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.

Dismissal With Blessing


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
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.

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; 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.


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.


“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
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.



“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
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.

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

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

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
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
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.

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.



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
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?

Pastoral Prayer/Lord’s Prayer
Dismissal with Blessing



Message for Sunday, April 30, 2023
: 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.
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
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


Service for Easter Sunday

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.””



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.