Author Archives: Rev. Mary Etta Mest

“Be Gone, Spirit of Slavery”

Sermon – 07-23-17 – Proper 11 – Cycle A
Scripture: Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8: 12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Sermon Title: “Be Gone, Spirit of Slavery”
We wrestle with the spirit of slavery, with Satan, with evil.  You say not?  Let us investigate.  Remember Eve succumbing to Satan in the form of a snake in the creation story?  I dare say, she had not learned to wrestle with evil.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil.”  We wonder why would God even think about leading us into temptation.  That stretches our mind but let’s move on.  “But deliver us from evil.”  Aha!  God does not desert us or so we hope.  Is that true?  Do we need some magic words with God so that we can resist evil?  I think we need God’s assistance to recognize evil when it confronts us or when we casually meander into it.  Do we sometimes mistake evil for a good solution only to find that we have walked straight into quicksand?
If God, himself, prepares temptation, it may be a plan to strengthen us.  Life’s experiences provide lessons for us.  Therefore, we are surely wiser at the end of our years than in the beginning.  Do you find yourself saying that you just had a learning experience?  I could write a book based on my “learning experiences!”
Remember how Jacob wrestled with God unbeknownst to Jacob.  This story is found in Genesis 32:19-29.  All night a man wrestled with Jacob.  Jacob did not know the man.  Neither one could get the best of the other until the other man struck Jacob on the hip and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint.  And still Jacob did not let the other man go.  “I will not let you go until you bless me,” said Jacob.  Finally, Jacob realized that this adversary was God himself.  God did bless Jacob.  God had big plans for Jacob from the beginning but Jacob had to wrestle first with Esau, then with his father-in-law, Laban, and now with God himself.  Now Jacob receives the affirmation that his struggles were part of the plan.  Jacob persisted through the struggles.  Jacob has permission and assistance to move ahead; to be part of this big plan that eventually leads to our Lord Jesus Christ being born to a direct descendant of Jacob.
Imagine!  I was always tempted to take the side of Esau, the twin of Jacob.  Esau was tricked, pure and simple, into losing his birthright.  He was the first-born.  What is fair about having your mother help your second-born twin to steal your own birthright?  Is fairness a criteria of God’s plans for us?  Oooh! and Ouch!
Where does humbleness enter the picture?  Are we set on keeping things fair or do we see the light and realize that being humble is God’s recipe rather than “fairness?”  Does being humble feel like being in slavery?  Maybe when we have not seen the rewards of being humble and we still have our sights set on that seat at the head of the table or being in the pulpit on a Sunday morning instead of being on the organ bench; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  Bring on the mantle of humility.  Look for the good.  Stop wrestling!  It is God!  Don’t you see, it is God’s plan for our very lives that we are resisting.  And where will that get us!  Absolutely, no where.  It is the grip of evil we are wrestling, but don’t you see – the Lord is waiting, the Lord is hanging on!  Shall we persist until our hip is out of joint?  Ask for the blessing!  Let go!
Resisting is the slavery.  Instead, we shall accept the spirit of adoption from our loving Father, Abba, God!  Paul puts it this way in Romans 8:14-17, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”  Glory is the gift!  Paul goes on, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”
This wrestling that we are doing now with evil, seems far removed from any shade of glory.  But, it is according to God’s plan.  In Matthew 13, we find the parable of good wheat and weeds growing side by side as they tend to do here on earth, do they not?  The Master explains that an enemy has put the weeds, the evil, alongside the good.  The plan is for the weeds to be gathered first at the time of harvest.  They shall be burned up with fire.  Then the good wheat will be gathered into the Master’s barn.  Jesus explained to his disciples that this parable refers to people.  At the end of the age, the Son of Man, Jesus, will send angels to first gather the evildoers and throw them into a furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  “But the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
How shall we abide until the end of this age – the age of good and evil whose roots are mingling beneath the soil and whose branches are weaving with each other.  Which are we anyway?  Which are we – good or evil?  Which are our children – good or evil?  Whoa!  This touches our nerves, does it not!  Is God going to hold us accountable for our children’s behavior, for our children’s salvation or lack thereof?  First of all, are we to judge our children’s salvation quotient?  Shall we consider ourselves slaves to sin because of our children’s actions and attitudes and seemingly lack of acceptance of Jesus as Savior?  Can we be free, should we allow ourselves to be children of God when our own children outwardly seem to reject that condition?
Shall we be weeping and gnashing our teeth in fear and agony for our own children?  These words of Paul in Romans 8:22-25 help me.  Watch for the word “hope.”  Think “loved ones” and “children,” as well as ourselves, as we read.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Let us do our best with ourselves and our loved ones to keep our minds on being wheat and not weeds.  Let us wear the cloak of humility and leave the king’s robe and the seat at the head of the table and the pulpit for whomever else God invites.  Let us shed the chains of slavery for the freedom of being a child of God.  Let us savor the condition of contentment.  It is a gift from God.  Amen

