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What Is A Spiritual Gift?

Sermon – 01-20-19 – Second Sunday After Epiphany – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; I Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2: 1-11
Sermon Title: “What Is A Spiritual Gift?”

It is something we are supposed to have. If you do not know you are supposed to have one and you have not identified one within you, you are probably saying “I must have been missed when these gifts were distributed.” Well, there must be at least one of these gifts hiding within you.

The “Spiritual” part does not necessarily mean that your gift is religious or understanding the Bible especially well. I think the “Spiritual” aspect is that it is given to us by the Holy Spirit. Whatever your gift or talent is, if it can be used to the glory of God, it can be called a Spiritual Gift.

How does that translate for our congregation at Zion Womelsdorf? Well, if you would actually enjoy welcoming people outside either door on a Sunday morning, that would be your spiritual gift. If you can easily climb a ladder to change light bulbs in the church, that could be called your spiritual gift. If your talent is being used to glorify God, it is a spiritual gift.

What else could your gift be? Oh my, this will take a while. Do you enjoy baking, sewing, cleaning, washing dishes, preparing communion, painting, decorating, giving church cards to anyone you pass, raking leaves, shoveling snow, planting and caring for flowers? Did I hit your gift yet? What else is there? Changing the sign at the corner? Did I mention cleaning? Doing small repairs? Singing? Being the second adult for Children’s Church? Sending cards to our homebound or sick or birthday people? Surely, you have thought of something that you enjoy doing that would glorify God. How about preparing several meals that we could freeze to give to people who are temporarily unable to cook?

Of course reading scripture for all of us to hear and digest in our souls, being the acolyte and the crucifer, being a greeter, organizing readers and greeters, caring for the candles, counting the money, paying bills, preparing the bulletin, keeping records of all kinds straight – these are all spiritual gifts if we are doing them because we are able to do them well and they help the group. The bonus is if we ENJOY doing them. Or maybe we dislike doing them but we want to serve the Lord. and it gives us deep-down pleasure. Nursing! Being a companion to a person who needs assistance. Did I get to your gift yet? This sermon sounds like the cover of the bulletin looks!

Identifying spiritual gifts is exhausting and endless. Just when we think we know all our gifts, someone pulls another one from our inner being. Are you a poet and did not know it?

The same ability can be used for good or for bad. Being a leader could pull people into bad activities, activities that destroy a person instead of building-up a person. When we have an ability, it is our responsibility to use it for good – to make the world a better place, to make a person feel good about himself or herself. We need to think about helping rather than hurting. Are we acting for the common good or for ourselves? Are we spreading love with our actions or are we growing hate; are we welcoming people or building walls at work, at school, in church? Are we being inclusive or are we excluding people?

Maybe we think we are too ordinary to have a unique gift. Can you think of people you know who look very ordinary? Yet, when that very person starts to speak, or creates a beautiful flower arrangement, or creates a wonderful shape from a piece of wood, or a farmer who knows just when to plant or harvest, or someone who can quiet a child just by touching it or being present with the child, we are seeing spiritual gifts. Gifts that were given by the Holy Spirit person of God when we were being formed in our mother’s womb.

Are you part of a community? Do you work with another person or two hundred other persons or more? You are part of that community. Do you live in a family? That is a community. Do you come to church to worship? The worshiping body is a community. Did you ever go to a school board meeting or a township meeting? The attendees plus the leaders form a community for that point in time. What happens in worship, what happens in meetings, what happens in a choir rehearsal, what happens in a classroom is determined by each person’s gifts and ways of being.

If every person in that room had the same gifts, the meeting may not be as effective as it could be because everyone is like-minded, like-gifted. If persons of different gifts are gathered and are invited to participate, the thinking reaches a new level. Various approaches or insights or possibilities take the thinking of the whole assembly to a wider view.

