do on Sunday morning, bible study groups (like Sunday school), devotions, and acts of service (like our food pantry) as ways to have a relationship with God and prioritize how God wants us to be. But those things only work if you decide you are going to do them. Just as important as prioritizing God is what God expects of you in your relationships with others. God expects, heck, Paul expects you, to prioritize your family and spouse. That is natural and God wants us to honor those things. The point is you’ve got to keep the main things the main things.

I have two suggestions for activities that may help you with this. These are things that I have done over the years, and things I still do today. Now these aren’t exclusive, they are ways that help me focus on my priorities and they may be of help to you. Find what works for you. I find that doing one of these two things at the beginning of my week, usually Sunday afternoon or Monday morning, helps me tremendously in getting done what I need to get done and also helps me keep my priorities in sight. The first is a bullet journal which I’m not going to go into a lot of detail over. The second is an Eisenhower matrix, an idea that was popularized by Stephen Covey but based off of how General Eisenhower would make decisions. (see image below).

With a bullet journal the way I do it is modified. It is essentially writing out everything that needs to be done in a week, with some long-term goals also written out at the top. By writing out my long-term goals, “do more devotionals” or “exercise,” every week it helps me to focus on those long-term goals by saying “hey-pay attention.” This is more helpful when you know what your priorities are, and you are trying to maintain those priorities. If you need help developing your priorities, then the second suggestion, the Eisenhower matrix, is the one for you.

The matrix is made up of four quadrants, the exercise is to write out your week and even longer-term goals into one of four quadrants. The top left is urgent and important, top right is important and not urgent, bottom left is urgent and unimportant, bottom right is unimportant, not urgent. Things that end up in the top left are things that need to be done every week. So, if I were filling this out “sermon” would get listed there right away. I have to get it done, no excuses. The top right quadrant you will tend to set ongoing long-term things that you need to make time for such as family. There aren’t any time limits for making time for family. You just know you need to make that time, but it is rarely urgent. Bottom left is where you might put something like returning phone calls. Someone calls and leaves a message; it always feels more urgent than it needs to be. Texts might apply to this section; they demand attention beeping on your phone until you respond to them. They are urgent, but not necessarily important. The lower right quadrant is where you put things that aren’t urgent and are not important. Things like, I want to renovate this particular thing in the house, it doesn’t affect anything, but you’d like to get it done at some point, so you write it down here to not risk forgetting it.

In this matrix where you put God will greatly depend on what you are trying to prioritize. My guess for most of us God will end up in the second quadrant with family. Building a relationship is a long-term goal, a long-term priority. Your daily devotionals may end up in quadrant 1, which helps you to maintain the long-term priority.

I’m inviting you this week to take stock of your priorities. There are a lot of different ways we could have talked about this today, but it is important for us to explore what it is we want out of life, out of our relationships with our families, and out of our relationship with God. Paul tells us the world is changing, I certainly agree with him. The world is constantly changing but that doesn’t mean our priorities should change. Let’s work together on keeping the main things the main things. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer/ Lord’s Prayer
Song 3
Dismissal with Blessing

 

 

 

 

 https://asana.com/resources/eisenhower-matrix

 


Announcements: Giving options; Alice Loomer’s Celebration of Life January 20th @ 10 am; Lent Study book and Study time sign up in the foyer.  UWF Meeting on Tuesday, January 16th at 1PM. Charge Conference on January 29 at 5:30PM. Educational Mission Trip in April to Frontera de Cristo-See Jeni O’Callaghan

Call to Worship:
L: Speak to us, Lord, for your servants are listening.
P: The One who fashioned us in our mother’s womb calls us this day.

L: Lead us, O God, and we will follow.
P: The One acquainted with all our ways leads us into life.

L: Bless us, Spirit of wisdom and truth, and guide us home.
P: the One who hems us in, from behind and before, is a lamp to our feet.

L: Speak to us, Lord, for your servants are listening.

Unison Prayer:
Before you formed us in our mother’s womb, you knew us completely.  Before a word is on our lips, you perceive it.

You hem us in, before and behind. You call us as your own and lay your hand upon us.   Such knowledge is too wonderful for us; it is so high we cannot attain it. 

Even when we fail, Holy One, call us anew, that we might hear your voice and respond with expectation and joy: “Here I am.” Amen.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 NRSV

12 “All things are permitted for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are permitted for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for sexual immorality but for the Lord and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Shun sexual immorality! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against the body itself. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.

Meditation: Lawful Doesn’t Mean Good

         I knew that as soon as we read this scripture out loud on Sunday morning, many of your initial reactions would be “O great!” I admit, mine was as well, and I really wrestled with changing the scripture. I thought, boy why don’t I do something easier? This is going to be a lot no matter what I talk about. But as you can tell, here we are. We are going to wrestle with this difficult passage.

         A few of you may be wondering why this is even a difficult passage. It seems pretty obvious what the interpretation is, right? This passage talks about sex and that sexual immorality is inappropriate. Well, I’ll tell you why it’s difficult. First, I really do not want to talk about sexual immorality for the next 15-20 minutes. It’s not my favorite topic and personally I have found that usually those who do want to preach on the sexual immorality of others tend to have many problems with the issue in their own lives.  It becomes a way to distract from their own failings. Second, the subject is tense and subject to the cultural whims of our day. Attitudes regarding this topic change and what was considered an issue thirty years ago, may not be an issue now. For instance, women wearing pants was considered a sexual temptation issue, while for most of us it isn’t now. The third reason I don’t want to talk about this subject, is actually the reason I chose to stay with this passage, and that is that there has been tremendous damage done by people using verses like these to other people. Because of this scripture being used as a weapon against others is the very reason, I chose to stay with it. Today, we are going to try and examine what is the core of these scriptures and what we need to take away from them.

         First, we need a little context. This section of verses is a transition passage in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In it he sums up some of what he has been arguing about in the first 6 chapters and lays the groundwork for some of the themes he will later develop. Think of it as a section of blanket statements meant to get everyone on the same page even though not everyone is dealing with the same issues. Within the first 6 chapters Paul was dealing with a very specific issue that was being allowed in the Corinthian church. That issue was a man was living with, and having relations, with his stepmother.

         That is our entrance into the issue of sex within this passage. This is a very specific situation that Paul is addressing, and, in our passage, he is addressing the underlying thought process that allows that to happen in this church. Now I have to make a slight aside here and I don’t want to go into great detail, but I want to acknowledge that our scripture passages today are some verses that are known as “clobber” verses. These are verses that are interpreted to be speaking against homosexuality and have been used to do great harm within the church. I am not going to get into great depth here, but I want to mention that there has been a lot of scholarship done over the Greek meaning of the words interpreted as homosexuality there. Our current translations leave a lot to be desired in the nuance of the words. What is important that is left out of our current translations is that there is a power dynamic at play in the words. It’s about domination and submission, as well as what we would term as “pimping.” That part is particularly important, being that in Roman times prostitution was legal and a normal part of everyday cultural and religious practice. But we are going come back to the question of legality in a bit.

         So now we’ve got a bit of context. When we read this passage what we may not notice is that it is an argument between two voices that Paul is having, so listen to how this plays out,

The Corinthians are saying: Paul is saying:
All Things are lawful for me But not all things are beneficial
All things are permitted for me But I will not be dominated by anything
Food is meant for the stomach And the stomach for food
The body is not meant for sexual immorality But the Lord and the Lord for the body
And God will destroy both one and the other And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power

 

         Now that we paired down the language you see how that is a
back-and-forth conversation. One side is saying one thing, and the other side is responding. So, what is the main point of this passage? The main point is just because something is lawful, and no we don’t just mean in the spiritual sense we also mean in the legal government sense, does not mean that it is good and should be done. Remember prostitution was legal. Paul’s argument is that legality does not mean that it’s okay.

          I want to caution you, this is not about legislating your own morality. It is about examining what is at stake in the interaction. A core idea in this passage is that your body no longer belongs to you. Your body belongs to God and by extension, the community of the church. How you treat your body matters because we are all in this together. When we begin to look and think of our bodies this way, I think many of us would be less willing to legislate morality because we don’t want someone telling us what to do with our bodies. Often those who legislate want to tell others what to do, not do it themselves.

         For Paul, just because an action is legal doesn’t make it good or the right to do. An action can be legal and still damage your body or damage the church as a whole. For instance, plastic. Plastic is perfectly legal, and we all use and consume plastic products. However, we do not know the long-term effects of plastic on our health or the health of our planet. Just recently it has been discovered that micro-plastic, (which the smaller and smaller bits of plastic as it breaks down) has crossed the placenta barrier and is being found in babies as they are developing in their mothers’ wombs. It is being found in breast milk. You do not need to be a scientist to find that disconcerting. Yes, plastic is legal, that does not make it good.

         I have friends back east who engage in ministry who recently posted that their church went out into Philadelphia to feed the homeless. They were handing out food, observing food safety guidelines and all of that, but the city came and shut them down. They could not hand out food on a cold snowy east coast day because they did not have the city’s permission. Just because what they were doing wasn’t technically legal does not mean it wasn’t the right thing to be doing.

         Last week we talked about baptism and the Holy Spirit residing in you as believers in Christ. This week continues with that theme. Your body doesn’t belong to you, it is Gods’ temple. It is where God resides in the world and should be treated as such. That we are created to do good things, to embody good things in the world. I guess I would say, less focus on telling people they are wrong and what they can and can’t do, and more focus on bringing our own bodies in line with what we say we believe.

         I am always cautious when I hear someone calling out a specific sin, or what they perceive to be a specific sin. I feel if we are more concerned about what other people are doing rather than bringing our own bodies, minds, and our own lives more in line with God, than we have lost the point. This week, seek ways to bring yourself in line with the good that God has called you to. Let’s spend less time focused on what others may be doing wrong, and focus on how we give ourselves to God, and commit to God by our own actions. Amen.

         We are going to do a re-affirmation of baptism today for one person in particular, but after we do that, I am opening up the font to any who wish to remember their baptism. Remembering your baptism is about remembering who you belong to, body and soul. It is about committing yourself to do the good thing no matter what, let us join in our liturgy….

Re-Affirmation of Baptism
Responsive
L: The Lord be with you.
A: And also with you.

L: Eternal Father: When nothing existed but chaos, you swept across the dark waters and brought forth light.

In the days of Noah, you saved those on the ark through water.
After the flood you set in the clouds a rainbow.
When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt, you led them to freedom through the sea.

Their children you brought through the Jordan to the land you promised.

A: Sing to the lord, all the earth. Tell of God’s mercy each day.

L: In the fullness of time, you sent Jesus, nurtured in the water of a womb. He was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit.
He called his disciples to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection and to make disciples of all nations.

 

A: Declare his works to the nations, his glory among all the people.

L: Pour out your Holy Spirit, to bless this gift of water and those who receive it, to wash away their sin and clothe them in righteousness throughout their lives, that, dying and being raise with Christ, they may share in his final victory.

A: All praise to you, Eternal Father, through your Son, Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever. Amen.


Confirmation or Reaffirmation of Faith for Elizabeth
L: Elizabeth, the Holy Spirit work within you, that having been born through water and the Spirit, you may live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
Elizabeth: Amen.

Invitation to Congregation to Participate
L: Remember your baptism and be thankful.
A: Amen

Pastoral Prayer/Lord’s Prayer

Dismissal with Blessing


Message for Sunday, January 7, 2024
Announcements: Church Conference on Monday January 29 at 5:30PM. Volunteers needed to undecorate on Friday, January 26th at 9:30AM.  Special Offering for January-Verde Valley Homeless Coalition. Giving Options

Passing of the Peace

Song 1

Call to Worship
L: Listen for God’s word…
P: calling forth creation.

L: Listen for God’s word…
P: working with power and majesty.

L: Listen for God’s word…
P: speaking blessings.

L: Listen for God’s word…
P: in this moment.

 

Unison Prayer
God of power and majesty, you call forth creation, acting with strength and power.  We praise you, as we stand in awe of your glory.

You are mighty and powerful, and yet you care for us, pouring your Spirit of love upon us, recreating us for your work in the world.

You are at work in our midst, offering a new day of hope and possibility.
Open our hearts to the sound of your voice.

 

Send the power of your Spirit among us, that we might become agents of your love and peace. Amen.

 

Song 2

Scripture: Acts 19:1-7 NRSV

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what, then, were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied, altogether there were about twelve of them.

Meditation:

Do you remember your baptism? I know some of you do and some of you don’t. Some of you were baptized as babies, while others were baptized as adults. There has historically been a great divide in the understanding of the sacrament of baptism, a theological divide that finds its way all the way back to this scripture. That divide has multiple fractures, one is can you get baptized multiple times? Is baptism a confession, a sign, of a mature faith and walk with Christ? Is baptism something that we recognize as only God can accomplish and our decision-making process in baptism has little input?

We aren’t going to answer these questions today. What I plan to do with you in this message is twofold. I’m going to give you a very brief explanation of what baptism is for United Methodist. Secondly, I’m going to go into what is happening in this passage, how this is an introduction to the Holy Spirit and what does a walk with Christ mean with regards to the involvement of the Holy Spirit.

Many of you are Methodist and lifelong Methodist at that. Others of you have come from various faith traditions and have found a home here. I’m explaining our view on baptism because it is always good to remind ourselves of what we believe and why.  In Methodism we practice infant and adult baptism. This means you can be baptized as a baby or an adult and it’s not particularly uncommon for us to do this. The meaning behind the baptism however remains the same for Methodists. Baptism is not a confession of Christ as Lord, or a public statement of faith as it is in other faith traditions like Baptist. Baptism is a sign of God’s grace at work.

In Methodism there are three forms of grace that we recognize being at work through God, and this is actually one of the unique facets of being Methodist. The three forms of grace are Justifying Grace, Sanctifying Grace, and Prevenient Grace. Justifying Grace is the grace of God through Christ that saves you. This is about belief in the birth, life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ and his impact on your life. The second grace is Sanctifying Grace. This is God’s grace that makes you holy. The grace of God that is at work throughout your life helping you to be more like Jesus every day. When we talk about trying to be more like Jesus every day, we are talking about relying on God’s Sanctifying Grace to help us because there is no way you can match Jesus without grace.

The final aspect of grace is Prevenient Grace. This is the grace that is at work in the act of baptism. God’s grace was at work in your life before you could ever recognize it. You were born into a world full of God’s grace, God placed good people in your life to influence you, God’s presence is in creation, God’s presence is all around us. This is God’s Prevenient Grace at work. So, when we baptize people, we recognize that grace is already at work in our lives and in the world around us. That is the point of baptism for us, it’s not something you just do, it’s something you recognize as being at work in your life.

In our scripture we see two forms of baptism. The people that Paul meets have already been baptized in John’s baptism, which is about repentance from sin and looking forward to the coming Messiah. Paul instructs the people he meets and teaches them that Jesus is that Messiah and that they should be baptized as followers of Jesus. This results in them speaking in tongues. Now I’m not going to discuss tongues, but the important difference in baptism here is that when you are baptized into Christ’s family, you received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit becomes a part of your life from day one of your walk with Christ. Paul could not conceive of a follower of Christ that doesn’t have the Holy Spirit. Now I know I’m hammering this but it’s for an important reason. There are people who teach that the only way to know that you have received the Holy Spirit is by speaking in tongues. I’m telling you now, this is not the case. When you are a follower of Christ, you are filled with the Spirit.

I think the reason that people often gravitate to that interpretation is that we want showy evidence that God’s spirit is with us. We don’t get the Pentecost tongues of flame, we don’t get to randomly heal people, most of us never experience the flash faith things. So, we desire that. I want to suggest to you that you are already filled with the Holy Spirit therefore what you need to do is to learn to feel the spirit of God leading you.

Bruce Epperly, a professor of mine from seminary said, “Mysticism is inherent in a spirit filled universe.” When we speak of the Holy Spirit and experience the Holy Spirit, we are talking at its heart a mystic spiritual experience. Here is where we can start with a more mystic experience of God through the Holy Spirit, first we need to learn to be sensitive. Being sensitive to God means creating a space for you to experience emotions in relation to God. We hear scriptures that talk about delighting in God, being enamored with God, taking Joy in God. But being sensitive also means creating space to feel angry with God, to mourn with God, and to be filled with tears. By being sensitive gives God fertile ground to interact with us.

We also need to work on our attentiveness. This means paying attention to what God is doing around us and through other people. A spiritual practice here would be to remove distractions from your prayer time. Turn off your phone, go somewhere alone and spend some of that time silent not saying or doing anything. This essentially brings your sensitivity outwards. Looking for it outside of yourself. While we can experience God within our hearts and minds, we are created to be communal creatures.

Finally, when it comes to listening to the Holy Spirit bring what you are hearing to action. If you feel God is telling you to do something, then speak with friends and family about it. See what your faith tradition teaches, talk with me. Action should be slow and cautious, but it should happen. If the community/family pushes back, then it may not be the right thing that you are hearing. What I mean by this is that if you suggest something outlandish that God wants you to do and it’s not unreasonable (or downright crazy) you will probably get a lot of support. If you suggest something farfetched and people go wait a minute, then perhaps you didn’t hear God right.

Walking with the Holy Spirit is absolutely critical for us as individuals and us as a church. If we are not listening to God’s leading, if we aren’t paying attention to what God wants us to pay attention to then both as a church and individuals we will not grow. My prayer for you is growth in the new year. Growth for the church, and growth for myself. Let us grow together. Amen.

Communion

Pastoral prayer/Lord’s Prayer

Dismissal with Blessing


Worship for December 31 has no manuscript. We will be holding an old fashioned Hymn Sing

_______________________________________________________________________________________________
Worship for December 24, 2023     9:30AM
Announcements: Special Offering for December is Mountain View Scholarship. January Special Offering will be Verde Valley Homeless Coalition. Christmas Eve Worship today at 4PM.  White rose is in memory of Alice Loomer
Passing of the Peace:

Advent Candle lighting 4 Joy
During the fourth week in Advent, we spend time thinking about joy.

From Psalm 5:11, we hear these words,

“But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, so that those who love your name may exult in you.”

Three purple candles and one pink candle are lit.

Too often, we think joy is something big, O God. A brass band or a parade can certainly bring us joy. Just as easily and far more often, we can feel joy in a hug or the squeeze of hand, we can see joy in a smile or hear it in laughter. Help us to not overlook the simple joys that peak into our daily lives. This week in our Advent journey, open our eyes to the joy that surrounds us. Amen.
Call to Worship:
L: Relatives conceive-one a barren woman, the other a young girl who has not been with a man.
P: How can this be?
L: With God, all things are possible.
P: Let us magnify the Lord as we worship God this day.
Unison Prayer:
Come to us, Promised One, in this season of waiting. Set our hearts ablaze with the glory of your salvation.  Set our minds afire with the richness of your word.  Reveal to us the secret of your ways; for you alone are wise, you alone are worthy of our thanks and praise.  Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen.

Scripture: Psalm 136:1-3, NRSV

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. O give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever;

Sermon: How to Make it Last

 

Years ago, someone I knew had a bad day. They had found out some things about a person they loved and were unable emotionally to cope with the situation. It was the day after that bad day when I learned about it and yes, I’m intentionally not giving you the details seems how I’m still friends with this person and don’t want to upset them. I learned of the situation the day after it occurred, and the person was having the second worst day-with a massive hangover. When I talked with them, they proceeded to tell me what was going on and that they “just wanted to feel happy.” So, they drank a whole bottle of wine the day before. I informed them that alcohol is a known depressant- regardless of what commercials may tell you, and that I bet they regret that more than just dealing with the issue that was facing them.

People are not happy, they are not joyous, there is a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction with our lives and lifestyles today and advertisers know this. They prey upon our psychological whims by trying to sell us happiness in a bottle or a pill.  My personal favorite are Christmas car commercials, give the gift of a new car to your loved one, “show them how much you really care.” Of course, if I made that type of purchase, you would all be able to show me great love and care at my funeral because my wife would not appreciate me wrecking our family budget. What those commercials are selling is the momentary joy of a big purchase that makes someone we love happy, not the ramifications of that purchase. What the advertisers are preying on is our desire to be happy or to make other people happy.

“Retail Therapy” is a real thing. Some of you may have heard of this, but it is the idea that you can buy happiness for yourself. On various social media platforms there are plenty of people who jokingly refer to ‘retail therapy’ but all that does in normalize the action. There is a bit of research behind the idea that a purchase gives you momentary joy. Yet the reality is that most of us can’t afford that type of therapy, and when we try this, we just make things more difficult in the long run. Not to mention retail therapy never satisfies and leads to more waste among other things.

Today’s candle lighting represents joy. All of us want to be happy, and we want those experiences to last and be something that we experience all the time. This is an issue with joy, joy is not something that lasts, and it can’t be maintained as a constant state of life. Joy by its very nature is fleeting, a momentary experience. Joy is a mountain top experience, the reality is you will go back to your regular state of life quicker than you want to, but the return is always necessary, and it always happens.

In Advent we visit the ideas of hope, faith, love and joy every year. We revisit them every year because no matter how much we want to maintain these ideas, no matter how much we want to experience them, they get lost through the course of the year. We don’t remember that for these concepts our experiences are fleeting and passing. What we really need to do is learn to savor those experiences. The scripture today, Psalm 136 speaks of praising God because God’s love is forever. It is a joyous celebration of the love that God has, the love that is constant from God. God doesn’t forget any of the advent themes we have talked about, and this text reflects the celebration, the joy it is that God doesn’t forget.

When Mary sings her song about Jesus, the Magnificat, I think we can sense the joy in the song though it is never named. Even the example of the Angels singing, joy is specifically named in Luke’s account, but more importantly we can all see joy in the song they sing. Songs are intrinsically tied to joy, that’s one of the reasons I selected a Psalm for today’s reading. A few months ago, we spent time looking at and talking about musicals, during that time we talked about one of the key parts to understanding musicals as a genre which is when emotion is too large to be talked about you sing about it, when you can’t sing about it, you dance it. This is true of joy in our lives today, we turn to other ways to capture joy because words just can’t seem to get it right.

At the end of the Grinch this happens as well if you’ve ever noticed it. If you remember, after the Grinch steals Christmas, he is on the top of Mount Crumpet listening expectantly for the wailing and tears as the Who’s realize they don’t have their gifts. Instead, what does he hear? Songs singing for the joy of Christmas, and it is the song that changes his heart. It is the joy that is fleeting but is there because it is in the experience of the people, and joy can change our hearts.

I have seen over the course of my ministry. Many people who want joy to be the basis of their relationship with God. Usually, it runs something like this… “I’m saved and therefore I am happy all the time.” We even have songs that say that! What I have seen, however, is that these people are some of the most miserable people of all time. They struggle with the fact that they cannot maintain that level of happiness all the time. Unfortunately, because that is what they are trying to do, they often miss real joy when it happens to them.

Emotionally joy is hard. I don’t want to say to you today, you have to be joyous, because I know that doesn’t help. I also don’t want you to be fake in your happiness, whether in church or in your families. When we fake happiness, we often hide trauma or hurt. I’m reminded of the Pixar movie “Inside Out” which is about emotions developing in a teenage girl. Each emotion is a character, Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger. The young girl’s life was primarily defined by Joy, and the character Joy takes center stage in the movie. Joy wants to stay at the forefront, and she just doesn’t understand why the girl, Riley, is having trouble. Joy tries to put a good twist on everything. Thankfully, by the end of the movie she realize that memories are often tainted by more than one emotion. You can’t have joy without a touch of sadness. For instance, you can have joy in your family at Christmas, yet still feel sad because someone you loved passed away this year. Emotions aren’t mutually exclusive.

What I do want you to walk away with today is to find ways to help joy to last and not pass you by, I want us to learn to savor joy. I don’t want you to go through Christmas in a flurry of busyness and activity and not take in your experience of joy. I don’t want you to experience your relationship with Christ and pretend that the high joyous times when you feel close to God are what you should be all the time. I did some research to see how we can help our joy to last. As I was researching, I came across an older article in Psychology Today which talks about some strategies to “savor” joy.

  1. Pay attention – it is far too easy, especially at Christmas time, to move from one thing to the next without stopping to see how good you may have it at that moment. One thing that I do every year that gives me great joy, is that after the presents are opened, I sit and drink my coffee and watch everyone enjoy their gifts. I stop to watch, listen, and experience.
  2. Pay attention to the past and the future – Remember what I said about joy being tinged with sadness sometimes? This is where this applies the best. It’s okay to remember good things in the past knowing that those good things won’t be around again. It’s a Christmas with a loved one who has since passed, or as in my shoes its looking to the future and realizing the time is coming when my Christmases will change because my family will grow. Seeing how joy happened in the past and looking forward to it in the future can help us to celebrate what we have now.
  3. Share the good – It’s easy to complain. I do it all the time if I’m not careful, and I often need to remind myself of this. When you talk to someone else don’t be afraid to share how something good happened. We all need time to complain, but there is great truth in the idea that if we share good things, we will experience more good things.
  4. Go non-verbal – take a page out of musicals, grab someone and dance. Laugh, smile, you don’t have to say anything, just let your body do the talking! Kids especially will remember these things more than the words you may say.
  5. Factor in your personality – if you tend to be a grumpy Gus, well just plan for that! You know you’re going to be grumpy so remember your experience of joy will be different than other people’s and that’s okay!
  6. Work on your self-esteem – this is one I see a lot. Some people, maybe because of abuse or life experiences, often feel they don’t deserve to be joyous. This is plain not true. Our scriptures show that joy is part of our experience of God’s salvation and is part of what it means to be a child of God. We all deserve to be happy, and we have to give ourselves grace to allow that. If you constantly beat yourself up, about how you look, how you experience emotions, or if you live excursively in the past “nothing will ever top that experience.” You are not allowing yourself to experience joy as you truly can.
  7. Remind yourself that you have it good – I want to say that no matter how bad things get, it can always get worse! There is of course a kernel of truth to this. Reminding ourselves that we have it good is not denying that bad things happen or that things aren’t what they were, it’s remembering that there are good things around us. Some of you may remember the old song, “count your blessings” this is the idea here. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we have some good things happening so that we don’t lose sight of the joy we have been given in that moment.

 

These are just some ways to help you experience joy and help your joy to last longer. If there is anything that I feel I can add to this list is that remember that God desires good things for you.

 

Repeatedly through the New Testament we see that God desires good things for each of us and encourages us to experience those good things. And guess what, just as I talked of love last week there is nothing you can do to deserve good things. Nothing you can do to deserve joy; it is just something that is given to us as a gift from God.

Go and experience that gift this week. Amen.
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Worship for Christmas Eve, December 24th at 4PM

Announcements: Lent Study will be Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans
Passing of the Peace
Candle Lighting-Christmas-December 24 (4pm service)
Merry Christmas! Today is the day we have been preparing for throughout Advent. Jesus is born. Here is the story as recorded in Luke’s Gospel.
“In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria.  Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled.  Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea.  He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant.  While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby.  She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night.  The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people.  Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.  This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.”  Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.  When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child.  Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them.  Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. The shepherds returned home, glorifying, and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.”

