Author Archives: Rev. Mary Etta Mest

Is Evil Real?

Sermon – 08-26-18 – Proper 16 – Cycle B
Scripture – Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18
Title: Is Evil Real?

Oh God of the whole universe and more, guide my words and the thoughts of our minds and hearts that we may come close to understanding your message from our scripture lessons today. Amen

“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” We say that every Sunday in church. You may say it every day of the week. First, would God really lead us into temptation. I mostly think of God being loving. That does not seem very loving to me. Why would God lead people he created and loves into temptation?

There is the idea that we are being tested just as Jesus, himself, was tested in the wilderness directly after his baptism by John the Baptist. So when Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer to us, perhaps he was warning us to ask for protection from temptation.

Who tempted Jesus in the wilderness? We say the Holy Spirit took Jesus there, but who did the tempting? The whole passage of Matthew 4:1-11 is dialogue between Satan and Jesus. Why did the Father allow that to happen? Why did the Holy Spirit lead Jesus to the location – this place of isolation – no food, how about water – 40 days? The physical body surely was weakened. Did Jesus sleep? Maybe. I don’t think we know. Surely, though, a very weakened body!

Let’s see. The temptations were bread to eat. Protection from a fall. Wealth and power beyond comprehension. Jesus countered these temptations with scripture. Each response from Jesus started with “It is written.” Jesus resisted temptation by knowing and quoting the Hebrew scriptures which we call the Old Testament.

Why would the Father allow Jesus to be tested this way? Indeed, the Father engineered this testing of the Son as training for this rite of passage as a human on earth. Therefore, should we not be honored that the Father would lead us into temptation as training for our lives as Christians, as followers of the Son?

However, this is not a fun thing like winning a prize or a maybe a game. This temptation business can be ultra-scary. Where is the line between the Father’s leading us to test us and the devil taking over? We pray, “deliver us from evil.”

Have you ever looked evil in the face, nose-to-nose or has your life been even-keeled and rather on the safe side?

I have known several children who seem to be filled with evil spirit. How did they get that way? Surely, God would not have deliberately caused that or allowed that – to a child! Maybe you have known adults who seemed not to have a loving bone in his or her body – filled with meanness, revenge, spitefulness. My theory is that these people missed out on love. That in the case of individuals, the space that love could have filled was left empty and Satan moved in without a qualm.

How often have you heard it said that we are born with sinful natures because of the sinning of Adam and Eve. It is quite easy to find verses in the Bible which point to how we need to be more determined, more focused on doing the right thing, not succumbing to doing the “bad” thing. We need to make the right choices, to choose to serve the Lord and not other gods. It is up to each person to resist.

However, Christian writers are reminding us that it is not the fault of the individual when evil moves in. It is the influences around the person which are responsible for the downfall. Eve was influenced by the snake. We could ask who influenced the snake. Then Adam was influenced by Eve who had been influenced by the snake. The chain goes on and on.

A recent article in Christian Century, told of a man who had become involved in a sinful business. It was all that he knew. From childhood, this person only knew this way of treating people for money. It is the only thing he witnessed. It was natural for this man to continue this sinful way of life which damaged other people’s lives beyond any relation to sanity, much less respect.

In Paul’s passge today in Ephesians, he instructs his readers how to protect themselves from evil. Paul is saying that the evil of this world goes beyond individuals to whom he refers as flesh and blood. Paul goes on to use terms such as authorities, cosmic powers, darkness. Paul gives us the picture of armor: the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes that proclaim peace, a shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit, which is really the word of God. Other places in scripture, Paul speaks about principalities, which I translate to mean governments but principalities can be giant movements of evil spirits that entangle governments and other authorities and kingdoms.

We yearn for the complete Kingdom of God to break forth. How will it happen? When will it happen? Paul thought that Jesus would come to earth again in Paul’s life time. Not so! Many of us call our present kingdom of God as a partial arrangement. God is here. Many believers are spreading love and assistance. You are probably one of these people. You are workers of the Kingdom as the Kingdom exists now. When the Kingdom of God is fully operating, Satan will have been banished. The evildoers of this world will be transformed or vanished.

In the meantime, how can we handle the evil of this world? How can we manage temptation, even temptation by the Father as we are tested? Paul says, “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.” I suggest walking away from foul language, walking away from bullying, staying away if at all possible where violence is likely to happen. Mainly, increase the outpouring of love and sharing and caring.

What does our Old Testament lesson today have to say? With the Israelites in early days, if they were focused on God, capital G, God took care of them, provided for them, blessed them. As soon as the eyes and hearts of the Israelites turned to other gods, God punished them. Our Old Testament lesson today is an example of God clearing the path for the Israelites as they entered the land of milk and honey. Joshua said, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua took a stand.

Looking at our Gospel lesson today, Jesus was speaking very strangely about his body and blood which would be our salvation in the end. The crowds did not understand. The crowds stopped being crowds. Even many of his followers, left the tour. When Jesus asked his twelve disciples if they were leaving also, Peter, the bold, compulsive disciple said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God..” Let us echo Peter’s words and keep our eyes focused on this Holy One.