The interesting and necessary thought is that our Spiritual Gifts, given to us by the Holy Spirit, need to have the Holy Spirit involved in their use. Our talents, abilities, interests usually fall flat if we forget to invite the Holy Spirit.

Lord of our gifts, remind us to invite you as Holy Spirit to our every thought, our every action, our every opening of our wings, each opening of our lids. Let your breath of fresh air and enthusiasm bring our community to new heights of service and effectiveness. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen

The Voice Over The Waters

Sermon – 01-13-19 – Epiphany II – The Baptism Of Our Lord – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17;
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Sermon Title: The Voice Over The Waters

There is this man – born of God for a special mission. You would not want to invite this man to a dinner party. No, this man is a most distinctive character who wears wild clothing, lives in the desert on locust and honey, and preaches a strange message.

Meet John the Baptist, cousin of the man named Jesus. The mother of John the Baptist is a cousin of the mother of Jesus. Elizabeth and Mary. Both births are miracles. One to a woman way too old to conceive. One to a quite young woman who was a virgin. Both planned by God for the good of humankind; for our good!

John the Baptist baptizes with water with the theme “repentance.” It is to wash away sins and to turn one’s life around, to face God with a clean heart. His baptism is once for a lifetime. People come into the wilderness where John is baptizing in the River Jordan. He tells people in his loud voice, in his strange clothing, that he is not the Messiah. The Messiah is coming. It is not he.

One day a stranger approaches – but then, all of these people are probably strangers to John, considering that he is a hermit of sorts, eating wild locusts and honey. But by God’s inner signal to John, John knows that this stranger is the Messiah – the one who is coming to save the world.

John shouts, “Here he is; here is the one for whom we have been waiting!” Here is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” We find two puzzling statements in this passage. First, what does it mean that Jesus will baptize with fire? Second, John says that this Messiah will winnow the chaff from the grain and the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire – no amount of water can extinguish the wrath of this fire! This could be one of our discussion points on Thursday in our Faith Conversations session. What boundary does Jesus use to distinguish who is grain and who is chaff – so much fluff or worse?

Leaving those questions for now, the glorious point of this account is that God made it known in a bold way that this Messiah, this person standing in the River Jordan, having just been immersed in water, is the Father’s Son, “my beloved son,” the voice says from the opening in the heavens. And then, out of the blue comes this symbol of the Holy Spirit, the dove.

Right here we have the three persons of God: Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. God is not God with Father alone, or Jesus alone, or the Holy Spirit alone.

John the Baptist steps out of the limelight at this point. His work has been accomplished. He does continue to preach and get in people’s faces. That is why he lost his life shortly thereafter. He preached to a couple who had become a couple when they had no business being attracted to each other. This couple was the ruler Herod and his wife, called Herodias. Herodias tricked Herod into owing her a favor. She demanded that Herod kill John the Baptist.

So we say, “What an awful punishment for God to allow to happen!” But, I maintain that John the Baptist’s reward was in heaven. He did what God expected him to do. He was obedient. He ushered in the reign of Jesus as the Messiah, as our Savior. Bless John the Baptist, happy now in the blissful kingdom of God.

God created John the Baptist for a purpose. John could have been singing the words of our Hebrew lesson, Isaiah 43:1-7. “”When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you . . .”

Aha there we have the fire piece! John gave his life in obedience. He answered the call. He was not burned by the unquenchable fire.

Where do you stand with this obedience idea? Where do I stand? The wise mem from last Sunday were obedient. They played their part in history. Jesus in the temple at twelve years of age was obedient. He was teaching the scribes and pharisees.

Are we obedient now? In our baptism, the gifts God gave to us were opened; the gifts for the good of the kingdom – the kingdom of God – Christ’s body.

Congregations are varied gifts being assembled into one body. Picture wrapped gifts coming together. They need to be unwrapped to matter, to be effective. Each gift is important and helpful.

Today we focus on the part of the congregation called the Consistory. The Consistory is symbolic of the gifts in this congregation.

