Author Archives: Rev. Mary Etta Mest

“Is My Compassion True or Pretend”

Sermon – 07-14-19 – Proper 10 – Cycle C
Scripture: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
Sermon Title: “Is My Compassion True or Pretend”

With all your heart and with all your soul. Did you hear, “Surely this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. . . . No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”

What is the commandment? From Jesus, as written in Mark 12:29-31 in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In the Gospel of John, when Jesus is with the disciples in the Upper Room, he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12,13)

Of course, that is exactly what Jesus is about to do – lay down his life for his friends. Just this past week, I read of a father who tried to rescue his daughter when a rip tide caught them by surprise and the daughter was carried too swiftly to be grabbed. He drowned but the daughter lived. Success? He saved his daughter. He sacrificed his life for his daughter. On the other hand, Jesus’ sacrifice for us was a win-win act of love and compassion. Jesus really died but only for a few days. He lives, therefore we live!

Are love and compassion separable? Can we have compassion without love? Can we have love without compassion? The Dalai Lama writes, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”

Some of you were born with a generous helping of compassion and love in your bones and your heart and your mind. You are naturally like the father who, without hesitation, entered the mighty pull of the water to reach his daughter. When you saw the picture on our bulletin today, did you heart react? Natural love and compassion! Tears come to my eyes. Some of us were born with a bit more selfishness, less percentage of compassion and love. I know this is true.

Serving God in Pottstown for a number of years, I helped with the Homeless Ministry called “Ministries on Main Street.” I gave money. I volunteered with the community meals, with the overnight shelter, saying hello to these people on the street. But having a conversation with them, sitting beside them or across the table from them was not natural for me. The lack of cleanliness, the disorderly lack of teeth, the uncombed hair, the runny noses were automatic keys to turn off my compassion and love. Oh, I could feel sorry for them; I could shed tears for them; I could give an unusually clean person a gift card to a good hair salon; I could say to her, “Call me when you need to talk.”

In reality, I had no desire to stop what I was doing when the call came from this promising person who was blessed with living in four walls and under a roof when she called. I would be genuinely nice for about 5 minutes. After that, I was just trying to find a gracious way to end the conversation so I could return to my projects with deadlines.
It was not lost on me that other volunteers easily sat as friends with an unkempt person. I heard and saw other volunteers leaning back in their chairs, telephone to ear, for as long as it took, just listening and making affirming sounds every now and then. There is no way that I can justify my lack of genuine compassion. So I pray about it and work on it. I continue to help these people from afar.

I believe, with all certainty, that I, or any other person, could become the person who needs help.
Maybe health, mental or otherwise, goes south as we say. Maybe we are foolish with our money. Maybe we are suddenly laid off from what seemed to be a rather secure job. Maybe religious persecution is afoot. Maybe a cruel dictator comes to power where we live. Maybe our spouse declares that his or her love for us has vanished and instead of working together to have a loving home, we are plunged into having double expenses. Maybe, maybe, maybe , , ,

Maybe contentment becomes a lost commodity. There is no peace in our lives. I know a person named Bruce who lives in the high-tech society in California. Wealthy! Good physique! Leisure time is spent with other wealthy friends in luxurious style. Pity seems the fartherest emotion that I should have for him. But any level of compassion and love, that I can muster, fills my mind and heart for him. There may be laughter in his life, but I don’t detect joy, I don’t detect any contentment, any support system when life crashes or when even one day unravels. What kind of band-aid will do the trick?

You know. You are probably rooting for me to get to the point that only God in our lives can keep us afloat. Are we just after “afloat?” Are we just after the quiet pleasant day as we float on a mildly moving raft? Or we may be needing a bit more excitement like water-skiing behind a fast moving motor boat, or a walk over the Grand Canyon, or the biggest roller-coaster in the world and as it happens, it stops when we are at the top? For some of us we would be high with the majesty of God! For others of us we would be seeking God’s help with all of our might.

Seeking God’s help when we are in desperate situations. Feeling God’s presence wherever and whenever life call us. Genuine love and compassion wants that kind of connection to God for everyone; not just the clean person, or not just for the person who has no access to a shower; not just the wealthy person who is seeking for whatever is missing, not just for the person who is clinging to God for dear life for rescue from mental health gone awry. For everyone! When the joy of life is available, our compassion and love want to share it.