All five candles are lit.

We have been waiting for this day, Loving God. We have prepared ourselves for this special day. On this Christmas Day, let us live as those who let hope, peace, joy, and love reign in our lives. As the candles burn brightly and light our path, let us live as those who have the Christ’s light burning inside us today and every day. Amen.

Call to Worship
L: Let the heavens celebrate!
P: Let the earth rejoice!
L: Let the seas roar with praise!
P: Let the trees shout with joy!
L: Jesus is born!
P: Glory to God in the highest heavens and peace to all on earth!

 

Unison Prayer
Loving God, this is a holy night.
We come longing to hear your story of new life and hope. Speak your words of truth and power. May the gift of your love be born anew among us. Cast out our fears, that we may rejoice in your power and your goodness. Amen.

Scripture: Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. Titus 2:11-14 NRSV

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place in the guest room.
Now in that same region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them, 19 and Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying, and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them. Luke 2: 1-20

Message: God is There

The core memories that define us are not perfect memories. Hear me out, we are entering into Christmas day with the weight of perfect being held over us. We want the perfect Christmas experience. We want the holiday magic we see in commercials. The perfect spirit of Christmas revelation that happens in a hallmark Christmas movie. The ending of the Christmas Carol, where all the hearts are changed and goodness is the new name of the game, or the ending of the Grinch where everything works out in the end.

Reality is different, however. Rarely are the perfect memories or perfect moments created. Even if they are they are, they are far less impactful than we anticipate. You know this is true if you look at your own Christmas experiences and other experiences. I am the primary cook in my family. I am not saying my wife doesn’t cook, she does, and she has somethings that are things that only she does. However, most of the time if a meal is being made, it is me. I’ve spent the last couple of days getting ready for our Christmas meal, and I am looking forward to finishing it up tomorrow, and I’ll savor every morsel of it.

There is however one thing I will not cook, even though I have tried off and on for years. I will not cook fried chicken. I’m talking real “fried” chicken using a family recipe that’s cooked in a cast iron pan. It’s delicious and I love eating it, but I have never been able to make it well. This is one of those things that I never learned how to cook and there is a specific memory as to why. The last time I remember my mom making real fried chicken when I was a child, it ended in disaster. The pan caught fire and my dad ended up throwing it into the back yard where it smoldered for three days. My mom never made fried chicken again after that and I never learned to.

This is what I mean when I say sometimes imperfect memories have more impact on us in the long run, than the “created” perfect memories. When you think of your past you want the memories to last, but they don’t because nothing stands out about them. Every year we read the same scriptures about Christmas-on-Christmas eve. We read the scriptures that talk of the angels, and the shepherds, the little baby Jesus, mangers, Mary, and Joseph. We tell these scriptures again and again, so much that we think we have a perfect memory of them, a perfect understanding of what is going on, and yet we don’t.

I try and stay away from deep theological concept diving on Christmas Eve, but this year we are going to talk about a concept we need to understand if we want to understand the Christmas story. That theological concept is called “The Great Humiliation.” I’m going to try and explain, though. God is perfect right? God is all good, all powerful, all loving, all kind. God knows everything that has happened, everything that is happening and everything that will happen. With me so far, right? I know when we spell things out like that about God, we get a major dose of what theologians say is Gods’ “otherness.” In other words, how drastically, different God is from you and me. But it is important that we understand that truth, that God is so different than you and me or else we don’t really understand what happens in the “great humiliation.”
With a God like that there is a problem. How does God relate to us and how can we relate to God? I mean I’ve met plenty of people who think they are perfect, all good, all powerful, all loving and all kind. And we all have certainly met those who think they know everything, (myself included sometimes). How does a God that is perfect interact with us? Well, he humiliates himself, hence the “great humiliation.” God becomes a baby who we tell perfect stories about, but see, God deliberately does that to get around the perfect. God humiliates Gods self, so that we have something in common, so that God can enter this imperfect life and share that life with us.

Here is another way to put it. Snow globes. I’ve never really seen their appeal. Sure, I’ve played with them, I even own one that comes out every year for Christmas. That snow globe I own is a globe with three little snowmen in it singing, it is the perfect little scene set in a perfect spot so that it never changes but it can also never be experienced. Many of us have those perfect little scenes in our heads, we encapsulate who God is by saying God must be what I can understand. God must love who I understand God to love. God must act the way I choose that God can act. The problem is you trap your image of God in a moment that is perfect. That isn’t full of life and that doesn’t reflect what God actually does.

The story of Jesus’ birth isn’t perfect. I don’t go for the stories we hear from some churches and movies, “Jesus had to be born this way!” “This had to happen, because of x, y, or z scripture.” Don’t force perfection on a messy, crazy story because in that mess is where life and love are.

One of the scriptures that I read this evening is not one many of you would hear on Christmas eve. From Titus, but I want you to hear the last verse again “He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” The whole reason that Christ is born, the whole reason that we celebrate Christ being born is right here. Christ is born so that you can do good deeds! Christ isn’t born for you to feel like you need to be perfect. Christ isn’t born so that you can pressure everyone else into being perfect. Christ isn’t even here to die, which I know is some church people’s favorite part of Jesus’ story to run to. Jesus is born so that you can do good things.

I want you to notice in that scripture I referenced that it doesn’t tell you who to do those good things for. There aren’t any qualifiers. If you’re curious who you are supposed to do good things for, just look around you. Doing good is a messy business. It means standing up against things that are wrong. Stopping people from being hurt, making sacrifices for others. And scarily enough, even admitting you were wrong. But that’s Christmas, it isn’t perfect.

What’s really amazing is that if you look into your past and reflect on your family memories, you’ll find more powerful memories and experiences in the messy memories, like my fried chicken memory, than in the perfect memories. Messy situations are the ones that we grow from and remember for years to come. They are the stories we share, the stories we laugh about and cry about. They aren’t perfect, however when you begin to examine those messy memories, I guarantee that you will find God already there. God is there in the hard lessons, in the laughter, and in the tears. God is there because he was born into a messy situation, born to live a life like you and I. God knows what a messy experience life is, and because of that God is there, right there walking with each and every one of us.

Real Christmas isn’t about the perfect experiences. It’s not the perfect holiday, it’s not being happy all the time, it’s not even the fights around the dinner table. Real Christmas is about God being born as a person to show us what true love is. That is the heart of the Christmas story. I invite you tonight and tomorrow to look for God in the messy. Look for God in the thing that doesn’t go right because I guarantee you, God is there. Amen.

Pastoral prayer/Lord’s Prayer

Candle Lighting: Silent Night, after candles are lit, Let There Be Peace on Earth

Dismissal with Blessing


Announcements: UWF Potluck -bring a salad or dessert on Tuesday, December 19 at 11:30AM. You do not need to be a member to participate, just come and enjoy a holiday program.  Sonoyta Gift return your gift by Dec 19-Jeni O’ Callaghan will deliver week before Christmas.  Use a label and do not wrap gifts. Special offering is Scholarship; Blue Christmas 4PM on December 17th, Christmas Eve Worship is at 4PM.

Passing of the Peace

Candle Lighting
Candle Reading-Ron and Diane Black
This week we turn our attention to love. The following Scripture verses may sound very familiar, so we will hear them twice.

The first time is in the New Revised Standard Version. The second time you’ll be reading from the Message. Listen for the call to love in these words.

Matthew 22:36-40 says,

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

”Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?” Jesus said,

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list.
But there is a second to set alongside it:

‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

(Light two purple and one pink candle here)

God, we have learned to love from being loved by you. And so today, let us enact that love. Let us live that love. We know that what the world needs now is more love.
We need to remember how much you love each one of us and we must share that love with others. Amen.

Song 1

Call to Worship:
L: When the Lord restores our fortunes,
P: we are like those who dream.
L: Our mouths are filled with laughter;
P: our hearts sing with shouts of joy.

L: Worship the Lord of our salvation.
P: Worship the Lord!

Unison Prayer:
God of Dreams, you have done great things for your people.
From times of old, you awaken the faithful to the dawn of your glory.
Fill our mouths with laughter.
Loose our tongues with shouts of joy.
Anoint us with the oil of gladness
and make it known among all people that we will live as oaks of righteousness, the plantings of the Lord. Amen. 

Song 2

Scripture: Luke 1:26-38 NRSV

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “how can this be since I am still a virgin? The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Sermon: All that Matters

Where do we start? This week’s topic is one that I often preach or touch on throughout any given year. It is one that many of us reflect on at different times in our lives as well as one that our culture keeps telling us what it is and what it means. Today’s candle and reflection is on the topic of love. As humans we are communal creatures who crave being together, yes even introverts, want to be together. In our country there is the idea of rugged individualism, you have to be self-reliant, you have to be able to provide everything or do everything yourself. Our reality though is not that clear.

Talk with anyone about a place they moved from, or what they found when they moved to a new place, and they will talk about the community in which they are involved. Perhaps they look back with fond memories at the bygone days when their kids played in the streets, and it seemed like everyone knew each other. Perhaps they look at that feeling they miss because they have moved to a new place. Many of you are transplants to this community, so you know that it can feel very disjointed at first. There aren’t things for you to do to get to know people, and the community may be bigger than the one you left.

I am not sharing these things to say that “this is what we are missing today in our society”, or even to say that individualism is wrong, but to point out that all of us want to be loved and accepted. We want to know that we have been missed and that people care about us. We want that experience that happened in almost every Cheers episode, where Norm walked in the door, and everyone yelled “Norm!” We want to know we belong.

Love at the heart is about belonging. We have competing ideologies today that try and convince us that love is other things. That the only acceptable definition of love is intimate love, and any expression of love must be an acknowledgment of intimacy. For men this is a very frustrating area. If we say we love each other, then that is looked down upon because the assumption is of intimacy. However, love is a far more complex emotion than that. Love involves multiple levels and multiple expressions. Love is about yourself, it’s about your community and neighbors and it’s about your relationship with God.

Let’s look deeper here into what love is about from a biblical perspective. The first place we are going to look is at our scripture today. On the surface level it may not seem to be about love, but of course I would argue that the entirety of the Gospel is about love at its core. Our story is of Mary first learning that she is pregnant, and this happens with the announcement by the angel Gabriel. Gabriel starts with “Greetings favored one!” a statement that automatically confuses Mary. The very formal greeting here reminds me of how stilted people can be with language. We say things that are very formal but have layers of meaning. Perhaps instead of favored one, we could say “beloved”? I know it’s not the right interpretation of the word but hear me out. If Mary is being called a term of endearment, then it makes sense that she is confused. How many of you have pet names for each other? Can you call someone else that without it sounding or seeming weird?

When we read Mary’s story the first thing we tend to run to in order to talk about love is the love of a mother for a child. Now I want to be cautious here. It must be acknowledged that for everyone who hears this sermon not everyone had good mothers, and some of you that were good mothers probably have doubts about how well you did as well. I also have to say that there are many people who never experience motherhood either by circumstance or choice. In our scripture today Mary loves Jesus, even as she is getting used to the shock of the pregnancy. Our culture today likes to think that love is an emotion that is automatically experienced. Something that if it’s “true love” your hearts will be smitten, and you will know that you are in love, and nothing can change that. Yet the biblical story and reality show us differently. Sometimes you can get news that shocks you, like Mary does, and grow to love. No one is a perfect parent, no one does it right, and all of us have to learn to love-even our children.

This week’s Grinch story is the newest one. It was released in 2018. This animated version seeks to define the story of the Grinch more by providing more in the story. What stood out to me is the love that members of the Who community show to one another. There are multiple instances where they are kind and caring to one another just because. They help one another and the Grinch’s neighbor even seeks to include him.

One thing I like about this version is it goes into rehabilitating the Grinch a bit after the theft and return of Christmas. The Grinch goes to dinner, starts to become friends with other people, more than just carving up dinner. The movie even shows him being unsure about how he is going to be accepted in the community. How are people going to treat him like? I think many of us feel that way. Sure, we aren’t as bad as the Grinch, no we didn’t steal anything or hurt anyone, but we wonder where  and if we will  fit in and if we will truly belong.

I’d like to revisit a scripture here, one that many of you are familiar with, but I don’t think I have ever read in the context of love during advent. The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist in its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…and now faith, hope and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love.”

In this passage, used in many weddings, Paul seeks to define what love is. If I were to sum up what Paul is saying here, love is connection and love is community. Paul is clear that there is only one thing that lasts for all eternity and that is love. It has never ceased to amaze me how often we want to put other things in the everlasting category. Clearly love, not punishment or judgment or rejection is everlasting. Love is.

While love is everlasting, while it is communal and individual, it is also one of the most difficult things to put into practice. What I mean by this is we often only get part of it and can lose focus on what love can be. I want to give you three places to focus on love this week, it starts small and grows. You might even say…” Three sizes”

First, love yourself. You have to allow yourself to experience love. You will not be able to accept the love of God or the love of others if you hate yourself. This hate can come from many places. Perhaps you hate how you look, I mean look at me, I’m bald, chubby…which is being kind, I can’t hear, I’m dyslexic, and sometimes I say things before I think about what I’m saying. What is there to love? I know I am God’s gift to women everywhere! AND I’m incredibly humble! Yes, I know you are eye rolling now, but the list I gave you is the list according to the world. I should have a problem with it, but I don’t. That list makes up who I am. It isn’t something I have to overcome; If I can accept myself for who I am, then that opens me to experiencing love from others and from God.

When you allow yourself to experience love, you can also practice self-love. We term it another way, self-care. If you need to recharge, if you need to slow down and take things in, then do that! You’ll only be able to do those things though, when you realize that the sun doesn’t rise and set on you. That you need to love yourself enough to take care of yourself.

Second, love your neighbor or your community. Kind words and small kindnesses go far in our world today when most people don’t get to experience them. Do any of you remember going to your neighbor to borrow a cup of sugar? I remember growing up, if my mother didn’t have everything for a recipe or was just a little short you could ask the neighbor, and if they had it, they would share. Today those small acts of kindness are happening less and less. We have been taught not to trust our neighbors, not to bother them, not to include them. But you can do small things for those that live around you, or those that sit next to you in church, that create a feeling of love and belonging greater than any separation.

Third and finally, you have to allow God to love you. Join in the church doing things, doing missions, studying, praying, worshiping. We can’t earn Gods love, but when we are together, we can help each other experience God’s love. God’s love is shown to us this season in the birth of a child, in a young mother’s love, in a life lived showing us love, and in the death and resurrection that promises us that continued love. God’s love has always and always will be.

This week, love yourself, love your neighbor, and love God. This is our calling, to share Gods love, to be tools of Gods love, to love as God loves. Amen.

 

————————————————————————————————————–Sermon Manuscript for December10, 2023

Message for Sunday, December 10, 2023
Announcements: UWF Potluck -bring a salad or dessert on Tuesday, December 19 at 11:30AM. You do not need to be a member to participate, just come and enjoy a holiday program. Collecting for our Sister Church in Sonoyta Mexico gifts from kids ages 2- to 5-year-olds. Sign up and return your gift by Dec 19. Make sure to use a label and do not wrap gifts. Special offering is Scholarship; Blue Christmas 4PM on December 17th.

Call To Worship
L: Prepare the path of God.
P: We prepare by waiting with patience.
L: Prepare the path of God.
P: We prepare by living with faith and love.
L: Prepare the path of God.
P: We prepare by pursuing justice and peace.
L: Prepare the path of God.
P: We prepare, we wait, we pray.
L: May God bless us with both patience and passion.
P: We wait and pray to create the path of God.

Unison Prayer
While we are waiting, come to us, O God. Reveal your presence in our time of worship.
Guide our steps in our speaking and our doing.
Flow through our lives, our church, and our world with your steadfast love, unending faithfulness, righteous justice, and mysterious peace.
In patient anticipation we pray. Amen.

Scripture: Luke 1:46-56 NRSV
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant. Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name; indeed, his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He has come to the aid of his child Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Sermon: Hope, A Thing With Wings

Like most of you I have been watching the news and the developments in the Middle East over the past few months. I have never in my life seen a time of sustained true peace in the Middle East, and those of you older than me have never seen real peace in the Middle East. It is an example of something that we have prayed for, hoped for, but have never seen realized. There have been other conflicts that have fallen into this category. The troubles of Northern Ireland are a great example of a lasting generational conflict that many of us never thought would end.

Now don’t worry, I’m not going to offer my two cents on the issue of who is responsible or what needs to change. I just want to point out that just as many of you are watching it so am I, and I noticed something about myself watching and receiving the information. That is that I feel hopeless to change the problem. It doesn’t matter who is the president, or what politicians we vote for, the issue has been present and remains present. It doesn’t seem to matter if you get involved with organizations trying to foster peace, when the minute something happens all hope and small gains you have made are pulled out from under you.

I know this example may be too big for some of you. I’ve been ministering long enough to see people whose only concern is what is right in front of them. So let me give you another example of a situation I know. There is a person who has struggled with drug addiction their whole life. As there is for many people who wrestle with addiction there is a pattern to their lives that is disheartening and after you see it repeat several times, it feels hopeless. This person was recently involved in a car accident due to a relapse of their addiction. They do wonderfully when they are in the rehab program. They stay off of drugs and often become an inspiration for the people around them who get off of drugs. Then the way our system is set up causes a problem. Insurance steps in, or even the requirements of the programs themselves, say “you are cured and have to leave.” While they are better, the pattern is they will fall back into addiction. And the family has lost hope that this cycle will ever be broken.

Our series this year has used the Christmas movies on the “Grinch who stole Christmas” as its basis and hope is what we find lacking within ourselves, within our world and within the story. I was reflecting this week on the 2000 film starring Jim Carrey, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” as the primary source of reference. For those not familiar with this particular version of the story, it tries to flesh out the Grinch as an individual. We learn the back story of why he is a Grinch, personal childhood bullying and trauma during the Christmas season. We also learn of Cindy Lou Who, a Who, who is struggling with what she believes about Christmas.

At one point in the film the Who’s are celebrating their “Who-bilation.” A Christmas party that involves all sorts of activities, but perhaps most importantly someone has to be elected as the “holiday Cheer-miester.” Cindy argues in front of all of the other Who’s that the Grinch should be the Cheer-miester because he’s the one that needs it the most. Cindy’s argument is full of hope. She hopes that the Grinch being the Cheer-miester will lift his holiday spirits, but also that the Who’s will be the good people she knows them to be. She hopes that things will change and be better.

The scripture reading today comes from a very important part of the beginning of the Gospel. It is Mary’s Magnificat, see it even has a special name. It is the song that Mary sings when she is talking about having her child. If you read the whole song, it is full of hope for who this child will be. For interpretation it is a key component of being able to understand what Luke tries to teach throughout the gospels. Let’s get a little context though, at least I find it’s always helpful to be reminded of the context. Mary is a young lady; we would qualify her as a child today. She is worried about her future which is anything but certain. We have no mention of Joseph in the Luke story, so we can imagine that she was worried about what Joseph was going to say or do. She has gone to stay with relatives, Elizabeth, and Zachariah the parents of John the Baptist. While this activity has fallen a bit out of favor, I know many of you can recall stories of young women leaving school to go stay with a family member for a while, only to find out years later that they were pregnant, and the family wanted to hide it.

Then there is the social and political context that Mary finds herself in, and yes that is important. Mary’s words in the Magnificat take specific aim at the social structures of her day. The people of Israel were under the hands of an oppressive government. They felt the wealthy did whatever they wanted with little thought to the poor. They felt that the principles of their faith were being ignored by people seeking wealth and power over the care of others. All of these things are repeatedly a theme throughout scripture. They are spoken of by the prophets all through the Old Testament and are core for understanding who Jesus is. If we call Jesus a prophet, speaking out against these things goes hand in hand with that role in the entirety of Scripture.

Laced all through her song is hope, hope that the future will be different. Hope that God is doing a new thing. Hope that somehow Jesus will make a difference.
Matt Rawle says, “Advent is like Poetry in the sense that we hope for something that has already happened, and that equation makes no sense on a blueprint.” Pg 66. Hope is not something that makes sense, it is not something that can be forced either. It is something that is living, breathing, and is created in special ways that often make no sense at all.

Emily Dickson, famed American poet, writes in a poem,
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

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

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

I think all of us can identify with what Emily Dickinson is saying. Hope is a small thing; it is incredibly fragile but present even in the harshest of times. Hope does not make sense. It is not something logical, like Rawle says it “makes no sense on a blueprint.” It is something that should be nurtured by each and every one of us.

We may not all hope for the same things. Some people who are maybe in the grips of addiction or grief are only hoping to make it through the day. Others are hoping that this summer they can go on vacation. Or perhaps hoping that kids or grandkids are going to be healthy or not hurt themselves in their next play adventure. Whatever you’re hoping for is not the issue that most of us face. What most of us are facing are situations where we feel there is no hope. If we feel there is no hope, then what do we do?

I’d like to suggest three options for you. The first is to look at the example of Mary. Mary in our scripture today has everything going against her. She has every reason to be scared and to feel hopeless and abandoned. Instead, she has family with her and that helps her to not loose sight of the fact that God has blessed her. For those of you that have family and friends around, look to them so that you might see hope in their lives and by doing that keep hope alive in your own life.

Second, look to the story of the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who. In order to have hope you have to give people a chance. I didn’t share the rest of that example, but the Grinch does become Holiday Cheer-miester. The people live up to Cindy Lou’s hope but unfortunately the situation ends horribly. The Grinch didn’t live up to what Cindy hoped. With hope you have to take a chance. It means risking something, it means being vulnerable. When you are trying to build up hope for an addict to change, or if you are struggling with grief or depression and just want to feel something, you have to risk yourself. You have to risk trusting the addict even if they may fail again, you have to risk talking with someone about your grief or depression and be vulnerable to speaking what is in your heart.

The third and final way to find hope this season comes from Fred Rogers, “When I was a boy I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” When we feel overwhelmed and can’t see hope for the future, look for those who are helping. Helpers have hope. Hope that something will change, that growth will happen, that the future can be different. Look to the helpers and there you will find your hope for the Christmas season.
May you experience hope in every place and every way you need it this Advent and Christmas season. Amen.

 

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Sermon Manuscript for December 3, 2023
Announcements:
Special Offering is Scholarship Fund, Blue Christmas Service at 4PM on Sunday, December 17, Please take a stand-up yard sign from the foyer, holiday gift for staff.
Passing of the Peace
1st Advent Candle Lighting
Song 1

Call to Worship
L: The Lord of hosts redeems us when we stray.
P: With a mighty arm, God comes to save us.
L: When God hid his face, we strayed. When God withdrew her presence, we stumbled.

P: God has fed us with the bread of tears and given us tears to drink in full measure.
L: Yet, through his Son, God calls us back from the pit and restores our future.

P: God shines upon us with love, that we might be saved.
L: Come! Let us worship.

Unison Prayer
God of glory, your power darkens the skies and causes the moon to grow dim. When we scatter to the four winds, gather us from the ends of the earth and restore us as your people. Awaken us from slumber, that we may be found ready when the master of the house returns. Amen.
Song 2

Scripture: Isaiah 64:1-2, 6-7 NRSV
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

Reflection: When Peace is Not There

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” sung by Andy Williams is perhaps one of the most hated Christmas songs for people who work in retail during the holiday season. I remember during my time in retail, that whenever this song was played (and let’s face it, it is played everywhere), we would all collectively groan. It’s not that we didn’t like Christmas, it’s that working in retail during the holiday season you don’t get to see the “Merry Christmas”. You see the grumpy shopper who doesn’t want to be out shopping.  In retail you have to remember to say “happy holidays” so that whatever anyone is celebrating can be included in that statement, only to have someone irately say back “you mean Merry Christmas? Right?” Stores are more crowded, the kids are screaming, and all of your co-workers are grumpy too because they really needed time off for a family event, but instead have to be in the store dealing with this stuff.

Even today I still have things that I don’t like about Christmas and let’s be honest you do too. Every year I wrestle with saying something new on a subject matter that all of us know so well that we get frustrated by hearing a different perspective on it. I know people get frustrated hearing different perspectives, because I’m the one that gets the complaints or see the eye rolls. Christmas is a season of more work, just like in my retail days, there are more things we need to get done, more things to talk about and more things to plan. On top of all this, I feel like I need to fit everything in with my family. Go and see Christmas lights somewhere, bake 6 dozen Christmas cookies, watch Christmas movies, go shopping, and create a sense of wonder and joy. Even if I might not be feeling it.

I don’t share this to say, “look how bad I have it,” but to show that all of us have things about the Christmas season we don’t like and that we wrestle with. For many of us the season is anything but peaceful, and if we’ve lost a loved one, or experienced loss of any sort, this season becomes a bittersweet time. Where we remember and miss our loved ones while still trying to feel happy because that’s what we are ‘supposed’ to do. Our Advent stories don’t start in peace, they start in a flurry of activity that often deadens our emotions and causes us to just default to a smile just to keep moving.

 

This year we are looking at “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” and here’s a tidbit that you maybe haven’t noticed. The story doesn’t start with why the Grinch actually hates Christmas, just that he does. Some of the movies attempt to flesh this out and give us a background, but the beauty of this story is that we do not need that background for us to be involved and to see ourselves. In some of the movie versions, the background helps us see ourselves, but I would say the original story has the greater impact in this. Any of the reasons I listed above as to why Christmas is difficult can be the same reason for the Grinch. Maybe he worked in retail? Maybe he lost a loved one? Maybe he was never included? Maybe he was discriminated against? We don’t know, and that’s the beauty of it, the story starts with the fact that things aren’t right, and the Grinch hates Christmas.

Our Advent season starts the same way. We start with peace, not because we have peace, not because peace is an eternal state of our existence. We are all painfully aware that we lack peace. We lack peace in our world as war and terrorism abound. We lack peace in our lives because we are trying to do and be everything for everybody. We know we just lack peace. There is no deeper explanation than that. Biblical authors knew this all too well. Peace is allusive. Peace is something we desire and strive for, but things are wrong and messed up.

We can’t take the world and our wishes for what we want it to be, we have to take it for what it is. This is how Advent starts, not with the achievement of the perfect holiday, not the achievement of peace, but with the knowledge that things aren’t’ what they should be.

Our lesson here is twofold. The first step toward peace is knowing that things aren’t going to live up to what we want them to be. Some of you know the idea “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.” This is a good idea in regard to peace. You are not going to have perfect peace, if the season is not good for you that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you won’t find peace.