Some can preach, Some can teach. Some can visit and pray. Some can minister by maintaining the building. Some are so gifted that they can thrive in all of these ways.

In the congregation we have elders who care for the spiritual and physical well-being of the members. We have deacons who care for the material needs of the congregation, including the building and the bills, the members and the meals. We have trustees who hold everything together – elevators and bell towers, vacuum cleaners and heaters, leaves and snow.

A Consistory is not an exclusive club. It is a bee hive of cooperation and work. You are welcome to take a turn. Each individual agrees to three years in a position. Just think, that same person is welcome to sign on for three more years and then three more years – yes, a total of nine years of a person’s life. What a privilege. You will feel wanted for 3+3+3 years. Of course, you may bow out after 3 years but by then you are just getting warmed and skilled in your position.

Rick Rentschler says from afar, “We are all partners in the service to Christ.”


Taking The Light And Running With It

Sermon – 01-06-19 – Epiphany Day/Sunday – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
Sermon Title: “Taking The Light And Running With It”

Well we said the wise men are coming. They have arrived! All nine wise men and six camels! Praise the Lord! How did they get here? GPS? Yes! This one brilliant star was their GPS? Their global positioning system. Did three camels get lost or did they perish? I don’t think so. I have seen camels with two humps. Wouldn’t two wise men be able to ride on one camel?

Having nine wise men or as they are sometimes called, nine kings, is not a sacrilege. We are not fooling with the sacred story. No one is going to arrest us for having too many wise men in our chancel area. Each version of the Bible, which I checked, just says “wise men” or “kings” or “magi.” None of the versions said “three” not even the rhyming Bible that I enjoy reading aloud. One Study Bible suggests that the mention of “three gifts” – gold, frankincense, myrrh – has led to the tradition of “three men.” I looked for the meaning of “magi” as these men are called in some versions. Magi seem to be astrologers – people who study the sky. That makes sense, don’t you agree?

But, they were in no way kings! And I so love to call them “kings.” As I puzzled over this delightful dilemma of having nine of these people, they stuck in my mind as “kings.” When I shared this interesting dilemma with other people to see if God had given them the solution to where to place nine kings and still have space for the wonderful liturgical dancer, it was always “kings” in my mind and on my lips. I walked around saying, “God, where are we going to place nine kings and let each one shine?” One of my friends suggested the windowsills. I said, “I don’t think we have flat windowsills.” “Oh,” my friend said and became silent. So now we know for sure there is a God. He helped us to use the minds he gave us in a quite creative way.

Why are the wise men part of the Christmas story? They did not get to the child until several months after the birth. Jesus was in a house. He was called “child.” Did God just think it would be fun to place camels and astrologers in the Christmas story? God does have a sense of humor you may know.

I have a feeling that God made the wise men, the astrologers, an integral part of the story because the light, the star, is a powerful symbol. It is not just for pretty. We cannot light it at will as we do the star above the altar. This star had a purpose. It was the GPS of that day but it was a very precious GPS. It was not for sale at any price. The persons saw it who were supposed to see it. The persons saw it who were to follow it. It was not an accident.

It was a design. It was a gift of our Almighty God to humankind. The people from afar – not Jews, but Gentiles – were inspired, or maybe compelled is a better word, to take time, to take discomfort, to take courage and follow! They grabbed the opportunity and ran with it. Well, you know, I don’t think riding on a running camel is the best way to travel long-distance. But, they acted on it. They did not say, “I don’t know if this is the right time to change our lives like this” or “We might get half way there and our camels will break down” or “I like my life just the way it is.”
So you see, God was thinking of us and our children and our children’s children when he played with the star and got it just right and set it just so and gave it the guidance and the energy to enact his plan – not just for the magi – but for us.

There is a plan for us as individuals but also for this congregation. That is all of us together – maybe like an octopus where we may look like we are headed in various directions with our tangly looking legs but the octopus is still one body and if it does not want to sit at one place and decay, it needs to be practicing how to get the legs working at their optimum.

