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“The Saga of the Serpent”

Sermon – 03-01-20 – Lent I – Cycle A
Scriptures: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Sermon Title: “The Saga of the Serpent”

Serpent as in snake! What are our serpents? What can’t we resist? We can start simply like McDonald hamburgers or chocolate candy or ice cream. How about talking negatively about other people? Misusing our credit cards. Taking our family members for granted. Causing our families grief. Addictions: smoking, drinking, gambling, eating too much. Using coarse language when there are millions of acceptable words in the English language. Insisting on our own way. Thinking we are better than other people. Forgetting to look for Jesus in each and every person we meet.

Well I got myself here, starting with the McDonald hamburgers. Where did you feel a twinge or maybe even a stab of pain? This is reality. No matter how rich or poor, no matter skin color, or style of living, not matter what religion or no religion, no matter the age, we are tempted to do things or say things that are not healthy in any way. They don’t work!

There was Eve as the story goes. God said, “Don’t touch, don’t taste!” What does Eve do? Of course, just what we would have done probably. She touched the fruit. She tasted the fruit. I would normally say, “Oh, my goodness!” In the case of Eve in the perfect garden, I should be saying, “Oh, my badness!” Just think – no work. Imagine that! Apparently no weeds to pull. Eating that fruit was definitely not a healthy thing to do! If she was bored, she certainly changed that!

And you know how it is. Once we touch and taste, it is too late. There is no easy way to retrieve anything we have digested or done or said. Of course, we like to look for company in our badness. Eve found her company in Adam. She tempted him to be the accomplice. But . . God is God! Nothing slips by him. I believe God is all-knowing among other “alls” that apply to God.

In this story, God is ready with the consequences for Adam and Eve. But in our own lives, God often sits and waits for the consequences to happen to us after we goofed. The Ten Commandments and the Two Great Commandments are our rules for living that work. They are the Constitution and By-Laws of the great institution of living.

Moving forward through thousands of years to Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism in the Jordan, we find Jesus using words from the Hebrew scripture to rebuke and resist Satan, otherwise known as the devil or the snake or the serpent. Picture this: there are these fasnachts on a plate on the table or there is this person who says, “Let me buy a drink for you. What are you drinking?” Do we remember to pull out these words: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” That piece of chocolate cake has my name on it. That piece of lemon sponge pie is calling my name. That cigarette which someone wants to use to tempt me is absolutely screaming at me.  “Oh, God, help me!”

What about the movie that does not make us think of God’s goodness, only selfish desires or revenge that seems appropriate or nasty words? Where are the words about not living by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God?

The bully says, “I dare you to ride your bike on the back wheel alone.” (There is a word for that but I don’t know what it is. You know, I am sure. No one ever dared me to do that.) The bully might go so far as to say, “You think your God will save you. Let’s see if you can ride your bike to the edge of the cliff and just stop in time. Will your God do that for you – stop just at the last eighths of an inch?” Which young person is going to remember or even know to say, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Where is our spiritual wholeness? How can we find it or replenish it? How can we increasingly notice temptation leaving us alone? How can we resist without thinking two seconds about it? Well, there is the reward. Angels. When we have resisted with all our might, angels visit. They bring calmness and peace and a closeness to the Father. We may not see the angels, but we can feel their love and kindness and their trust in us to stay looking to Jesus.

Managing to chose friends who seem close to God is a good way to resist temptation. You may remember the word “type.” People who appeared, or still appear, momentarily who prepare us for the real live person. There is this King Melchizedek, also called the Great High Priest, who is mentioned several places in the Old Testament. He is the prototype, or just type, for Jesus. He brought bread and wine to Abram after God helped Abram win a battle with his enemies. In Psalm 110, we have Melchizedek mentioned again to David. Jesus is a descendant of David. We find in the Old Testament these veiled references to Jesus. David is saying that Jesus is his Lord when in fact Jesus is a descendant of David. The Lord said to my Lord means “The Father said to Jesus.”