In order to find our way through the difficulties of the holiday season we must find peace in the small things. When I worked in retail, it was by finding joy with those I worked with, enjoying a new Christmas song or of one of the other stores’ holiday decorations. Today, I find peace during the season by focusing on the feeling of peace I can create by slowing down. Watching the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree, remembering all the places we have been and experiences we have had by looking at the ornaments. Looking not for the perfect gift-but for the fun one. These are all little ways of finding peace.

Finding peace is a journey, it is not a destination. We grow in peace, and sometimes we will be closer to it than others. The biblical story knows that the story starts in darkness and fear. It starts in rejection and turmoil, but that is not where it ends. The journey goes on to peace. See your experience as one of growing into peace, being the person who you are called to be and if that means being a little “grinchy” until you know what to do, then do that! Amen.

 


Message for Sunday, November 26th 2023
Announcements:
Giving Options-text to give, QR Code, Online or in envelope at door. Decorate the church on Friday, Dec 1 at 9:30AM, Heart that Grew Three Sizes Advent Study 5PM on Friday Dec 1.  We need volunteers to lock the doors at night, weekly rotation, see Kent Fullerton. Music Ministry

Passing of the Peace
Song 1

Call to Worship
L: Make a joyful noise, a noise of service and love.
P: Praise God with lives of compassion.

L: Sing with acts of kindness.
P: Glorify God with acts of mercy.

L: Praise God with works of justice.
P: Praise God with overflowing love.

Unison Prayer
God of grace and God of Glory, reveal yourself through our lives and our love.
Shine your wisdom and truth into our hearts this day.

Help us know the hope to which we are called, that we may be the servants you craft us to be. In your glory and grace, we pray. Amen.

Song 2

Scripture: Ezekiel 34:11-6, 20-24; Matthew 25:31-46 NRSV

11 For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep and will sort them out. 12 As shepherds sort out their flocks when they are among scattered sheep,[a] so I will sort out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them into their own land, and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strays, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

20 Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you pushed with flank and shoulder and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22 I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged, and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them; he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I the Lord have spoken. Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46

Message: Shepherds, Sheep, Goats and Judgement

Mark Kurlansky is an author who writes some rather weird but interesting books. I’ve read a number of his works starting with the book “Salt” which is a history of how salt has been used and its influence on economics. I just finished reading a book called “Milk: a 10,000-year Fracas” which he has written. It focuses on how milk is used, which milk is the best, and the various controversies such as pasteurization that have surrounded milk.

When reading this book, I didn’t know how varied milk tastes were throughout the world. I knew of buffalo milk, who doesn’t know of buffalo mozzarella at this point, but I did not know how regularly people drank camel milk, horse milk, sheep’s milk, donkey milk and other types of milk. A fascinating number of arguments exist about which milk is the best; donkey, goat, and sheep milk taking the top spots. Different areas and regions around the world favor different milks depending on the climate and what animals are readily available to them. In the middle east, the setting of both of our scriptures today, sheep and goat were often seen as the most important milk producers.

The economic value of sheep is something that most of us are not familiar with. A few years ago, some of you may remember a lifelong member, Jake Baker, shared with me about his father gathering wool that had been harvested by Navajo farmers. Jake understood the economic value of sheep in a way that most of us cannot really understand. It is outside the realm of our experience. Shepherding is also outside the realm of our experience. I’m not going to pretend that I know modern shepherding practices, but I have read enough to be familiar with shepherding in biblical times. Shepherds, while economically important, were looked down upon as the lowest of the low; near criminal in social status. They did not abide by proper religious practices, and they spent all their time outdoors, They were often smelly, poorly dressed and mostly uneducated.  They were also harder to control.

At the time when our scriptures were written, Israel already had a cultural history and viewpoint of shepherds. Outside of some of what I’ve shared, Israel also had a growing body of traditions regarding a Shepherd King. They had already had one, King David, a young man who was a shepherd first. He didn’t look very “kingly” but became their greatest king. This helped give fuel to the tradition of seeing God as a shepherd. A shepherd does what is best for his sheep, and rules over his sheep. In the book I referenced at the beginning, it does a good job of showing how difficult farming can be in regard to animals. Culling is a necessary part of any farming operation. Knowing what is of value and what is not is very important as your margins of success are so slim that you need to be able to cut your losses. God is a shepherd, which means he needs to be strict in judgement.

This is where we enter our two passages today. I don’t often use an Old and New Testament scripture and rarely do I try speaking about both of them in the same sermon, but today I think it is important. The Ezekiel passage shows us some things that are important for us to remember, while the Matthew passage develops what is said further.

The context of Ezekiel is important to know. Ezekiel the prophet is living in Babylon, during the Babylonian exile. This key historical date helps us understanding how Judaism and how this scripture developed. Most of what we identify as the Old Testament is written or compiled during this time in Israel’s history. Ezekiel himself is a fascinating prophet to study but we will not get into all the reasons why at this time, but what you need to know is that he stood against two forms of religious thought in his day. One was that Israel was special and Gods promises meant that nothing would happen to Jerusalem or the Temple. He also stood against the idea that the people of Israel should just give up, religiously speaking, to the Babylonians.

In the Ezekiel passage God reminds the people of Israel that he is looking over them. That he is watching them and will take care of them. It is a reminder of Gods grace that we are seeing. There is no earning the protection of God, there is no one who deserves this. God will take care of his sheep. In the context of the passage God’s sheep is Israel, no question about it. This is not an invitation for us to see ourselves as Israel. I want to remind us from this passage that God is saying that the people are his sheep, and he will provide and take care of them.

When we enter into the Matthew story, we have a slightly different view. In Matthew, Jesus is teaching his disciples for a final time. Having read the Ezekiel passage we can see the striking similarities but there are also key differences and that’s what we are going to focus on. First is that the scene being played out is not like Ezekiel. In fact, the sheep and goats are divided but there is no mention of what the end game is. In Ezekiel the sheep are taken to pastures of plenty, in Matthew there is not a direct mention of where the sheep go to. From a historically practical standpoint, separating sheep from goats was a common practice. Sheep stayed warmer than goats did, so the care level was different. I mention this because it is important to remember that the facts of this story would have been familiar to the people Jesus was talking too.

Another way that this story differs is that the judgment that is pronounced is very clear as to why. Separation is caused by what the sheep and the goats did or didn’t do. A danger in this is we can approach our faith as a works mentality, I have to do more good deeds or else I’m not going to be among the faithful in final judgment. But this would miss some of the larger points from the Gospel of Matthew. In the gospel of Matthew this is a lived reality. Repeatedly for Jesus it’s about whether a tree bears good fruit or bad fruit, the nature of that tree is within itself. The sheep and goats are surprised by the judgment, because they didn’t realize when they were doing the right thing, it was just a natural product of who they are.

Taken together these two stories show us something really important, that Gods judgment is a judgment of grace and I take this from Ezekiel. There is nothing you can do to deserve better judgment from God, no way to earn it and while this may seem a counter point to Matthew it is not. In Matthew we are taught that doing good, doing the right thing, should be in your very nature, it should be in the very fabric of who you are.

Ezekiel and Matthew are not about mentally assenting to a particular idea of who God is. It is not about saying the right things, for Ezekiel there aren’t right things to say it is grace. For Matthew there aren’t right things to say, it is a part of who you are. This is very important that we all need to hear. We talk about our faith, we often share it publicly, but I can’t tell you how many times I have had people come up to me scared for their family members or friends. Their family or friends have not made a public confession for Christ, their family or friends don’t like the church and seem to have rejected God. But here is the thing, if they are doing the right things, if they are helping people then they are the sheep. A bad tree can’t produce good fruit.

Here me out. This is really important in other areas too. If we talk about disabilities such as mental health issues, bipolar or schizophrenia. If we talk about dementia or Alzheimer’s. What do we do with people who can’t say the right things we were taught they had to say? What do we do with the people who have forgotten the right things to say? What do we do with the people who go into phases in their lives where they have difficulty seeing or experiencing the love of God? These are all struggles that people within the church have, struggles that I have, what does God do for these people?

These two passages I think help to answer these things we wrestle with. The first answer is God’s grace in including us into the family of faith. The second is that none of those things wipe out who we are, it doesn’t change who we are or the good we do.

I know today’s message is a little different. I am not calling us to do better, to work harder at doing the right thing. What I am calling us to is to remember God’s grace and to allow good things to flow through us naturally. Live the Christian life so that doing good is second nature. Respect and honor the good from others you see around you, no matter where they are from or who they are. Do not forget the good that people have done, when they are for a moment not the same. Because God’s grace abounds so can our grace for each other! Amen.

Pastoral Prayer/Lord’s Prayer
Song 3
Dismissal With Blessing

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Sermon Manuscript for November 19, 2023
Announcements: Giving Options. Decorate the church on December 1 at 9:30AM. Grew Three Sizes Advent Study; Music Ministry
Call to Worship:

L: We lift up our eyes to you, O God

P: longing for a glimpse of your grace.

L: We watch for you… and wait,

P: trying to keep awake and aware.

L: trying not to fall asleep,

P: trying not to miss your presence,

L: trying not to miss our very lives.

P: Today, when we come to you awake-

L: clothed in faith, decked out in love,

P: wearing hope for all to see.

L: Come and meet us here, O God,

P: in your mercy and your grace.

 Unison Prayer:

Holy One, have mercy on us.  When we cannot take any more of this world, we know we must turn to you. When our souls have had their fill of trouble and unease, we seek your protection.  We come to you in faith and love, in the hope of your salvation, now and always. Amen.

 

Scripture: Mark 8:34-38 NRSV

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

 

Message: Give All You Can

Week three, and the final week of our stewardship series. As I’ve mentioned at the beginning of each of these messages this whole series is based on John Wesley’s sermon “The Use of Money,” as a way to connect us to our Methodist roots and provide sound theological financial input. If you remember nothing else from this series, remember “Earn all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can.” This week we are focusing on Wesley’s words “Give all you Can.”

Wesley opens up our meditation with,

“But let not any man imagine that he has done anything, barely by going thus far, by ‘gaining and saving all he can,’ if he were to stop here. All this is nothing, if a man go not forward, if he does not point all this at a farther end. Nor, indeed, can a man properly be said to save anything, if he only lays it up. You may as well throw your money into the sea, as bury it in the earth. And you may as well bury it in the earth, as in your chest, or in the Bank of England. Not to use, is effectually to throw it away. If, therefore, you would indeed ‘make yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness,’ add the Third rule to the two preceding. Having, First, gained all you can, and, Secondly saved all you can, Then ‘give all you can.”

Let me bring you into a secret among people who do art as a hobby, even art as a profession. When they get new art supplies, be it a sketchbook, new pen, or new paints, it is very difficult for them to begin to use those items. This sounds really stupid right? The purpose of a new sketchbook is to fill it up, to use every single page to do something with. But there is a fear present with new art supplies, that is the fear of wasting what you have just spent your hard-earned money on.

Wesley’s impassioned words start with a plea to realize that just saving your money and not doing anything with it defeats the purpose of even having money. In the same way that a hobby enthusiast might not utilize their new products for fear of wasting the new item, many people save money and then don’t use it, or don’t use it appropriately because they fear using it at all. I’ve watched this with kids repeatedly and not just my own. When they have money, they always have grandiose plans of how they are going to use that money, but when it comes to spending it they begin to realize that if they buy that candy bar, they aren’t going to be able to afford that toy. Rarely for a child does this mean they won’t spend the money at all, but it is a tendency that adults have as well.

With this week’s topic of giving all you can one of the first concerns that I had was how do we know what to give our money towards? Another concern I had is for the people who tend to give away all their money with very little thought to what is going on with that money. Wesley clearly states out an order of priority to help guide us, now I know when I read these the danger is we will think we already have it figured out, but it is surprising how often this simple list gets messed up.

“If you desire to be a faithful and a wise steward, out of that portion of your Lord’s goods which he has for the present lodged in your hands, but with the right of resuming whenever it please him, First, provide things needful for yourself; food to eat, raiment to put on, whatever nature moderately requires for preserving the body in health and strength. Secondly, provide these for your wife, your children, your servants, or any others who pertain to your household. If when this is done there be an overplus left, then ‘do good to them that are of the household of faith.’ If there be an overplus still, ‘as you have opportunity, do good unto all men.’ In so doing, you give all you can…”

The ranking of what to spend your money on,

  1. Care for yourself
  2. Care for your family
  3. Care for your church/church family
  4. Care for others in the world around you

Care for yourself is being aware that if you aren’t taking care of yourself so that you can work, or in the case of retirees providing enough for yourself to live, then you won’t be able to do the first two lessons (Earn all you can, Save all you can) and you will not be able to help others. Remember last week we talked about not spending money on extravagances in order to save. It is here that Wesley says, hey do what you need to do to do your job. So, if you need that expensive pair of boots to do your job then do it.

Care for family should sound self-evident right? We want to take care of those we love and provide for their needs. However, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who will buy unnecessary things for themselves while their children don’t have enough school supplies. Our basic responsibility is to provide for those who we love. Retirees again this is looking over your family in love, helping them with the necessities when they need them. I know you all care for your grandchildren, but I have met people who don’t and refuse to help care for them. Now it should be obvious that I am not talking about adult children and grandchildren here, sometimes the right thing to do is to have limits, but I want everyone to understand that those who cannot provide for themselves in our families are our responsibilities.

Care for your church and church family. This is one that I see people struggle with all the time. They may like me as a pastor, but they don’t want to give money to the church because of something that happened in the past. Or they assume that the budget needs will be met by others. Wesley is clear, taking care of your church, both the budget and the people, are our responsibilities. The church budget enables staff to help people.  The church budget enables ministries to happen on our campus. Part of our responsibility to each other is to build up the church so that we can help more people.

Finally, care for others in the world around you. After you have made sure you and your immediate family are taken care of, after you are sure your church is taken care of, then you move on to giving to other organizations. This is a difficult one I know. Many of us want to help as many people as we can, we want to be generous and care for all of the hurting people in our world. But how can we do that if we haven’t taken care of the other responsibilities listed prior to this one?

John Wesley goes on to give some guidance for how to know if we are giving for the right reasons in any and all of these instances, here what Wesley says,

“(1) in expending this, am I acting according to my character? Am I acting herein, not as a proprietor, but as a steward of my Lord’s goods?

(2) Am I doing this in obedience to his Word? In what Scripture does he require me so to do?

(3) Can I offer up this action, this expense, as a sacrifice to God through Jesus Christ?

(4) Have I reason to believe that for this very work I shall have a reward at the resurrection of the just?”

These criteria all help to examine your motives in how you choose to give away your money. If you are acting out of selfish motives-these questions are aimed at getting you to realize that. If you are going to get praise and recognition for your giving, Wesley would have you question the why of that giving. Part of this I think is because, should you get praised for doing the basics of what it means to be a parent or to be a member of the church? Now mind you, I’m not talking about thanks; I am deeply grateful for the giving that each of you engages in towards our ministries here at Mountain View. What I mean is that if you give so that your name can go on the building are you giving for the right reasons?

Wesley backs all of this up with one more point. If you have gone through the questions above and you still don’t know your motives or if what you want to give to is good or not, then pray. Too often we rush to prayer instead of thinking about the topic but Wesley advises that if you are still struggling with it, and you have gotten to this point, then you should pray about it and see how your spirit feels.

We have learned that earning, saving and giving all you can are a basic part of what it means to be a Christian in good faith. Taking care of others, providing for your family and for the church. All of these things are key to how we grow in our faith. Through the message today I’ve talked several times about taking care of family, but I want to lay out some practical care for your church now.

In the next few months, we will be setting the 2024 budget. This past year we barely made it through. Things have been tight, there has been worry over paying bills and paying staff salaries. I tell you this not to bring anyone down, but to show how important it is to care for your church. This past week our stewardship letters and pledge cards have gone out; I encourage you to read them. If you have not received a stewardship letter and you would like one, please let us know.

I want to bring up another way you can financially care for your church. That is with IRA and estate giving. One of the reasons we did okay this past year was because someone left a bequest to the church that helped us make it through the summer and fall. This large generous bequest helped us to pay staff and keep the building running. Your giving in these manners can significantly impact the ministries of the church. The laws have changed regarding IRA giving, I’m not a finance guy so I don’t know all those ins and outs, but we have some information available for you to look at and there will be a letter going out in the next two months regarding this type of giving.

We here at mountain View are grateful for your continued support. Let us continue to give to our church and to others so that they might experience the love of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Announcements: Interfaith Class-Hinduism at 2PM, Music Ministry, sign up sheets for Thanksgiving Dinner, Advent Book Study-The Heart that Grew Three Sizes by Matt Rawle
L: God is from everlasting to everlasting.
P: The Holy One inhabits all eternity and everything that is, or was, or ever will be.
L: God is the source, guide, and goal of our lives.
P: We acknowledge God as the center of our lives and of our world, not ourselves.
L: We come today to worship God.
P: We come with thanks and praise.
L: Let us humble ourselves before God’s holy presence.
P: May God teach us the ways of life as we pray.

Unison Prayer:
In the stillness of this moment, awaken us to the astonishing truth that your love is like the celebratory love of a couple on their wedding day.
Help us choose again to live in your love and to yield every aspect of our lives to your divine rule. Amen.

Scripture: Proverbs 21:20
20 Precious treasure remains in the house of the wise, but the fool devours it.
Message: Save All You Can
For Stewardship this year we are taking a closer look at John Wesley’s sermon entitled “The Use of Money.” From it the basic three principles of Methodist stewardship can be taken, earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. With stewardship this year, I wanted to connect us more deeply with our Methodist roots by hearing from Wesley himself, but I also wanted to work at providing concrete steps to help with each week.
Last week we talked about earning all you can, but learned from Wesley that we shouldn’t do it at the expense of our health, our mental health, or our neighbors. For saving all we can, Wesley is a bit more direct to us as individuals. This week, the danger revolving around money comes directly from you and me. We really need to do a little bit more sifting of Wesley’s words this week to understand them in our context.
Wesely starts with,
“Do not throw the precious talent into the sea: Leave that folly to heathen philosophers. Do not throw it away in idle expenses, which is just the same as throwing it into the sea. Expend no part of it merely to gratify the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life.”
Wesely is laying out the three areas of concern he is looking to address in this section. “Desire of the flesh, desire of the eye, or the pride of life.” What he is focusing on in each may surprise you, but each of his points carries a kernel of truth that we need to hear today.
His first concern is desire of the flesh, Wesley says,
“Do not waste any part of so precious a talent merely in gratifying the desires of the flesh; in procuring the pleasures of sense of whatever kind; particularly, in enlarging the pleasure of tasting.”
In Wesley’s day there was a new liquor on the marketplace, Gin. Gin was cheap, readily available, and was one of the primary ways in which the working class were wasting their extra income on a fleeting pleasure. Wesley was very outspoken about this and one of the primary characteristics of early Methodist society was not wasting money on things like liquor.
Wesley argues that if we begin to eat or drink fancier things then we will continue to desire those things and our appetite will increase and is never satiated. When I read this, my fear was that here we go back to bland flavorless food. But this is not what Wesley is driving at. If you are having trouble paying your bills, do you really need that T-bone steak? This is very contextual. Meaning that it really does depend on where you are at in life and what you are going through. If you can’t make ends meet, and you can’t afford expenses, one of the first areas you are able to cut back on is food.
Let me give you some examples of the two of these. First in relation to alcohol. I know people who are very quick to complain about their finances. They complain how expensive things are, how high their taxes are and how they can’t afford to do the things they want to do. However, if you were to open their fridge it always has beer in it. They go through a case a week, so every week they are buying more so the fridge never runs out. If the average case of beer costs twenty dollars, that adds up to approximately one hundred dollars a month for an annual total of $1,200. That $20 bucks adds up fast.
Let me give you another example using food. Like many people our age, Katie and I often get caught up in lots of meetings and running around for kids. This means sometimes we just don’t have time to cook. So, what do we do? That’s right, fast food. Obviously not the healthiest option, and now a very expensive option. For the cost of a fast food meal, we can go to a sit down restaurant and have a whole meal. The cheaper and more effective option is to plan our meals with the contingencies in case things get out of hand and we must make something fast.
The point that Wesley is making here is don’t waste your money on expensive food when expensive food doesn’t last.
“Do not waste any part of so precious a talent merely in gratifying the desire of the eye by superfluous or expensive apparel, or by needless ornaments.”
Here Wesley reminds us that “dressing to impress” is not a good idea when it comes to managing our finances. Years ago, when I was first serving in the church, and of course had less money, I would regularly wear jeans and white T-shirts around the church. Obviously when I needed to dress up, I did, but I rarely wore printed shirts. There are two reasons for this. One is that printed shirts were and are more expensive than a pack of good quality white shirts and secondly, if I needed to dress nicer, a white T-shirt would always work. I didn’t have to worry about matching colors. I had not arrived at the point I am now which is if I am mismatched that’s just part of my charm. I was criticized for this, for not wearing printed t-shirts and for not being more up to fashion.
Staying with current fashion trends takes money that most of us do not have, to impress people who do not matter. Now I know that most of you are retired so you have been alive to see many fashions return to being in style, but I also know, many of you have learned this lesson early in life. You buy good quality items that last and can be used again and again. Unknowingly you’ve ascribed it to Boot’s theory of economics.
Boot’s theory of economics was developed by one of my favorite authors Terry Pratchett. In one of his Discworld series books Terry theorizes that “people in poverty have to buy cheap and subpar products that need to be replaced repeatedly, proving more expensive in the long run than more expensive items.” This idea is that in the time it takes for a good pair of boots to wear out you will have bought three or more pairs of cheap boots for more money than the expensive boots. This is another way in which economically poor people are taxed. You can only afford the less expensive boots so you can’t put money into savings because you’re always buying boots. You see the problem.
Wesley makes it clear that motivation is part of what he is talking about in this point. If your motivation is to impress others, we might phrase it “keeping up with the Jones” or anything of that sort, then you should not be doing that. Essentially don’t waste money on extras if you don’t have the money.
Our final point for today’s message is,
“…why should you throw away money upon your children, any more than upon yourself, in delicate food, in gay or costly apparel, in superfluities of any kind?”
Now let’s be honest, this phrase is certainly harder to swallow. I shouldn’t have to say it, but I would be remis in not telling you that Wesley wasn’t exactly popular in his own home.
The core of what Wesley is communicating here is kids eat anything, and they grow fast. Obviously, they need clothes, and they need food, but expensive things don’t impress kids. What impresses kids is time spent and things done together. People who are otherwise great with their money can waste money on their kids very fast. That being said I don’t want to rob anyone of the joy of buying gifts, it’s just important to remember where your limits are and remember what really matters.
Here is another example from my own life. There is one thing my kids can almost always bet that they are going to be able to buy. That is books. Books give the gift of knowledge and many grow in their impact the longer you have them and re-read them. While that may be an expenditure, we see it as an investment for our kids. It has also meant that when we go to an amusement park or a fair, we are often telling our kids that we will not buy that cheap plastic “thing”, whatever it may be, because we know it won’t last, it will just break, and their interest in it is fleeting.
The key here is remembering how to spend your money. You don’t spend your money to buy love from others, you spend money to provide for others.
When we seek to implement Wesley’s idea for Saving all we can, we are being asked to not waste our money on expensive foods, to not waste our money on extras just to impress others, and not to spend our money to buy love, but to provide. How these apply in our individual lives can vary greatly, but the principles hold true. No matter if you are currently working, a business owner, or retired we can all remember to keep our priorities to do what is important. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer/Lord’s Prayer
Song 3
Dismissal with Blessing

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Gain All You Can
Sunday, November 2, 2023
Welcome
Announcements: Special Offering for November-Emergency Assistance Fund, Ministry Opportunity-Praise Team or special music volunteer, Building being painted Mon-Wed.
Passing of the Peace
For the Saints Who Have Gone on Before
     Naomi Thede
Betty Stewart
Janet Young
Bill Emshwiller
Chuck Mansfield
Bill Birdsey
Carol Lungren
Warren “Skip” Heyer, Jr.
1st Song
Call to Worship

L: Called to service in Christ’s name, let us worship together and listen to God’s word.
P: We gather to worship God and bring comfort to those who hunger and thirst.

L: Step confidently into the river of faith.
P: We gather to help one another cross the River Jordan.

L: Come! Let us worship the Lord, our God.
P: We come to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

 

Unison Prayer
Your steadfast love endures forever, O God. How can we keep from singing your praises?
When we suffer from hunger and thirst, you deliver us from distress.
When our souls faint within us, you revive us with pools of clear water.
Help our hearts be humble, that we may seek the welfare of others before our own honor and glory. In deepest humility we ask that our steps never falter as we seek the welfare of all. Amen.

ScriptureProverbs 14:23 & 33
23 In all toil there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

33 Wisdom is at home in the mind of one who has understanding, but it is not known in the heart of fools.

Message

We are entering into a three-week stewardship series this morning. We do stewardship every year-round about this time, but this year I wanted to do something that connects us a bit more to our Methodist history and understanding. So, my hope is to approach stewardship not just from a practical standpoint of good financial advice and in terms of meeting the church’s budgetary needs, but also, that we would hear scripture and John Wesley with advice as to how we should treat our finances.

The summary of the three weeks follows John Wesley’s sermon “Use of Money” which he preached in the 1700’s. Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can. I find though that many of us only have a passing familiarity with Wesley’s words. In fact, we tend to not hear the summation but not take it any further than that. What I hope to do is give you some pointers for what each of these sayings means using Wesley’s words themselves whenever possible.

Our first topic today is “Gain all you can.” Believe me I understand the irony of seeking to preach on this topic to a majority of retired folks. I also found myself worrying about teaching on it because in today’s society the idea of “gain all you can” is very much abused. We have CEO’s raking in millions and unbelievably, even billions of dollars at the expense of their employees and of the societies that give them birth. We also have people who hold down multiple jobs to just make ends meet. There are people who work “salary” positions, which is usually code for being able to pay someone less money to work more than 40 hours a week. And we have those of you who are retired. You have already worked hard for years, and the question becomes where do you fit in with this idea of “gain all you can?”

What I just listed out were all the things going through my head when I first sat down to start on the message this week. Each week I sit down and write my own thoughts on the scripture or the theme before I even start researching. So, you can imagine my amazement to find that even though I had read Wesley’s sermon years ago, I didn’t quite realize that he addresses all those issues. Let’s start to break this down using Wesley’s recommendations on how to “gain all you can.”

“First of these is “Gain all you can.” …We ought to gain all we can gain, without buying gold too dear, without paying more for it than it is worth. But this is certain we ought not to do; we ought not to gain money at the expense of life, nor (which is in effect the same thing) at the expense of our health.” (Wesley, 3)

Wesley’s first point answers some of my concerns right away. Our culture values “the grind,” working hard at the expense of everything else in life. Wesely, however, advise us that we are not to seek out money so much that it is damaging to our lives or our health. So, if you are working now, or perhaps in the context of the church, if you are volunteering now, don’t do these things to such an extent that you hurt your health. Wesley is speaking during the industrial revolution and makes a point of speaking about unhealthy air pollution or working with hurtful minerals. In our context today it can quite simply be taking the healthy precautions you know you need to. If you are volunteering for the church by doing yard work and this is going to aggravate your bad back…don’t do it!