Please forgive me if I picture us as a congregation looking and acting like an octopus. If you don’t like the octopus, stick with the camels. The body, whatever it is, needs to sense the goal and sense the direction. Grab a star. Not a star that you can pay to name. No, a message from God that is shining. God is waiting for us to be fixated on the light he is providing. Let’s not be blinded by the light and become immobile. Let us let the light of God fill our hearts and minds and not stand still. Run! Run!

Did you ever know a new Christian, a person who had not been walking in God’s light but because someone invited him or her to church or to a Christian spiritual experience of some sort became aware of how much God loved him or her and all of a sudden this light of God burst through the thin barrier and that child of God beamed with joy and told every one who got into his or her way about Jesus and this wonderful new life. This one person practically drags everyone in his or her path to come to church. An evangelist beyond compare! So things do tone down a bit but then the real life begins. The life of grabbing this light from Christ and running with it.

So where shall we run. Well, this congregation has been running with the light very well! But let us not become complacent. Let us look for more ways to carry this light inside and outside the church doors. You may have an idea but you can’t carry out the idea by yourself. Or, you are afraid people will think it is a silly idea and tell you so. Or, your idea costs money and people-power. Or you may have the inspiration for the rest of us to be the legs and the pocketbooks.

Well, meet me in the parsonage board room on Tuesday, January 15 at 11:00 a.m. Bring your thoughts, your ideas, be they big and costly or small and no cost. Please let us leave our gripes at home. We will have no authority. We will not be spending any money without going through all the official, expected channels. We will just be tossing ideas into the air and letting the Holy Spirit shed Christ’s light on them. Let us look where the lightbeams take us! Amen

Why Don’t We Have Peace?

Sermon – Christmas Eve – 2018
Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-7
Sermon Title: “Why Don’t We Have Peace?”

“I am going to pounce on you little lamb. That’s what lions do. They eat little lambs and even grown lambs. Here I come!” “Oh no, big lion! No, No, No! Not me. Not me! I thought we lived in the peaceable kingdom. Isn’t this the place of “Peace at Last?” “Oh-h-h-h. I forgot to be peaceable. I am so hungry.” “Well, listen Lion. Down the road is a McDonalds. Go there and eat your fill of hamburgers and then come back and lie down beside me and we can be friends.” “Okay, little lamb. Don’t go anywhere. I shall return.”

While lion is heading for McDonalds, I want to share this wonderful passage in Isaiah, a book in the Bible supposedly written by a man named Isaiah. Isaiah is talking about a king who will come sometime in the future. There is going to be peace when this king comes. Even the animals will be peaceful with each other.

Here it is.

Peace at Last
11 Like a branch that sprouts from a stump, someone from David’s family will someday be king.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will be with him to give him understanding, wisdom, and insight. He will be powerful, and he will know and honor the Lord.
3 His greatest joy will be to obey the Lord. This king won’t judge by appearances or listen to rumors.
4 The poor and the needy will be treated with fairness and with justice. His word will be law everywhere in the land.
5 Honesty and fairness will be his royal robes.
6 Leopards will lie down with young goats, and wolves will rest with lambs. Calves and lions will eat together and be cared for by little children.
7 Cows and bears will share the same pasture; their young will rest side by side. Lions and oxen will both eat straw.

You may know that normally these pairs of animals would not be sharing space like this story says. That is what is so great about this king. He is a special king. Tonight we are celebrating the birth of this king. Do we usually see kings lying in a manger? This king was sent by God to bring peace on the earth and God chose to send him as a baby. So here we are. The king is in the manger. This king really came as a baby more than 2000 years ago. Every year we re-enact the time he came as a baby to his parents, Mary and Joseph. The baby king’s name is Jesus.