We won’t sing this tricky song, but there is a song that says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” In our Colossians 1 lesson, Paul writes, “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”

Another verse says, “He gives me living water and I thirst no more.” From John 7.38, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

And then this verse, “The word of faith is nigh thee, even in my mouth.” Straight from Deuteronomy 30:14

Later we will sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Look for these phrases, “Thy compassions, they fail not . . .” and “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow . . .”

From Psalm 25,“Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting. All your paths, O Lord, are steadfast love and faithfulness to those who keep your [commandments].”

Lord God of faithfulness, compassion, and love, inspire us increasingly each day. Amen

“Minding Our Own Business – Or Not”

Sermon – 07-07-19 – Proper 9 – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-9; Galatians 6:1-16; Luke 10:1-20
Sermon Title: “Minding Our Own Business – Or Not”

Minding our own business – or not! What would Jesus do? What does God say? On a spectrum of 1 to 100 how nosy are we supposed to be? Not at all? Zero? Half-way as in 50? Would our nosiness be to satisfy ourselves or would it be to honestly help someone else? What if they don’t want our help even if they need it?

Millie – oh, I met a Millie recently. Was it here? Where did I meet a Millie? I will assume it is not here and I will call my character Millie. Millie knows a lot about a lot. Does she need to share her wisdom to build her own self-esteem or does she need to share her wisdom to fulfill a genuine need to be helpful and see someone thrive under her guidance? It is hard to tell. Has Millie analyzed this herself? Or, does she just know that it feels good to lay her head on her pillow at night after helping someone.

What kind of help does she give? Does she just talk or does she act? Some of you are genuine helpers. You are always ready to lend a hand and you do it well. I’ve observed that you are not busybodies. However, when you notice or hear or are asked, you step in naturally and selflessly. Some of us are more hesitant to give of our time and our strength. Maybe it is pure protectiveness. Maybe we are short on time and strength. Maybe we are not good at cooking or cleaning or repairing. You might chide us saying that we will never become good if we don’t try and don’t practice. How true!

What if our neighbor is an unhappy person and we are convinced that if that person knew about Jesus it would change our neighbor’s life? Would we find it easy to go to the fence that separates us and casually bring Jesus into a conversation? Or maybe when we are helping that person to clear the tree that came down in a storm, we mention the “Jesus” word.

What if Jesus knocked on my front door and said, “Mary Etta. I have a job for you immediately. Do not bring anything with you. I need you to knock on doors and say, ‘I have good news for you. May I come in and tell you?’” “Do I have a choice, Jesus,” I say. “Not really,” Jesus says. So how do I say “no” to Jesus? I am the one who dreads packing to go overnight lest I forget something and oh the time it takes to pack and then to unpack. Jesus is saying, “Take nothing.” And immediately! I wonder if that means no time to use the bathroom even. Oh, misery! This is the epitome of trust. We are to trust the Father to take care of every need!

I feel powerless to slam the door in the face of Jesus so without looking at the meal half eaten on my kitchen table, I step outside and close the door behind me. No keys, remember! I become a salesperson for Jesus. I put on the mind of Jesus. I need to be a humble salesperson. Are those two words oxymorons? Thank goodness that Jesus does not expect us to stay where we are not welcome. We present the message. If it is not well-received, we get to shake the dust from our sandals and face the next dwelling. A whole town could be against us. On the other hand, the whole town could welcome us. Then there is the thing of having a partner. Jesus does not give us personality tests to know which two people would be compatible partners. Some of you know that I would rather go alone, at my own pace, telling the story my own way. Having a partner! Oh Jesus, mold me, melt me, fill me, use me, by the Spirit of compatibility.

Does Jesus know the word “nosiness?” Are we interrupting people’s lives to prepare them for
a different way of life? Granted, in the time of Jesus it was not unusual to receive unexpected guests and offer overnight accommodations plus food plus conversation. But, we Jesus-followers are coming with authority. Our instructions are to say, “God bless this home with peace.” If the people living there are peace-loving, they will feel blessed with peace and with healing! “Cure the sick who are there,” Jesus instructs.

When we return to Jesus after our mission travels, we are jubilant. Our attempts at healing succeeded. We were filled with power and authority but the overwhelming feeling was peace. We brought peace and healing.

I dared to place myself in this 1st Century setting with the living Jesus. Will Jesus give me power and authority to heal and to bring peace in this 21st Century? More importantly, will he give each one of us the command and the power. It is about all of us – each one of us who cares about the sin-sickness of this world. Can we go two-by-two into our town to share the peace? We certainly love to share the peace in our weekly worship. But going into the town! No way, we find ourselves saying. But, wait, this is Jesus at the door. This is Jesus at the door of our hearts!
This is the kingdom of God coming to spread the peace we need so desperately!