“Like Sheep, But More”

Sermon – 05-07-17 – Easter IV – Good Shepherd Sunday – Cycle A
Scripture: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
Sermon Title: “Like Sheep, But More”

Sheep go astray. We go astray. We bring hurt upon ourselves. But if we become Christian, everything is fine and dandy. We don’t get lost. We don’t have problems. Jesus made everything perfect for us on the cross.

“Oh my,” you are saying. “Am I not a Christian?” we say with confusion in our eyes plus disappointment and hurt and anguish.

We may search for days in the Bible looking for a promise that says life will be problem-free if we give our hearts to Jesus. We will not find it unless we write it in the margins ourselves. What experience would lead us to write such a thing? If anyone tells us that false statement it is probably because someone told that falsehood to them.

Life on earth is not trouble-free. It is heaven where we are taught to believe life will resemble a floating ride on a cloud or something similar. And how we look forward to that.

What does becoming a Christian do for us on earth? Well, if we get lost, Jesus comes looking for us. If our pantry is bare, we often find a loving person heading our way with food.. If we are behind in our rent . . .sometimes there is help, but not always. Not always! What does scripture say about that? From I Peter 2:19-25: “It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. . . . If you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.”

So what is the benefit of being Christian? Why should we suffer and bring our families with us into the suffering for following this man on the cross? Should there be a benefit? Why don’t we just forget commitment, and blow with the world’s wind?

Why did the disciples drop everything and follow Jesus in the first place? Oh that we had lived in those three years when Jesus walked and talked, healed and forgave! There must have been some magnetism in that man’s personality. Why would crowds gather? This man was very special. There must have been charisma in the DNA. There was, of course!

Shouldn’t we try to resist charisma? Can most people with charisma be trusted? Why do we take this leap? Why do we heap possible suffering on ourselves when maybe we could resist? Because, resistance may do not good. We may be helpless against this force. Force seems to be an undesirable shade of word. Jesus as a force! If you have ever tried to resist the call of Jesus, you may be able to explain how this irresistible force feels and works.

We may want our freedom. We are loving it just liked the Prodigal Son relished his freedom. If we think of ourselves as a sheep, we are free to run in the pasture outside the fence that once held us. No rules! All the green gas we could possibly want to eat and make our bed. Uh oh, we did not do our research first. There is a big black and white moving object with big horns coming our way. We are not alone in this heaven-like place. Supposing we are less huge than a giant ram, we cower. Even a ram would not match this animal. We have eaten the grass to a level in which we cannot hide. And besides, this monster has already seen us; probably smells us. This black and white moving object starts to move faster and faster. The closer it gets, the faster it runs. Now it is snorting! Why is that big bull snorting over me? It is not like I am another bull. I am just a regular sheep.