Lord, before we think of resistance as a battle, help us to try the resistance of peace, love, joy, and the provision of bread, water, and comfort. Amen

Resisting Evil With Love

Sermon – 09-02-18 – Proper 17 – Cycle B
Scripture: Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-9; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Sermon Title: Resisting Evil With Love

Lord, thank you for your presence in our hearts and minds. Amen

Evil did not go away since last Sunday. How many accounts in the news came straight from the darkness of evil? On the other hand, how many stories in the news filled us with hope and a sense of rightness and of God’s presence? How can the world move from darkness to light? From ugliness to beauty and hope?

The Ten Commandments shout at us from the Old Testament. We could expect that these instructions, straight from the hand of God, would not let a crack open, through which evil could creep. But alas, where in these Ten Commandments do you see and hear “love?” In Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 6 we find the love part. You see, the law from God, as in the Ten Commandments, needs to be combined with the love of God to be effective.

There is the idea that we are born with sinful natures. It seems that we should move through some kind of machinery to squeeze the sinfulness from our innermost parts. I propose that we reverse that thinking. God creates us in love. God loves us. It makes no sense to me that he would include sinfulness in the development of his precious creations. I think that all babies are born pure and innocent and sacred no matter how the conception happened. Do you think that is wrong thinking?

In the Reformed tradition, we baptize early. We are wrapping the child more securely in God’s love and care. We are accepting the blanket or bubble of protection of God for the child so that evil will be resisted. Along with this once-in-a-life sacrament, we lead parents and child on the path to a close relationship with God. The closer the relationship, the tougher it will be for Satan to influence and spoil the child’s life.

So where are the children? Where are the parents, we ask? What did we do wrong that we are especially thrilled to have one or two children and young parents?

Trying to find the blame in ourselves for this state of being as a church will get us nowhere. We know it is the way of the world at this moment in time. The world largely is not pure and sacred and innocent. There are so many temptations, not the least of which is the scarcity of time.

The world really does need “Love, Sweet Love.” Think of love as a visible substance; maybe like syrup – chocolate or maple – take your pick. It will flow wherever there is a possible path. Think of it not as something to be cleaned and stopped. Think of it having a healing effect where ever it goes. Or we can think of this spreading love like the water of the recent floods. Love has a force of its own. It can move into lives unexpectedly, even unwanted. Just as flood waters chase people who don’t want to be chased, love can invade people’s lives and chase evil which does not want to be chased.

How many acts of love come to your mind? Zion Womelsdorf is filled with acts of love. They are obvious from looking at the website, from reading the newsletter, from hearing your stories. Could there be more acts of love, can there be more love flowing out the front door and the side door and the windows into the streets? Would the borough workers, other than those of you who work for the borough, be awestruck when they can’t help but notice the flood of love? Would it not be interesting if love oozed from every church in the towns between Womelsdorf and Reading?

It is already happening. Just like the kingdom of God is here but is not complete. Satan is still alive and working. So it is with love. Love is already being spread by the churches along the 422 Corridor but is it complete?

Should we be checking ourselves to measure our own personal love quotient? How do we hold back in this loving-our-neighbor business? I fall far short. Many of you are models for me to grow my love quotient.

There is another commodity akin to love. It is joy. I am in the habit of receiving and reading and meditating on the daily devotions which are provided on-line by the UCC and are written by various individuals. Thinking about resisting evil, Emily C. Heath, wrote “Joy as Resistance.”

Emily used Philippians 4:4 and 7 as her starting place. “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Quoting part of her devotion, “As a young activist I believed that it was irresponsible to be joyful while injustice flourished in the world. Happiness felt almost sinful while others suffered. Later in life I learned that it wasn’t my responsibility to fix everything. And I also learned a lot about joy. I learned that though this world will always be imperfect there are often moments of extraordinary beauty and grace that require nothing less than our abundant joy.

Emily continues, “Paul wrote to the church in Philippi and told them to “rejoice.” It’s worth noting that he was likely writing his letter from a jail cell. If anyone has reason not to be joyful, it is Paul. And yet, even in the midst of injustice, he found reasons for joy, and evidence of God’s peace. If that isn’t resistance to the forces of evil in this world, I don’t know what is.” End Quote

It is interesting that at the present time the United Church of Christ, under the leadership of Rev. John Dorhauer, is functioning and growing in the Holy Spirit by focusing on the program of “3 Great Loves” which are “Love of Neighbor, Love of Children, Love of Creation.” We can be using this vision and purpose along with Zion’s own mission statement.

Love and joy. Joy and love mixed with the Ten Commandments is the recipe to resist evil in ourselves and in the world. Will this recipe work in borough meetings, in school board meetings, in state and national government, with our growing children, with our adult children, our grandchildren? Do you think the Father is waiting for the second coming of Jesus until we get this love thing right?

Holy Father, this is a big project, definitely only possible with your approval, your guidance, and your power. We anticipate your presence with us. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen

“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

the eyes of the two were opened
the third man vanished

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

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!