All along from the time of Abram, we have this prototype of Christ. The model of rightness and goodness. The model of being beside us to give to us power to resist, the longing to do what is right, what is God’s way of living. We can have pleasure while living God’s way. It is the way of water for our thirst and our cleansing, of decent clothing but not lavish, of only being addicted to God’s way, of only kind words coming from our mouths. Only looking for the good in people, not the bad or annoying characteristics.

As the story of Eve and Adam moves through scripture, Eve drops out of the picture as being the original instigator. She does not count. She is a female. That is a sermon for another day – how females and children were not even counted in the crowds in the Bible stories. So in ignoring Eve, Adam gets the blame. Double unfairness here!

So Adam’s power to draw us into sin is overcome by the appearance of this Holy model named Melchizedek. Finally, the fruition of this model into the life of the Son of God, Jesus, breaks, once and for all, the power of Adam’s sin. One man’s trespass is overcome by the righteousness and mercy of this type moving through the Old Testament, appearing to Abraham and then David, ancestor of Jesus, and then Jesus is with us in real time on the cross and in the grave and then risen as we declare “Hallelujah!”

“Temptation be gone. Sin be gone! I don’t need you,” we can say. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him,” can be our motto or mantra, saying it over and over. And the angels appear!  Amen

“Eye Witness and Personal Experience”

Sermon – 02-23-20 – Transfiguration – Cycle A
Scripture: Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 100, 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
Sermon Title: “Eye Witness and Personal Experience”

A retreat! A retreat from daily living! Sounds inviting. I will write it in my date book. That spot is empty yet. Well this retreat does not get written into a date book. One day, Jesus just says, “Come with me, Peter, James, and John. I need you to be with me. Come away for awhile. Let us get closer to God. It seems that God needs me on this mountain now.”

It is good to have witnesses. Witnesses share what happens to the world – or not. At the end of this event, Jesus tells the three disciples not to tell anyone! “Tell no one about this vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” This is a common command of Jesus, “Tell no one about this experience yet.” Being human, that kind of request somehow makes us itch to tell the next person we meet. I don’t think we know if James, John, and Peter waited.

What is this vision? There they are on the mountain. Drawings we have available of this event show Jesus standing higher than the three disciples. Some of the drawings which I have seen show at least one of the disciples sleeping. What else? Jesus finds his disciples sleeping at important times. Can’t you just feel the weariness that must be a constant visitor with the disciples? They walk and wait; wait and walk. We know that weariness, do we not? Two pages into a book and the book is falling out of my hands. A half-hour into a great movie, the one you looked forward to all day, and down go your eyelids. Waiting often does the same thing to us, especially if we do not know why we are waiting; not knowing what is going to happen.

Now that I have defended the disciples’ dozing, what is this event? Jesus calls it a vision when admonishing James, John, and Peter to be silent after the fact. A vision. It could not be real time because there were centuries between Moses and Elijah compared to Jesus. Yet, God chose this vision to bring history into a nutshell. Moses, representing law, and Elijah, representing the prophets.

Prophets proclaim God’s messages to people, whichever generation of people are living at a certain time. Prophets are called into service in each generation – even today. Think, who is proclaiming the true message in our lifetime? “Beware of false prophets,” Jesus says. How are we to tell? This same Peter, in the second letter of Peter in the New Testament, chapter 1, verses 20 and 21, touches on the subject of false prophets.

It is firmly established that Moses and Elijah are “truth.” They are the real thing with God. Here is this third person – Jesus. The law and the prophet appearing with the personification of love and forgiveness; a glowing Jesus. This glow was so bright the disciples had to shield their eyes; brighter even than the winter morning and late afternoon sun as we drive into that blinding brightness.

It is like Moses and Elijah are called to this time and place to hear God verify, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Just like at the baptism in the River Jordan when John the Baptist was the baptizer and the witness to God’s proclamation. But, this time God brings the past and the present together to show the unity of his plan for this world he has created. There is no separation between the Old and New Testament; the Hebrew and the Greek times. “This is my beloved Son.” But, this time on the mountain, God says, “Listen to him!”