In reality, Jesus grew up to be 30 years old. Then he spent 3 years walking around teaching and preaching, healing and praying. But no peace! Angry people were not about to give up easily and Jesus ended his time on earth and returned to heaven to be with God the Father. But that is such a good thing! From heaven Jesus can be with all of us at the same time. Jesus can listen to all of us at the same time. Jesus can soften our hearts so that we are kinder and gentler and can play and work even with people we don’t especially like. So why is this earth not filled with peace? God is giving us time to work this out. Peace needs to start with each of us. It is like a pebble which we might throw into a lake of water. Sometimes the circles expand easily. There are no barriers in the water. But sometimes there is a stick or a rock or a boat in the way which does not want to give in to the expanding circle so the circle falls apart.

Well, our spreading circles of peace may start well but they bump into obstacles. Then we start again with a new attempt at a spreading peace circle. Many times, we need God to intervene. We need God to soften the obstacle. So when the countries of the world see attempts at peace coming toward them, there is a choice. Shall the country be an obstacle or shall the country allow peace to spread?

I think Jesus is waiting and waiting for people on earth to succeed with this peace thing. However, I think that Jesus is rooting for us and helping us while he is waiting and we don’t even know it. Yesterday, Sunday, we talked about love. We wondered if God needs to be involved for people to be loving. I think God is involved in our lives even when we think we are doing things all by ourselves. I think God helps people to be loving even if they never go to church. The same with peace. I think God is working for his peaceable kingdom in each of us. But it is so much easier to keep at it if we work together as a congregation and claim Jesus as our companion from the beginning.

Are you wondering how long we need to keep trying for peace until the world is filled with peace? Even though Jesus is present with us all the time, the world is still not perfect. We are waiting for Jesus to come a second time – the “second coming” we say. That is when evil will be gone for good. It will be the perfect kingdom. Sisters and brothers will totally enjoy each other’s company. Political leaders in our country will like each other. Political leaders from various countries will respect each other and not covet what another country has. And animals who would normally eat each other and fight with each other will lie down together in peace.

“Lion you finally arrived!” “Yes, little lamb, I have a feeling of peace about me. Jesus is close to us. Let us settle together and let the calmness glide over us. Let’s keep the baby Jesus company with his peace covering us.” “Sure, lovely Lion.”

Love, the Healer

Sermon – 12-23-18 – Advent IV – Cycle C
Scriptures – Micah 5:2-5a, Luke 1:39-55
Sermon Title: “Love, the Healer”

What kind of hurt do you have? What kind of hurt do I have? Each of us has a different variation of hurt. Our bodies are unified. We hear the Apostle Paul declaring that we need all of the parts of our bodies but the parts are connected. If the toe hurts, it registers in our brains and we know we need to get the toe to heal.

If we think of our family as a unified body, when one family member hurts, it effects all of us in that family because we care about each other. Our own lives may need to change to adjust to the needs of the hurting member. Our emotions take a twisting and a turning.

A church congregation is a family. When one member is hurting, the whole body of believers hurts. When we have a relative who is in trouble with the law, we wonder what we can and should do for that relative. We have a son or daughter who has become addicted. We are hurting because we have burned our bridges behind us and no one is working to rebuild our particular bridge.

We are part of the human race. We read the newspaper or watch TV or listen to the radio or use the internet for news. We can’t help seeing and hearing the frantic people who live in countries where violence is the order of the day, all day, every day. Hurting abounds! We hurt when we see animals who are being hurt. And then there is the earth itself. Hurting!

What solutions come to your mind? Doctors of all sorts, hospitals both physical and mental, medicine, going on a long vacation? More laws? By all means, more restrictions! How about scientists and a government which cares?

Did I mention “love?” Did you think of “love” as a solution? Of course we don’t want to get to the doctor’s office and hear him or her say, “What you need is more love,” and then dismisses us. First of all, how does one go about getting a prescription for love and how much does it cost? Second of all, is love available or is it guarded depending on the degree of the hurt? Is there a limited amount of love in our personal environment?