“We are, secondly, to gain all we can without hurting our mind, any more than our body.” (Wesely, 3)

I would say Wesley might have been ahead of his time here. Some work is psychologically damaging. Some work, no matter how much we love it, is hard and we need to take care of ourselves psychologically. If I use pastoral ministry as an example, doing funerals is difficult and exhausting work. It is good, it is important, but whenever I engage in that type of ministry, I must allow myself more time to recover.

If you are volunteering for a ministry. Maybe Picnic in the Park, the ministry that feeds people affected by homelessness, you may need a break sometimes to process what you are seeing. It can be very difficult to continue to care for others when you are feeling hurt yourself. It’s important to note, and Wesley himself does this, that there are some people that are gifted at certain jobs who won’t get burnt out or depressed dealing with certain situations. For instance, I have a friend who is a hospice chaplain. She is amazing and gives herself in powerful ways. I would burn out quicker than a match if that was my primary job. This isn’t to say she can always give of herself, but the lesson in here is to take care of yourself when you need to. And it means that some people’s endurance may be significantly longer than the rest of us.

“Thirdly, to gain all we can without hurting our neighbor. But this we may not, cannot do, if we love our neighbor as ourselves.” (Wesley, 4)

Here is the answer that Wesley says about those who would accumulate enormous amounts of wealth. You only gain that much wealth by hurting and stealing from others. Being wealthy may not be a problem, but if it is gained by hurting others then it is. Our standards as Christians are always to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” If your employment or your wealth is causing harm to your neighbor than that is a problem.

Interestingly enough, one of the groups Wesley calls out specifically in his sermon is health care professionals. If you can heal an illness but don’t because it is more profitable for you to extend the treatment, then you are in the wrong. It makes it clear to me how Wesley would view insurances and the medical complexities that we have today.

The final point from Wesley I am sharing today is,

“Gain all you can by honest industry…You should be continually learning, from the experience of others, or from your own experiences, reading, and reflecting, to do everything you have to do better today than you did yesterday. And see that you practice whatever you learn that you may make the best of all that is in your hands.” (Wesley, 5)

I think this speaks to those of you who are retired, or to any person who finds themselves between jobs. All of us should be in a constant state of learning. Even during the times when we are taking care of ourselves physically or psychologically, we are still to be“gaining all we can.” Gaining doesn’t only have to do with money. It has to do with improving who you are and growing in your knowledge, not just of God and Gods love but of everything around you.

If we can gain all we can together, if we work at being better Christians every day, if we take care of our neighbor, and take care of ourselves physically and emotionally then we are on the road to being the stewards who God calls us to be of our world and of the church. Amen.
Benediction
2nd Song

Unison Prayer
Your steadfast love endures forever, O God. How can we keep from singing your praises?
When we suffer from hunger and thirst, you deliver us from distress.
When our souls faint within us, you revive us with pools of clear water.
Help our hearts be humble, that we may seek the welfare of others before our own honor and glory. In deepest humility we ask that our steps never falter as we seek the welfare of all. Amen.

Scripture-Proverbs 14:23 & 33
23 In all toil there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.
33 Wisdom is at home in the mind of one who has understanding, but it is not known in the heart of fools.

Message
We are entering into a three-week stewardship series this morning. We do stewardship every year-round about this time, but this year I wanted to do something that connects us a bit more to our Methodist history and understanding. So, my hope is to approach stewardship not just from a practical standpoint of good financial advice and in terms of meeting the church’s budgetary needs, but also, that we would hear scripture and John Wesley with advice as to how we should treat our finances.

The summary of the three weeks follows John Wesley’s sermon “Use of Money” which he preached in the 1700’s. Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can. I find though that many of us only have a passing familiarity with Wesley’s words. In fact, we tend to not hear the summation but not take it any further than that. What I hope to do is give you some pointers for what each of these sayings means using Wesley’s words themselves whenever possible.

Our first topic today is “Gain all you can.” Believe me I understand the irony of seeking to preach on this topic to a majority of retired folks. I also found myself worrying about teaching on it because in today’s society the idea of “gain all you can” is very much abused. We have CEO’s raking in millions and unbelievably, even billions of dollars at the expense of their employees and of the societies that give them birth. We also have people who hold down multiple jobs to just make ends meet. There are people who work “salary” positions, which is usually code for being able to pay someone less money to work more than 40 hours a week. And we have those of you who are retired. You have already worked hard for years, and the question becomes where do you fit in with this idea of “gain all you can?”

What I just listed out were all the things going through my head when I first sat down to start on the message this week. Each week I sit down and write my own thoughts on the scripture or the theme before I even start researching. So, you can imagine my amazement to find that even though I had read Wesley’s sermon years ago, I didn’t quite realize that he addresses all those issues. Let’s start to break this down using Wesley’s recommendations on how to “gain all you can.”
“First of these is “Gain all you can.” …We ought to gain all we can gain, without buying gold too dear, without paying more for it than it is worth. But this is certain we ought not to do; we ought not to gain money at the expense of life, nor (which is in effect the same thing) at the expense of our health.” (Wesley, 3)

Wesley’s first point answers some of my concerns right away. Our culture values “the grind,” working hard at the expense of everything else in life. Wesely, however, advise us that we are not to seek out money so much that it is damaging to our lives or our health. So, if you are working now, or perhaps in the context of the church, if you are volunteering now, don’t do these things to such an extent that you hurt your health. Wesley is speaking during the industrial revolution and makes a point of speaking about unhealthy air pollution or working with hurtful minerals. In our context today it can quite simply be taking the healthy precautions you know you need to. If you are volunteering for the church by doing yard work and this is going to aggravate your bad back…don’t do it!

“We are, secondly, to gain all we can without hurting our mind, any more than our body.” (Wesely, 3)
I would say Wesley might have been ahead of his time here. Some work is psychologically damaging. Some work, no matter how much we love it, is hard and we need to take care of ourselves psychologically. If I use pastoral ministry as an example, doing funerals is difficult and exhausting work. It is good, it is important, but whenever I engage in that type of ministry, I must allow myself more time to recover.
If you are volunteering for a ministry. Maybe Picnic in the Park, the ministry that feeds people affected by homelessness, you may need a break sometimes to process what you are seeing. It can be very difficult to continue to care for others when you are feeling hurt yourself. It’s important to note, and Wesley himself does this, that there are some people that are gifted at certain jobs who won’t get burnt out or depressed dealing with certain situations. For instance, I have a friend who is a hospice chaplain. She is amazing and gives herself in powerful ways. I would burn out quicker than a match if that was my primary job. This isn’t to say she can always give of herself, but the lesson in here is to take care of yourself when you need to. And it means that some people’s endurance may be significantly longer than the rest of us.
“Thirdly, to gain all we can without hurting our neighbor. But this we may not, cannot do, if we love our neighbor as ourselves.” (Wesley, 4)

Here is the answer that Wesley says about those who would accumulate enormous amounts of wealth. You only gain that much wealth by hurting and stealing from others. Being wealthy may not be a problem, but if it is gained by hurting others then it is. Our standards as Christians are always to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” If your employment or your wealth is causing harm to your neighbor than that is a problem.
Interestingly enough, one of the groups Wesley calls out specifically in his sermon is health care professionals. If you can heal an illness but don’t because it is more profitable for you to extend the treatment, then you are in the wrong. It makes it clear to me how Wesley would view insurances and the medical complexities that we have today.

The final point from Wesley I am sharing today is,
“Gain all you can by honest industry…You should be continually learning, from the experience of others, or from your own experiences, reading, and reflecting, to do everything you have to do better today than you did yesterday. And see that you practice whatever you learn that you may make the best of all that is in your hands.” (Wesley, 5)

I think this speaks to those of you who are retired, or to any person who finds themselves between jobs. All of us should be in a constant state of learning. Even during the times when we are taking care of ourselves physically or psychologically, we are still to be“gaining all we can.” Gaining doesn’t only have to do with money. It has to do with improving who you are and growing in your knowledge, not just of God and Gods love but of everything around you.

If we can gain all we can together, if we work at being better Christians every day, if we take care of our neighbor, and take care of ourselves physically and emotionally then we are on the road to being the stewards who God calls us to be of our world and of the church. Amen.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sermon Manuscript for Sunday, October 29
Announcements: Giving options; Angels’ Attic 50% sale; Music ministry opportunities; Interfaith workshop in the sanctuary @ 2pm Islam; If you want a name read for All Saint’s Day, contact the office by November 2. The Fellowship Building will be painted 10/30 to 11/1 and 11/6-11/9. Please enter and exit with caution and park in rows away from building if possible.  The special offering for November will be Emergency Assistance Fund.

Call to Worship:

L: God has been our dwelling place in all generations.
P: Before the mountains were brought forth,
L: before the earth and sky were formed,
P: God was everlasting to everlasting.
L: We come to worship this day,
P: that God may gather us in.
L: We will be close to God’s heart,
P: and we will dwell in God’s grace.
L: We will love God fully,
P: and we will love one another well.

Unison Prayer:
God of Life, your memory is longer than time; your love longer still. Your giving nature amazes us. You have given us yourself. You have given us your work. You only ask for love in return, for you and for the world. You put your ministry into our hands, trusting us to be your hands. Bless the work of our hands and the ministries of our hearts, O God as we seek to do your will. Amen.

Scripture: Matthew 22:34-46 NRSV

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, an expert in the law, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? [a] Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit[b] calls him Lord, saying,44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord,

“Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

45 “If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Sermon: Love of God and Neighbor

Last Sunday, at the interfaith workshop we heard from Rabbi Bernie, as he taught about the history and some of the theological understandings of the Jewish people today. While he was sharing, he stated that in ancient times, just before Jesus’s birth, there was a challenge given to a group of Rabbi’s. The challenge was to sum up the law of God while balancing on one foot. When Rabbi Bernie shared this story there was a chuckle from him and the group because everyone could understand how that could be so difficult. The Rabbi then proceeded to tell us a bit about how in the Jewish faith there has been a push to try and do just this, sum up the words of the Law in an easy-to-understand way.

When I was researching our scripture passage this week, I came across a story about one of the Rabbis to whom the one-foot challenge was given. Rabbi Hillel died six years before Christs’ birth was one of the ones at that challenge. So, while our teacher did not give us a direct quote, I came across Rabbi Hillel’s response, assumedly as he stood on one leg, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellows: this is the whole torah; the rest is explanation: go and learn.”  This is an excellent example of distilling a complex topic down to just a few sentences.

Today’s passage shows that what Jesus is doing is not out of the ordinary for Rabbis of his time. What may be different, however, is the context as to why the question is being asked. Proceeding our passage today various groups, Sadducees, Scribes, and the Pharisees are trying to catch Jesus in a series of theological problems, so he will get in trouble. Jesus escapes each word trap, only to then spring his own word trap at the end of our passage.

We are going to take a quick detour and talk about the ending of our passage and what is going on, but that is not where we are going to stay for our lesson. The end of the passage seems to get a bit confusing. Jesus catches them in a confusing word play, think about it like the song “I’m my own grandpa.” The phrasing of that song is intentionally confusing, but in our case it’s funny. In the case that Jesus is using it, it is a theological knot that is left to the Pharisees to try and untangle. How can David, who is king and lord overall, call his son, the coming messiah “lord.” I am not going to even try to unravel this, partly because that is not the point for us. The point of the story is to stop those who are trying to question Jesus in their tracks, so that the rest of the story may proceed. Our concern is really at the beginning of the passage.

So, Jesus is asked to sum up the law. So, he does. But he does it in classic fashion by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 the Shema,

“5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

This is not surprising. The Shema has long been noted as the heart of the Jewish faith. It is the prayer that they are called to engage in every day. What is most surprising is what Jesus follows that up with. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What most of us do not realize because we are not Jewish, is that Jesus is drawing from another part of the Old Testament. Leviticus 19:18 which states:

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”

Jesus not only sums up what it means to believe in God, but also what it means to follow God. I will not argue that this was a new way to view things. Rabbi Hillel’s teaching was very good, but that it was an unexpected answer for those who were questioning him. Jesus’ response is comprehensive for how we are to focus our love on God and on our neighbor.

This quote by Jesus is almost second nature in the church. It is often repeated with very little thought given to the radical nature it calls us to live in. We are called to love God with every fiber of our being, but that love is put into action by how we treat others. Too often our motivations are not pure. Our motivations become not about loving God and loving others, it becomes that drive to enforce what we believe over and against what someone else believes. People take the interpretation that we are to love God and neighbor and make assumptions as to what that love entails and who can experience that love. None of those things are implied by Jesus’ words.

Jesus’ words are amazingly simple. That is the beauty of his teachings. It is easy to remember, love God and love neighbor. It is much harder to put it into practice. Here is a classic real-life example. I’ve done this myself unfortunately many times. Have you ever seen something you would like done to your house and thought that you could do it? Perhaps it was refinishing a piece of furniture or building a table or desk. Perhaps it was a repair that needed to happen, a new piece of siding on the house or fixing the concrete in your driveway. Men we are very guilty of this, our spouses say they want one of those things and we say, “I can do that!” It is true that we can do that, but usually with triple the time and cost.

Jesus’ words are simple. But simple things can be extremely hard to accomplish correctly. That is why this journey of being like Christ takes a lifetime. We are always trying and getting better, but it is not easy. We must work at it and do the best we can. Sometimes we love God with all our heart, and sometimes we divide our hearts. Sometimes we remember to love our neighbor and other times we don’t even WANT to see our neighbors. We are in a growth process constantly striving to be like Christ because that is the life he calls us to. In this case perhaps we can augment what Christ teaches us here, by adding a helpful direction from Rabbi Hillel “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellows: this is the whole torah; the rest is explanation: go and learn.” Maybe this can help us to serve Christ better in the future. Amen.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Sermon Manuscript for October 22, 2023
Call To Worship:
L: Come, Holy God, draw near.
P: We long to see you
L: Come, God of justice, be present today.
P: We need your grace in our world.
L: Come in this hour.
P: Show us your love.

Unison Prayer:
Holy God, we long to sense your presence and be assured that you have drawn near.
Awaken us with your love and grace and show us your possibilities for our lives.
Assure us that we are not alone and that you walk with us always.
For this we offer you our thanks and praise. Amen

Scripture: Philippians 4:1-9 NRSV
4 1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my coworkers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 As for the things that you have learned and received and heard and noticed in me, do them, and the God of peace will be with you.

Sermon: Some Good in the World
So, I’m not going to beat around the bush today. It has been a difficult two weeks in our world. I know many of you are watching reports on the news about the Israel/Palestine situation and your heart breaks for the hurts and violence being caused there. I know some of you are on the edge of your seats regarding the situation. You have been taught all your life that Israel is needed for Christ to return, and you have been taught that war is needed for Christ to return. This thought line has created hope in some and fear in others. I also know that some of you are probably sitting here thinking to yourself “I came to church to get away from these things not to be reminded of them.” All I can say to you is; I am sorry. I am going to address these things briefly because it does matter to the context of today’s scripture and message.
I’m going to keep my comments on the subjects listed brief so that we can get into our passage and why it matters to the context. First the Israel/Palestine conflict is deeply complex and emotionally fraught issue. I want to remind you that it is possible to denounce actions and brutality while also denouncing the policies that give rise to that brutality. As Christians we should have learned our lesson already about not dehumanizing others and that we are called to bring forth healing, liberation, and peace.
Theologically, if you are looking at this situation and seeing the apocalypse in everything; in fact, if you are hoping for it from this humanitarian tragedy, you are looking and focusing on the wrong thing. I welcome anyone to have a discussion on biblical interpretation with me after the service, but if you lose sight of the fact that in Revelation we worship “the lamb who was slain.” The person of Christ who was brutally killed and calls us to a life of peace and not violence and who calls us not to look for war but to “beat our weapons into plows.” If you lose sight of this and instead rejoice and hope for war in the middle east so Christ can return, then you have lost sight of our faith and who we are called to be.

So how does all of this relate to the scripture passage from Philippians? Remember that Paul is writing to a church that is worried about the future, and that Paul, himself, is worried about the future. In the final elements of his letter, he is trying to give some direction and comfort to the church. Paul briefly acknowledges that the “Lord is near,” but that reflection is how he intends to bring comfort to the church of Philippi. Now like with the ending of most letters Paul is including a whole bunch of little caveats that we could talk about but there is one that I think applies to us today the most and that is in verse 8,
“8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Paul instructs the church, instructs us, in the midst of fear and uncertainty, to think about the good things in the world and around us. This is not a Pollyanna head in the clouds type of thinking. It is practical life advice for how we are to act today and every day in our lives.

Growing up in the church I had heard this passage quoted in some peculiar ways. In the majority of contexts, most people try and quote this passage as a reason for only thinking of churchly things. That in order to think on good things we have to consume “good” or “Christian” things. But this is just not true. First, let us take this from a historical perspective. Paul is giving advice that can be found elsewhere in the ancient world. This advice was advice given by ancient Greek philosophers, so the thought did not originate from Paul.

Second, theologically, if God created all good things and all good things come from God, then that means if you find something good in the world no matter who it came from it is from God. To say otherwise is to imply that God cannot work in the world and can only work through Christians. Again, this is just patently false and, in my opinion, an evil way to live our lives.

Third and final point. Have you heard Christian media, read Christian books (meaning fiction novels) or watched Christian shows? They are horrible. Now I’m not saying there are not some good things out there, that would go against my theological point. But when the point of the item is to present a Christian world view with no to little struggle, or a view that arrives at a guaranteed spot…in other words “the person just needs to have faith in God.” Then you miss the beauty and the good things around you.

Let us move on to some different examples. For me one of the questions I had to answer this year for the church conference is what I have been reading/listening too/watching this year. The underlying question here is “what has been feeding your soul?” In the context of our passage today it is “where have you seen God in the world around you?” So, I thought I would give you a little run down of where I have been thinking on good things, and the reason for this is because those good things can come from anywhere and theologically they help me to be a better Christian.

1. Musically – “The Dog Days are Over” Florence and the Machine – this song is about getting through a bad time and moving into good times. The singer/songwriter talks about how in order to move into a better future you have to let go of the hurtful past

2. Spiderman into the Spiderverse – a great animated movie about family, and defining who you are. Artistically it is fantastic and beautiful I could go on, but these are just two places I wanted to point to. Finding good and beautiful things in the midst of pain, suffering, and anxiety is part of our Christian walk. It is part of the advice that Paul gives to us to help us be better followers of Christ.

This week look around you, look for the good and the beautiful and think about that. The goodness that God puts into the world strengthens us to handle the bad things in the world. Let us walk together in faith. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer/Lord’s Prayer

There was no sermon Manuscript for Sunday, October 15th.  We were blessed to have our amazing praise team with us for a Hymn Sing.

Sermon Manuscript
Message for October 8, 2023

Announcements: Giving options; Special offering is World Communion Sunday (with Video); Interfaith workshops starting October 22nd @ 2pm culminates in a Thanksgiving service the week before Thanksgiving; Angels Attic Craft Sale, October 27 and 28th, Church Conference November 3rd 5pm.

Call to Worship:

L: Christ the cornerstone welcomes us to this house of God.

P: May our minds perceive God’s word even as our hearts receive God’s love.

L: May God’s spirit bless us with wisdom and faith.

 

Unison Prayer:

Holy Spirit, Heavenly God shine upon us with the wisdom of ancient words. Enlighten our minds that we may perceive your presence. Strengthen our resolve that we may press forth in love and faith.  Help us grow closer to your likeness each and every day. Amen.

 

Scripture: Philippians 3:4b-14 NRSV

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal, but I press on to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have laid hold of it, but one thing I have laid hold of: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal, toward the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Message: Onward and upward

 

I have met people over my lifetime who feel they are better than me. It has been amazing to see some of the reasons why. Sometimes, they are better because of the job I do. You know, they are making money and I am not. I have met people who think they are better than me because I waste time helping people. Rarely does the person come out and say that, but the assumption in their statements is that if I did not spend so much time helping others, then I could accomplish much more. Within my profession I have met colleagues who felt they were better than me, (or other people,) because of the school they went to. They went to an important and historical Methodist school. It seems for many folks if they want to find a reason to be better than other people, they will find it.

People get caught up in status over the dumbest things you can imagine. Have you ever met someone insanely proud of the breed of dog they have? And they do not even have a hand in the creation of that breed, they just bought the dog. Music is another great example. Have you ever talked with someone and said you did or did not like a band or style of music and their response was disdain for you? Oh, you like that type of music, I do not think that’s music. I can go on and one with different examples but there is a very simple phrase used to describe this and that is gate keeping.

 

Gate keeping. When you will or will not let a person into a hobby, field, or group based on an often-arbitrary definition that the gate keeper holds. I had a friend years ago who I was talking to about a band. I told them that I liked the band, and they followed that up with a question about what my favorite song was. I named a popular song and that person’s response was “oh you’re just a casual fan, I’m a diehard fan.” Of all the things to divide us up keeping people in or out of a group based on what they like is really not particularly important.

 

Paul today is dealing with one of the greatest gate-keeping activities in the early church. A few weeks ago I spoke about the fact that there was not a Jewish community located in Philipi, at least one that we have evidence for. That does not mean that Jewish thought within the Christian community was not having an impact. Much of Jewish theology and thought had a very positive impact, but here we see a negative one. That impact is brought on by “Judiazers” a term that Paul uses to talk about those who feel “you should be Jewish” before being Christian. The negative result of this was piling on scriptural rules that people then had to live up to.

 

How do you deal with those who would pile more rules and expectations onto people? Well, there are two ways. The first is to do what many of us would do, and that is to simply ignore them. I have learned over the years when someone wants to gate keep me that I just need to ignore them and do the things I like to do anyway. The second option though, is what Paul does.

 

The problem for the gatekeepers is that Paul has every reason to be a gatekeeper himself. In his own words, he has the pedigree that all of that should matter. However, he comes down hard on the fact that pedigree does not matter, what matters is living for Christ and striving to be more like Christ. Here is another example from a person I know. Years ago, a number of people where I worked  rode motorcycles. In the motorcycle community there is one group that tends to have a reputation and that is Harley riders. From what I had seen many Harley riders saw themselves as better than other people and would often ignore other riders or make fun of them for not riding Harleys.

 

Enter, Rocky, Rocky was his nick name. I do not even remember how the conversation came about, I was in college, and I think a friend got a small motorcycle and I was talking to Rocky about it. Rocky had a full-dress Harley; he was so committed to riding that he even had a heated suit that he wore in the winter so that he could keep riding year-round. No matter the weather he was riding. I said something to the effect to him that “I know it’s not a Harley, but I think he’s having fun,” Rocky responded with “I don’t care what they are riding as long as they are out there enjoying it.” His philosophy was that the more people that were involved the better and he had every reason to be able to keep people out.

 

Paul could keep people out, but he does not. He flings open the doors and said that if he could give up his high pedigree than everyone else should be able to as well. He is pointing to the fact that the goal of the Christian life is not who is included and who is excluded but striving to live more like Christ.

 

As Paul opens this door up, he states that he is striving towards the goal of Christ and here is where we end up with a bit of a theological problem. If you have ever heard an evangelist preach on this text or reference this text, they talk of the goal as being heaven. In fact, every evangelist I have ever heard of preaches as if being a Christian is the answer to all of life’s problems and all of life difficulties. But here are the facts, it is not, and Paul was well aware of it. Paul is pointing not to a heavenly reward, and not to all the right answers, Paul is pointing to a journey as a Christian that begins when we realize that we are nothing compared to the grace and love of Christ. Once we acknowledge that, once we stop gate keeping right belief and we can grow in Christian love and be more like Christ.

 

Philippians is one of the places that Methodist theology has developed from. The idea that John Wesley espoused is called Christian Perfection. Now there is a misconception about this theological idea in my opinion because it is termed “Christian Perfection” but hey, that it is what Wesley called it. The misconception is that the goal is to be perfect however we define it, by our cultural standards. The reality is the term is meant to convey a journey that we are on to be more like Christ. We are called to grow and change to be like Jesus not to have all our questions asked and all our problems taken away, but we are called to walk with Jesus to be more like him.

 

John Wesley asked a series of questions to the people called Methodist and here are the first five.

  1. Have you faith in Christ?
  2. Are you going on to perfection?
  3. Do you expect to be made perfect in this life?
  4. Are you earnestly striving after it?
  5. Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and to his work?

 

These questions are all aimed at us focusing our lives on following Christ. This is what Paul means, to give everything up in pursuit of being more like Christ. That is always a worthwhile endeavor. And beware of those who tell you being reviled for it is the point. It is not, Paul helps us see that if we are reviled for following Christ then so be it, but often if we are doing the right thing and trying to be like Christ people will love us for it.

 

Ask yourself Wesley’s questions this week. Ask yourself if you are trying to be like Christ and trying to live up to Christ’s standards and not some other arbitrary person. When we live more like Christ than anything that happens becomes worthwhile. Amen.


Message for Sunday October 1, 2023
Announcements: Giving options; Special Offering for the month of October is World Communion Sunday (there is a video) ; Interfaith workshops beginning Sunday October 25th at 2pm with Judaism as the first week, followed by Islam, Bahai, and Hinduism, culminating in a joint Thanksgiving Interfaith service the Sunday before Thanksgiving;  Angels Attic craft sale is October 27,28, baked goods needed for the sale. UWF meets October 17th at 1PM; Church Conference coming up Friday November 3rd @ 5pm;

Passing of the Peace

Song 1

Call To Worship
L: The God of glory awaits,
P: welcoming us to worship and praise.

L: The Christ of humility is here,
P: welcoming our needs and prayers.

L: The spirit of love gathers us in,
P: binding us together as one.

Unison Prayer

God of wondrous love and glorious deeds, shower us with your love and quench our thirst of grace. Strengthen us with our Spirit of power and embolden us to live our faith.Humble us with the example of Christ and remind us to regard one another as beloved children of God. Amen.

Song 2

Scripture: Philippians 2:1-13 NRSV

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Meditation: Communal Individuals

This section of scripture is perhaps one of the most theologically examined portions of the New Testament you will read. Our reading today contains the earliest known example of a Christian hymn in the New Testament. The section, verses 5-11 are a song written for a different circumstance but used by Paul to try and explain something. What gets historians and theologians excited however is the fact that this shows us a window into how Christians were worshiping together fairly early in the life of the church.