Now the three disciples are not sleeping. They were awake to see the vision of Law and Prophet and Son of God together, never mind the problem of the time line. The eyes of the disciples were probably wide open with their minds thinking, “How can this be?” But, when the voice of God the Father came through the clouds distinctly, the disciples fell to the ground in fear. Jesus touches them and says they shall have no fear. A bright cloud appears with the voice of God. When it disappears, the Law and the Prophet are no longer visibly present. Jesus leads the three disciples down the mountain while he gives them the speech about telling no one.

After Jesus was resurrected and ascended, this Peter wrote at least two letters which we have in our New Testament. This compulsive, impulsive disciple reminds us that in this vision on the mountain, truth is affirmed.

“This is my beloved Son!” the voice of the Father was saying. We can say, “This is the Father’s beloved Son.” It is all about the love. God loves the Son person of the Trinity – Jesus. Jesus came to earth to show us that love; to share that love; to transfer the love to us so we can transfer the love to our neighbors. Yet, the source of the love is never depleted. The truth shall be shared along with the love. Showing love is fine but without the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, love is a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. The whole picture requires the Law with the Prophet with the epitome of love and light. The Transfiguration unites generations of believers and participants with the ultimate breathing and living truth – Jesus Christ the beloved Son of God.

Peter, James, and John are witnesses and participants in this great drama. They experience it in real time. We are invited to share this experience in real time because it is still happening. According to Peter in his second letter, the light is still shining like the bright morning star. We shall let it increasingly fill our hearts until Jesus comes again. When will that happen? Can we depend on it happening? Peter writes, “Don’t forget that for the Lord one day is the same as a thousand years, and a thousand years is the same as one day. The Lord is not slow about keeping his promises, as some people think he is. In fact, God is patient, because he wants every one to turn from sin and no one to be lost.” 2 Peter 3:8,9 Aha! Does that sound as though we have a marketing job? No one is to be lost!

Oh God, give us courage and conviction. Let us not hide in a fashionable place of keeping the secret of God’s love. Help us to keep on keeping on until every last person on earth is in the fold. Help us to be among the men and women who are moved by the Holy Spirit to tell and invite. May we plant and water and share the transfiguration light so that the Holy Spirit can come along and inspire each person on earth to feel the light and the warmth and accept the love. In the name of this Jesus, we pray.  Amen

“The Commandments Work”

Sermon – 02-16-20 – Epiphany VI – Cycle A
Scriptures – Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
Sermon Title: “The Commandments Work”

God is leading these tens of thousands of Israelites toward the Promised Land from Egypt where they have been slaves of the government. Instead of leading them straight from Egypt to the entrance to the land of milk and honey, he leads them in circles through the wilderness for 40 years! Yes, God is upset with these people, to say the least, because, right out of the gate, they complained. Actually, I would have been among the complaining, ungrateful people. No food, no water to drink. No shelter! I could be wrong about the “no shelter.” They may be carrying tents. More reason to complain during the day but a blessed help at night.

Well, God has assigned poor Moses and his brother Aaron to lead this nation of people for 40 years. Imagine! We wonder where our life has gone! Forty years wandering without a clear goal. Complain, complain and more complaining. Several generations are born during the wandering. This is a massive movement.

First off, God says to Moses, “Come up to the top of this mountain! I want to talk to you.” So Moses climbs up and up into the clouds to listen to what God wants to say. God greets Moses with something like this. “I need to give you these rules for your throng of people. They need to know how to make their new society work.” Moses leaves Aaron in charge at the foot of the mountain. This is not a quick trip. God keeps Moses in the clouds for quite a few days.

You can imagine that the people are getting restless and getting into all kinds of trouble. This is a long story for another time. God actually makes a second set of tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments because Moses becomes so angry when he sees the behavior of his people that he throws the first set of stone tablets on the ground and they break. This story is in Exodus 20 to the end of Exodus.