Some of us who did the clean-up walk last Sunday two-by-two, feel the call to walk the town as a group. To say hello. To say “God bless you with peace” or “Peace be with you.” Maybe we could even wear T-shirts which say “Peace from Zion UCC.” That sounds selfish. We should probably declare ourselves as working for Jesus. Our shirts could say, “Peace from Jesus!” Then in small letters we could identify ourselves as “Believers from Zion UCC Womelsdorf.”

Would we do this for the reward of having our names written in heaven? We would do this because of our longing to have the peace of God pervade the world. Our names are already written in heaven by the grace of God.

If you are sitting near someone who has the more modern picture on the bulletin cover, take a glance, please. This “going out” can lead us on multiple paths. The paths converge, sharing our love of Jesus, strengthening our beliefs, then branching into the world not to mingle and to be absorbed but to bring the joy and the peace that passes understanding and the love of Jesus into the world to overcome the world, to prepare the world for the ultimate, perfect kingdom of God.

Sing
I have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart.
I have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart; down in my heart to stay.

I have the love of Jesus, love of Jesus down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart.  I have the love of Jesus down in my heart; down in my heart to stay.

I have the peace that passes understanding down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart. I have the peace that passes understanding down in my heart; down in my heart to stay.

“The Freedom to Follow”

Sermon – 06-30-19 – Proper 8 – Cycle C
Scripture: I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 Psalm 16 Galatians 5:1, 13-25 Luke 9:51-62
Sermon Title: “The Freedom to Follow”

“Follow what?” we might say. What might we want to follow? What might we want to have?

Freddy the fish was in a habitat with other fish. One day he noticed that there was a wonderful empty habitat close by. Was it a good habitat for him? He studied it. Freddy lived in a clean fish bowl. Someone took care of this home for Freddy and his family and friends. Was he lacking anything? Was something not good in his home? Freddy thought and thought. He thought, “I perceive that there is more freedom in that empty bowl.” I am here with all these other fish. I can never be alone. Certainly there is no privacy in any fish bowl but I could at least be alone!

How high and how far can a fish leap without dying in the air? How far can I leap without falling on the table? Do I have that much courage? Does it really take courage? It may only take foolishness. Freddy did not have a thought about the fish he would be leaving behind if he exercised his own freedom. What was his responsibility here? Did he have a role that benefited the community? Who would miss him if he left? Did he have children there? Did he have some upkeep chores that would not get done if he left?

And besides this would be one chance and done. If he did dare to jump from his fish bowl to the other fish bowl and he failed, that would be it. No second chance with this escapade! But freedom called him. The idea of having the whole fish bowl to himself was alluring. One morning he was feeling especially energetic and he found himself in the air between the two fish bowls. Wow! This is freedom! Will I make it? In a flash, Freddy splashed into the never-been-used bowl of water. “Wow!” Freddy said again. “Wow!”

Freddy realized that he had this freedom and he found himself accepting it. Was he happy? Remind me to come back to that question.

What is this thing called freedom? Why are we willing to spend so much energy and risk to preserve our freedom? Because the calendar has brought us around to the day on which we express renewed thankfulness for our freedom to live in a relatively free country, we are thankful for the people who either chose, or were forced, to fight to keep our country and other countries free. We are probably guilty of not expressing our thanks well enough and often enough and with action instead of just words. Some of us are negligent in expressing thanks because we are so focused on expressing our dislike and even hatred for any kind of killing. “What does it solve?” we ask.

We wish every leader of every everywhere would understand that the way of Jesus is the secret to true freedom. Jesus advocated for a blanket of love. But what is love and how do we develop love? In our Galatians lesson today, Paul is talking about the Fruit of the Spirit. We naturally see apples, peaches, oranges, pineapple, pears, mangoes, cherries, plums, strawberries, and the like floating around us. However, Paul lists nine qualities, nine ways of being that bring us a pleasant atmosphere, a fruitful life. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Count them. Nine! Ask our after-school people. They learned a song pronto which went very fast. It surely was an easy way to learn these nine ways of being as Jesus wants us to be; as Jesus wants the world to be.

Imagine with me a war plane that would drop,, or even shoot, doses of joy or doses of love and peace onto the shoulders of the leaders who are filled with hatred and determination, with jealousy and pride. Think that there is no antidote for these doses of kindness, generosity, patience. It would be like agent-orange or another poisonous substance being sprayed into the heart and lungs of the leaders who have no time and no vision of contentment and sharing.