The hymn Paul quotes has what is called a high Christology. In other words, it is very theologically developed that Jesus is God in some way and the way that he is ends up being more like God than not. This section puts Jesus on the same level as God, hence a high Christology, but goes on to poetically talk about how Jesus doesn’t exploit that. Historically and theologically why this is important is because generally people develop their ideas over time. This means that the simplest ways of viewing Jesus would have been the ones arrived at first, however here it is showing a complex Christology that has been developed early. Which means that claims that the early church, (within the first 100 years,) didn’t have a high Christology do not have much of a leg to stand on from this text.

While seeing an early hymn is exciting; theologians and historians have spent a large amount of time writing and talking about this hymn for its Christology, in the context of Philippians, the Christology alone isn’t the point. This passage is meant to take aim at particular issues in the Philippian church and to address that issue in a rather indirect manner.

Have you ever been in a conversation only to realize that you thought you were talking about one thing, but it turned out you were talking about something else? My experience is that moms are pretty notorious for this type of thing, or at least my mom is. You see, growing up my mother realized pretty quickly that the best way to get me to do something, (or not to,) wasn’t to give me instructions but was to converse with me. I needed, and still do need, a reason for things. “Because I said so,” or “because it’s the rules” generally doesn’t work too well for me. What this led to were many conversations in high school where my mother would be talking about one of my classmates, (she worked in the high school cafeteria, so she knew most of them,) and something they were doing that wasn’t right or even was right. Only for the conversation to segway into something I was doing or not doing. The transition would often happen subtly, but the context of the conversation meant that I would get what she was trying to say naturally.

This is what is happening in this passage today. Paul is trying to address the issue of division within the community, but he’s doing it to a community that isn’t brazenly fighting. It is a community with divisions that he is trying to guide to a better situation together. He uses a song to help illustrate his point, but like so many theologians and historians we get bogged down in the sharing of the song, that we miss the point of the sharing. Verse 4 and verse 12 hold the key to what Paul is trying to address,

Verse 4 – “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4 NRSV

Verse 12 – “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;” Philippians 2:12 NRSV

 

Paul is trying to address how do we are to be a community but also individuals at the same time. This is obviously a complex topic that we are not going to be able to fully dive into today, but I want us to reflect on Paul’s point. We as Christian’s are called to be both. Put the needs of the community over our needs and also know that our salvation is our own work sometimes.

One of my favorite John Wesley quotes is “The bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” In the founding of Methodism, Wesley, knew that it took a community, holding one another accountable and doing things together to make a difference. He also knew that when it came to your salvation it was up to you as an individual to be engaging in regular spiritual practices such as giving, worship, and bible study. What Wesley didn’t have to deal with as much was a society that insisted that most of what you do, say, or believe needs to be an individual experience. Who needs the community because you can know and understand God without it. But this just isn’t true according to Paul and according to John Wesley.

This week as I was reading, I came across the term “expedition behavior.” This is a term coined by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). I came across it while reading the book “Give and Take” by Adam Grant. NOLS teaches wilderness skills to people and what they found is that within groups of explores, astronauts and the like, you need to have people who have expedition behavior. That is people who will put the goals of the expedition and the needs of the other members of the group first. Now this isn’t at the expense of their own safety, it is more about the cohesion of the group so that they can effectively conduct their mission. Exploration missions that have this component are far more likely to succeed and the individuals are more likely to meet their own goals than those that don’t have it.

Paul is trying to instill his version of expedition behavior in the Philippi church. Taking care of one another, supporting one another in ministry and in the growth of the church community has a lasting effect on how we work out our own salvation. As John Wesley said, “the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion,” we grow as Christian’s, we grow as a church when we do it together. Supporting one another even with our differences so that we can share the love of Jesus Christ to our community.

While there is much more that can be said about community and individuality, I think the core message of Paul will remain the same. The reality is we need one another to be the Christian’s we are called to be. The church needs each of you, not just the church locally but universally, because with out each other we will never be effective at sharing the love of Jesus Christ. We can support each other in many ways-here are a few, we have various small groups, UWF, UMM, adult Sunday school. Participation in these groups is the life blood of the church. We have activities, clean up days, food pantry, and the worship team, all of these need volunteers willing to give of themselves for the sake of the community. We also offer services of quite reflection like the blue Christmas service that need creative elements. I am available for counseling and advice; people visit one another for prayer and mutual support. These are all individualistic activities that grow us each as Christian’s. We are called to be together and work together to be the people Christ wants us to be, so on that note let us share in communion together, recognizing that this month we celebrate World Communion, by celebrating what Christ has done for each of us and for all of us. Amen.

Communion
Dismissal With Blessing

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Sermon Manuscript, Sunday September 24, 2023
Announcements: Giving options; Special offering – Haven Food Pantry; Prayer request QR code, construction photos after worship slides

L: Give thanks to the Lord.
P: Call on God’s holy name.
L: Sing praise to our God.
P: Tell of God’s wonderful works.
L: The Lord offers bread from heaven to satisfy our hunger.
P: God issues water from solid rock to quench our thirst.
L: Give thanks to the Lord.
P: Let everything that draws breath praise God.

Unison Prayer:

Guide our way, Caretaker God, in the wilderness of our lives. Offer us the bread of heaven, that we may taste your Spirit and be nourished in body and soul. Reveal your presence among us and show us the tender mercies of your love. In joy and jubilation, we pray. Amen.

 

Scripture: Philippians 1:21-30 NRSV
“For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again. Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”

Message: Intro to Philippians

For the next 4 weeks, with a small one-week break for laity Sunday, we will be in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I want to start off by looking at some of the context so that we can understand what is going on. Now don’t worry, if you miss a week, I will not add too much on each week so that you can drop into the series whenever you are able to. On that note I do want to remind you that I prerecord my sermons and they go up on YouTube on Sunday mornings. Much of this information will be there, and you can go back and watch it again or review it later.

We have just spent quite a few weeks in the letter to the Romans, and now we jump to another letter of Pauls’ that has no serious authorial dispute. This letter is agreed to have been written by Paul to the church at Philippi. There are a few who take issue with whether Paul has written it, but they have not provided enough evidence to overturn the general consensus. While Romans was written in the late 50’s this letter was written in the early 60’s. The biggest discussion about this letter is the question of where it was written and marginally when. I say marginally because historically this letter is placed at having been written during Paul’s imprisonment just before his martyrdom which tradition places at 64 CE.

Many who study the timeline of the New Testament discuss that Paul was probably imprisoned twice in Rome, and not knowing what the result of the first imprisonment would be, it is safe to assume that Paul could have approached the situation by expecting his death. Which imprisonment would affect when the letter could have been written? The first imprisonment resulted in Paul being released with the second resulting in martyrdom. Paul’s martyrdom is the subject of tradition not of scripture. There is no evidence in scripture that Paul was martyred. The closest you get is this letter is where Paul says that he is at risk of dying for his faith. Just a reminder, being at risk for it, doesn’t mean it happened. The importance for us theologically is that Paul’s mindset in regard to dying for his faith and how that impacts how we understand our lives in Christ. But before we go too much farther down that path of thinking, let’s get some more context information.

Philippi was a city located in the southern part of Macedonia right above Greece. It was a city with a long history but the most pertinent history for us is that it was a colony of Rome. That meant that the people had citizenship rights and these types of colonies were often inhabited by retired Roman military. The city of Philippi itself was an important city as it was a major trader of agricultural goods. Though it is a major trader the population of Philippi doesn’t seem to have been large enough to have a group of Jewish people there, so the majority of the church would have been gentile converts. Because of its status as a Roman colony there would have been a strong presence of an emperor cult and there would have been very clear and strong understandings of their citizenship role.

The overall themes you will find in the letter to the Philippians are such themes as hope, joy in suffering, hardship, and Gods glory. Another theme that we need to be aware of is the idea of citizenship and as Christian’s our ultimate allegiance. These themes play off of each other sometimes in dynamic ways but Paul’s goal in this letter is to be shaping us towards his example of being willing to live or die for Christ.

The themes of this letter are all issues that we each wrestle with at various times in our lives. We question why we are going through hardships and wonder why we or others we love might be suffering. We struggle with our role in society and our culture and wonder why or how we might be called to stand up for our faith. We struggle with how we are to be a community of faith in which each of us struggle with these issues and sometimes come to different conclusions. I want to offer a warning though when dealing with some of the subjects this letter will have us face. A very real danger of a scripture like this is that we will take on Paul’s problems as our own instead of looking at the deeper level and meaning. We here in America are not facing persecution as Christians. We are not in danger of being forced to live or die for our faith. If we make that part of this letter the goal or the standard by which our faith is measured, we will miss the deeper meaning and call to faithfulness that Paul is really trying to get us to live out.

The scripture today enters us into some of these themes and struggles. Paul is in prison, not knowing what the end result of this imprisonment will be and he takes time to address the Philippi church to give them comfort and instruction since they also don’t know what is going on with Paul.

In our passage today Paul seems to have arrived at a point in his life where he knows he is in real danger but has made peace with whatever the result will be. Do not mistake Paul’s peace with a pressing desire to get all Christian’s to prepare to be martyred or to accept violence as the natural result of following their faith. Paul knows his future is uncertain, so he has made peace with it to the best of his ability.  Paul’s goal in this opening is to encourage the church to focus on living the gospel. He does this by reminding the church that their primary way of understanding who they are is based on their relationship with God.

What’s really going on here? How are we to understand this particular passage in the context of what I’ve been describing? I’m going to go to an example that isn’t my usual type of analogy, we are going to use a sports analogy. And the sports analogy I am using comes from one of my favorite sports movies which is “The Replacements” a movie set in 2000 with actor Keanu Reeves playing Shane Falco who is the quarterback. The basic premise of the movie is there are replacements players-playing for the love of the game and not for the money.

At the end of the movie all of the players all know it’s their last game, there is no tomorrow for them and they meet in the huddle. Reeves character is trying to inspire the group and he gives a huddle pep talk, he says “Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory lasts forever.” Mind you it is a comedy so it’s not the most eloquent of pep talks, but the point remains the same. He is trying to inspire his team mates to move forward regardless of anything else that is going on. He is blending a sense of individual investment for the greater good of the team. Paul here is the quarterback to the church at Philippi. He is giving them a motivational speech, a pep talk, to rely on one another and to focus on the main thing.

Paul’s pep talk, do what you know you are supposed to do. Be the best Christian’s you can be because that’s what it means to live a faithful life even if you experience persecution or face death, as Paul is. Just as Reeves’ character is reminding the players that the most important part of the game is playing the game, Paul is reminding the church at Philippi (and us) that the most important thing is living as Christian’s to the best of our ability.

The character of who we are as a community and who we are as Christian’s comes down to how we live out our faith-no matter the situation. What we do in secret, how we live when others are not looking, shows the metal of our faith. It shows where we are grounded and what our faith truly means. For instance, if you are only generous when others can see your generosity, or you are only kind when someone can do something for you in return, then you are not living out the Christian faith as we are called to. While what we do publicly matters, how we live our day-to-day life determines the quality of our faith.

Over the coming weeks let us explore what it means for us to be people of faith even when things are difficult. Let us explore together how we can be more like the people of God we are called to be. Amen.


Sunday, September 17
Announcements:
Welcome back to the sanctuary – You are all invited for a time of celebration after the service, special thanks go to all those who helped to move our equipment and chairs when the flooding first happened, the worship band gets multiple thanks for that and for moving all their equipment back. To the people who volunteered and helped us move chairs for cleaning and helped out with the move back in. Special thank you to Steve and Gayle Benjamin, for their hard work and generosity with the cleaning of the chairs, carpet cleaning and other things. Thank you to Angels Attic for helping with the insurance costs and the unexpected expenditures that came up over the past few months. Finally special thanks to Eric and Dottie for their hard work with the building and with managing the finances related to this project. If there is anyone else, I missed I ask your forgiveness just know we are deeply grateful; Coffee Talk September 20th at 10AM; Special offerings for Haven food pantry and Hawaii; Memorial Slide Naomi Thede

 

Call to Worship

L: Sing to God, for God has triumphed gloriously!

P: God is our strength and our might!

L: Long ago God freed the slaves from Egypt, opening passage through the Red Sea waters.

P: Here and now, God is our salvation, leading us through dangerous waters.

L: Who is like our God, majestic in holiness and awesome in splendor?

P: Every knee shall bow, every voice shall praise the God of wonder.

 

Unison Prayer

We sing to you, O God, for you have been our strength.  You open the waters of suffering and lead us safely through.

You uphold us in times of deep distress, and we exalt your holy name.  Receive our honor and thanks, mighty God. Amen.

 

Scripture: Romans 14:1-12 NRSV

4 Welcome those who are weak in faith but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.
2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.
3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat, for God has welcomed them.
4 Who are you to pass judgment on slaves of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.
6 Those who observe the day, observe it for the Lord. Also, those who eat, eat for the Lord, since they give thanks to God, while those who abstain, abstain for the Lord, and give thanks to God.

7 For we do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.
8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,

and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

12 So then, each one of us will be held accountable.

 

Message: In Judgment of the Judgmental

Sin must be confronted and addressed. This is a statement you don’t often, if ever, hear from my lips. Over the years I have worked very hard on myself trying to set the parameters of my faith. This comes out in how I go about being your pastor and a pastor to others in the community. There was a time in my life where the statement “sin must be confronted and addressed,” would have rang truer as the basis of faithful action. Now I am not going to commiserate on my own experiences with that statement, but that statement is important for each of us to deal with on a foundational level of our faith and action.

Chapter 14 of Romans gives us the opportunity to address an area of our faith that many people get stuck at. That area is a question of judgment. Many Christians get stuck on this because it’s easy get obsessive about what is sin, how to prevent sin, and weeding sin out in our lives. The problem with this, as I have often stated in various ways is, it’s hard to say what sin is when it continually gets wrapped up in our cultural and societal norms.

This issue isn’t an unfamiliar one to Paul. In our passage today Paul makes a point about creating space in the church community for weak members of faith, essentially Paul is saying there should be room at the table for all people. The example that Paul uses for this is one that was a hot button issue for the early church, vegetarianism.

Ok, so it isn’t really vegetarianism that is the issue here. The issue has two potential realities, the first is the idea of eating kosher, the second is the idea of sourcing your meat. In the early church there was a very strong pull amongst some Christians that in order to be Christian you needed to be Jewish (or at least following Jewish practices of the time.) One of those practices gives rise to the idea of kosher which many of us are at least passingly familiar. Personally, I don’t think this is what Paul is referring to. I think Paul is going back to an old issue that he had written about and dealt with in the past.

In Acts 15, they have held a council of the early church in Jerusalem. The disciples and other faithful’s met and discussed some of the pressing and concerning issues of the day. That early council made a pronouncement in Acts 15:29, “you (the church) abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication,.” They directly condemn eating meat sacrificed to idols due to a very simple reason. Most meat that you would purchase for your meal in the market had been sacrificed at the local temple, often located near the market, the more expensive and nicer the cut of meat the more likely it was to have come from the altar of the local temple.

What is really interesting about this issue is that Paul didn’t agree with it and in fact went around the decision. In 1 Corinthians he addresses the issue of meat sacrificed to idols and basically said to those who could afford it “what people don’t know doesn’t hurt them.” He states in Corinthians that we know that an idol is just wood, stone, or metal. There is no spiritual consequence for it, but weaker members of the faith would be tempted to turn back to their old religious practices, so just keep quiet about it. Paul broke the rules.

When Paul addresses this issue in 1 Corinthians and then later here in Romans when he uses it as an example for what he is talking about, he maintains that there must be a place for spiritually weaker Christians in the community. Here’s the rub though, who are the spiritually weak Christians? It is not the ones who hold themselves to a “higher” standard. It is those who know that the action isn’t that important. Often those who hold themselves to a “higher” standard, or who would yell the loudest about the rules are the weakest ones because they find themselves tempted by things that don’t matter.

Now a reminder, Paul’s issue here is not about meat sacrificed to idols or koshering or anything of the sort. Paul’s issue here is that Christians stand in judgment over other Christians when there should be room in the community to express and live differently. Basically, Paul is saying don’t be a judgmental idiot. God is the only one who judges, so swallow your pride and make room for all in the community.
So why did I start our message with “sin must be confronted and addressed.” I did because almost invariably someone will want to use this to stand over another person and tell them what is acceptable and what is not within a Christian community or even to be able to call themself a Christian. As with any statement such as that though, it can be carried way too far.

The reality we observe in the church world, is that those who yell the most about sin seem to be the ones who have the most issue with said sin. I can go through many different televangelist and preachers who would stand before you and condemn others for sin only to be caught in the same sin that they claim to reject. We see this politically all the time as well. Those who stand against something make up harmful lies about it but often are guilty of the same action. I’ve watched people who have had an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy come down the hardest on those who would seek to have one now.

So where is the cut off? What are the boundaries to not being judgmental? Here’s what I’ve learned over the course of my years in the ministry. I try to keep to the simplest definition of sin. Is it harming someone else? So let me use an example that is a hot button issue today. Gender reassignment. There is a lot of misinformation out there. Political pundits and newscasters making up lies about kids being forced to change their gender. Or saying that people change their gender on a whim, just because they want to. But here’s the thing, none of that’s true. Not only is none of that true, but I’m also going to ask you where is the harm? Those who transition wait till they are adults, 18 years of age. Does it bother you that they might wear the wrong gendered clothes? Or make up? Or…the list could go on; my question remains the same does it hurt you or anyone else?

Does it hurt someone is the single line that I have tended to work with my entire ministry however it does have some areas that are difficult and I’m not going to go into them right now. The essence of what this scripture passage says, and what Paul is trying to get us to understand is that we are not to be judgmental of people and to use those judgments to exclude people from the community of faith. For Paul there is only one judge and that is God. It gives rise to one of my favorite ideas about judgment, “let God sort it out.” We become so focused on figuring it out that we exclude people when God calls us to include people.

Years ago, I decided I wanted my ministry to be known for who I include not for who I exclude. This has often gotten me into trouble. People have left churches that I serve because they can’t believe that I would let certain types of people exist in the church. But that is the very point for me. I see in the example of Jesus someone who constantly brings people who are excluded into the community and into the center. Jesus told the story of a rich man having a banquet and none of his friends came, so the rich man sent out people to bring in people with disabilities and the excluded. Gave them seats of honor and fed them. This is what Jesus does and what we are called to do and what our community is called to embody.

Some of you have heard me say that I would rather get in trouble in heaven for trying to let too many people in than get praise for excluding the right people. We are called to be a support to all members of the church, to work together in sharing the love of Jesus Christ. A love not based in a life focused on sin, but a life focused on love and grace. Amen.
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Sunday, September 10, 2023

Announcements: Welcome back to the sanctuary – we will have a celebration fellowship next week; Giving options; special offerings – Jerome food pantry, Hawaii; Coffee talk September 20th at 10AM; Uptick in COVID cases – please were mask if you are feeling under the weather, or stay home and join us on the live stream, new boosters will be coming out end of September beginning of October

Call to Worship
L: Sing a new song to God.
P: Sing of light and hope.
L: Dance with laughter and joy.
P: Dance with hearts full of love.
L: Rejoice with strings and drums.

P: Rejoice with justice and peace.
L: Sing a new song to God.

Unison Prayer

Ancient of days, we enter your presence to remember and rejoice. 

We come looking for your steadfast faithfulness and your loving care.

May we be a people who seek reconciliation and genuine forgiveness with one another.

In remembrance and gratitude for your mercy and your grace, we pray. Amen.

Scripture: Romans 13:8-14 NRSV

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet;” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

Sermon: Today and Eternity

For those keeping track we are almost done with the letter to the Romans. This week is chapter 13 and next week we will end in chapter 14. I know that Romans is a bit of a long slog. It is confusing at times, contentious and open to multiple interpretations. These interpretations are often at odds with each other and sometimes have been used to create unhealthy systems of theology.

 

The scripture we read today is one that, while not necessarily being open to misuse, is directly tied to a passage that is.  We are going to back track a little bit and read the beginning of chapter 13 before delving into verses 8-14 a bit more.

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore, one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.”

Romans 13:1-7 NRSV
The lectionary avoids this passage with good reason. In todays highly charged American society most pastors want to avoid needing to address this passage. This passage has been used to support the fugitive slave act in the 1850’s, the act which tried to federally mandate that any escaped slaves would be returned to their owners regardless of where they were in the country. It was used in 1933-1945 to encourage Christian’s in Nazi Germany to support the Third Riche, because a good Christian would according to this passage support government policies. Later in the 1980’s this passage was used to support Apartheid in South Africa. And as recently as a few years ago this passage was quoted by Jeff Sessions under the Trump administration to justify separating immigrating families at our southern boarder.

 

Now as you can tell I’m not going to avoid this issue. But before anyone comes up after church and tries to justify this scripture being used in recent political history, I will remind you that no matter how much you agree or disagree with immigration policy, a policy the furthers racial discrimination is racist. Using scripture to justify our own racial prejudices is abhorrent. But let’s not get bogged down right now, because this isn’t the text I want to talk about at the moment. I just want it to be clear to you that this passage in particular has been abused severely and continues to be abused today. My goal is not to figure out how best to interpret Romans 13:1-7 but to show you that if we read these verses, when we go to understand the next part, the flavor of the passage changes.

 

Regardless of your feelings for the first 7 verses one thing is evident. Paul thought it was our responsibility as Christian’s to pay or taxes, to pay our fair share. So, let’s read the next section again and start to look at why this matters to our interpretation.

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet;” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:8-10 NRSV

 

If we were to take this section on its own it seems that we would be rehashing some of what I have preached on over the past few weeks, that is, our primary purpose as Christian’s is to love others. That is true for this passage as well, but it is developed a bit differently when put in the context of the proceeding verses.

 

This section starts with “Owe no one anything.” I have heard this part of the scripture often quoted as to how Christian’s should manage their personal debt. Don’t have a credit card, don’t loan money to family etc. But taken in context we see that it is not talking about personal debt, it is talking about our civic tax debt. Connected with the previous verses Paul is saying, hey make sure you don’t owe any taxes that way you don’t get in trouble!

 

The only civic debt we should have is our love for one another. Paul even goes to quote Jesus “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul is not making a case here for having the Ten Commandments plastered everywhere in our culture. He’s not making a case that the basis of our civic government should be Christian and rooted in the law of the Old Testament. In fact, he’s stating that basically we should pay our taxes and love the people around us. Do not fall into the trap of going back to legalism, Paul is trying to get a Christian community to survive in a non-Christian culture. The best way to do that is to keep your head down and do what is good, because you won’t be punished for that. Our danger today is we read these verses and think it means we have to make everyone follow the rules, “if we all followed the 10 commandments everything would be fine.” Except that’s not what he is saying, he is saying you need to follow the primary commandment, love others.

 

The final section of verses today is one that is a little more difficult, even knowing the context. The reason I say that its difficult isn’t because its’ meaning is not clear, but because it forces us to hold some things in tension, so listen again,

“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:11-14 NRSV

 

The meaning is quite clear, Christ is returning so live according to how Christ wants us to live. The eschatology of the early church is clear throughout the New Testament. They believed that Jesus was returning any moment and felt that as a part of their worship it was important to live like Christ as closely as possible. The tension we are called to live in is that we are fully present in this moment of time by doing what is right and loving the people around us but that we are also looking towards the future and what will come.

 

The issue I take here is that too often in the church, people are focused on the other side of eternity far more than with loving the person next door. The way I said this to a friend recently is that people are more concerned with getting to heaven than creating heaven on earth. As Christian’s we are called to both. Don’t become so heavenly minded that you are useless to those around you. Don’t become so heavenly minded that you treat all of this as if it doesn’t matter, because it does. According to Paul it does and according to Jesus it does.

 

Part of loving our neighbor as ourselves is not trying to find a reason to leave them behind but by finding ways to love them. Living the right way, not dying the right way.

 

Our call this week is to be good citizens to the best of our ability, to love those around us and to live that life of love as if it matters today and in eternity. None of these things are easy, but all of them are worth doing. Let us live into the Love of God. Amen.

 

Pastoral Prayer/Lord’s Prayer

Song 3

Dismissal with Blessing

 

 

Sermon Manuscript
Announcements: Giving options; special offering ARC & Hawaii; UMM

Scripture: Romans 12:1-8
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.
We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith;
ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Message: Living Sacrifice
Today’s words from Romans should sound familiar to most of us here. Every month we say or say a variant of some of this passage in our communion liturgy. “A Holy and Living Sacrifice.” It’s a phrase that sounds good doesn’t it. A phrase that while we may not be too sure what it means exactly feels comfortable and well intentioned. In the context of the scriptures today that precisely what the phrase should invoke, though we miss some of the idiosyncrasies because after two thousand years our society is different.

The heart of Romans up to this point has been to point out Gods love and mercy and how we don’t fully comprehend the scope of that love and mercy. Paul has dealt with those themes as he wrestled with questions about Israel and with balancing his role in the church in Rome. That role being someone who is asking for funding and to use the church as a basis of operation for missional work to the other side of the Mediterranean. While the first 11 chapters are heavy theologically and sometimes feels twisting in its arguments the final chapter in Romans takes aim at more practical concerns, that is the ethical implications of some of these high theological ideas.

Weeks ago, and off and on through our time in Romans, I have reminded you that I don’t classify myself as a theologian, a systematic theologian in particular. I am a practical theologian. My concern is more oriented on ground level, what does this mean for me and you today. How do we apply these high ideals today and critique the high ideals. Too often we get lost in those ideals and forget to live. Make no mistake, for Paul, and for myself for that matter, what you and I believe has very real implications for how we are to live, how we are to treat one another and how we are to treat others.

The opening few verses “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans‬ ‭12‬:‭1‬-‭2‬ ‭NRSV). The word “therefore” is doing some heavy lifting if we don’t pay attention to it. Don’t rush to figure out what Paul is talking about till you are aware of what has been speaking about prior to this section. Contrary to popular belief you can make scripture agree with anything you want it to, especially if you ignore the context of what came before and what comes after.
‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
Last week we spoke about the context of these verses. Paul has been talking about Gods irritable love, and the unmerited unearnable mercy that God has given to each of us. Knowing this lets us turn our attention to “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” We take that language for granted because we say it so much, but you do realize how silly it sounds? Living sacrifice? How can a sacrifice be living? A sacrifice by definition of worship in the ancient world was the death of something. So, Paul is calling the Roman church to something interesting and new, and no its not to sacrifice your life for the gospel. It is to engage in worship of God as a lifestyle that encompasses all aspects of who you are.

We have to be careful with this thought line though. Living your life in a worshipful way in America today takes on cultural baggage that Paul was not dealing with. Paul did not have to deal with a Christian subculture that wants to sell you music, scriptures on water bottles and key chains. I have met my fair share of Christian’s who think that to be a Christian means living in a holier than thou kind of way. They hide behind the idea that we are supposed to be more like Jesus, and that means having little care for our world. Or even worse than this, there are the Christians who think in order to live as Paul is suggesting here means we have to subjugate other groups of people who don’t conform to what we believe. The reasoning is how can we live as God wants us to live if someone else can cause us to stumble, never mind that Jesus said “remove the plank from your own eye before trying to remove the speck from someone else’s.”