The Hebrew lesson we heard today is from Deuteronomy 30 just before the Israelites are led into the Promised Land by Joshua. God does not let Moses enter the Promised Land because God is upset with Moses. Another long story for another time. However, Moses is given the privilege of repeating the Ten Commandments to the Israelites before they set foot into the Promised Land.

Then our gospel lesson from Matthew today is Jesus espousing on these commandments in a detailed way. At first we think of these sins belonging to someone else. We mentally use our pointing finger at someone we know or of whom we have heard. Well, as we are reminded, when we point one finger at someone else, the other fingers are pointing to ourselves. If you are really curious about this passage from Matthew, grab your Bible at home and find Matthew 5:21-37 and see how much it hurts.

My own personal guideline for what behavior and thoughts are approved by God and what is not approved by God is “Does it work?” Does whatever I say hurt someone even if I do not mean it to hurt the person? Am I not careful before I speak? Do I neglect to do something that would make the other person feel good?

I need to be more aware that some people appreciate hugs. I need to be more aware that people are waiting for a note from me and it is all sitting on my desk in a huge pile. My head and heart are full of regrets of things done or said that hurt someone; of things unsaid or undone that would have been so appropriate. I can picture God in heaven coaching me and cupping his hands to his mouth so I can hear, urging me to do this or that and he lifts his hands in despair, saying, “When will she ever get the hang of this?”

We tend to think of actions or words being either good or bad with a strict line between the two.  If we are open-minded we can accept that things are not on opposite sides of a division – right or wrong; pure or impure. I am relieved. As I think about that idea, I feel loved and accepted. I feel hopeful about a solid relationship with God. If my heart and mind are in pain because I did or said something hurtful, I can know that God is with me in that pain. It is not alright that I sinned but it is alright in that God is finding me regardless. God finds us in our pain and claims us as his own again and again and again.

Holy God,
As we feel your forgiveness over and over, mold our ways, draw us to yourself so tightly that our every word and action becomes pure kindness. Amen

“Being Salt”

Sermon – 02-09-20 -Epiphany V – Cycle A
Scripture: Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20
Sermon Title: “Being Salt!”

The article in the Reading Eagle served as excellent coverage for our endeavor to do what we perceive to be God’s will in freeing ourselves from the burden and cost of maintaining a building that served generations in the past but is not a serving us well in 2020.

So we are very grateful to the Reading Eagle for taking the time and spectacular space to aid us in this goal that most of us agree is a necessary step in serving God well in Berks County.

If I had reminded myself strongly enough that, most times, subjects and the press come to stories from different angles, I would have been more proactive in telling the story from a “salt and light” angle (Matthew 5:13-20).

As was shared in the sermon on February 2, we are a mission-minded and mission-acting congregation, not a maintenance congregation. To keep ourselves from falling into a maintenance-minded congregation, we need to shed the money-eating and time-eating building. Some aspects of this move genuinely pain us and slide us into grief mode. But, to be the salt and light that we are challenged to be, we need our energy and financial resources to be used as Jesus is commanding. Else we will perish.

We have a great relationship reservoir that is flowing and not stagnant. May God help us to increase the energy and the vitality in our loving relationships with each other and, most importantly, a vibrant relationship with God – Father, Son Jesus, and Holy Spirit.

You came today so that we can share this salt and light idea from Matthew. The gospel is a living bunch of words. Let’s receive them.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”

I say, “Let us not lose our saltiness!” How can we keep it? It will not keep itself. The Holy Spirit is the way. Jesus is the way. The father is the way. We cannot keep the salt by ourselves.

Think of the salt as what the world notices – like in the Super Bowl, in politics. Are we going to let the Super Bowl and politics steal all of the salt? Because few of us live in a monastery or in a cloister or in catacombs, the world catches our attention because we work in it, we watch it on TV and in movies of one variety or another. We even have friends who have the kind of salt that leads them away from God. Because we are not alert, we fall into the groove of their salt and find ourselves not analyzing the difference between church salt and world salt. We find ourselves knee-deep in the muck of social media.