We believe that Jesus is the source of these qualities. We have noticed that these qualities can spread just as infection spreads from person to person. But peace, joy, and love are a good infection. Someone, or someones, need to start this infection. We might think that we can take a vacation from spreading these qualities but one grouch episode and we have just soured the whole project. So we keep trying to avoid grouchiness or anger. Slowly, we become more like Jesus and we are helping the world little by little – a slowly spreading phenomenon. This is achieved by the Holy Spirit. Fruit of the Spirit. Without the Spirit, these fruits wither on the branch or on the vine.

We’re talking about the world. Does the Holy Spirit work in the whole world or just where people believe there is a Holy Spirit? Hm-m-m-m-m. Very interesting question. Take this home with you and ponder. Does the Holy Spirit work in the whole world or just where people believe there is a Holy Spirit? If we studied the various religions of the world, we would find beliefs very similar to our Christian beliefs. There are peace-oriented religions to be sure. Is Jesus upset if people come to the Fruit-of-the-Spirit kind of living but call their leader a different name? This is another Hm-m-m-m-m.

Meanwhile, do you think we have freedom to follow the path of peace or to follow the path of hurt and destruction and animosity? Or don’t we have this freedom? Does God gives us the choice or are we led by the nose? And . . . what is the limitation of our freedom? Can we leap from one fish bowl to another fish bowl simply because we want a taste of the greener pasture on the other side of the fence? I always say that my freedom ends where the next person’s freedom starts. If my claim to freedom hurts someone else, it is not my freedom.

Our scripture lessons today give us two people who asked for the freedom to say good-by to their families and to tie loose ends in changing their careers to follow God’s plans for their lives. When Elijah, a prophet in the Hebrew or Old Testament time, was needing to retire, Elisha was in line to be Elijah’s successor. Elisha asked permission to dispense of his livestock in an orderly fashion. Elijah granted that request to him.

In our passage from Luke, Jesus was recruiting a team to spread the gospel of salvation. To one person who asked to go home to bury a relative who had died, Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another person wanted to just say good-by to his loved ones but Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

So freedom is a precious commodity not to be taken for granted or lightly. Freedom is a variable commodity, not the same for everybody or for all times. As we go on our way today, let us ponder the many freedoms that exist. Let’s think if we are claiming freedom without thinking about the next person or the next group of people. How can we be sharing our freedoms? What do you think? Was Freddy happy being alone in this new freedom fish bowl?

God of boundaries and God of freedoms, help us to know when to claim courage and leap into new freedoms as did Freddy the fish. Help us to know when to rein in our claims and instead pull out our Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and use them with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Does Evil Have the Last Word? II

Sermon – 06-23-19 – Proper 7 – Cycle C
Scriptures – Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 22; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
Sermon Title – “Does Evil Have the Last Word?”

The Luke passage today tells of a man who, not of his own doing, was possessed of evil spirits which caused him to act as though he were suffering from mental illness. It was not mental illness. It was demon possession. Jesus exorcised the demons, the evil spirits, and the man was made well and Jesus commanded him to tell his own townspeople how Jesus had cured him. The man obeyed and went to spread this good news. God has given specific people, even in our day and age, the ability to exorcise evil spirits from people and from places. This is healing. It is called spiritual healing.

But today, follow me as we walk through the nature of sin which we all possess to some degree. We are human and that is how we are.

There is a person who grew up being taught not to work on Sundays. Not only did he hear that in church as he was growing up, he saw it demonstrated at home. It seemed like life stopped on Saturday night at midnight had he been allowed to be up that late. Mercifully, he was allowed to play neighborhood ball games on a Sunday afternoon. This was liberal. Otherwise, it was relax, read, and wait for the world to start again on Monday morning. This was bearable as long as Joe was a little boy and then a teen except if he still had homework. Then he needed to sneak to his room to finish homework because, you see, that was work.

But when Joe is grown and has a house with a yard and a full-time job and a wife, Joe becomes torn about this ingrained rule for obedient living. Saturday becomes too full for everything that needs to be done. This yard of grass, which is a coveted part of buying a house, will not stop growing and Saturdays will not yield enough time to deal with the extra inches on the grass.

So-o-o-o-o Joe thinks to himself, “Just this one time! Just this once, God. Will you punish me? Will I regret mowing this lawn today? Will you send some kind of punishment?” Joe starts the lawn mower, nothing happens. Joe starts mowing. Nothing happens!