The latter part of these two verses also lends itself to some of the interpretations that we just spoke of. “Do not be conformed to the world.” Here’s the deal though, if you are engaging in systems and practices that put people down or exclude people from the church or the community then that is exactly what you are doing. You are conforming to what the world values and not what God values. If engaging in your faith means putting others down or making them believe, act, or do what you think they should do, then you have missed the point of God’s love and mercy and are conforming to the world.

Just so you don’t think that I’m grasping at straws here. Let us re-read the final verses because they prove what I am saying.
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body, we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”
(Romans‬ ‭12‬:‭3‬-‭8‬ ‭NRSV‬‬). ‬‬‬‬
‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
In verses 3-8, Paul lays out for us to check our pride and knowledge. Remember last week we cannot know what God is doing, so we must rely on Gods mercy. Paul then goes on to talk about how different we all are and uses the symbolism of a body to show how each part is different but important. We like hierarchies. We like to feel important and wanted, and we often like to qualify others using that very reasoning. But here’s the deal. We can only give others ranking if we ignore everything that Paul has been teaching us, that we are part of the family of God, by Gods love and mercy. Guess what? We do not get to define people in the church or outside of the church by what they do for you. That is not our starting point. Our starting point is how God sees them, as important parts of the body, just like he sees us.

This is what it means to live as a living sacrifice. It is seeing the value in others because God sees the value in them. A value not based on what they produce, not even based on what they can do. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but bear with me. In several of Paul’s letters he lists out gifts in the church, and these lists are not all the same. What this tells us is that Paul didn’t approach the gifts and strengths that God gives each of us as a one size fits all. His lists are not comprehensive. The value isn’t placed on what Paul knows and how you fit into that list. The value you have is because you are worth God’s love and mercy, and as we respond to that love and mercy, we bring the uniqueness of who we are to the body of Christ.
(Use Meme image of fork here)

I’ve seen this image float around online quite a bit, with many good church people using it. But this is an infectious idea that is just plain wrong when we talk about God’s relationship and intent with all of us. The reality is it is not us who assign usefulness. Memes like this are focused on “normal” usefulness. What we can provide and what we can do matters most. But that is not what Paul has been showing us for the past few chapters. You deserve Gods love and mercy regardless of what you can or cannot do.

Living as a sacrifice for God, is not about assigning value to others it is about seeing others value as God does. There is no hierarchy of different gifts being better than others, there is only the fact that God is at work in each and every person. We each are valuable to God because of who we are. Perhaps if the church were to keep that as the focal point, we would be less likely to stray into self-righteousness and judgment.

Our calling to be a living sacrifice should result in us finding ways to serve one another in love and mercy. I want to encourage you that if you have not found a place or way to serve in our church that we want to work together to find out what’s missing. What I mean by this is perhaps you fit into one of the ministries we have going on, or perhaps something new might be created. Perhaps you have a passion for helping a certain group of people or you want to answer a certain need, let us help you get that started. Let us live as sacrifices, as testimonies of God’s love and mercy. Amen.

 

Week of Sunday, August 20, 2023
Announcements: first Sunday back in the sanctuary September 10, the next week we will have a celebration for moving back in;
Giving options.  Please give by mailing to the church at 901 S. 12th Street, Cottonwood or via our web portal at www.mountainviewaz.org; Special Offerings – ARC & Hawaii. If using the website to donate, please use drop down to indicate designation; NO Coffee Talk this week. It will resume on September 20th at 10AM; UMM coffee on Tuesdays
Passing of the Peace
Call to Worship:
L: Every sense is bombarded daily with the sound of hurtful words and the touch of polluted air and water.

P: God’s Spirit cleanses us with every breath we take as we breathe out our praise.

L: Every sense is bombarded daily, with the taste of food that does not satisfy and the whiff of corruption:

P: God’s Spirit cleanses us with every breath we take as we breathe our praise.
L: Every sense is bombarded daily with sights that disturb and distract.

P: God’s Spirit cleanses us with every breath we take as we breathe out our praise.

L: Let us praise our make while we have breath.

Unison Prayer:
We cry to you, O Lord, from the back of the line, from the edge of the crowd, from the corner of the room. But you make no such distinctions, nor do you set such boundaries. Your faithfulness is great; your grace is enough. And we are covered in your love.

Amen.

Scripture: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
11 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?

29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience,

31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.

32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

Sermon: The Mind of God

I have made it no secret that I have a growing disdain for the idea of systematic theology. It’s not that I don’t believe that what we think or believe matters. It is that I am very well aware that systematic theology is a construct which we use to try and understand God and understand the world. That itself doesn’t sound too bad, does it? In my experience, the problem with that systematic theology almost always becomes about understanding things we cannot even begin to comprehend. When we have that understanding, we enforce it, and therefore all other views must be wrong.

We are entering into a chapter of Romans that has caused many problems in theology because people “know” what it is referring to or how its supposed to work. I know the reading was awkward, it seems to cherry- pick just a few verses at the beginning and then a few at the end, but that is for good reason. Paul’s argument in this chapter is long, twisting, and easily confusing. The essence of his argument is the culmination of the past few chapters of Romans; whenever he is talking about the people of Israel. Paul is trying to work out, to systematize what is going on with the people of Israel now. Is God still at work in them? Are they saved? Have all of them rejected Christ?

In people’s quests to deal with the “problem of Israel” they have read this chapter and often interpreted it in anti-Semitic terms. Paul makes the case that throughout the history of Israel, God has worked through a remnant of people to accomplish Gods aim. That is what is happening here. There is a remnant of believers that God is working through to continue the story of salvation. On the surface, this sounds fine, but what this has been used as is a theological idea called supersessionism. Yes, I know that’s a mouthful. This is the idea that God has replaced Israel with the church.

This idea has caused no end to issues to the church for how it deals with our closest religious siblings. It has been taught and understood as we are replacing the Jewish people, and then it ties Jewish people to rejection of God and no longer God’s chosen people. Now I want to lay something out with this subject. That is, I have no answer to the question of what God is now doing with Jewish people, nor am I trying to answer this question. I’m not Jewish, Paul is, and it is of supreme importance to Paul. I do believe it’s important for us to consider but I want to caution us about making determinations on things that are beyond the scope of our comprehension.

Paul is repeatedly looked up to and praised as someone having figured out much of what we believe. He is the ultimate theologian of the New Testament, and the reality is he did more to shape the early church than any other person we are aware of. Knowing this though, I think we should temper our approach to what Paul is saying, lest we miss some of the most salient points. Paul has been mourning his people. He wants to see them come to faith in Christ. He has a deeper connection to them as his people than most, if not all, of us do. We are not Jewish; we don’t have the cultural and religious burden that Paul felt, and it would be wrong of us to take his problems as our own.

The other point we miss is in the final few verses we read. That it is God’s mercy that is at work in salvation history. It is God’s mercy we each rely on because God is fully and completely past our comprehension. I find that as Christians we are far too confident of what we “think” we know. We know God does this or that because that’s what I think God does! We know God doesn’t like gay people because the Bible says so! The Bible also says God doesn’t like shellfish but that doesn’t stop us from bellying up to the “all you can eat” crab leg special.

Theology, and thus the church and Christian’s, have built whole theological constructs out of just a few verses. It is fascinating to find what verses apply and what ones don’t. For instance, you have very few verses that speak of hell. Yet we build a whole system into our belief structure that says that’s where you will go if you don’t do everything exactly right. We have more verses that speak about Gods love, and in our passage today, God’s mercy, which imply that those things are irresistible and will overcome all things. However we would rather reject that because we were not raised to focus on that. We want to know exactly what God will do and what God will say. But here we know that God has mercy, and we don’t want to think about that.

In the case of Israel for Paul, he is claiming that God has mercy and is working out and working through the people of Israel. For us we should remember that God never does things the way we think they should be done or for the people who we think it should be done for. Let’s take a short walk-through scripture to see what I mean.

Starting in the Old Testament, we’ll start with the oldest writing in the Old Testament, Job. Job who loses everything on the basis of a bet God makes with “the accuser.” At the end of the book Job is questioning God as to why he deserved any of this and God fires back “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”

Job 38:4-7 NRSV. While not being a satisfying answer for other reasons beyond the scope of this sermon, the response is basically “who are you to question me and what I do or don’t do?”

Another Old Testament example; Jonah, it’s basically a parody of what is supposed to happen with a prophet from God. Jonah gets told to go preach to Nineveh, doesn’t want to do it, and runs the other way. Would rather die than go to Nineveh, as evidence of his willingness to be thrown into the sea. God saves him so Jonah goes and preaches the worst come to god sermon possible. He doesn’t elaborate, he doesn’t explain why, he doesn’t seek long term change, he just says, “40 more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” And guess what despite himself it works, and Jonah then has a temper tantrum because God doesn’t do or act the way he wants God too.

Jesus, the core of our faith, right? Jesus talks and lives repeatedly that the kingdom of God is an “upside down” kingdom. A kingdom where the “first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Where peace makers are blessed and the meek shall inherit the earth. Where it is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. We can just look around and see repeatedly how the church has deliberately interpreted all of these things differently so that we don’t actually have to live up to them-because they don’t make sense of how the world operates. We do this because God is beyond our scope of understanding, and we can’t understand how God is so great in love and mercy that God has already been at work saving us.

There is no task with today’s sermon. No call to action. If anything, I am inviting you to realize you really don’t know and can’t comprehend God. So, stop trying to place limits on what God may-or may not do. You are not God. I am not God. We cannot and should not put limits on God’s mercy and love just because we want limits. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer/Lords Prayer
Song 2
Dismissal with Blessing.

Week of  Sunday, August 13, 2023
Announcements: Giving options; ARC special offering; UMM reminder

Passing of the Peace

Song 1

Call to Worship
L: This is none other than the house of God. This is nothing less than the gate of heaven.

P: Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

L: God hems us in, behind and before us, and lays hands of blessing upon us.

P: Such knowledge is too wonderful for us.  It is so high we cannot attain it.

L: Rest in the majesty of our God.  Give thanks and sing of God’s glory.

Unison Prayer
Caretaker of our souls, you search us and know us; you are acquainted with all of our ways.  Your Spirit hems us in, behind and before.  You discern our thoughts from afar.

 If we take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead us, and your might shall hold us fast.

How can we bear such wonder? How can we fathom such awe and splendor? Breathe your Spirit upon us, and claim us as children of light, that we might be found worthy of your love and care. Amen.

Scripture:

“Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!””    Romans 10:5-15 NRSV

Message: The Good News?

We’ve all seen it. The street corner preacher calling on people to repent of their sins and turn towards God. Many times, we see them surrounded by the signs they carry denouncing various forms of what they consider sin. If you ever stop to listen to them, (and I don’t recommend doing it), they spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on sin and hell. If you ever get into a conversation with one, (again I don’t recommend this), they will almost always express the idea of “love the sinner, hate the sin” and will focus on the return of Christ, the judgment seat, and of course, use that to berate people into feeling guilty so that they will dedicate themselves to serving God.

These street corner preachers take the notion that we are to share the gospel, to be out there and “preach” to whoever will listen, and even to those who won’t. The idea of this type of street corner has been popular for a long time. It comes from the revivalist sentiments that swept across the United States in the 1790-1840. This brought about a strong desire to convert people among the Protestant denominations in the us. In US history there were two “great awakenings” as they were termed, the date I just gave was for the second one, the first one happened in 1730-1770’s. Some of you may remember as high school students reading one of the most famous American sermons ever written by John Edward’s, “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God.” He describes us as sinners being “a spider or some other loathsome insect, held on a thread over the fires of hell” by God.

The emotional appeal of revivalist and street preachers is based on the fear of eternal punishment and our need as Christians to walk a tight rope of faithfulness otherwise we can backslide and end up in the torments of hell. Having known a few of these types of preachers over the years, I have repeatedly seen them use this section of verses to justify their actions. Sometimes even taking comfort in them. Because even if people, (in their minds), reject God, they themselves are still blessed because it is their feet that are bringing people the good news. If you couldn’t tell, I don’t have a favorable outlook on this types of preacher and their theology. Let’s take a look at that.

The context of our Romans passage is that Paul has just been mourning for his people, the Jewish people, and their rejection of Jesus (chapter 9).  In chapter 10, Paul launches into multiple Old Testament allusions to essentially claim that God is still at work, in the Jew and the Gentile alike. Over the years, most of you have heard me teach that there are no magic words to be saved. That saying the “sinner’s prayer” doesn’t save us, nor does believing exactly the right thing save us. I know saying that can feel controversial to some folks, especially those who then want to look in scripture to prove me wrong and that happens here right? In verse 9 it says, “because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” See the Bible proves me wrong; you have to confess; you have to say something! I want to show you why this is not the winning verse you might think it is.

First, from a theological perspective, I want to place a problem in your lap. If our entire salvation hinges on our ability to say something to the effect of “Jesus is Lord” what does that mean for those who cannot speak? What about the people who developmentally did not progress past a toddler in age and understanding or thought? What about someone who was in an accident, but has brain damage and cannot verbalize the words you want them to verbalize? You have a problem theologically, and no you can’t just say “God will sort them out,” or “God knows their heart.” That’s a cowardly way to get out of a theological problem that has been created here.

The second problem you have is the context of these verses. It is amazing how these verses seem again and again to be used as a way of saying that God’s love can only go so far. We have literally seen in Romans in the past 4 chapters how the love of God can overcome all things. Instead of relying on that, for some reason we want a clear marker of who is in and who is out. We want theological certainty from our perspective. We want people to accept God so that they reject the condemnation that they will face on the other side of eternity. Here’s the problem though. That’s not what is happening in these verses.

I want to pose a theological question to you; What is the good news?
We talk about sharing the “good news” of Jesus Christ, but what is it? I will tell you what it’s not. It is not the threat of eternal punishment. It’s not the threat of rejection by God. It’s not “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” even though that might be a biblical phrase. It IS that God loves you, still loves you, and that Gods love will overcome all things to be with you. It is us who place barriers on his love.

It is our limitations that force us into the problem of trying to figure out how disabled or developmentally challenged people can be saved. We ignore that Christ came for the least of us, especially for those individuals who we might push away from the center of God’s saving grace and plan. But that idea only works if we actually believe that Christ came to love all people, not to force them into whatever our definitions are.

All of us are called to share the gospel, but I want us all to remember what the gospel really is. The good news is not what we hear from the street preacher. The good news isn’t the eternal threats offered by evangelist on TV. The good news is that God loves you. God wants you to share that love with everyone you meet. Period.
I wonder if we were to focus on that more, focus on loving others and sharing that love that none of us deserves, how our world might be different. Amen.

 

Pastoral Prayer/Lords Prayer

Song 2

Dismissal with Blessing

 

Sunday, August 6, 2023
Message: Lonely Sorrow
Speaker: Jonathan Hall

Announcements: Giving Options; The ARC; UMM Tuesday Coffee
Passing of the Peace
Song 1

Call To Worship

L:  Are you hungry for a word of hope?

P: We come to be fed and nourished.

L: Are you yearning, to see the bounty of God.

P: We long to see and believe.

L: Are you ready to witness the power of our God?

P: We are ready.

L: Come! Let us worship.

Unison Prayer

Even when our faith falters, we will not let you go, O God.
Even though we are ashamed by our lack of faith, we will not let you go. 
Because you meet us in our utmost need, we will not let you go.
Strive with us until dawn, O Lord, we will not let you go. 
We need your blessing now more than ever; we will not let you go. Amen.

 

Scripture: Romans 9:1-5 NRSV

9 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own brothers and sisters, my own flesh and blood. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5 to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Meditation: Lonely Sorrow

9/11/2001, a date that all of us are familiar with. It was a day that for most of us we will never forget. I remember feeling dazed as I had to work that day and we all waited for news about what was happening and what we as a nation were going to do. The day after 9/11 happened I had my Disciple III Bible Study. If you are unfamiliar with the Disciple Bible Study courses they are in depth Bible study that really seeks to help you get an understanding of the depth and scope of scripture. Our study that week was from a book in the Old Testament that few of us have read, or maybe even want to read, the book of Lamentations.

To shorten, the Book of Lamentations is a recording of the sorrow of the prophet Jeremiah over Israel’s rejection of God and what Jeremiah was witnessing around him. Being in sorrow and acknowledging sorrow, are often difficult things for Christians to speak about. Many of us have been taught that we aren’t to express sadness or sorrow. In particular men have been taught to not show emotions. That somehow emotions are a form of weakness. As Christians, it’s often implied that that we should have an unquenchable joy, and focus on the joy of our salvation, because there can’t be anything so sad that we lose sight of that.

This idea is patently false. The day after 9/11, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, helped me to begin to put into words the sorrow that we were all feeling. In our scripture passage today, we see the deep sorrow that Paul has at the rejection of Christ by many of his fellow Jewish brothers and sisters. Unfortunately just as many people’s sorrow is used against them if its expressed to the wrong person, this sorrow that Paul expresses has been used incorrectly and down right nefariously for centuries.

One of the ways that this has been used wrong is to suggest that the church, and we as the people of God, have replaced Israel as God’s central salvation focus. The end result of this thought process is antisemitism. We have replaced Jewish people, and therefore we are right in putting them down, excluding them, or persecuting them. I shouldn’t have to say that this is wrong, that a replacement theology doesn’t work, but history has shown that it bears reminding everyone of it.

The second way that this chapter is used incorrectly is that it supports the doctrine of predestination.  As I mentioned last week, If you take from Romans 8 that we are predestined then these verses, and the whole of Chapter 9, become about how God has elected us and has no longer elected Israel. It is still a replacement theology and a way of excluding people. It is an assumption that God has to work in a way that we understand, not that God might be doing something different.

Both of these issues suffer from not understanding the source of Paul’s sorrow, and not understanding the very nature of who God is according to Paul. Many of us know what it is like to have family and friends reject the church and in turn reject our understanding of who God and Jesus are. If we have baggage from a more theologically conservative interpretation we often wrestle with the idea that the person is not saved and there is nothing that can be done about that. For Paul, the rejection of his people of Jesus, is an event that causes him great distress. He goes so far as to offer his own life if it would help. Paul has a deep sorrow that he is expressing, and for us to use his sorrow against another would be wrong.

Paul offers a solution to this, and yes, I hid it from you by not including it in the reading, the solution has to do with the nature of God and is expressed in the beginning of verse 6, “It is not as though the word of God had failed.” In other words, God’s plans haven’t been foiled. Gods’ nature is love. We literally just read a few weeks ago in this very book that there is nothing that can keep us from the love of God. While we may not see it or understand it, the irresistible love of God is still at work. Any other interpretation of this goes down the road to try and justify excluding a whole people, Jewish people, or excluding people based on whether they have accepted God or not. We are not called to the path of exclusion, we are called to the path of love. God’s love is still at work.

Like Paul we can still experience sorrow. We can see family, friends, and others, reject the working of God’s love through Jesus Christ and mourn that rejection. But what we don’t know is how God’s love is at work because we can’t see the end of all paths. All we can do is try not put barriers up to God’s love and continue to express God’s love. Most importantly of all, God’s love is still there, even in the midst of sorrow. Amen.

Communion: (Song during Communion)
Lord’s Prayer
Dismissal With Blessing

 

Message for July 30, 2023
Speaker Pastor Jonathan Hall

Announcements: Giving options; Bible Sticks; UMM – Kent;

Passing of the Peace
Song 1

Call to Worship: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023
L: This is none other than the house of God. This is nothing less than the gate of heaven.

P: Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

L: God hems us in, behind and before us, and lays hands of blessing upon us.

P: Such knowledge is too wonderful for us.  It is so high we cannot attain it.

L: Rest in the majesty of our God.  Give thanks and sing of God’s glory.

P: Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

Unison Prayer: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023
Caretaker of our souls, you search us and know us; you are acquainted with all of our ways.  Your Spirit hems us in, behind and before.  You discern our thoughts from afar.  If we take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead us, and your might shall hold us fast. How can we bear such wonder? How can we fathom such awe and splendor? Breathe your Spirit upon us, and claim us as children of light, that we might be found worthy of your love and care. Amen.

 

Scripture: Romans 8:26-39 NRSV

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches hearts, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ who died, or rather, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than victorious through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sermon: Misdiagnosis

Today’s passage is one that I have often preached on. I’ve used it in many funerals over the years and for good reason. This is a passage that gives comfort to those who are going through a difficult time. Who can separate us from God? No one-not even death! It is a passage that has the power to stay with you even when you are deep in mourning, and it feels like you can’t see your way out.

I am not going to challenge that interpretation. In fact, I think that does tend to get to the heart of the passage. What we are going to do is something similar to last week.  We are going to take a deeper dive into the theology of this passage. How this passage has been used, to then see how we arrive back at what we just started with.

This is our third week in the book of Romans so I want to give you a brief overview of what we have discussed so far so we can see more clearly where we are going this week. The first week we talked about living a spirit filled life. The second week we talked about being in debt to God’s love, and that how that is something we can never repay. Today we are touching back on those main themes so we can continue to see how both of these ideas continue to develop in this passage. Too often because there are chapters and verses, we tend to break scripture into chunks and pieces. We don’t remember that the chunks are not greater than the whole.

This passage picks up where we left off last week. We left off with creation groaning – trying to catch sight of the people of God actually being the people of God. This week we pick up with the believer’s spirit groaning. Let’s look at the first section today,

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches hearts, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This verse shifts our focus on the word groaning a bit. Last week I spoke of groaning as an “expectant part”, this week groaning is more in keeping with the idea of “being in pain”. Often in scripture groaning is used to describe pain, a pain so deep that we cannot express it. What Paul describes for us here is the fact that when you, even as a believer, experience pain and suffering that is so big, that you can’t begin to put it into words, that God is with you and will put it into words for you. Another way of saying this is that it doesn’t matter if we don’t know what to pray, God knows what we are trying to say.

Verses 28-30 however, open us up to a theological issue that some people have strong feelings on. On a surface read this scripture is speaking about a theological understanding called predestination. Our formerly Baptist and Presbyterian friends are well versed with this idea. The election of the saints, or predestination, is a theological construct that was first formulated by John Calvin. The essence of this is that God has selected people who will be saved already, and this idea gives comfort to a large number of people. The thought process goes like this, God is all knowing, God knows what you will do or won’t do, and God knows whether you will accept him or not. Because of this knowledge God knows whether you are saved or not.

If you are like me, I don’t particularly find comfort in this idea. I’ve had many arguments over the years with family members about this very topic. My argument is if you are predestined to be saved by God then what then is the point of church? The response I get is “you’d only be going to church if you were predestined.” Seems very chicken and egg like to me. While this theological knot is not one we are going to untie today, it is important because it is something that brings comfort to many people. However, I want to suggest this isn’t the verse that champions predestination it has been made out to be. These verses suffer from much of the same problem we see in theology, which is verses taken out of context, can lend meaning that they were never intended to.

Predestination tries to answer a specific theological problem. That is the problem of sin, particularly original sin. Original sin over the years has had a few definitions, but the primary one is that in the book of Genesis Adam and Eve sinned when they disobeyed God. So original sin is disobedience to God and that is at the heart of human nature as we resist how God wants us to live. By being predestined we know we are living in obedience to God’s will, being the people God knows we are going to be. The problem with all of this is that this is a misdiagnosis of the text, it’s not the problem that Paul is addressing and when Paul gives us a solution that solution seems to run contrary to the ground that predestination stands on.

So, what is the problem that Paul is trying to address, let’s look at the rest of verses,

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ who died, or rather, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than victorious through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul is addressing the issue of suffering. Why are we suffering and what does that mean for our relationship with God? If we are living a spirit filled life, if we have accepted Gods love and grace which we can never repay, how is it that we still suffer at the hands of the authorities, disease, and disaster?

This is the question that you have to jump through hoops over if you are going to connect to original sin. Because original sin is not the point! The point is suffering happens and if you haven’t suffered at some point in your life, you will. Now Paul doesn’t go the opposite direction. He doesn’t praise suffering as how a true Christian would live. We see that in our culture today, among some groups of Christians unless you are being persecuted or suffering for your faith, do you really have faith?

Paul is looking at suffering and saying something very clearly and that is that God’s love beats all of that. If you go the predestination route it misses that very crucial theological point that matters most to how we live our lives today. That is throughout scripture one thing is certain, that God’s love pursuits us everywhere. The reason the spirit can intercede for us, like at the beginning of our reading today, is not because of anything we do, it’s not because of our acceptance of God, it’s not because of our election by God. It is because God loves us and that love is always seeking us, always coming to comfort us, always present even when we don’t think it is.

Too often we focus on the wrong problem, predestination is an attempt to give you comfort on the other side of eternity, that you are assured of your place after you die. What Paul is concerned about is do we see Gods love and experience God’s love in the midst of our suffering today? This is in keeping with what Jesus taught us in the gospels, the kingdom of God is here and now! It isn’t about a future date its about your relationship with God now!

What Paul points us to is to ask the simple question. Where do we see God today? If nothing can separate us from the love of God, then there must be places that we can see that love in our life and in the world around us. I would be lying to you if I said I am always able to see it. I have difficult days where it seems like people are just being mean and nothing seems to matter. But that is why we have the church community, that is why we have the community of scripture, to remind us of what we cannot see in the moment.

This all goes back to the very beginning of this message. We can get caught up trying to diagnose the wrong problem of original sin. We can get caught up in our own or other people’s suffering. We can get lost in our own grief and find it hard to see our way out. The reality of our faith is that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing can hide us from God’s love, it is always seeking us, it is the story of our faith. A God who loves us so much that he came to live, die, and rise again. A God who loves us so much that he walks through the hard times of life with us. A God who loves us so much that God intercedes for us when we do not have the words to express what we are truly feeling.

We serve a God who is tenacious and who never gives up on loving us! I will take that comfort over any other theological claim you can make any day. Always remember, that God’s love overcomes all things! Amen.