How can we know what is God’s salt and what is the world’s salt? We need to ask God? We need to listen to God? We need to watch which works – God’s salt or the world’s salt.

What does salt do? Is it good or is it bad? We are told it causes high blood pressure. On the other hand, we are told that we need enough iodine for our thyroids and salt is a good source of iodine if iodine has been added to our cooking and table salt. Wow! But, Jesus says, we need to be salt if we want to be his followers, if we want to catch the attention of the people in the world who are waiting to hear that we have the light. We do have the light that overcomes darkness!

Without salt and light, our lives are flat and dark. We may be dazzled by the Super Bowl entertainment, by movies that are not approved by Jesus. We seek salt and light just as the world seeks salt and light. But, the world’s salt will do us no good – it only increases our blood pressure and leaves our minds crippled! The world’s light only lasts for a split moment in time and then goes dark and life goes flat.

Politics is exciting until we realize that we are being led by people who are not following Jesus. It is mind-boggling to read and listen and follow candidates in search of one who is worthy to follow and support. Have you found one who does not use foul language, the one who does not put another down, the one who is advocating a balance of realism and idealism? Please tell me. I have not yet found that person in this herd of candidates. I want to find that person. After all, there is a verse somewhere in the Bible that says God chooses the leaders of the world. “How can that be,” I say! I need to search for the context of that statement. By whom was it spoken? Did God direct that statement? What was happening around that statement? “Wisdom,” I cry out. “Come to us. Find us.”

I picture a sive – you know the kind we use in the kitchen to press the matter to be separated for different uses. I see all the world’s wisdom, all the world’s salt, all the world’s attractions in a sive mixed with God-salt, God-wisdom. It is all there. All the grains of salt, all the brightness, in one big sive. We want to separate the usable wisdom from the unusable wisdom. We want to see what is pure enough to pass through the holes in the sive. That is the goodness; that is the holy salt and the holy light. Pure!

Then, what do we do with this pure salt and light, this wisdom. I know! We find beautiful jars with lids that we make as tight as possible. We certainly consider this salt and light and wisdom to be precious. We shall not lose a pinch or a beam or a morsel! Absolutely, treat it as the holy of holies. Sure! Preserve it like pickles.

Oh help us, God! From our Hebrew reading for today: “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.” I can perceive God to continue, “Unscrew those lids. May the salt and the light and the wisdom escape from those jars and flow into the streets and the by-ways as a river. May this river heal the physically and the mentally and the spiritually sick. May the river reach out its arms and hand clothing to the unclothed children of God. May the river assuage the thirst of the thirsty and fill the souls yearning for the word of God.”

God continues in Isaiah 58, “Then you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”

I say, “Congregation of Zion UCC in Womelsdorf, are we ready to be the salt and light that God is waiting for us to be?” Amen

“The Church in Mission Mode; Not Maintenance Mode”

Sermon – 02-02-20 – Epiphany IV – Cycle A
Scripture: Micah 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12
Sermon Title: “The Church in Mission Mode; Not Maintenance Mode”

When we went Christmas caroling to one of our members this past December, she said something like “What is going to happen to our church?” I held my breath because I did not know where this conversation was going to take us because of our selling our building. But not to worry. In a flash, Mildred had her two hands together as we do for the song, “We Are the Church.”

First, the closed church with two fingers being the steeple. Then the thumbs move apart opening the door and the fingers become the people.

“The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple,
the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.
I am the church, You are the church! We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together!

In our case, it is what is in our steeple that is part of the mission of the church. We are serving the community by chiming the time with the beautiful carillon. Then, whoever chose the particular CD’s of hymns to play had really good taste, in my opinion. But then again, the words are missing. If the community is going to get the message beyond the quality music of the bells, we need to add the words. How does that happen?