Joe finishes mowing. Nothing has happened. He stores the mower after cleaning whatever needs cleaned. He crashes on the sofa. Oh, I am so tired. I will take a short nap. Oh-Oh! Time for the grill. It’s a tradition, grilling on Sunday night and of course Joe is an excellent grill chef! Forget the nap! Fast forward to Monday morning early! Surely it is not time for the alarm! Joe drags himself through the day Monday, not able to really give his best to his responsibilities.

But the rest of the week is fine. So more and more the lawn mower was heard in the land on a Sunday afternoon. Being out in nature is refreshing, is it not? Or a relative needs help with a car and Joe is handy with cars. Of course, this happens on a Sunday afternoon. And so it goes until things start interfering with church on a Sunday morning. You know how this goes on and on. Seems innocent doesn’t it? Punishment does not seem to be forthcoming. God must be okay with these habit changes. Nothing big is wrong.

Or maybe our pride is out of control. Or our spending or eating or our busyness – oops, that one hurts.

Well, that is how it goes with other disobedience to God’s word. It starts innocently, but sometimes in desperation. Just a little drink. Just one more pill. Just a glance at pornography. Just taking something very little from somewhere, someone. Just cheating on a spouse a little.

Before we know it, we have dug ourselves into a pit of needles without a comfortable escape to say the least. Satan has pulled us here even if we think we have made the choices. It works like a strong magnet.

Then there is the dark, giant cloud of evil in this world. Huge gangs; mafia; strong, harmful unions; ku klux klan; governments that don’t appear to be acting as though God is guiding them.

What is the line between little sin and big sin? Where is the line between hurting one person and hurting a whole society?

Does God lead us into temptation as our old version of the Lord’s Prayer indicates? The present Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, whom I respect in some aspects but not all, has declared that the line in The Lord’s Prayer which we changed today is not an accurate translation from the original Greek. We always wondered why God would lead us into temptation.

God created us and loves us. Instead of leading us into temptation, God is standing by to redeem us through the Son, Jesus. Jesus is our Redeemer! We have this safety net; more than a safety net! Not only are we pulled back on the track to an obedient life, we are made right with God. Our shady activities and thoughts are totally removed because Jesus died on the cross exactly for our sins. This is not a story. This is real. For those of us who have discovered this removal of sin we can testify. For those of us who have not accepted the removal of sins yet, we are missing the great forgiveness feeling.

Evil does not have the last word. God is always stronger than evil and is always the winner in the end. It is through the death and resurrection of Jesus that evil is squashed. Not only does Jesus save us from Satan, Jesus is endless helper to us. Let us look at the cover on the bulletin for a bit of time in silence. Let’s move our eyes and our minds slowly over the various ways in which Jesus relates to us when we welcome him.  Redeemer, Lord of All, Bread of Life, Deliverer, Mighty One, Messiah, Lamb of God, Immanuel, King of Kings, The Way and the Truth and the Life, Good Shepherd, Prince of Peace, Redeemer!

There is salvation, a peace, a secure feeling that we are merged with Jesus. That we are more fully the persons God planned for us to be. The previous worldly things that attracted us in the past are no longer a lure for us. We are content or we are gifted with the vision to move toward contentment in Jesus.

When we come into this forgiven, renewed feeling, we are natured to share the source. That is called spreading the gospel. Let’s be about that!

Holy, strong but loving God, have mercy on us and be our comfort as we move from muddy darkness into your clear light, into your redeeming salvation! Amen.

“Does Evil Have the Last Word?”

Sermon – 06-23-19 – Proper 7 – Cycle C
Scriptures – Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 22; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
Sermon Title – “Does Evil Have the Last Word”

There is a person who grew up being taught not to work on Sundays. Not only did he hear that in church as he was growing up, he saw it demonstrated at home. It seemed like life stopped on Saturday night at midnight had he been allowed to be up that late. Mercifully, he was allowed to play neighborhood ball games on a Sunday afternoon. This was liberal. Otherwise, it was relax, read, and wait for the world to start again on Monday morning. This was bearable as long as Joe was a little boy and then a teen except if he still had homework. Then he needed to sneak to his room to finish homework because, you see, that was work.

But when Joe is grown and has a house with a yard and a full-time job and a wife, Joe becomes torn about this ingrained rule for obedient living. Saturday becomes too full for everything that needs to be done. This yard of grass, which is a coveted part of buying a house, will not stop growing and Saturdays will not yield enough time to deal with the extra inches on the grass.