Has this bull not been fed today or is it a game the bull needs to play to maintain his ego? I am frozen to the spot. But, out of the corner of my eye, I see a red cloth. Someone is waving a red cloth. What will that do? Oh, now I see! The bull saw the red cloth out of the corner of his eye. The red cloth has charisma for the bull. The bull cannot resist heading for the red cloth.

“Hallelujah!” I scream. I become unfrozen. My legs actually start to move. My knees bend. I am running. I don’t even realize that I am running back to the very safety from which I escaped. Amazingly, the gate is open. The head shepherd even knows my name. I know his voice! Oh my, that feels good. Safety. Protection. Safety. Protection. For me! For me!

Why become a Christian? Why profess it to the world? “Yea, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (from Psalm 23) Even though trials and tribulations find their way to me and you, as Christians, we have this comfort, something like a turtle’s shell. It may feel like the crook in the shepherd’s staff when we have slid far down the mountainside and are clinging to a little bush for dear life. We feel the rescuing action. All is not lost. We are saved.

Think of the cross. This saving has to do with the cross; yes, that hastily constructed piece of equipment that suffocates people as they hang. Jesus did the suffering there. We suffer in our lives also. Jesus died. We die in our baptism with water in the name of Jesus. But, Jesus was resurrected. We also, therefore, are resurrected.. Our suffering as Christians enables us to be one with Jesus Christ.

In Psalm 23, the psalmist says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Jesus says in John 10:1-10, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

“Who Knew?”

Sermon – 04-30-17 – Easter III – Cycle A
Scripture: from Acts 2; from Psalm 116; I Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
Sermon Title: “Who Knew?”

On this road
the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus
On this road
walked two sad men

On this road
another man appeared with the two
On this road
he asked why the sadness

On this road
the two men started to recite
On this road
the third man overtook the recitation

On this road
the two men listened, astonished
On this road
this man spoke as a prophet

On this road
the two men planned to stop and eat
On this road
the two invited the third

While they stopped
the third man took bread, gave thanks, broke it
While they stopped
the third man offered the bread to the two

Then
the eyes of the two were opened
Then
the third man vanished

Then
the two returned to Jerusalem
Then
they joined the eleven close disciples and other disciples

Then
all had a sharing-experiences fest
to get the day in perspective
and to declare,“The Lord has risen indeed!”

Is that it?
Is that all there is to this story?
This holy one, this resurrected one
appeared many more times

To prove that it was he for real
To prove that this is not a sad story
To prove that the disciples could be transformed
from un-energized to re-energized

There was a mission
for the eleven and other companions
There is a mission for us
and other millions of believers

Peter accepted the mission
three thousand were baptized; the church was founded
Paul accepted the mission
churches were established

How can we stand before the risen Christ
and claim to be doing our share for the kingdom
Peter suggests in I Peter 1:22
love one another deeply from the heart

I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all God’s people!

“Full of Gladness”

Sermon – 04-23-17 – Easter II – Cycle A
Scripture: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Sermon Title: “Full of Gladness”

Are you? Are you full of gladness? Am I full of gladness? Should it be our goal? If we say we are Christians, should we be full of gladness?

Is anyone full of gladness? David, the psalmist, the shepherd boy, the king, writes to the Lord in Psalm 16:8-11 (CEV), “I am your chosen one. You won’t leave me in the grave or let my body decay. You have shown me the path to life, and you make me glad by being near to me. Sitting at your right side, I will always be joyful.”

The New Revised Standard Version writes it this way as repeated by Peter in Acts 2:28, “You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

Diving into the collection of Psalms is a deep experience. If we are actually diving, we will need oxygen equipment. Breathing tends to stop when we realize the levels of writing and understanding. There is the surface level – what seems to be said. Going a bit deeper, our minds go on alert. We say to ourselves, “Who is speaking here? To whom is this person speaking? Is this a time machine?

David, the psalmist, the shepherd boy, the king, the prophet, is acknowledged as the author of many of the Psalms. How can David be talking about the future; hundreds of years future – wait! David is confusing the tenses. Does David have two Lords? David refers to himself sitting on the right hand of his Lord. Is he talking God or is he talking just to Jesus? Is he putting words in the mouth of Jesus? Jesus is not yet human when David lives on earth.

