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“Mercy for the Fig Tree”

Sermon – 03-24-19 – Lent III – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
Sermon Title: “Mercy for the Fig Tree”

“Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Jesus said this when some newsbearers reported to Jesus that Pilate had killed some Galileans and again when he was told that another 18 people were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. “Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

We assume that whatever Jesus says to the people of his time, applies to us some 2,000 years later. “Unless we repent, we will all perish.” What is this perishing business? Oh, maybe hell. So how do I repent enough to stay out of hell?

Hear ye! Hear ye! There is this fig tree! Did you notice the fig tree on the cover of your bulletin? The picture is a bit distorted in that we see Jesus mending the fig tree. In our gospel parable today, it is the gardener who begs for a chance to nurture this tree for another year and who is given permission by his master to do just that.

The point of the gospel is that God has given us a number of years to produce fruit, to be a productive part of the kingdom of God on earth. Have we produced any good deeds, shared any wisdom about the kingdom, opened anyone’s heart to Jesus? Have we been good examples for young people who are watching? We may be blind to the people who watch us. We don’t notice. We think other people don’t notice any unkind expression or action. We think that our own actions and speech don’t muddy the waters.

Maybe you are starting to seethe as my mouth goes on. Maybe you have every justification to say, “How dare you!” to me because you truly are a good example and model for growing the peaceful kingdom. I reply, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart” and “I am glad that I know you” and “May I walk beside you long enough to get the hang of being a good example; of being a productive tree in the kingdom.”

Others of us need the year of mercy to put more effort into being productive. Or we will be pulled from the garden because we are taking space and nourishment that could be used by someone more deserving.

Even as we look for human models in our endeavor to be considered worthy, Jesus is the ultimate model. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Jesus is our model. I repeat the ending of our Epistle Lesson today. “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

What is this way out? Lean into Jesus! Let’s look at the picture again. Pretend the tree is us. We are leaning away from Jesus, following the way of the world and our selfish, foolish desires. But Jesus is not just praying for us. He has set a straight pole, presumably firmly in the ground and is using soft strips of cloth to draw us from our wayward ways. We can think of the pole as being Jesus himself. Firmly rooted. Straight. That reminds me of the “straight and narrow path.” We are instructed to take the less-traveled path, not the easy path of the world. There is no structure in the easy path. The boundaries are more vague. How much should we be saving? How much should we be giving to the work of the kingdom? How much should we be spending on enjoyment? How much time should we give to help our neighbor, including the neighbors we cannot even see but they need help way around the world? Does our next-door neighbor have an empty refrigerator? Does our own anger need some kind of management? Does someone else’s anger need management?

Can we do this in a year? Do we even want to change our ways? Do we want to lean on Jesus? Are we malleable enough to become straight; to align ourselves to the straight pole which is Jesus? Is Jesus pulling on those strips of cloth with all of his might or is he pulling more gently. Is he determined to make us straight or does it look like we may have some free will? Do you see the water jug with the spout? Jesus does not leave us struggle to find our own food and water. He assists us.

Let’s take a guided tour of our hymns today. In “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” see the line that says, “All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.” I think of my credit card and how easy it is to whip it from my handbag and swipe or insert. Not so easy to pay the monthly tab. I think of the wasted minutes scrolling through my aol news which is mostly sensational in nature- something like facebook. The things that charm me most.

Looking at “There is a Balm in Gilead,” a balm is a healing substance or a healing act. It can be a soothing influence. Each time we fail in our attempt to be like Jesus, to lean toward Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to our rescue; to revive our soul, to encourage us to try again and again. Is the year up yet?

Then the gift of all gifts! The hymn “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” has us melting in thankfulness. Oh, God of all mercy, thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you! We start to dance. Imagine a cold drink on a scorching day! Imagine resting our feet when we had been standing and walking for hours! Imagine the load lifted from our brains, from our hearts!

Could we please say the words to this hymn together now? Then when we sing it, we will feel an increased fervor which means increased warmth and intensity of feeling or zeal.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice Which is more than liberty.

There is welcome for the sinner And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior; There is healing in His blood.

For the love of God is broader Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the Eternal Is most wonderfully kind.

If our love were but more simple We should take Him at His word,
And our lives would be all sunshine In the sweetness of our Lord. Amen

“From Dust to Eternal Life”

Sermon – 03-20-19 – Wednesday in Lent
Scriptures: Job 38:1-7, 12-13; Job 42:1-6; John 3:1-9, 16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:49
Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:14; Job 19:25; Ecclesiastes 12:7
Sermon Title: “From Dust to Eternal Life”

The story in Genesis tells us that man was created from dust or soil. Do you think of dust and soil as totally mineral or a combination of animal, vegetable, and mineral?

How about ashes? How do you classify ashes? Picture a forest fire even though it hurts us to bring such a disaster to mind. Desolate! Nothingness! Everything once living – animal, vegetable – blended into ashes! No life! Now picture a little section of these ashes, a small heap. In fast forward motion of a camera, a seed starts to sprout, two tiny leaves appear, they move upward, more tiny leaves appear. As the motion of the camera speeds along, the stem becomes thick, the branches spread, more and more leaves appear. It is a new tree from an old seed that would not be burned. It is a resurrection.

Yes, a seed must die before new life can arise from it. O-o-o-oh. Now the green blade rises from the buried grain. When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain, Your touch can call us back to life again. Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been; Love is come again like wheat arising green. Do you know that hymn?