 

Message-Speaker- Retired Pastor Gordon Burton
Sermon: Faith Not Fear
Matthew 10:26-31
Mountain View UMC, Cottonwood, AZ
June 25. 2023
Introduction:
Who I am?
My name is Gordon Burton, and I am a retired Elder in the Indiana Conference of the UMC. I have served in four different congregations over the course of my ministry, but my primary appointment for thirty years was as a chaplain at Methodist Hospital of Indiana in Indianapolis.
It is a pleasure to be in the pulpit today. As a chaplain, I did not preach regularly, and when I did, I realized how much I missed it. But to be honest there were many things about leading a congregation I did not miss: meetings, budgets, and so on. But I did miss preaching.
In retirement my wife and I escaped from Indiana and after a time of living full-time in our RV with four dogs, relocated to Rimrock here in the Verde Valley. This was a long-time dream of ours to live in this part of Arizona and we have not been disappointed.
This is not my first time here. Some of you may remember a Native American flute program I did here a while ago. I am very pleased to be back in the pulpit.
Let me tell you a story of my ordination as Elder in the then North Indiana Annual Conference. It was May of 1978; I had been ordained Deacon in 1975. I was led onto the stage at the Elliot Hall of Music on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette. As I knelt on the stage, my own Bishop, Ralph Alton placed his hands upon my head while Bishop Wayne Clymer of Minnesota held the Bible for me to place my hands on. As Bishop Alton recited the historic words of ordination, I looked at the Bible, I saw Psalm 27:1-2 framed by my fingers. It says: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?”
These words have guided my life and my ministry ever since.
Now I have a question for you: What is the most often used word or phrase in the Bible?
Fear not, be not afraid.
An unspoken element of Biblical interpretation is that when the Bible, or a person in the Bible, in this case Jesus says not to do something, that is probably precisely what people have been doing. Do not be afraid, fear not, for there was likely much fear in the lives of his listeners.
Fear of the future, of how they would be able to live, what there would be to eat, basic survival issues. People were living in fear of what was to come.
I also think there was the fear of Rome, of the power of Rome and how Rome affected every aspect of life.
Jesus tells people not to be afraid, that what they were afraid of wasn’t worth being afraid of, that there was something far greater than their fears.
What is fear, anyway: my 12 step friends define fear as “false evidence appearing real” and in recovery, one of the promises is that those in recovery will lose fear of people and economic insecurity. I feel as if Jesus could have said those words or would at last agree with them.
Jesus tells people that what they are fearing is not really that important. For their survival, God cares for all creation, so he cares for you. Don’t be afraid. Rome may have the power to control or even end your life. But they have no power over the soul, if there is anything to fear, it is that which can kill the soul.

Notice what Jesus does not say. He does not tell people to be brave or have courage. He says to have faith, not courage, for the opposite of fear isn’t courage, it is faith.
I find that we, today, are in much the same situation as those who were first hearing Jesus words. In fact, this seems to be consistent throughout human history, it seems to be part of the human condition.
Fear seems to rule the day. Fearmongering seems to be everywhere. We are told the economy is horrible, that we need to fear rising prices, we need to fear the lack of goods and services, we need to fear losing our hard-earned money in the stock market, through scams, whatever, we need to fear it all.
We are told we need to fear others, especially those who are different from us in any way, be it race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, political or cultural beliefs. The culture wars engender in us nothing but fear. All those who are different are to be feared.

Faith, however, says otherwise. Faith says God is in charge, whether we know or understand or not. Faith tells us that we, all of us, each and every one of us, are important to God. He cares for creation right down to a single sparrow. How much more does he care for us?
Faith tells us to believe this, to follow the way of Christ, which is a very simple way. It is the way of trust in Christ, trust without reservation. It is faith in the way of Christ, which is the way of love.
We love because he first loved us. We love as he first loved us. Which is unconditionally. It is love without fear. Fear does not lead us to love, it leads us away. The faith of love brings people together in that love. Fear only drives apart, it divides and distracts from what is important in life.

All we say, do, and are to be guided by faith in the God of love, who loves everyone, everywhere, all the time.
Fear is that false evidence which appears real. Faith is that which grounds us in love. Faith does not say there will not be problems or difficulties in life. There will be. Faith does not say there won’t be those who cause problems in our lives. There will be. What faith does say is that we will not face these alone. I end where I began.
Matthew10:26-31/Ps 27:1-2

This week we welcome new member Jeni O’Callaghan as our guest speaker.  There is no manuscript for this week.

Message for Sunday, June 4
Announcements:  Today is confirmation Sunday, Graduation Recognition and New Members joining the church.  Reception to follow worship.  Restoration of the worship center will continue for several more weeks.

Passing of the Peace

Song 1

Call To Worship: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023
L: O God, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
P: Your glory shines from below and grows from above.

L: You bring wisdom from the youngest and the most vulnerable of us.
P: You call forth delight in those who live both long and deep.

L:  We look to your creation and find you everywhere.
P: We see you in the moon and the stars.

L: O God, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth.

Unison Prayer: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023
Great Creator, who are we than you are mindful of us? Who are we that you care for us?
We don’t know what we have done to deserve your love, God; maybe nothing at all.

And yet, you give it freely, openly, enthusiastically- asking only that we receive it, hoping only that we share it. Come, and help us receive it.  Come, and help us share it. Amen.

 

Scripture:

“When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,”

Jeremiah 29:13 NRSV

“For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.””

Luke 19:10 NRSV

Meditation: Feet Sticking Out

Life comes at all of us very fast. Faster than we like to admit, faster than we can often handle it. We think we know what is going on next. Where we will be going, how we will get there, who we are going there with. The reality is that most of us are just trying to keep our heads above water. We are bombarded by social media, friends and family to act and live our lives in certain ways. Our work, schools, and jobs pressure us more and more to act the way they want us to be that good or bad. We are pressured to conform and become whatever it is someone else wants us to be. Our culture presses us to work more and put work above all other life priorities, with the rewards of more family time or better income becoming increasingly infrequent.

All of these pressures can force us into dark places in our lives. It is no wonder that mental health is one of the biggest issues we are facing as a society. I know that there are some that feel the church has the answer for this, just have faith, having faith in Christ takes away all mental health issues. Here’s the thing, it doesn’t. Having faith can help us but having faith can also be a part of this pressure that causes mental health issues. The church, and church people, tend to press people into acting certain ways to try to make people conform to be who Christian’s believe they should be. The result of this is that it pushes people away from the church, worsens their mental health, and ultimately pushes them away from Christ.

When we talk about mental health most of us think of the worst examples. We think of the homeless person begging on the street who is obviously suffering from some type of mental illness (I’m not saying all homeless have mental illness just that this is often our perception). We also think about the random shootings and acts of violence we see on the news. Mental illness has now become what we blame gun violence on instead of ease of access to weapons and the lack of drive as a nation to solve our gun crisis or tackle gun culture.

Because of our cultural assumptions around mental illness what we have done is take people who need help with mental illness and forced them to hide what is going on in their lives. As churches we do this, we have made people ashamed and think that they “don’t have enough faith.” Instead of realizing that many of the mental health issues that people face are ones that all of us face. Depression, anxiety, fear, worry, we pretend that faith in Christ just takes these issues away. Or that if we just believe a little harder or worked a little harder at being Christian it will all go away. I’m not going to say that faith can just take these things away, and I know it doesn’t, because it’s never taken away any of these things in me. Faith can help us through these issues but it is not a cure all.

The song that I want us to watch today comes from the musical “Dear Evan Hansen.” To be honest, there are some problems with the story line of the show. There are a number of spots where if you watch it, you’ll be asking yourself “why?” This is a story that wrestles with mental health and what we should do about it. The music is fantastic, and where we enter into the story the main character, Evan Hansen, is speaking in front of a group of peers about a fellow student who committed suicide.

Trying to bring hope to the people around him Evan Hansen sings that “you will be found.” Our Jeremiah scripture today reminds us that if you seek God, you will find God. The Luke passage reminds us that Christ came to seek the lost. The story of Jonah reminds us that even if you travel to the end of the world, or into the belly of a fish God is already there and God will find you. Jeremiahs story teaches us further that even if you were thrown into the darkest pit God will find you.  In the New Testament Jesus teaches us that he will leave the 99 sheep to find you, the one that was lost. Sometimes being lost has nothing to do with being sinful or bad. Sometimes being lost just means that we can’t see what is right in front of us, a God who loves us and wants to be with us as we are.

All kids go through the hide and seek stage. I remember both of my kids when they were little playing hide and seek around the house. As small toddlers hiding behind the large curtains in front of the sliding door, they assumed because they couldn’t see me, I couldn’t see their little feet poking out of the bottom, or that I couldn’t hear their giggling from behind the curtain as I pretended that I couldn’t see their feet.

Mental illness works the same way on a spiritual level. We think we can’t see God; it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t see us. We think we are separated from God, that we aren’t good enough for God or that we don’t deserve grace or love from God or others. Yet repeatedly throughout scripture that is shown to not be true. This is one of the reasons I get so frustrated with many Christians and churches today. They seem to think that if we keep people in line and stop them from doing whatever we call is sin that then people will find hope and love in God. What they really find is a vengeful God who never stops at trying to punish you because you can never be good enough.

Wherever you are at in life, no matter what you are going through God is already there, God is already looking for you. You are like the toddler hiding with your feet out of the curtains. Certain that God can’t see you but know this, you will be found, you have been found by a God that loves you. Amen.

New Members Joining
Communion
Graduate recognitions
Dismissal with Blessing/invitation to fellowship in celebration of all the accomplishments

 

Message for Sunday, May 28, 2023
Announcements: Coffee Talk starting on May 31 at 10AM-gathering for
conversation and coffee in the atrium with church family. Moving to one church
service for the summer. Confirmation Sunday is June 4th, New members joining
and graduation reception.
Call to Worship
One: I feel something in this place!
Many: It feels like fire burning within!
One: It feels fresh and exciting!
Many: It feels like fire burning within!
One: It feels like uncontainable joy!
Many: It feels like fire burning within!
ALL: It is fire burning within! We are on fire, and the world can’t put it out!

Unison Prayer
God of wind, word, and fire, we bless your name this day for sending the
light and strength of your Holy spirit.
We give you thanks for all the gifts, great and small, that you have poured
out upon your children. Accept us with our gifts to be living praise and witness to your love
throughout all the earth; through Jesus Christ, who lives with you in the
unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, forever. Amen.

Scripture
Acts 2: 1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.
 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.
 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.
No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Message-There Was Wind and Flames
Special Presenter-Jeannie Ward

When Pastor Jonathan contacted me, as West District Lay Leader, asking for
someone on our District Pulpit Supply list to fill-in for him on this date, I gave him
a few names of people who could possibly be available.
Then…I felt the urging (I believe of the Spirit) to step up and volunteer for this
date – and, after praying for guidance and looking at the Lectionary scriptures for
May 28th, 2023…it was very clear to me why I had felt this way.

Many years ago, in 2002, my Pastor asked me to speak on Pentecost Sunday.
This was my first time leading a worship service as a Certified Lay Speaker. In
my mind, this was not a ‘coincidence’ because I knew in my heart that I ‘must’
speak up that day due to my thankfulness for the Holy Spirit in my life.So, this Sunday, the 8th Sunday of Easter is known as Pentecost Sunday.

The word Pentecost is derived from ‘PENTE,’ which means 50, because the gift of the
Holy Spirit was given on the 50th day after Jesus’ crucifixion – which was also
the 10th day after His ascension.
The Book of Acts, more than any other book, highlights the work and ministry of
the Holy Spirit. But you can find references in both the Old and New Testaments.
I found it so interesting to find these scriptures about the Holy Spirit in the Old
Testament…when you have some spare time…I hope you would search for
them.

What is the Holy Spirit? What does the Holy Spirit do?
The Holy Spirit is not an ‘it’, not a ‘force’, and not a ‘thing’.
The Holy Spirit is deity….one of the three deities of the Trinity.
Terms, names, or purposes of the Holy Spirit are often identified by:
Counselor, Comforter, Helper, Advocate, and a guide to the Truth!
Let me read John 14:25-26: 25) “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26)
But, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will
teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.”

The Holy Spirit gives each of us one or more Spiritual Gifts to equip us for
ministry…as I recall these were on the wall here in your Sanctuary. Can you
recall what some of them are? (Prophecy, Pastoring, Teaching, Wisdom,
Knowledge, Exhortation, Discernment, Giving, Helping, Mercy, Mission, Service,
Spirit-Music, Craftsmanship, Miracles, Evangelism, Hospitality, Faith, Leadership,
Administration, Healing, Prayer Language, Interpretation, Apostleship,
Intercessory Prayer …… there are 9 listed in1 Corinthians 12: 4-11.
Verses 12-31 speak about “One Body, Many Parts” …which is why I chose the
image of a stained-glass window for today….

I found a publication called ‘Speakers’ Illustrations for Special Days’ and article
#449 said: “A good stained-glass window is made up of thousands of tiny pieces
of colored glass held together with lead. Clare Boothe Luce wrote: The portrait of
a saint is only a fragment of a great and still uncompleted mosaic – the portrait of
Jesus. Each saint is like a piece of colored glass in a total picture depicting
Christ. The ‘lead’ holding the pieces together is the Holy Spirit.” All of us are the
saints, surrounding Jesus and being held together by the Holy Spirit.

I’d like to read the first four verses of ACTS 2 of the epistle lesson shared by our liturgist this morning….

1) “When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
2) Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled
the whole house where they were sitting. 3) They saw what seemed to be
tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4) All of them
were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit
enabled them.”
So, the 11 apostles were gathered in Jerusalem to choose a 12th apostle to
replace Judas. They were praying for guidance from God, as this was a very
important decision…and they were still stunned and ‘in limbo’ after losing Jesus.
The City of Jerusalem, at this time, was very busy. There were Jews from many
surrounding nations staying there to attend a Festival of Thanksgiving for the
harvested crops, which was one of the 19 (!) national feast holidays of the
Israelites. The mix of cultures gathered there was really amazing…coming from
many nations.

ALL AT ONCE…there came a loud and strong wind which is described as a
roar…. I keep thinking it would be like the sound of a tornado…people who have
experienced a tornado say it sounds like a freight train roaring down the tracks –
just hearing that ominous sound would send me hiding under the nearest table!!
(If any of you recall the mini tornado that we had come through this area in
September of 1999…you will know that ‘roaring’ sound)

And then ‘tongues of fire’ dropped on each one of them -THEY HAD RECEIVED
THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT – and they were able to speak in other
languages. Languages that they had not been taught or ever spoken before.
What would we do if that happened to us? Be afraid? Be thankful?

My worst experience with foreign languages was when I was in my first year of
college…studying French and Spanish in the same semesters. My plan for the
future was to work in the import/export world…and be a translator. WELL, my big
plans took a sudden and disastrous turn when I was in the midst of taking the
final tests…I could only translate the Spanish test in French and the French test
in Spanish!! Needless to say…I did not ever become a translator!!

But the apostles WERE able to communicate with this international crowd
gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast, they were messengers – sending the Wordof God out into the far-reaching nations as these people then returned to their
homes.

ALL PART OF GOD’S PLAN TO SPREAD HIS WORD
Scripture says: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Just as we are when we commit ourselves and life to God.
Each and every one of us can go out and spread God’s Word and His Love.
There are so many opportunities to do His Work…
A disciple is: a follower, a believer
An apostle is: an emissary or messenger
We are ALL disciples as we follow and learn God’s teachings, and we are ALL
apostles as we become messengers to share and spread the good news.
There are varied opinions on whether personal experiences should be shared
from the pulpit…but, if you will allow me, I really felt compelled to share my
witness of the Holy Spirit with you today.

The background to my experience is, that, for many years I was my late
husband’s caregiver as he became more and more disabled. Without explaining
the difficulties in detail, let’s just say that he needed almost constant attention all
day and all night. I’m certain that many of you have either experienced the feeling yourself or have been told by someone of their experience of feeling the presence of ‘something’
in a room or place.

Well, I can truly witness to you that most of the time that I spent standing by his
bedside – there was truly a presence of the Holy Spirit. To my right, inches away
from my right elbow. It felt so real that I thought if I turned to my right quickly, I
would have pushed against this invisible companion.

How comforting to have that support, the constant Love and Protection for both
of us. As a result of these honest, true experiences my Faith grew – and I
understood how we are constantly protected and supported by our constant
Companion.
Through the Hospice team that helped during David’s last year, I was given this
poem written by Janes Dillet Freeman (“Prayers for Healing”) –
and as I read it, I felt that it was, in fact, a confirmation of the presence and works
of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives…
“Do you need Me, I am there.
You cannot see Me, yet I am the light you see by.
You cannot hear Me, yet I speak through your voice.
You cannot feel me, yet I am the power at work in your hands.
I am at work, though you do not understand My ways.
I am at work though you do not recognize My works.
I am not strange visions. I am not a mystery.
Only in absolute stillness beyond self,
Can you know Me as I am, and then just as a feeling and a faith.
Yet I am there. Yet I am here. Yet I answer.
When you need Me, I am there.
Even if you deny Me, I am there.
Even when you feel most alone, I am there.
Even in your fears, I am there.
Even in your pain, I am there.
I am there when you pray and when you do not pray.
Though your faith in Me is unsure,
My faith in you never waivers.”

Where have you felt the presence or influence of the Spirit in your Life?
Do we open ourselves to feeling the Spirit in the things we do, places we go,
people we meet, and words that we speak.

We can all share the witness of our Faith – all of us have the gift of
ministry…YOU are all ministers of this church, disciples, and apostles of Jesus.
One little story that I found in a book of humorous church stories seemed just
right to share with you today…

A Minister and some of his congregation were sadly watching their church
building engulfed in flames…the fire department was trying, desperately to save
as much of the building as possible. The Minister noticed one church member
standing near him who hardly ever came to church services, so he said “John,
what are you doing here? This is the first time I’ve seen you at church for a long
time.”
Well, John said “this is the FIRST TIME I’ve seen this church ‘on fire’!”

Of course, this story is referring to that ‘fire’ that is in our hearts. May God give us
the confidence to know and FEEL the Spirit as we are given the ability to ‘fire-up’
our life and ‘fire-up’ our church! Not just at Pentecost…but every day.You and I can look within ourselves – is our witness a smoldering pile of ashes
with very little warmth? OR, full of flames from the Gift of the Holy Spirit given to
all of us at Pentecost?
May we touch others – and watch the spark ignite within them.
Amen.

Message for Sunday, May 21, 2023
Announcements: Coffee Talk starting on May 31 at 10AM-gathering for conversation and coffee in the atrium with church family.  Moving to one church service for the summer.  Confirmation Sunday is June 4th, New members joining and graduation reception.

Passing of the Peace:
Song 1
Call to Worship: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023

 

L: Let us gather in this space.

P: We gather from many places.

L: Let us center ourselves for worship.

P: We are one in the Spirit with joy in our hearts.

L: Let us receive God’s blessing.

A: God’s blessing is ours. We are God’s beloved! Amen!

 

Unison Prayer: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023

Breath of God, renew us in this time of worship. Help us set aside thoughts that trouble us. Help us pause the challenges of the world that taunt us. Pour your spirit within each one of us, that we may be re-spirited in this hour by your power and your grace. Amen.

 

Scripture:

17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing

Zephaniah 3:17 NRSV

28 There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28 NRSV
Message: Who I Am

“I went to the woods because I wish to live deliberately.” Is perhaps one of the most famous openings in American literature. It was written by Henry David Thoreau at the beginning of his book, Walden. If you have never read Walden, it relays Thoreau’s experiences as he seeks to live a more intentional life, secluded from the society of his day. He still shopped and regularly interacted with people. His seclusion is not like that of the desert monks who did not see anyone or speak to anyone for 20 years. This was an experiment on his part; to live more intentionally and explore who he was as a person.

Centuries earlier the philosopher Plato was writing the teachings of Socrates. He recorded one of Socrates’ last statements while he was on trial. “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In other words, to just float from one thing to the next without any consideration for where you have been and where you are going is no way to live your life. Personally, I like the cynic philosopher Diogenes a bit more and he said, “as a matter of self preservation, a man needs good friends or ardent enemies, for the former instructs him and the latter takes him to task.” The core of both of these ideas is that life is something that you learn as you go. You live into it and grow into it.

When I was in college and seminary there was a lot of emphasis placed on understanding yourself so that you could do better at whatever you were trying to accomplish. To my recollection there was never direct instruction given that said you should be in a constant process of learning and understanding yourself, but I think that this has been one of my ultimate take always from my education. We should constantly be trying to understand ourselves better. To know who we are, why we do something, and how we might be different.

A key way to do this is to dream. We need to dream about who we might be or what we might do. Sadly, I have met far too many people who have stopped dreaming for some reason. It seems for some, when they reach a certain age, they stop thinking about who they might be and start only thinking about the single day they are given. The reality is that one informs the other. How you are going to treat your day today reflects the dreams you have for tomorrow.

The song I selected for us to hear today is from “Shrek the Musical,” and it is Shrek’s “I want song” entitled “Who I’d be.” For those of you who have not seen the musical or aren’t familiar with the story of Shrek, Shrek is an ogre. The world he lives in is populated by fairy tale creatures and this is a story that weaves the question of who you are or who you will be throughout all the stories it tells. Where we are entering the story Shrek is being badgered by Donkey who keeps asking him if he didn’t have to act like an ogre, what would he do? From his frustration with dealing with Donkey Shrek sings this song……

This song weaves together the dream of who or what a person can be with how our society/family forces us to be a certain way or a certain type of person. For Shrek, if he didn’t have to be an “ugly, horrifying, ogre” he would be a poet, a sailor, or a knight. It captures that idea that all of us have when we are children that we truly can be anything we want to be. John Lennon is credited with saying “every child is an artist until they are told they are not.” What is the dream, how are we growing and what can we be? The entire musical strives to answer that and to encourage us to do the same in our lives.

The Zephaniah passage that we read this morning is a reminder that God rejoices over us. God celebrates who we are. I know we often talk about finding our identity in God, or being encouraged to remember who we are in God. But this scripture helps us to remember that God rejoices in you already. Another scripture in the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes 9:7 “Go eat your bread with enjoyment and drink your wine with a merry heart. For God has long ago approved of what you do.” Backs this idea up. That God has already accepted you; it is often left up to us to figure out how to accept ourselves.

Galatians reminds us that when we believe in Christ our slate is wiped clean. I have often heard this, and the passage in Romans that expresses the same thought, as a way of saying God removes all our differences. I want to suggest something different and more important. That God is accepting you for who you are and those dividing lines don’t make a difference to God. You still have to discover and understand who you are. It’s one of those things that we talk about, when we feel like God is not there it turns out God was there all along. When you figure out who you are, when you live into your dreams, when you keep dreaming and keep learning, it turns out that God is already there accepting you.

I don’t expect any of you to break out in song today, singing about who you can be. Well, if you want to you can, but be careful where you do it, I don’t want to have to see anyone end up in the hospital. I think we can all stand to take some time to examine our lives. Where we have been, where we are going, and what we desire from our lives. It is never too late to learn more about yourself. It is never too late to do something new. And it is never too late to live into who God already accepts you to be. I know sometimes we need some practical steps to help with this. You could try journaling and writing down your story. It doesn’t have to be detailed but it’s a start. Expressing this in words-even if no one else ever reads it or sees it, will help you to understand who you are. Take a class. Yavapai Community College is right down the road, take something out of the ordinary for yourself. Take a drawing or painting class, even if you have never done art before, it will teach you something about yourself. Pick up a genre of book, film, or music that you have never listened to before and experience it.
This sermon series may have been an opportunity to learn something about yourself. There are all sorts of ways to learn about yourself. Engage in some or in many of them.

Never forget that God has already accepted you. That you are loved by God and God wants you to grow into the best person you can be. Amen.

Message for May 14, 2023
Announcements:
Louise Cordova’s book study – every Tuesday at 9;
Musical Movie night on Friday at 6 – Shrek the Musical!
Sunday School Gospel of John study by Adam Hamilton;
8:30 service cancelled for the month of June and July;
Giving options; Happy Mother’s Day – for non -birth mothers, aunts, cousins, and friends for being the people we need them to be.

Passing of the Peace

Song 1

Call to worship: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023

L: From the north and south, from the east and west…

P: All are welcome here.

L: With hands raised high or hearts quietly pondering…

P: We come to worship God.

L: Bringing our love, opening our minds…

P: We draw near to God, near to each other, and near to Christ, the Word of God.

 

Unison Prayer: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023

God of all nations, for creating us in all our diversity, yet calling us together in our common humanity, we offer you our thanks and praise. Speak to us with your Spirit of Truth. Reveal to us your loving presence and guide us to display your loving Spirit in all that we say and in all that we do. Amen.

 

Scripture: Luke 6:1-11; 2 Thessalonians 2:15 NRSV
“One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.” On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.” ~ Luke 6:1-11 NRSV

“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.”

~2 Thessalonians 2:15 NRSV

Music Video: “I Know Where I’ve Been” – Hairspray

Sermon: Where I’ve Been

I’ve been doing some reflecting recently on Olivia’s childhood. I think it’s natural since she is going to be graduating in just a few weeks. I find myself thinking about the things that her mother and I did well and the things I could have done better or differently. I am very proud of who she has grown to be and the way she is continuing to grow. One of the things I have been reflecting on was the fact that she had to move 5 times in her life. Different schools, different churches, different communities. While that has provided both of my children with unique experiences it has also created some distinct challenges.

 

When I was growing up and when Katie and I first got married we maintained some of the traditions that our families had. We lived close enough by so that we were able to go to each of our parents’ homes on Christmas morning. We would go to my family for Thanksgiving, and Katies family for Easter. There were other traditions, but what we found with moving so much and living so far from family back east, is that we needed to create some traditions for our kids to provide a sense of continuity that they couldn’t get with extended family.

Neither of our families have traditions around a New Year’s Eve event or New Year’s Day meal. So, we created one. Just for us. We pulled from local traditions in PA and started making pork and sauerkraut for New Years Day. It is something that has become our tradition and we look forward to it each year. We have other family traditions, some playful and some serious, but all of them serve the same purpose even if we don’t realize it. That purpose is that it grounds us in interaction with each other. Tradition serves to create continuity between our past, no matter where we have lived or who we are with, to now reminding us of opportunities that are available for us to do things. They also connect us with the future. A future where we look forward to our traditions that happen once a year.

Traditions can help families in more than one way. If you have a family member who is autistic or has a disability, traditions are a way to include them. For autistic children and adults, the regularity of tradition, knowing the expectations of what to do and how to do things can be helpful in maintaining a regular schedule in their lives. For other those with other disabilities, it is often a way to include the person in an activity that has meaning when they are often excluded because of accessibility.

Historically, religious groups including the church itself and Christianity, have used traditions to hand down teachings, to help us transition at important stages of our lives, and to help us grieve or celebrate at the right times. The church celebrates Christmas every year on December 25, Jesus probably wasn’t born then, but it enables us to have a set time to celebrate it and mark the turning point of light and darkness in the year. There are no Christmas trees in scripture, but this tradition gives many of us a focal point for telling our family stories using ornaments. Today is Mother’s Day, a tradition started in 1908 and made an official US holiday in 1914. Families have traditions for celebrating mothers, most often in today’s context going out to lunch, but some families do other things like treat mom to a spa day, a quiet day, or a day full of activity.