But, David knows. God assures David that from David’s descendants will come the Messiah. David’s Lord, from past time and all time, promises that David will have a descendant who will be David’s Lord. This descendant will be David’s Savior. Only David? No! Our Savior also. Your Savior also. The addicted person’s Savior. The abuser’s Savior. Whoever wants to be saved can be saved through Jesus.

This is the David who is full of gladness. What does that do for you and me? We are not aware that anyone in our generation will be the ancestor of someone who will be our Savior. Then again it depends on how broadly we paint the word “savior.” Sometimes when we least expect, one of our children or grandchildren, or on and on, will change our lives by a word or a deed or a contribution to the condition of all humankind. So many earthly matters can be made better by the passion and knowledge of our descendants. But when laid before God, the ultimate saving is done through the body and blood of Jesus Christ, descendant of David.

Then about this gladness, how do we get it? Do we train for it? Can we buy it? Do we beg for it? Can we chase it as we may do to catch a butterfly or a run-away pony? Should we chase it as police chase an offender of some sort? What happens when we chase? The attempt to capture something intangible, something elusive, usually ends in failure. Rather, being still, holding conversation with God will find the sought-after feeling approaching us from the back, settling on our shoulders with a cheerful “hello there.” So it is with gladness! If our nature makes sitting still unlikely, we may go about our tasks, our planning, our housework, our teaching, even the restoration of our bodies in sleep. Before we know it, there is a song in our heads and hearts, our surroundings look lighter. Gladness has arrived! Thank God.

1 Peter 1:3-9 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
3 Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is so good, and by raising Jesus from death, he has given us new life and a hope that lives on. 4 God has something stored up for you in heaven, where it will never decay or be ruined or disappear.

5 You have faith in God, whose power will protect you until the last day. Then he will save you, just as he has always planned to do. 6 On that day you will be glad, even if you have to go through many hard trials for a while. 7 Your faith will be like gold that has been tested in a fire. And these trials will prove that your faith is worth much more than gold that can be destroyed. They will show that you will be given praise and honor and glory when Jesus Christ returns.

8 You have never seen Jesus, and you don’t see him now. But still you love him and have faith in him, and no words can tell how glad and happy 9 you are to be saved. That’s why you have faith.

Faith! Belief! Believing what we cannot see! We want to see, we want to have proof before we trust. Thomas is no exception even if he is a disciple. John and Peter needed to see. They ran to see the empty tomb. Disciples of this man Jesus are gathered in a locked room after the crucifixion. Fearful for their own safety. Heartbroken in their disappointment. These disciples feel betrayed. They had sacrificed their livelihoods when Jesus beckoned with “Follow me.”

Then Jesus appears despite the locked door – just appears. Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” He shows them his pierced hands and side. Jesus says more. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon these gathered individuals who come to accept that this is their Jesus, not an imposter or a vision.

But, Thomas, one of the twelve, is not present. When told by the other disciples whom he had missed, Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Jesus has time to catch another gathering in the locked room when Thomas is present. Thomas is invited to place his hands in the hands of Jesus to feel and see the wounds. He is invited to place his hands in the wound in the side of Jesus! Thomas believes. “My Lord and my God,” he says.

Jesus declares, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Returning to David, centuries earlier, we find him saying to his Lord and our Lord, “You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Do you yearn for this joy, this gladness? Just say, “I believe, Lord.”

From Troubled Soul to Glorious Overcoming!

Sermon – 04-16-17 – Easter Sunday – Cycle A
Scripture: Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 28:1-10
Sermon Title: “From Troubled Soul to Glorious Overcoming!”

Once a woman lost a coin. She swept every corner of her room. She lit a lamp to look for the coin. The coin was of more value than a penny is to us today. She probably was holding her breath. Sweep. Sweep. Glare into the shadows. Move the lamp. I am guessing that she searched the whole room until she finally came to the place where the coin lay. Rejoicing happened! From Troubled Soul to Glorious Overcoming!