Where does love come from? How does it get started? What does love sound like or look like? It is the opposite of impatience, it is the opposite of anger. Love sounds good. It is in the tone of voice. It is in the touch of a hand. It is the easily -accepted change of schedule when a need arises. It is the sacrifice of our own plans to help someone else. It is staying close to a hurting person, a parent rocking a hurting child, a friend hugging us and doing all kinds of tasks that need to be done for another human being. Love show in quiet demonstrations to right wrongs in society, in government. Do you know that just being quietly present at places where decisions are made can influence the decision?

I have seen love in this congregation from my first step inside the door. I missed the love exhibition last Sunday when seemingly out of the blue all kinds of goodies arrived to fill goodie bags for our homebound people. Our band of carolers visited almost everyone of our members who cannot get to any services or events here. They had to scurry back to greet our friends from up the street to sing more carols and share Christmas cookies. More goodie bags were delivered in person in the days that followed. Those goodie bags were big and they were full. It was no easy task to be carrying them. How did they fit into the cars? I missed these events because I was exchanging love with the residents of a Manor Care in Pottstown that afternoon.

We have prayer partners who pray out of love for anyone who gives us permission to be praying. I witness the love that develops when our members gather to make cookies, to make spaghetti suppers. God must be extremely happy as he watches the neighbors in Womelsdorf helping other neigbors. In the blocks closest to the church, I am witness to extreme helpfulness. It may be happening in your neighborhood.

In government that actually works, people calmly express opinions and then listen to someone else give their opinion and then somehow a compromise comes. And those same people remain friends. Our own present Zion consistory is really good about governing in a loving fashion.

But, returning to the beginning of this message, can love heal our bodies, can love heal our minds? Can love heal relationships? Can love exist without God’s intervention? I maintain that the problem with our society today is not because we are no longer allowed to spank our children. In reality, far more than spanking is happening to children and young people by cruel parents – parents who did not have love themselves. Children should have the right – even by law – to be raised in love – not wishy-washy love but love that cares. There should be mandatory instruction and testing of love quotient for each parent just like we need to have instruction, practice and then pass a test to drive a car.

Can the church do something about this? When listening to Mary’s praise song at the beginning of her pregnancy, we have a Savior in this child she is carrying. This Savior is willing to be present with us in our illness and in our health, in our scarcities and in our abundance. This Savior knows how to turn things upside down. The proud will be brought low; the lowly will be lifted. The hungry will be filled; the already contented will be sent away empty. This Savior is the source of love, this Savior is love. Let us be open so this love can fill us and flow through us for the richest kind of life that God offers.

Our dear Savior, you came to earth in a loving family setting so you would know how love feels and what it is and what it does. Then again, you are love with a capital L. Oh, that each person in this world could know this love. Help us to spread your love to heal the hurts.

“Rejoice, But Why?”

Sermon – 12-16-18 – Advent III – Joy – Cycle C
Scriptures: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18
Sermon Title: “Rejoice, But Why?”

Paul is in prison. Paul is rejoicing! How can this be? Our Epistle Lesson today is a short letter which Paul wrote to the people in Philippi. They are called Philippians. Paul had started a church there on one of his journeys. But now he finds himself in prison because he would not stop telling people about Jesus and the followers of Jesus called Christians.

Listen. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

We shall rejoice and the peace of Christ will be our reward.

I have often wondered why Christians who are in danger of persecution don’t just remain quiet about their faith. Wouldn’t you hide your faith if your life and the lives of your family are in danger? What is it about religion that invites persecution? Why do people without joy feel an obligation and a passion to hurt people who do exude joy?

I think I have just made an assumption. Do all religious people have joy? I can picture people who are so zealous about their faith that joy seems to get lost by the wayside. Have you met anyone like that? Does God want us to be zealous without joy?