So-o-o-o-o Joe thinks to himself, “Just this one time! Just this once, God. Will you punish me? Will I regret mowing this lawn today? Will you send some kind of punishment?” Joe starts the lawn mower, nothing happens. Joe starts mowing. Nothing happens!

Joe finishes mowing. Nothing has happened. He stores the mower after cleaning whatever needs cleaned. He crashes on the sofa. Oh, I am so tired. I will take a short nap. Oh-Oh! Time for the grill. It’s a tradition, grilling on Sunday night and of course Joe is an excellent grill chef! Forget the nap! Fast forward to Monday morning early! Surely it is not time for the alarm! Joe drags himself through the day Monday, not able to really give his best to his responsibilities.

But the rest of the week is fine. So more and more the lawn mower was heard in the land on a Sunday afternoon. Being out in nature is refreshing, is it not? Or a relative needs help with a car and Joe is handy with cars. Of course, this happens on a Sunday afternoon. And so it goes until things start interfering with church on a Sunday morning. You know how this goes on and on. Seems innocent doesn’t it? Punishment does not seem to be forthcoming. God must be okay with these habit changes. Nothing big is wrong.

Or maybe our pride is out of control. Or our spending or eating or our busyness – oops, that one hurts.

Well, that is how it goes with other disobedience to God’s word. It starts innocently, but sometimes in desperation. Just a little drink. Just one more pill. Just a glance at pornography. Just taking something very little from somewhere, someone. Just cheating on a spouse a little.

Before we know it, we have dug ourselves into a pit of needles without a comfortable escape to say the least. Satan has pulled us here even if we think we have made the choices. It works like a strong magnet.

Then there is the dark, giant cloud of evil in this world. Huge gangs; mafia; strong, harmful unions; ku klux klan; governments that don’t appear to be acting as though God is guiding them.

What is the line between little sin and big sin? Where is the line between hurting one person and hurting a whole society?

Does God lead us into temptation as our old version of the Lord’s Prayer indicates? The present Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, whom I respect in some aspects but not all, has declared that the line in The Lord’s Prayer which we changed today is not an accurate translation from the original Greek. We always wondered why God would lead us into temptation.

God created us and loves us. Instead of leading us into temptation, God is standing by to redeem us through the Son, Jesus. Jesus is our Redeemer! We have this safety net; more than a safety net! Not only are we pulled back on the track to an obedient life, we are made right with God. Our shady activities and thoughts are totally removed because Jesus died on the cross exactly for our sins. This is not a story. This is real. For those of us who have discovered this removal of sin we can testify. For those of us who have not accepted the removal of sins yet, we are missing the great forgiveness feeling.

Evil does not have the last word. God is always stronger than evil and is always the winner in the end. It is through the death and resurrection of Jesus that evil is squashed. Not only does Jesus save us from Satan, Jesus is endless helper to us. Let us look at the cover on the bulletin for a bit of time in silence. Let’s move our eyes and our minds slowly over the various ways in which Jesus relates to us when we welcome him.

Silence

There is salvation, a peace, a secure feeling that we are merged with Jesus. That we are more fully the persons God planned for us to be. The previous worldly things that attracted us in the past are no longer a lure for us. We are content or we are gifted with the vision to move toward contentment in Jesus.

When we come into this forgiven, renewed feeling, we are natured to share the source. That is called spreading the gospel. Let’s be about that!

Holy, strong but loving God, have mercy on us and be our comfort as we move from muddy darkness into your clear light, into your redeeming salvation! Amen

“The Unity Circle”

Sermon – 06-02-19 – Easter 7 – Cycle C
Scripture – Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97;
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26
Sermon Title – “The Unity Circle”

Barbara says to me, “I am really tired of hearing about love in every sermon for weeks on end!” I say, “O, I am sorry that we seem to be in a groove or ditch, if you will, when it comes to overusing the idea of love.” Barbara goes on, “I guess love is a good subject once in a while, but aren’t there other things on which we should focus?”

I say, “Sure. We could focus on the ministry of Paul. He will be a good model for how we could be starting new churches. You know we need to let the phrase from the Bible about God ‘making all things new’ be part of our thinking and living. New church starts. New kinds of worship. New neighbors around the church. New neighbors around the church! Did I hear myself saying that? New neighbors?”