Once a shepherd lost one sheep from a flock of 100. The intended action with the whole flock came to a halt. Off goes the shepherd to find this lost one. Hanging on a cliff, there was the lost sheep. Using his staff, the shepherd gently maneuvered the curved top around the body of the frightened sheep and pulled that precious being to himself. The lost is found. Rejoicing happened! From Troubled Soul to Glorious Overcoming!

What else was lost? Oh, a son! A wayward son wanted to know, wanted to experience, wanted to have knowledge about life beyond the farm – a rather prosperous farm. Sounds a bit like Adam and Eve to me. There was this tree – the tree of knowledge. Well, the son learned his lesson and in humility came home begging to be received as a farm hand, not even as son. But the grieving father did not even hear that idea. Rejoicing happened. From Troubled Soul to Glorious Overcoming!

What about Adam and Eve? Where is the rejoicing? We don’t read that life became glorious for them, do we? Their temptation, their misjudgment seemed to keep them in darkness, in agony for generations! This is where Easter arrives in the picture, in the timeline. Adam represents the dark; Jesus represents the light – the glorious overcoming.

Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation. Jesus did not succumb to temptation. Satan was involved both times. Adam and Eve should not be our models. We need Jesus to be our model. This is not to say that the power of Jesus to overcome temptation will transfer to us just because we claim him as our model. Satan is still alive and well in our lives; not just to other people who walk in darkness, but to us. We will never be without sin. There will be dark spots in our lives – sometimes these spots are large as football fields or an ocean liner. Hidden darkness until we are negligent and there we are; caught in sin. Darkness casts its shadows over us; first, lightly; then with a heavy vengeance.

We think of our baptism as dying with Jesus. But, just as Jesus rose from death into new life, so are we raised with Jesus. It is a bonding that God offers to us. We can stay in the darkness of hurts we have caused. We can stay in the darkness of the hurts that were thrust upon us by fellow humans who were under some cloud of despair or unthinking unkindness. Or, we can rise with Christ. We can shed our old shells; we can find our wings; we can take our cue from nature.

God designed us to move from the protection of the womb, from the protection of the shell, into the world of light. “Aha” we say. “Why am I not finding the light? Why is my soul so downcast? Why am I missing the joy that is supposed to be in my heart?” I wonder that myself. I am not a bubbly, happy person. I praise God for the rare times that a song is singing in my head while my friend sings everywhere she goes. But I do know joy! I am exhilarated with light.

When I find a lost item, I rejoice. From Troubled Soul to Glorious Overcoming! Especially when I have lost my small purse with all my cards – all of my cards!!! I want to shout it from the opening door of the grocery store as I leave that store waving my little black purse with the brown leather strap! To God be the glory!

When depression grabs us, all is dark. The windows could be accepting bright sunlight, but it is dark around us. When God and people deliver us from the darkness, we want to dance and rejoice. From Troubled Soul to Glorious Overcoming!

I caused a snapped relationship . . . this schism happened in front of a group . . . troubled soul I had for four nights and days. Then came the joyous light. Sunday morning came and all was wonderful; better than I ever deserved! I felt as if a stone had been rolled from my heart. To God be the glory!

If we had been one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, when did we break the connection with our loving Savior? Suppose we had been Peter – yes, remember his three denials and then the cock crowed! Remember that it was Peter who cut off a soldier’s ear when Jesus said something like, “Nothing doing. We will not be cutting off ears.” Remember, it was Peter who wanted to enshrine Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in little shelters, like booths, so the moment of Transfiguration would not be lost. Jesus said something like, “Nothing doing. We are not going to stay here. I have things I must do, like dying so that you might live in the heavenly kingdom when it is your turn.”