I like to think of the Luke 10 passage in which Jesus is sending 70 disciples into the highways and byways to invite people to become followers of this mystery man “Jesus.” Jesus instructs these people, who are working in partners of two, to tell the good news. If a household receives them kindly, these twosomes shall accept the hospitality and share the story. However, if households do not accept these early missionaries, the disciples shall shake the dust of that place from their sandals and move on. Jesus does not say to stay there and try to convince the townspeople that they need Jesus in their lives.

No, Jesus says, walk on. Well, this band of seventy did walk on in pairs of two. And guess how it ended if ended is a good word when we are still part of the process two-thousand years later. The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

Jesus said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. . . . Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Then as Luke tells the account, “At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

So the source of our joy shall be that our names are written in heaven. But, did you catch the part that these things are not revealed to the wise and the intelligent but to infants. O-O! Problem! We need to disown our intelligence and our wisdom and we need to think of ourselves as infants. How displeasing? Where is the joy in this?

Real joy comes in humbleness. Real joy happens when we rejoice in the success of other people. Momentary explosions of happiness in our own accomplishments are probably okay with God. After all, God gave us our abilities and he surely rejoices when we use them well. But staying on the pedestal of success does not make for long-lasting joy.

Long-lasting joy comes from the assurance that our names are written in heaven – heaven! Maybe like a banner pulled in the wind by a small airplane. Or maybe the clouds have formed our names. Look up! Look up into the heavens!

Jesus came to earth as a lovely, tiny baby. Jesus served as a model for us on earth. Jesus’ greatest deed ever is so sad, so terrifying, that I can’t allow myself to think too deeply about it and yet I find myself at the foot of the cross with the mother of Jesus, Mary, and John the disciple who claims that Jesus loves him the most of all the disciples. I find myself taking Mary’s mantle of pain on myself. I hear Jesus say, John, behold your mother. Mother, behold your son. Jesus is arranging for his mother’s welfare but can he heal her heart? Can he?

As I picture the characters in heaven, I see Mary being reunited with her Son, never again to know that piercing pain. There is the joy! Look closely, can you see your name written over the heads of Jesus and Mary? Keep looking until you see it! It is our reservation. It is our special place – waiting for us. Gone will be the trials and temptations, the weariness and the fear. Gone will be the sadness and the burdens. Pure joy! The joy of the Lord!

Need we wait? Dwelling on the scene of the future, we find some of our worry lifted, gone. A good feeling moves in. Peace moves in. We soon find ourselves singing, “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.”

And, the peace that passes understanding . . .

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.

Thank you and Amen.

The Lowly Shall Be Mighty

Sermon – 06-17-18 – Proper 6 – Cycle B
Scripture – Ezekiel 17:22-24, 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13; Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34
Sermon Title: The Lowly Shall Be Mighty

Once upon a time, a young, slender, shepherd boy became a mighty king. Once upon a time, a lowly, tiny seed became a mighty bush/tree. Once upon a time a lowly, tiny baby became our King and Lord.

Paraphrase of Psalm 92:12-18
Right now, lowly people who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. We shall still bear fruit in old age; we shall be green and succulent. We shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.

Once upon a time and right now and in the future, we are privileged and responsible for the Kingdom of God to flourish. Privileged, yes! Not of the world, not to please the world, but to please our Lord God. We stay green and vibrant to grow the Kingdom of God in the world. We stay green and vibrant to remain enveloped in the great, green strong branches of this great tree – the realm of the loving God. This great tree provides security, companionship, a place to hide. But there is a time for hiding. It is not always time to hide. We may be nourished deep in the boughs of this great cedar of the kingdom, but to keep the whole tree alive we need to work ourselves to the edge of the branches, to extend the branches, to provide more invitation, more reason to join the kingdom, more passion for sharing the love of Jesus and the salvation for internal peace, and the salvation for eternal life.

This kingdom of God is already here but not fully! This sheltering tree brings you and me out of the world enough to be refreshed and sustained. We are not to be selfish. We are challenged by Jesus to go and share and invite.