The show Hairspray is steeped in the struggle of “cultural tradition.” The premise of the story is racism and the discrimination faced by African Americans in our culture, as shown to us through the lives of young people in the 60’s. I don’t know if you’ve ever approached the idea of racism as a tradition before, but that is what often happens within racist systems. The system needs to change but the response you’ll often hear is that “we can’t do that because it’s never been done that way.”

“I know where I’ve been” is a song that takes place during a protest march to integrate the TV station. The core of this song is to remember where they have been in the past so that it can move them into the future. Miss Mabel sings and remembers what she and her people have experienced and uses that to empower the other protesters for where they are going in the future.

In our Luke passage today, we see an example of tradition hurting people. The tradition is “keeping the sabbath holy.” Not doing any work on the sabbath at all. Now this wasn’t entirely true. There were certain forms of work that were still done, animal care cannot wait a day. There were also all sorts of rules around this tradition that made it possible for people to “break it correctly.” For instance, you could not travel to far from your home on the sabbath or else it was work. So, the solution was the day before to carry food and other necessities to that limit and declare it a home, so that the next day you could travel that far, and then the same distance past it without breaking the sabbath.

In this passage, we have two stories-both dealing with that tradition. In the first scripture, the disciples are hungry, so they pick and eat some grain. In the second, Jesus heals a man’s hand. The end to the first story gives us the fact that Jesus can bend the tradition of the sabbath to him, the second is a reminder that helping people is always more important than tradition. The religious leaders that Jesus was dealing with were using tradition to hurt people. Instead of remembering the original purpose, which is to help people and lift them up. It is no different than in Hairspray when the main character, Tracy, is talking with Miss Mabel about dancing with her daughter on the Corny Collins show. Miss Mabel talks about how black-people and white-people have never danced together on TV before and “it just isn’t done.” A tradition for no other reason than separating and hurting each other.

2 Thessalonians instructs us to hold to the traditions that were taught by Paul and his fellow teachers. Unfortunately, sometimes when something like this gets in scripture it becomes twisted into a tradition of legalism-like the treatment of the sabbath, instead of its original intent. Holding true to the good things we taught has a chance of becoming “making everyone agree with me and do what I say.”  This is not how tradition should be used. Much the same as with my family and putting our own traditions in place, these things are there to help us now and to lead us into the future, that’s what Miss Mabel song is about.

I know that my own family traditions will be changing soon in the coming years. As my kids grow up and move on, Katie and I will need to find new traditions that breathe life into our lives and continue to help our family grow and stay connected. Traditions can be flexible; they can give us grounding and grow and adapt with us as we grow and change. Don’t allow tradition to cut you off from people. Don’t allow “because we never did it this way,” to become a mantra that kills your family, kills your church, and kills your soul. Today, let us celebrate the mothers in our lives as we traditionally would, but let us allow that tradition to breathe and grow.

Tradition can guide our future. It can help us to see hope because we know where we have been. But it will only show us that hope if we do not seek to crush it into legalism. The future can be bright with the past in hand. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer/Lord’s Prayer
Song 2
Dismissal with Blessing

 

Message for May 7, 2023
Announcements: Giving options; Weeding Day, May 11 at 8AM, Louise Cordova Book Study starts Tuesday May 9th at 9AM in the Atrium, it’s open to everyone; Next musical – Hair Spray Friday night at 6pm; Special offering for May – Verde Valley Sanctuary (for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence)

Passing of the Peace
Song 1
Call To Worship: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023

L: Once we were not a people.
P: Now we are God’s people.
L: Once we ate food that did not satisfy.
P: Now we drink the spiritual milk of our Lord.
L: Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Unison Prayer: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023

Merciful God, our refuge and our strength, train our hearts on the words of your Son: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Feed our souls with your spiritual milk and build our very lives into spiritual houses that neither famine nor storm can shake the foundation of our faith. In the name of the master builder and the living stone, we pray. Amen.

Scripture: John 13:34-35 NRSV

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Scripture: Philippians 2:4 NRSV

Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.

Meditation: Known by Love

I am often asked questions by church members as to why kids who used to attend church do not attend when they get older. When speaking to former “church kids” there is a common thread that I keep hearing. That thread is-when they become adults, they are told what they learned in Sunday school is wrong.

When a child is in Sunday school, we emphasize teaching that Jesus loves everyone and we are supposed to care for everyone. In fact, we have a whole lot of songs devoted to that concept, right? But what happens when they become adults is they come into the sanctuary, and they quickly learn the qualifiers. So “love everyone” … but not that person.” This is often communicated by subtext in the church community. We don’t want “those types of people” or those people are living in “sin.”  The end result is the same, we push people away from the gospel, away from church, and away from each other by not living up to the standards we have taught.

Tick Tick Boom is the story of Jonathan Lawson, who is the writer of the musical RENT. Jonathan died at the age of 36 from an aortic dissection. Both of these musicals (Rent/Tick, Tick Boom) address the necessity and importance of love as our defining motivation and goal. His shows embody the idea that love is the most important action that any of us can participate in and live out.

The song “Louder Than Words” is the summation of his story at this point in his life. “Fear or love baby, don’t say the answer, actions speak louder than words.”
Too often in our lives and in the life of the church we forget that we can preach and teach love as our defining attribute, but if we do not put it into action then it means nothing. If we deliberately support things that are contrary to that basic tenet of our faith, then how are we going to live out the gospels?

In the Gospel of John, Jesus states that we are given a commandment to love one another. The amazing thing is that I have seen otherwise very well-meaning Christians jump through hoops to try and define who that means we are to love. The fact of the matter is there are no limits to that love. Jesus may be instructing us in the community to live up to his own actions, but I would stretch us even farther than that, Jesus loves everyone and came to reconcile everyone through his love, how can we do any differently? Paul even reminds us Philippians to be more concerned with the interests of others. Another way of putting that is if we love others, we will put their needs above our own and seek to show them that love in active ways.

The sad reality is the church, and our culture seeks to benefit from us not loving and caring for one another. I have seen and heard church people do not want the government to take care of people because that is the responsibility of the church. Yet what is really at stake here is the power to control people’s lives. If you are more interested in people attending your church than making a better life for them, you have lost the focus of the love we are called to have.

Our world today constantly seeks to teach us to hate, ridicule, and to fear others. It seeks to have us harm one another rather than to see our common humanity, or to say it in a theological way to see that we are all children of God. There are people more afraid of a transgender representative than they are at the fact that as of April 17th there have been 163 mass shootings.[1] There are people who are more worried about abortions than they are of the fact that there are 114,000 children that are eligible for adoption and approximately 391,000 children in foster care, and in 2021 there was an increase in the number in foster care of that increase 70% were infants.[2]

I could keep going on with various statistics, but you get the point. When our concern is more about separating people instead of loving them, we have the wrong priorities. We aren’t being the people that Christ taught and called us to be, we aren’t being the people that Paul instructs us to be. Love is the basis of our actions. We are called to be the people of God and love everyone. Even one of the Psalmists asks, “how long?” How long will we continue to not practice what we preach? How long will we continue to let our actions not match what we say? How long will we join with the wrong people in hurting others rather than showing the love of Jesus to everyone?

Communion
Pastoral Prayer/Lord’s Prayer
Dismissal with Blessing

[1] https://abcnews.go.com/US/mass-shootings-days-2023-database-shows/story?id=96609874

[2] https://adoptionnetwork.com/adoption-myths-facts/domestic-us-statistics/


Message for Sunday, April 30, 2023
Announcements
: Book Club coming up; Signup sheet for a book study led by Louise Cordova; Upcoming movie watch will be Tick, Tick, Boom on Friday at 6;
Call to Worship: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023
L: Hear Jesus’s great truth: I am the gate for the sheep!
P: We recognize this voice. We’ve heard these words before.
L: Come in! You belong here!  You are safe and cared for here!
P: We recognize the voice of our shepherd.
L: Follow and find green pastures and still waters!
P: We hear his voice.
L: I come to give life and give it abundantly.
P: Come one, come all!

 Unison Prayer: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023

Risen Savior, Reliable Shepherd, we hear your voice calling us to follow. We remember our ancient brothers and sisters who gathered in prayer and praise. Today, we too gather in prayer and praise. Enliven us with your resurrection power – a power that frees us from despair. Enliven us with your abundant life. May your living power flow through us in all we are and do! Amen.

 Scripture: Philippians 4:8-9 NRSV
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Message: Keeping On

The story shared in the show “In the Heights” is at its core a story of perseverance. While there are two love stories, ultimately the story is about an immigrant community and their struggles to remain a community along outside pressures like gentrification, being priced out and feeling like they are not making any progress towards their dreams. These core elements of the story are ones we can all identify with in one way or another. Many of us know what it is like to have our communities change around us, causing people to need to move to find better employment and others being priced out of living in the communities they love and have lived in for years.

 

Perseverance is a state of life. I know that a cliché way of putting things is to say, “you’ve got to go through the bad things to get to the good.” And like most clichés there is a grain of truth to this. We all encounter hardships. We all lose loved ones, we all lose jobs, many of us live paycheck to paycheck and often can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. How we approach this perseverance can make all the difference.

“If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” Martin Luther King Jr. said this, and it speaks to the core lesson of perseverance. The drive to move forward. It is moving forward in the hope that things will be better in the long run. That slowly but surely things get better.

In the gospels we read the story of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane during Holy Week. When we speak of this story, we usually spend most of our time reflecting on the struggle Jesus was going through. How perhaps he didn’t want to accept the task before him until he prayed the words “not my will but yours.” I can’t help but feel that this statement reads as a kind of resigned acceptance. It is like when you argue with your spouse, and you know there is nothing you can say that is going to help you to win this argument, so you end with “yes dear.” I honestly do not believe that is what is happening with Jesus here, but we have removed Jesus’s own agency so much that we cannot help but think he is only doing this because he is “supposed” to.

Instead, I think we should look at this story of Jesus in a slightly different way. It is a story of Jesus’ perseverance to do the right thing. In order to see the change in people, to see the change in the world, Jesus perseveres in doing what is necessary to reconcile us to God and to each other. Often times doing the right thing requires us to follow through no matter the cost. It is the only way we will see the good things that happen.

Both Jesus’ and Martin Luther Kings’ example are very serious ones. We gravitate easily to these serious stories of perseverance because we can see the result at the end. Jesus reconciles all humanity, Martin Luther Kings’ work results in the Civil Rights Act. It is harder to see the point of perseverance on a smaller individual life scale. The song “Piragua” does that for me. The character we meet in the video is a snow cone seller in Washington Heights. He feels that the ice cream truck is trying to put him out of business, but as he says, “I keep scraping by!” Not only does he keep scrapping by, but he’s also happy about it.

I know I picked a very minor character in the overall musical, but I wanted to show a fun example of perseverance. The show is full of serious versions of perseverance, but this is a side character who embodies the larger struggles of the community and finds joy in what he is doing. He is happy to make it through the day. True, being a musical, we do not get a deep picture of his life, but I think it helps to put some of these things in perspective for our own lives.

We tend to approach our lives as if we are the main characters, and we are to our own story. Everyone has their own story and each one of our journeys of perseverance are different because of that. This is not a benign perseverance and be happy about it. That’s not the point, the point is people in their own stories will see how you are handling things and that can influence and inspire others to keep going.

Perseverance is also about priorities. This character’s priorities are to sell snow cones in his community. He just wants to make a living, and his villain is the ice cream man, the ice cream man is the one who stands in the way of his success. His priorities are his community and I think one can safely assume his family. The question is, what are your priorities? Why are you persevering?

In the church we persevere because we believe that Christ’s message of love is for everyone. We will risk much and work hard to show Christ’s love to everyone we meet. We will show that love even when people reject it or us. Why? Because Christ’s love is that important. But that does not mean we cannot enjoy doing it!

Yes, we are engaged in serious work, showing Christ’s love. Yes, there are problems in our world that we will have to work hard to fix. Yes, for us as individuals’ life can be a struggle, to pay the bills and put food on the table. Yet we should not lose sight of the gift that we are given. A gift of a new day. At the end of the day, we can put our heads on our pillows and be proud of how we worked and how we tried to do the right thing.

I’m not suggesting enduring hardship for the sake of enduring hardship. If you are in a bad situation change it. If things keep us from sharing the love of Christ, we should work to change it, persevere to change the situation. I’m saying that we should be joyous in what we can accomplish, even if what we accomplish is something as small as selling snow cones. No act of perseverance is too small, and we should celebrate every opportunity we are given. Some of the most satisfying days I’ve ever had were the days I worked the hardest. When I kept pushing through and doing whatever the task was before me.

We are called to persevere. To be more like Christ and keep on doing the right thing no matter what. But always take joy in it! Amen.

 

Message for Sunday, April 23, 2023
Call to Worship: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023
L: Come walk with us.
P: We will join the journey.
L: Let us talk together.
P: We will listen and speak.
L: Christ goes with us.
A: Jesus guides our steps.

Unison Prayer: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023
Holy one, we are often confused by the events in our world. Come and walk with us. Open our hearts to hear your truth. Plant the seed of new life within us. In trust of your loving presence, we pray. Amen.
Scripture
Isaiah 40:30-31 NRSV
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

1 Samuel 12:16

16 Now, therefore, take your stand and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes.

Special Song: Stop the World – Come From Away

Message: Stop the World

This musical is one that I didn’t want to see when I was first told about it. The subject matter, 9/11, is not one that I take lightly, and I really didn’t know how a musical was going to talk about it and not turn it into some weird overly patriotic or dramatic non-sense. However, since I have watched it, it has become one of my families’ favorite musicals.

The basic premise of the musical is that there is the small town of Gander, Newfoundland in Canada where 38 planes were diverted to after US air space was closed on 9/11. The town’s population doubled in size and the show deals with all the issues that result from that. One of the special things about this show is that it uses people’s actual experiences to tell the story, blending seamlessly from one to the next.

The song that I chose to base our reflection on comes from the story of Nick, an English man who works for an oil company, and Diane, a divorced mom who was traveling home from visiting England. When we are first introduced to the pair, they are just meeting one another as Nick is trying to avoid the drunk people at the back of the plane so he can do some work. “Stop the World” comes after a few days in Gander when everyone has had a false start (so to speak) for getting back onto their prospective planes to travel home. Nick and Diane walk to the top of the Dover Fault which is a tectonic boundary between norther portions of the Gander and Avalon Zones of the Newfoundland Appalachians. They experience a moment together with the realization that they are going to be separated again very soon. Nick and Diane sing in the song that they want the world to stop. Stop-because they don’t want to leave the moment, and while Nick is taking pictures they know once the moment passes it is gone.

National tragedy can have that effect on us. One of the things this show did for us as a family was it provided a spot where Katie and I could talk about where we were when the events of 9/11 happened. I know many of us can talk about when we first learned, when we first saw the images, how we felt, on that particular day. For many of us, the result was much the same as Nick and Diane. It created a sharp distinction between what they were doing with their lives before the event and what happened after. COVID has been the much the same way for many people. Over the past two years many people have moved to be closer to family because when everything was shut down, they realized how much they missed family and relied upon family.

The key to this experience, the key to understanding Nick and Diane, is knowing that most of us do not know how to stop or slow down. We fill our days with work and appointments, so much so that we never stop to reflect. We do not reflect on the whys or on what we hold most important. I confess I have this problem. I will work, work, work, and run, run, run, until my body says, “that’s enough, stop!” There was a time when I was a bit better at stopping, but the push to do more always creeps up on every single one of us. It forces our priorities to change to whoever/whatever is doing the pushing.

Our scriptures today are ones that reflect on the need for us to stop.
In Isaiah we are reminded that even the young get weary. Often when I have heard this passage discussed, people reflect on the need to rest, but do not reflect on the need to slow down, and yes there is a difference. It is not always possible to stop and rest, but it is often possible to slow things down. It often doesn’t matter if a task takes an extra 5 minutes. The only pressure you have for that comes from yourself.

I remember when my children were little, and both of them did this, they would play, play, play all day. Refusing to go down for a nap, and then at some point they would randomly fall asleep. Sophia fell asleep one time standing up! With half her body folded over on the footstool. We laugh how children play until they are exhausted, but as adults we work until we are exhausted and none of us can maintain that, nor are we laughing about it.

The 1st Samuel passage reminds us to look at what God has done.
In “Stop the World” one of the things that helps Nick and Diane to reflect is seeing the beauty of creation. Stopping and noticing what God has done and is doing in the world often helps us to de-process. Watching a thunderstorm roll in during the monsoon, seeing sunsets and sunrises, noticing the flowers and the bees. All of this helps us to heal as individuals so that we can prioritize what is important in our lives.

This type of stopping is not about stopping and recovering so you can do more work or work harder. Unfortunately, I have seen this as something we often champion. Among pastors its “you have to take care of yourself or else you won’t be able to take care of others.” I want you to grasp something a little different here. It is not about others; it IS about you. God wants you to rest because you are worthy of being you. God wants you to notice where God is at work in the world because God has done it for you and for everyone.

Too often we talk about taking time to rest so that we can be recharged to do more. I believe the lesson from these passages and from this song are rest, take things in because every day, because every moment should be seen as a gift. Not rest and work more. Not rest and see what you have forgotten to do. But rest, stop the world, and take a moment to see how much God loves you and how much you love others. Amen.

 

Sunday, April 16, 2023
Announcements:
It’s a Musical Series – movie reminder; Book club reminder; Giving reminder; after church confirmation class begins.
Passing of the peace
Song 1
Call To Worship:
Abingdon Worship Annual 2023
L: Alleluia! Christ is risen!
P: Our hearts are glad, and our souls rejoice.
L: Do not worry or fear, for Christ is alive!
P: In this place, we find hope and joy.
L: Alleluia! Christ is risen!
A: Let us worship the one who brings new life.
Unison Prayer: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023

Life-giving God, we gather today to celebrate the resurrection of your Son. We are grateful for the new life he brings. We are grateful for the hope and joy he shares. We are grateful for leading the way, as he goes before us. Gracious God, today and every day, we offer you our thanks and praise. Strengthen our faith, that it may sustain us during difficult days and enable us to share your love with others. Open our hearts to new life and new possibilities. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen.

 

Scripture: Ephesians 2:10, 2 Timothy 2:15
Ephesians 2:10
10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
2 Timothy 2:15
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

Video of Song: Simple Sponge – SpongeBob the Musical
Message: Growing Up

Make no mistake, this musical knows what it is.
It is a fun, playful story intended in part to be an introduction into theater for kids. SpongeBob the Musical is about the much-loved children’s character, SpongeBob Square Pants (a sea sponge). His town, Bikini Bottom, is facing their impending destruction by a volcano that is about to erupt. Because of this threat the people (other aquatic creatures) in town begin to panic. They start to make his friend Sandy (a squirrel) into the scapegoat, blaming all of the town’s issues on the person who is “different” from everyone else, because she is a land mammal. Other town members turn and form a worship cult around his friend Patrick Star (a starfish).
The ever-present villain, Plankton (plankton), is trying to use the mass hysteria over the town’s destruction to his advantage. He is hoping that everyone will eat at his restaurant, The Chum Bucket instead of the Krusty Krab, owned by Mr. Krabs (a crab).

The song we just heard is from SpongeBob the Musical. It is a classic example of an “I want” song. We will revisit another “I want” song in our series in a few weeks, but I want to introduce you to what an “I want” song is. In musicals an “I want” song is a song that introduces you to the motives and motivation of the main character.

The song today, “Simple Sponge” gives us a glimpse into the mind of SpongeBob. He wants to have adventure, to be a contender, and more. He has big dreams and wants to push back on the idea that he is just a “simple sponge.” He wants the people in the play, and us the audience, to understand that he is not just a little kid, but someone who has wants, needs, and desires. He wants to be seen as more complex than people often perceive him.

Recently I was in a conversation with someone who said that growing older means learning to constantly reinvent yourself. I think all of us can identify with that. You may have heard me say before that we are not the same people we were last year, much less than when we were younger. We are different people and I think we can all identify ourselves in SpongeBob’s song today. We all have points in our lives where we want more than what we have. We sing songs about wanting the “simple life” or identify a need where we want to grow. We want good things and sometimes we have to reshape our identity to help those good things happen. We do not want to be seen as simple, only capable of certain things; we want to grow.

The first scripture we shared today from Ephesians speaks to this idea. In chapter 2 verse 10, Paul reminds us of what we are created for. We are created to do good works. How much better would our lives be if we only focused on doing good things for others? And I do not mean to the point of not caring for oneself. In the song today, SpongeBob’s personal desires for adventure intersects with his need to help his town. To look after those around him. When we say we are created for good works what do we mean?

I think what we really mean, or should mean, becomes evident in our second scripture today. 2 Timothy 2:15 is a reminder to do our best. We do our best to do the good works that God desires for us. In the end that can really be the only thing expected of us. We are going to do the best we can to do the good works we have been called to do.

Redefining ourselves is a lifelong process. It is the process of growing up. At each stage in our lives, we realize what is important and we change to reflect that importance. Often there is a thread to runs through all of it and that is what the scripture is pointing us to. Doing good works is part of our core identity as followers of Christ, and doing our best is all we can offer. The song doesn’t change who SpongeBob is. He is still playful, silly, and way too serious about working at a fast-food restaurant. He still cares for his friends, and his town. But it does put into words where he needs to focus himself. Fixing the immediate problem of the town but also deepening his friendships along the way.

I have yet to meet a “real” grown up. In my entire life I have only met people who “play” at being grown up. We all feel like we pretend to be grown up because deep down we do not know what we are doing. Or we still find silly things funny, or we always have that voice in our heads telling us to grow up. When that voice speaks in our head it is telling us to put the wrong things first. Being serious does not mean growing up. It often means something has died in us.
You my friends, are called by God to do good works to the best of your ability. To try and be the person who you are called to be. One of the most admirable things about SpongeBob is – he is who he is. He does not try to be someone else. That is certainly a worthy thing to emulate. Christ has created you to be uniquely you. There can be no other you. Called to do good works that only you can do. To try hard, only like you can. What a wonderful prospect for growing up in our faith. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer/Lord’s Prayer
Song 2
Dismissal with Blessing

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Service for Easter Sunday
04/09/2023

Call to Worship: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023
L: Christ is alive,
P: moving among the living.
L: Christ is risen,
P: inviting us to rise in fullness of life.
L: Christ is calling,
P: proclaiming life and hope for us all.

Unison Prayer: Abingdon Worship Annual 2023
Risen Christ, enter our worship and our hearts this day. As you live and move among us, remind us to proclaim and live the life you offer.  Inspire us to walk as children of your resurrection, each and every day. Amen.

Scripture: Matthew 28:1-10 NRSV
“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.””

 

Message:

The blank page, the fearful blank page. Artist, writers, crafters, handymen, all sorts of people experience this dread. You sit down with the materials in front of you. Your paint set on one side, pencil in hand, and the paper sitting clean and white in front of you. You look at the paper and completely blank out. Artist block, or writers block, which is the same as the feeling you get when you have a day off and you don’t want to waste it, but you also don’t want to do anything with it. The block every craft person gets, or everyone gets when they start a project. All the materials are there but where and how to begin? Everyone experiences these things in different ways and different intensities.

An artist’s block, or any of the other ones I named, can be a short momentary thing. Just a few minutes of staring at the blank page until the inspiration strikes. Sometimes it can be the fear of “what if I use up my materials and it doesn’t come out good? I don’t want to waste my good materials!” Other times it can be a paralyzing experience that we just can’t move past. We fear doing something because we are going to mess it up. For many artists and writers the first page of a new journal is the hardest, it sets the tone for the rest of the book. The fear is not in doing the new art, the fear is in messing up the whole book with a badly placed art piece.

Resurrection Sunday is a new page. A new page laid open before us that we need to decide how we are going to approach. An invitation to change and develop our story more, and to bring our lives into Jesus’ influence. Over the years I have spent many Easters talking about the nuances in the text. The little things that we often miss that help us understand historically what is happening. This year I want you to see the big picture. The big picture is that the story of Jesus enters a new chapter. It is the start of a new journal, the start of a new art piece, the start of a new project. Most of us freeze up and do not know where to start, and what we tend to do is go back to business tomorrow as usual. We need to break that cycle and fortunately we get some clues about how to do that in the text.

Jesus gives advice for where to start in the last verse of our reading today. “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” In other words, go back to the beginning. When you get project block what moves you through it? Going back to where you got the idea in the first place, going to the original reason why you wanted to start the project. New art, craft, or writing project? Go back to what you are comfortable with, because by doing that, you will be able to move into new directions or be able to show how you have grown. Jesus tells the disciples if you go back to the beginning, you’ll be able to start the journey again. For us, that advice can be even more literal. Go back to the beginning of the Gospels and read it again. Go back to Galilee and see how the story goes, you will connect again with Jesus in the text.

I think we put too much pressure on ourselves to be different than we were yesterday. We want any project, art or any of the others listed, to be perfect. To not show flaws, to become a masterpiece. We do this in our lives, we want every day to work out perfectly. We aren’t going to lose our temper, we aren’t going to start crying because we miss a loved one, we are going to see God in the world around us. Easter reminds us of new life and new opportunities. When we pressure ourselves to live into the resurrection, when we pressure ourselves to live a new way- we can freeze up. Obviously, I think that we should be living in a new way, we should be striving to be more like our Resurrected Savior, but there’s a thread here that we miss. You see, if we pressure ourselves for change-rarely do we actually make the change.

Pressuring ourselves to be more like Jesus does not work. When we pressure ourselves, we often cause more stress in our lives. What we need to do is look into our past where we felt we walked more with Jesus, where we felt that we had it right and learn from that experience to go forward. Of course, we are never going to feel the same way we did at that time in the past. (Thank God for that!) We are different people, we have grown and changed whether we intended too or not. When we reach into the past, when we go back to the beginning of the story, when we go back to Galilee what we are doing is finding a way to set ourselves up for success. We are finding a way to walk more like Jesus by reminding ourselves of how far we have come.

When I approach a new sketchbook, I will often paint something I am comfortable with on the first page. Landscapes have often been my go-to. Painting a landscape reminds me of the reason I enjoy painting, it reminds me of why I fell in love with painting as a medium. It renews my desire to paint and learn more. Yet that first painting in the sketchbook, even if I mess it up, shows years of development compared to my first landscapes. Even when I mess the new page up, I can see how far I have progressed beyond what I used to do. That is what going back to the beginning does for us. It helps us to move forward more. It helps us to be more like our Risen Savior.

Resurrection Sunday is when we remember that Jesus has conquered sin and death. Jesus has given us a new page. And this might be the scary part, we get a new page every day! A new story to write, a new painting to paint, a new project to begin. It is exciting the new life that Jesus gives to us, but it is also scary! Always remember to go back to the beginning. Go back to where it started so that you can improve today. That is the joy of the new life of the resurrection. We are brought into new life today! Amen.