In the accounts of Jesus revealing himself to his disciples after the resurrection, we find Peter being forgiven by Jesus three times – no accident were the three. Peter denied three times. Peter is forgiven three times. “I do love you,” Peter needed to say three times. “Then take care of my sheep,” said God.

What about Judas? Oh that we would not have done his betrayal act. But think! Have we betrayed Jesus by doing something rather on the stupid side, on the careless side, on the selfish side? Dark times follow. But had Judas lived, he would have heard Jesus explain that God was the scriptwriter, and God was the director. The climax of the drama is forgiveness. Yes, that light, heady, overwhelming feeling of forgiveness. That dark, heavy garbage bag of regrets and sins dissolved into nothing – yes, dissolved. The bright light and the beauty of the earth are beyond measure and our hearts soar with delight.

What about Thomas who doubted? Everything came to a stop until Jesus took time to let Thomas see those hands for himself. Then there was Mary, the mother of Jesus. We read of no sin connected to Mary. Could this be? Depending what nature of faith we follow, this is not a surprise. Scripture does not inform us of any sin from this precious woman. It would seem that following and watching her son’s three years of ministry, would be torture enough to pay for any sins. Then again we believe that forgiveness is free and not earned. If we had been Mary, how dark and tortured would we have felt? Betrayed by God? Thirty-three years of thinking more would come of this divine child.

Then whamo – out of the dark tomb; into the light, into the glorious light. The world is okay again. The nightmare is ended! Glorious Overcoming! Enter the Resurrection Day for all time!

To Live Again

Sermon – 04-02-17 – Lent V – Cycle A
Scriptures: Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45
Sermon Title: “To Live Again”

The field is full of loose bones. See them? While we are watching, the bones start to move. They start to dance. They begin to come together. They become connected with sinews and flesh – muscles and skin. Then they were really alive, really dancing. “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones … Ezekiel saw dem dry bones. Now hear the word of the Lord.”

Give yourselves a treat and search for “dry bones/muffinsongs” on your search engine.
There is another video where three skeletons do a great choreographed dance while someone sings the song again without the biblical reference. The world knows about the dry bone idea. The world does not know about Ezekiel the prophet who spoke God’s word and Spirit into those bones. The world does not know that this vision which God gave to Ezekiel is a message to the people in exile, in captivity in Babylon, while their temple in Jerusalem is destroyed by intruders.

We know that God engineers these punishments to give his people messages, to give them orders. God has reason to be quite irate with his people. These descendants of the Israelites, who were led by Moses, have not really gotten the message yet, as in “Oh, I get it!” No, even today, we who are descended from Gentile heritage but brought into the kingdom of God, have not gotten the message thoroughly either. We find other gods – think possessions; think power; think pride in ourselves!

I just saw a video of depression and anger and loss of self-control because of our current political state. Our reaction is all about pride, power, possessions. We see these attitudes and therefore actions at the highest government level; we carry these attitudes with us naturally. They are the sin in us. But our sin does not need to be the ruler of our lives. We can overcome. Our sins of pride, power, and possessions can be removed; can be overcome. It is a personal relationship with God that will lead us in a wonderful direction – that of selflessness, contentment, humility.

Picture ourselves having our bones separated, lying in a field, all because we let pride, power, and possessions overcome us. We walked away from God. God demands our faces, not the backs of our heads. We cannot be the persons God planned for us to be if our dry bones are scattered in a field. But wait! I hear a voice. The voice is the prophet Ezekiel calling from ages past saying what God is telling him to say. “Dry bones, listen to what the Lord is saying to you. I, the Lord God, will put breath in you, and once again you will live. I will wrap you with muscles and skin and breathe life into you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel is not finished. He says “I see the bones coming together and the muscle and the skin but they have no life in them. Again speaking for the Lord, Ezekiel says to the wind, “The Lord God commands you to blow from every direction and to breathe life into these dead bodies, so they can live again.”