Oh dear. It would be great if the people walked through our doors and could hear and see the words inside the building. Of course, you walked through the doors and you are part of the words. You sing them, we pray them, you are very attentive listeners to the sermon. But the walls are thick stone. Maybe you know if people walking on the sidewalk past our church can hear us praising God with all our might. Probably the organ can be heard outside the walls, but again the organ does not breathe words, just beautiful music.

Inside the walls we feel safe to cry and laugh. How are the people on the sidewalk going to know there is a safe place to cry inside if we don’t tell them. Thanks to Cory who welcomes “sidewalkers.” That’s great! Some of you have taken Zion UCC pens and given them to people who do not come to church. You may be discouraged because noone has accepted your invitation to this point. Maybe we need to be praying harder that our pens are speaking for us. However, some of you have had success. The first time we plant the seed. Then later we water and bring sunshine. Finally, the seed blossoms and bears fruit. Let us not be discouraged if our fruit-bearing plant feels led to another church! We are all part of one kingdom in Christ.

One day recently, I was sharing lunch in a restaurant with one of you, and the waitress came to our table and said, “Oh, you’re a pastor!” I told her where I am a pastor and casually invited her to come to church. The waitress then revealed that her son had just died of an overdose several months ago and there was something else in her life that was eating at her soul. She said, “I really need to come to church.” I invited her to come to talk to me if that would help her. She seemed so grateful for the invitation. I gave her our church card with my telephone numbers and email address. How did she know that I was a pastor? At first, I was puzzled. Then I realized that it was my collar that told her.

How can people know who we are if we don’t show it? Hence, the T-Shirts. Do you remember what the T-Shirt says? It says that we are spreading the love of Jesus around the world. Zion UCC has people around the world. We pray for our service people, we pray for Sierra doing her college education in Jordan. She is learning to think and converse in Arabic. We pray for protection mostly. Might we pray that they would feel Jesus so present with them that it shows.

We are in the process of taking inventory in our building. What will we find? I think we will find that we are collecting food for our local food pantry, collecting items for veterans who are struggling. We will find pictures of the many, many warm hats, scarves, and gloves that we collect each winter. We may find some sign that we filled many, many clean-up buckets for people who survived natural or human-made disasters. We collected clothing for local families who lost everything except themselves. We have an on-going collection for David in Africa. Some of you do Meals-On-Wheels. You probably are part of other big things of which I am not aware.

We can honestly declare ourselves a “mission” church. We are thinking of other people and not just ourselves. We are thinking of their material needs. Because of these activities, we CAN call ourselves a “mission-mode” church instead of a “maintenance-mode” church.

BUT, I wonder if we could do more about the “soul needs” of people inside and outside our walls. Could we be more aligned with – WAIT! – wait a minute – hear ye, hear ye, four of us participate in the after-school club at Conrad Weiser West Elementary. This is not just fun time although we have fun and we increase self-confidence and kindness with these students. We actually are welcome to teach Jesus! Imagine, we can tell Bible stories and how they make a difference in our lives. These weeks leading to Easter, we will be sharing the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus. Few of these children go to Sunday School or Church. This is new to them.

Guess what! I am being too boastful. Matthew 5 says we shall be meek, we shall not want praise, we shall not blare trumpets. We are only part of this Conrad Weiser Ministerium group which brings Jesus to the cafeteria for six or seven weeks at a time. We work together. Probably we are people from seven churches working together. We do not worship the same style on Sundays but we know how to bring the good news as a unit to these young people who absorb the good news like sponges. These 20 or so young people see us as a unified bunch of teachers and assistants.

How about our own spiritual growth? If we come to church on Sunday, that is good. That may bring us closer to the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit may wander into our souls. But could we gather more – especially in small groups – so we could come to know each other better. So we can know how God lives in other persons’ lives. So we can be open to receive the blessings that sharing joys and pains can bring. Our pew companions have lives. How does Jesus keep them going? Could our own stories of how Jesus effects our joys and pains be helpful to someone else? Could we become increasingly like the brothers and sisters in Christ that we are.