Barbara says, “Well, why don’t we see them in church?” I say, “Why don’t I go into the local bar?” “Oh,” says Barbara, “Why don’t you?” I say, “Well, I did not grow up going to bars.” “Oh,” says Barbara. Aren’t you curious about what happens in a bar?” I say, “Well, I have seen people come out of bars in worse shape than when they went in. They don’t really look happy at all. Why would I want to do that to myself?”

Barbara says, “Well, you could be inviting the unhappy people in the bar to try church.” “Oh-h-h-h!” I say. “What wisdom! Barbara you took the wind right out of my sails! Where was I?” Barbara’s turn, “You were talking about new things, weren’t you?” “Yes,” I say. “Okay, the next project I try is to walk into the closest bar to the church and use my portable microphone to invite everyone in the house to our church service which starts in a half hour.”

“Wait,” Barbara practically screams at me. “Would Jesus do it that way?” Then she adds, “Well, maybe Jesus would do it that way. Jesus surely did new things while he lived on earth.” Barbara goes on in a questioning way, “If I were the pastor and I wanted to enliven the lives of our neighbors in the bar, I would just climb on a stool beside someone who looked lonely, and I would just start a casual conversation like ‘Did you have a rough day?’ Then I would wait for an answer. Oh, I forgot, Barbara says. You should order something so you don’t make an enemy of the bartender from the start.”

“Good advice,” I say. “Will he be okay if I just order ginger ale?” Barbara says, “That should be okay.” Barbara continues with her directions to me. “Just drop in whenever you have a chance and find an empty stool beside a different person each time, if there are empty stools” You will hear some sad stories. Just listen. Nod your head. Or, shake your head. Look genuinely interested. You may be surprised when a bond happens. When people realize you have something that the bar cannot give them. Don’t forget to invite them to church or better still take church to the park.”

I say, “Barbara, that sounds like love to me. We do have this love that isn’t fluffy, sugary love but deep-down caring. How did we get this love? Jesus prayed for us to have this love in oneness with himself and the Father.”

But then I remember that not all of our new neighbors would be in bars. I picture all of those children and young people getting off the bus right at the church. I see them getting off the bus and walking toward their homes. I think, where do these young people live? Why don’t we see them except when they are getting off the bus? I say hello. They reply hello. What else could I be asking to develop some kind of conversation? How could I be sharing this love I am supposed to have which is tied with the love of the Father and of Jesus? I have a fixation about having a basketball and a net available on a patch of macadam. I have a picture of some of us having a snack and a cold drink ready for these young ones who have yet to see the inside of a church.

While I was sitting in air-conditioning appreciating a seminar on love being not the band-aid but the necessary ingredient for saving the world, you were taking the church out to the sidewalk and drawing people into the church even if not a word was said about God. You were increasing the feeling of neighbor. You were being Jesus to the neighbors probably even the young ones who get off the bus and disappear. I am assuming that the strawberry festival attracted them to a church. I am guessing that you had on your especially friendly faces. Even if today we wonder where these people are, you have made a difference. These experiences add up, they accumulate over time and, one day in the future, something may trigger that good experience and the person’s life is changed.

Changed lives. While you were having the strawberry festival and I was listening to Brian McLaren, more people were being killed by a senseless gunman. A woman being interviewed said, “Why would anyone do that?” Somewhere along the line, any loving experiences that person had in his life were swallowed by evil. The loving experiences were too sparse or not real enough to overcome Satan and his winning ways. This is my perception of what is happening in our social climate. Harsh treatment, scaring people, bullying people, putting down instead of building up. Punishment and threats do not improve behavior. Love and kindness and gentleness will transform lives.

Let us open our circle of love. Let us offer our hands without looking what kind of hand it is or how the rest of the body looks. Let us form a unity circle – a circle that includes the people in the bar, the young people getting off the school bus, the person living under the bridge, the persons in jail, the mentally ill people, the bullied person who was never loved, the wealthy person who never thinks of sharing, the person in power who does not know that he or she holds the power to improve the world or produce a chaotic society. So we have this huge, gigantic circle.