This wind is the Spirit of God blowing on our bones, breathing life into us. Are we ready? Are we ready to live? Are we ready to give our lives to God, to seek God’s will and live it? To let go of our lives? Do you know that when we do things of our own will and desire, it does not work? There is always something askew, it does not quite fit – like struggling to place the wrong lid on a container. Or it could be much worse. We could find ourselves in Babylonian-like captivity such as the Israelites are at the time of Ezekiel. What is Babylonian-like captivity?

Well, we could find ourselves in prison – the kind with bars and loud-clanging doors and scowling faces. Or we could find ourselves in the captivity of addiction. We could find ourselves alienated from relatives or close family. Where are our faces? Where is the kernel of kindness waiting to spring forth?

How do we turn around? How do we repent before this Almighty God? We take courage in hand, we say good-by to desperation because even though our lives may not change immediately, God helps us to endure, God guides us through the maze, God’s arms are around us. God re-plants truth into our souls; truth and righteousness. God holds our gaze with his gaze. We are returned to the fold even though our circumstances are irritatingly slow to turn around. We see light instead of darkness. Our bodies seem to be working in a connected fashion no matter what health condition is our lot.

When once we cried to the Lord from the depths, “My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch for the morning,” we now feel that breath-giving Spirit of the Lord!

The Gospel for this day shares the account of Lazarus, close friend of Jesus, sister of Mary and Martha. Lazarus is dead. His bones are not yet dry. Lazarus stinks because he has been dead four days. He is in a tomb. Lazarus did not die because he sinned. Lazarus did not turn his back on God. The account does not go that way. Sometimes God lets death happen to let the glory of God arrive on the scene. Seems sad and wrong but it is really glorious and right. Jesus is continuing in the effort to convince people that He truly is the Son of God. Jesus is not just a prophet. Jesus is one of the vital three persons of God. Three persons form God – one God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

Jesus is not hard-hearted. He loves Lazarus. He cries. So, here we go. Jesus lets out a loud shout! “Lazarus, come out!” Lo and behold, out walks Lazarus to be alive again until it is really time for him to die.

Have you heard the call? Have you heard the call, “Come out!” Maybe we have become nonchalant, not really sinning but not pulling our weight in the kingdom on earth. “Come out,” we hear the call. “Come out to what?” we ask as we straighten ourselves, our bones. Then we hear God inviting, “There is excitement in the kingdom! You have talents you are not using! Come out of your lethargy. Apply yourself. Live again, really live!” We shall live for and to the glory of God!”

Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

“Are We Still Blind?”

Sermon – 03-26-17 – Lent IV – Cycle A

Scripture – I Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Sermon Title – “Are We Still Blind?”

Psalm 23 is our featured Psalm for this day. How does being blind fit with Psalm 23? Let’s look. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …” Darkness, not being able to see even one day ahead, is a form of being blind. We are sometimes blind even though our eyes are okay. When the shade of being poor falls over us, we walk into darkness. When illness appears, the curtain of blackness is pulled in front of our vision. When a relationship has ended and we did not initiate the loss, light may be around us but our sad, sad heart causes a storm of vile black smoke which renders us non-functional.

Where is the light? Are we really blind, never to see again?

Way back in the years before Jesus, we find wonderful stories of how God provides light. Do you remember the little boy whose mother brings him to live in the temple under the teaching and guidance of Eli, the priest. The boy’s name is Samuel. God calls Samuel in the middle of the night. Three times the boy wakes Eli, thinking Eli is calling him. Finally, light dawns on Eli and Eli tells Samuel that it is God calling Samuel. Eli directs Samuel to say, “Lord, here I am.” Well, God takes Samuel at his word and through the years, God gives Samuel some challenging work.

One assignment for Samuel as an adult is to find and anoint a king for Israel to replace King Saul as Saul has become violently demented. Samuel heads into this task in the dark; not meaning at night, but without any instructions – blindly. God just says, “Follow me.” God takes Samuel to a family of eight sons. One by one the father, Jesse, presents seven sons to Samuel for consideration. Each one brings a “not this one” from God to Samuel. Then Samuel says to Jesse, “Are you sure I have seen each of your sons? Is there yet not another?” “Well, says Jesse, “the youngest son is out tending sheep.” Samuel says, “I will wait. Send for this youngest one, the shepherd.”