At first this sharing is not easy. We are welcome to take little steps, to plant little seeds. We can gradually slip the word “God” into our conversations. For example, in conversation, I find myself saying that each time I return safely into my driveway, I thank God. Our inward and outward gratitude for each little act, that is engineered and guided by God, shows on our countenance, in our very being – the way we are.

Our attitudes become contagious – maybe in small bytes as in b-y-t-e-s. Our scripture today uses the image of seeds because Jesus used that image. However, this image did not start with Jesus. We find seeds as an image from the beginning of recorded history. There is so much promise in a seed. There is so much hope in the planting of the seed.

So when we proceed to plant seeds of invitation for people to accept the gospel, to accept Jesus to be in charge of our lives, to accept the gift of eternal salvation, we have this hope. Just as when we plant vegetable seeds, and flower seeds, and tree seeds, we envision with hope the sprouting, the growing, the flourishing. What about the promise? Surely, some seeds do not appear as sprouts above the soil – like little noses wanting to breathe the air and foreheads to feel the sun. Should we feel depressed about those losses? We could! Maybe the soil was too wet. Maybe we did not loosen the soil enough or water the soil enough.

In that case, we could accept that failure as a sign that we are not good at planting seeds and resolve never to plant another seed. Or, we could research the good methods to plant seeds. We can ask people who have been successful with being gardeners. We could “google” “planting seeds” on the internet. We could go to the library or a book store to read proven methods.

So it is when we feel obligated to plant seeds of inspiration. Inspiration is not necessarily limited to things of God. But to inspire can be an invitation to open the door to God and all that God offers for our souls and our general well-being. Receiving the blessings of God is the door opening in, letting God come in. We are made with a swinging door in our hearts and minds. What comes in will wither and die if we forget or ignore the part about going out to share the love, the guidance, the protection that God offers. If we forget the “going out” part, this gift from God will disappear.

The seed that is not nourished will shrivel and die. The seed that is nourished has a force that sends it forth. While the goodness is being sent forth into the world the roots are growing internally.

What is this nourishment that a seed needs? You already know – reading the Bible, letting the words and the meaning soak into our brains and feelings, praying, developing an open line of communication with God, singing songs about God, having an attitude of thankfulness. This is the nourishment which will grow the kingdom of God to become an ever-enlarging forest of faith. Faith and hope increase as we find our witness being on the edge of security, on the edge of comfort, bearing new branches and new seeds in the fruit of the branches.

Imagine a world where God’s word and love grow like a dry sponge that is made wet. Imagine our world where love for one another abounds. Evil would be stifled, crushed! Imagine! Do we want a world like that? Or do we like our competitive existence where countries fight countries, or countries overtake and swallow neighboring geographical entities? Do we think that is the best way to run a world? Who runs the world, anyway? Of course, God does! Then why do the nations compete and war? Then why are humans, yes even Christians, persecuted. Who is in charge here anyway?

Is this difficulty in our hands? Are we not doing our job well enough and earnestly enough? Don’t we have faith that our little seed will help to increase the kingdom? Oh, the promise is that even if our faith is as little as a mustard seed, this one mustard seed could become a large shrub, so that the birds of the air can nest in it.

Growing the kingdom of God so that the people of the world can find shelter in it! This seems like a 24/7 responsibility. Wait! Verses 26-29 of Mark 4 tell us that we shall get the seed to the ground and then we wait. When the seed has flourished and is ready for harvest, we need to be ready and active with a welcome, with a gracious welcome.

Getting the seed to the ground! Aha! We need to grab faith in hand and go forth. We need to mingle with the people of the world. God just placed this wonderful thought in my path from Thea Racelis, in a blog by Emily C. Heath on June 7, 2018, “We can love God enough to risk loving the world.” Let us challenge ourselves to get our heads out of the sand, grab a bit of faith, and go meet the world with some tiny mustard seeds of love and gospel.