This circle will soon disband unless God is in the middle, and encircling joined hands, and in the hearts of increasing numbers of people. From Revelation, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone, who wishes, take the water of life as a gift.” This gift of the water of life and the gift of sharing the love of the Father and the Son are not just for us. They are not ours to horde. They are not ours to keep secret. Let us share them or lose them!
Oh God! Bind us together with your love that we may all be one. Amen

“It Started This Way”

Sermon – 06-03-18 – Salem Oley – Proper 4 – Cycle B
Scripture
Sermon Title – “It Started This Way”

Is it right to disobey laws which seem wrong? Once upon a time there were laws; otherwise known as commands. You know – “Don’t eat the fruit of that enticing tree in the middle of the garden!” or “Don’t kill your brother!” Then there were “Don’t have other gods before me!” and “Do not work on the Sabbath” as in “Don’t pick grain on the Sabbath!” and “Don’t heal on the Sabbath!”

The Ten Commandments surely were needed for God’s people way back then! Being human, God’s people needed structure for their behavior especially for their horrendously difficult walk to the Promised Land. Were the people able to obey them without exception? What happened when the people disobeyed? God punished! God punished because God knew that those laws – the ten commandments – were the secret to an orderly society – be it a trek through the wilderness with no food or water or be it an elite society where royal weddings and tea parties hold our attention and time without focus on our one jealous God.

Maybe you are not a royal wedding fan or a tea party fan. Maybe you spend your money and time on car races or horse races or golf or fishing or travel. Which commandment applies here? Are these activities okay in our lives? Is God smiling or is God frowning? Do we plan these activities around Sunday worship? Do we welcome God as companion on these excursions, these activities?

Do we need The Ten Commandments in our lives? Do we need all the extra laws which have been added over the years? Did you ever catch yourself saying, “There ought to be a law.” Sometimes laws are made for a current need but they become obsolete and even ridiculous. Every once in a while, I hear or read of silly laws which made sense when they were enacted but now need to be revised or eliminated.

The Ten Commandments do not fall into this category. They are still relevant, maybe increasingly so. Which one does not apply in our current world whether we stay in a country setting or the hectic urban world? What happens when we find ourselves transgressing from using The Ten Commandments as our basic guide?

Maybe there are no calamitous results sent by God upon our heads and lives! But is this what God has planned for our focus? God is our maker. We are the focus of God’s love. Are our lives glowing affirmation of this love? Do we permit this love to permeate our thick skin? Do we acknowledge the advisability of these commandments, especially the one about working on the Sabbath? If we don’t obey, if we don’t keep the Sabbath as our personal day with our Savior, how are we cheating ourselves?

A sorting guide between a good law and a not-good law is “does it make us better people, does it help us to honor God and does it make society better?” This question takes us to Jesus and his problem with the Pharisees. Jesus was breaking the laws which had been established by humans as the years moved on from The Ten Commandments as given by God to Moses. Maybe the leaders of the faith had nothing better to do. Maybe the leaders were bitter toward someone or something or maybe the leaders felt the “more structure the better.”

But, here comes Jesus, the son of the Father, claiming two basic rules from the Old Hebrew scriptures: Deuteronomy 6:5 which says, “You have only one Lord and God. You must love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” and Leviticus 19:18 which says, “You shall love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.”

Jesus is ministering on the basis of what pleases God and shows love of people. Jesus evades the picky laws that have been established by the Israelite leaders. Jesus does not seem to feel that he is breaking the commandment that commands us to keep the Sabbath Day holy. He is showing love for people; he is showing people that God is love. This angers the religious leaders who “religiously” kept and guarded the laws. They thought they were doing the right thing. They felt that each of their laws was ordained by God. They thought that Jesus was destroying their God-ordained religion.

They took their case all the way to the cross. They missed the point. They missed the Messiah who was in their midst. How often do we miss the point? Is continuing our daily work on a Sunday missing the point? Is missing weekly worship of God to experience relaxation and fun missing the point?

Exodus 81:10 says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us.”

This is the point! God has great blessings for us. One blessing is that he has given us the structure of basic rules by which our lives will be good. But God wants to give us so much more than rules. God is wanting to fill us with the love which transforms us if we receive it. If we receive it in our souls – our “clay jar” souls. It is a treasure beyond calculation and comprehension.

Let us open our mouths wide, let us receive the treasure into our bodies, souls, and minds, our hearts. From Psalm 81, let us “Sing with joy to God our strength and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob.” From 2 Corinthians 4, “God commanded light to shine in the dark. Now God is shining in our hearts to let you know that his glory is seen in Jesus Christ.”

Let us not keep the light within. It will be smothered. Let us spew our light into the darkness of our evil-filled world. May we do everything possible to brighten the corner where we are. May transformation from darkness to light happen as we watch; like the circular ripples in water; people living with gladness instead of sadness and despair. Let the lighting of the world begin!