Today we are witnesses to yet another nudge from God. God sent our special friends to us and each one of them wants to sing. Instead of expecting new people to fit our mold, we asked God to show us how we could adapt to our friends’ God-given talents and gifts. We are a “mission-mode” congregation! Let us not become stagnant into a “maintenance-mode” flock of sheep. Keep us alive, oh God! What else can we do together to become even more alive in Christ? Do tell me when an idea comes to you. It could be God speaking! Amen

“Chosen for What?”

Sermon – 01-19-20 – Epiphany II – Cycle A
Scriptures: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
Sermon Title: “Chosen for What?”

John the Baptist, a wilderness dweller – chosen to prepare the way for this new person named Jesus and then baptize this holy Son of God

Peter, a fisherman – chosen to become a disciple of this Jesus and then chosen to become the rock of the Christian church with the bonus of being given the keys to heaven

Andrew, Peter’s brother – chosen to bring Peter to Jesus

Moses, Jeremiah, Amos, Noah, Jonah – all chosen for specific tasks at specific times in specific places in the kingdom of God on earth

About us? Several were chosen to be beauticians, several were chosen to be car mechanics, some were chosen to be leaders in companies, some were chosen to be loving parents to specific children, nurses, musicians, computer whizzes, realtors in the real estate world. Some were chosen to understand mysteries, others to know how to use the mysteries, to communicate knowledge and systems, to track details, to teach, to preach, to pick up pieces when humans disagree and fall apart, doctors, carers of children, actors, plumbers, farmers, government workers from the lowest to the highest. Did she just say “lowest?”

The most humble positions may be the mightiest, may be the most important. It depends on the persons in those positions. Also, not everyone starts in the work or position for which God planned and chose for that person. It takes trial and error, sometimes, to find ourselves in the “right” job; the job that feels comfortable, the job in which we can make a difference, the job for which we have been talented by our Maker.

The question is: Are we making a difference for the kingdom as we do our jobs?

In our Hebrew lesson today, Isaiah tells of a fictitious character named Israel. God chose this female character and said to her, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Wow! A light for the nations. Big task!

Now I am taking us on a strange journey. I grew up in a Mennonite congregation where we were taught to think every last person on earth could accept Jesus as his or her Savior and be headed for heaven. It was our job to inform every last person on earth about this Savior named Jesus. Well, eventually, this Mennonite girl went to seminary – way past the girl stage of life. In church history, we came to the idea that only certain people are chosen by God to be saved. Imagine! I could not believe that not everyone on earth had the opportunity – the chance – to be saved.

As the weeks went on we studied slightly different beliefs, each one getting a tiny bit less obnoxious. Finally, we came to the group of believers who believed that each person born had an equal opportunity to become “saved.”

Some believers believe that being “saved” happens in a specific moment. This happens and when it happens it is a life-changing event. Some believers believe that being saved is a gradual experience and not necessarily one specific moment. Baptism is a symbol of accepting Jesus as our Savior. The protestant denomination called Baptists generally baptize individually when a person feels ready. Other protestant faiths have classes to give instruction and then baptize. Some denominations, including Roman Catholic, Lutheran, United Church of Christ, baptize as a free gift to a baby or child and then have classes and then the Rite of Confirmation for these same grown-up babies to say, “Yes, I believe and I want to claim my baptism for my life.” However, adults are also very welcome to request baptism in this kind of denomination.

We can see that there are different ways to come into the family of God, to be wrapped in his presence, to experience the love and acceptance, the forgiveness that transforms our souls. But, to think that some people can’t come into this fold is harsh exclusiveness. There is a place for everyone around the table of grace. Everyone is “chosen.”

Before Jesus came to walk on earth, people were expected to bring animals to the altar of our Lord in order to be accepted into the fold or to be re-instated after sinning. This was not a fluffly, sweet, living animal like a lamb. This was butchering at the altar – blood. Sometimes burnt animal flesh. You know how we, today, confess our sins – otherwise known as shortcomings – each Sunday without butchering anything.