So time stops and everyone waits. Finally, this young shepherd boy is brought before Samuel. “This is the one,” God says to Samuel. “Anoint this one.” The darkness lifts from Samuel’s countenance. The light shines when God announces the chosen one. Blindness is replaced by sight. Only by God does this happen.

In our gospel lesson today from John 9, we are stepping into the account of Jesus healing a blind person. John often speaks of light. It is like a trademark of John. So a man who was blind from birth can now see. Jesus heals him, ostensibly, with mud. Jesus could have healed him without the mud but the man does not complain. He washes the mud from his eyes in the pool of Siloam. The darkness of mud releases the light of sight. Sounds wonderful. However, there are some problems for Jesus that day.

First, Jesus heals this man on the Sabbath. Second, the healed man does not know this man who removes the blindness and gives light. The man’s parents don’t know Jesus either and they were not present when their son is healed. They won’t speak without knowing the facts. The parents say, “Go ask our son who healed him.”

Third, the Pharisee watchmen are looking for any chance to discredit Jesus. This incident becomes one of the many incidents which the Pharisees are accumulating to get this man, Jesus, to STOP. Jesus is turning the religious world upside down, opening the dark blinds and bringing in the light. The Israelite religious leaders think they are doing the right thing for the Lord. They don’t realize that they are keeping themselves in the dark. They are cheating themselves of the light.

Jesus ministers to the man who now sees and the healed man believes that Jesus is truly of God and has the power to heal; to bring people to sight who are blind; AND, to close the door of understanding to the persons who think they know and see everything, but now will be left out of this new thing that is happening.

Talking of light and blindness, we think of Saul. Not King Saul in the days of David, the shepherd, but the Saul who is called to the Jesus movement after Jesus ascended to the Father following the resurrection. We have this dramatic moment when Saul is continuing his persecution of Christians. Why is he persecuting Christians? Saul thinks he is pleasing God, keeping the faith pure. As Saul is journeying to Damascus to quell the rise of Christians in that town, a bright, flashing light strikes Saul and he is knocked to the ground and is blinded. The Lord speaks from on high and tells Saul to go to Damascus. Saul’s companions are puzzled but they lead Saul to Damascus.

So far, we have met three persons called by God: Samuel is called to anoint David, the young shepherd boy to be the king of Israel. David is therefore called. Saul, whose call is to stop persecuting Christians. Now we meet a fourth person; Ananias of Damascus is called to minister to Saul.

Ananias receives the call from the Lord to go to Saul in the same town. “No,” says Ananias. “I have heard about Saul. I really don’t want to be persecuted.” But, the Lord succeeds and Ananias goes to teach Saul, whose name becomes Paul, how salvation works – the salvation Jesus earned for us.

This Paul adapts his extreme zealousness to the spread of “The Way,” the name used for followers of Jesus. The goal is to leave no one in the darkness. Paul starts many churches. Then Paul stays connected with these fledgling congregations with letters. In the letter which Paul writes to the people of Ephesus, the Ephesians, we find these wonderful words about trading light for darkness.

“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. . . . “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (NRSV)

Swinging back to the time of King Saul, the days when young shepherd boy, David, is anointed but in waiting; back to the days when David writes many Psalms, including Psalm 23. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me. Thy rod and staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (KJV) David knows about enemies, demented King Saul being desperate to eliminate this anointed successor. Through this darkness, despite this darkness, hope fills David. “Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over. Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (KJV)

Hear also words of David in Psalm 27:

“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? . . . One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord. . . . I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (NRSV)

Let blindness of the heart be gone! Out of the darkness and into the light. Yes, the Lord is my light and my salvation! Praise the Lord forever and ever! Amen