Why has this custom changed? Jesus is the reason! Remember Good Friday. Jesus became our sacrificial lamb on the cross. Jesus is the Lamb. Jesus is the Lamb of God! That is why we can come here on a Sunday morning and say we fell short this week. Maybe something light, maybe something heavy. That is why, in the privacy of aloneness, we can fall on our knees and confess to God that we failed ourselves and God miserably. The Lamb of God takes away our sin. It is already done, it is happening now, and it covers the future. The Lamb of God died on the cross once for our reconciliation with God to happen over and over; not just for ourselves but for all people who ever lived and ever will live.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him, shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

I believe that every person on earth is free to believe. There are no restrictions. Each person is chosen to make the choice – to believe or not to believe, to accept or not accept this great invitation into the full circle of God’s grace and love.

How will people believe in something they have not heard? That is why our closing hymn is “O Zion, Haste, Thy Mission High Fulfilling.” Watch for the words, “. . . to tell to all the world that God is light.” Remember the words that God gave to our fictitious Israel person, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Is this touching my heart? Is it touching your heart? How shall we respond? Amen

“Naming”

Sermon – 01-12-20 – Epiphany I – The Baptism of Christ – Cycle A
Scriptures: Isaiah 42:1-9; “new things” verses; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17
Sermon Title: “Naming”

Baptism – naming a person. In Jesus’ baptism the voice of the Father said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Claiming, identifying, shaping. The Father is claiming this 30-year-old person as his Son. We use capital “S” because this is the Holy Son, part of the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit.

So now we have one name other than Jesus. It is Son. As time went on, Jesus did not stand still. He earned many other names by what he did and who he is. The name “Lord” is used for all three persons of the Trinity. It makes reading the Bible tricky. When we read “Lord,” is it referring to the Father or to the Son or to the Holy Spirit? The correct answer is all three!

Then there are the names Master, Counselor, Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, Teacher, Preacher, Healer, Redeemer, Savior. The ultimate name as it applies to us – Savior! Did you ever wonder why sometimes Jesus is called Son of God but also Son of Man? My answer to that is because he was born to a human, he is called Son of Man. Because the Holy Spirit is involved in the birth, Jesus is referred to as the Son of God. Jesus is really the Son person of God come to earth in human form. God wanted us to know more about himself so he sent this baby to be a human so we could learn more about God by reading and hearing about this “God on earth” named Jesus. At the time of Jesus’ birth, this was a new thing! Two Thousand and some years later, it is not a new thing, historically.

A loaf of bread is fresh when it is new. It is a new thing. As time moves along, this same loaf becomes either stale or moldy, depending on what was done with it. It rarely stays fresh, not even in the freezer. Our Christian life could be compared to this loaf of bread. Our Christian life can become dry, or even more unpleasant, as time goes on even if we are faithful to God and even if we remain faithful with our commitments to the church and to God. Contrary to the loaf of bread, God does not need to be discarded and started from scratch even if we had the power to do that.

God is the same forever and ever and ever! However, our practices and ways of doing things can become stale or smelly. That is, they don’t work very well anymore. It could be better. That is when we need to do a self-evaluation. Am I taking God for granted? Do I thank God for the same thing over and over which is not a bad thing? However, we could be adding some spice to our relationship with God. We could be asking God to show us new ways of prayer, new ways of being alive in Christ. We could be “moving aroma” with the love of Jesus Christ. People could sense that something has found us that is more alive than the ordinary social life.

This new thing is not replacing the foundation. A new look and feel about Christ in our lives could transform our lives! The very neatest idea of all is that we have status, we have a name that explains who we are in God. Just as Jesus was declared as Son by the Father, we are claimed by the Father as sons and daughters – lower case s and d because we are not part of the Trinity. We just benefit from the Trinity. We are saved for eternity. We are in relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ now and forever! These are our names: sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, children all of the heavenly Trinity. How very blessed are we! Let’s all call ourselves blessed! Sh! Amen