Ashes, dust, soil! How many times do these words appear in the account of Christianity which is named the Bible? In Genesis 2:7, God breathed life into the nostrils of the man he just shaped. It is the breath of God, the very breath of God! Then in Genesis 3:14, we find the evil serpent who shall from now on, eat dust. No reaching for apples for this particular creature in our literature. Thankfully, not all snakes are punished for this one snake’s deeds. I know snakes that have climbed trees. Double thanks that I have not yet come face to face with a snake in an apple tree or a peach tree or a lemon tree.

How about us? Are we really punished because Adam and Eve did not resist temptation? Is that why we don’t live in a paradise environment until we die? Maybe, but I have other ideas. Maybe we inherited Adam’s and Eve’s arrogance. However, we got it, most of us have it. But do you know people who seem to have not a smidgeon of arrogance? I have known such people. I am certainly not thinking of myself! I constantly need to be replacing the lid of humility on my arrogant nature. What did we inherit? What did we acquire from the other people around us? What did we acquire from the devil? Do you ever recognize and accept the idea that the devil is tempting you?

Moving right along to Job, something was keeping Job from a good relationship with God. You may remember that God was taking almost every material possession and almost every living person and animal from his life. Why? Did Job deserve this punishment? Maybe. It is not for us to judge. But this book gets rather monotonous as three friends and Job dialogue with each other – more like accusatory conversation about why this is happening to Job. He must have done something wrong, his friends say. God seems to be silent through all of Job’s arrogance.

“Not one wrong thing did I do,” says Job to his friends and to God. I did not do anything wrong. Pure arrogance! But in Chapter 38, God speaks and speak he does. He sets Job free of his arrogance. Who does Job think he is, says God. Did Job know how to keep the waters from covering the whole earth? Does Job know how to get a day started, the dawn to appear?

Listen to this again from Job 38:12 and 13. “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?

“The dawn shakes the evil from the new day,” I think God is saying. The evil is shaken away at the start of each new day! We can start each new day with the breath of dawn!

God finally lets Job speak. Uh-oh, God had spoken these words to Job. “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” So when Job gets to speak it appears that the first confession that Job makes is this: “ ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

Let us ask ourselves, “How often have we spoken with self-assurance when we really did not know the subject matter and the truth.” Have you come to realize that we are very much like Job?” We falsely tell ourselves and try to convince others that we have the story straight or that our version of the weather is the very version that is going to happen right down to the 1/8 of an inch. Or that the stain remover we use will work for everyone, or that God favors a certain politician. Or that the little white lie we told or the money we kept from our income tax form will not hurt our record with God. Or that how we think about scripture is exactly how the scribes got it from God.

We are full of dust and ashes. Purify us, God! Let us say with Job as he confesses further something like this. “Now things are clear to me. I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

We are here today somewhere in the season of Lent. We are here in a repentant spirit. It is good to admit our need for repentance. But let us not quit there! No, no. There is life in the ashes! The Spirit is still in us! The Spirit will breathe on the little tiny spot of life and bring it into full life. In the precious verses in John 3, we find Nicodemus walking away from the new life. If he ever declared Jesus as Lord of his life, we don’t know. I find myself praying for Nicodemus.

But John 3:16 is not just for Nicodemus. It is for us who are Job-like creatures. We do not need to walk away. We can accept John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:49 which is, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.” We can eagerly await the eternal life which is waiting for us. Job says in Job 19:25, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth . . .” Verse 3 of the hymn “In the Bulb There Is a Flower” reads, “In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; in our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity. In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”

“Those Holy Wings”

Sermon – 03-17-19 – Lent II – Cycle C
Scriptures – Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
Sermon Title – “Those Holy Wings”

Jesus must proceed into Jerusalem. That is where the prophets are killed, so it says in Luke 13:33. We know that Jesus seems like a prophet to the people of the Holy Land. But we know that Jesus was and is so much more. Jesus is our Savior.

Other prophets of God did what they were told and then their lives were ended, often in the city of Jerusalem, and they were taken to heaven one way or another to be regular dwellers of heaven.

But this death that is drawing near is super important to The Plan of God. Jesus knows the importance. He must continue, one foot after the other, one teaching and healing after the other, all leading to Jerusalem. But not too soon. The time must be just right.

So here is Jesus, standing at a spot elevated from Jerusalem. The Pharisees come to him and direct Jesus to leave the area so he does not get killed by the Herod who is in power at that time. It is Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. At first glance, it seems that the Pharisees want to protect Jesus, which is odd because Jesus was always berating them. The first impression is not accurate. The Pharisees just wanted to get Jesus away from the area.

Next, Jesus replies that Herod Antipas is a “fox.” Foxes have a reputation of being tricky. Jesus is not going to be rushed anywhere. He has work to do and a deadline in which to get it done. Jesus has an unusual way of explaining the timing. He is saying, “today and tomorrow and on the third day I must be on my way.” Doesn’t that sound like Good Friday to Easter Sunday? But according to a reference book I used, that was a common expression – “today and tomorrow” could mean an indefinite time.

When he is alone at that spot, Jesus laments as he addresses the city, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he says. “You stoned the prophets.” “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Jesus continues talking to the city, “Your house is desolate,” or Your house is left to you,” or “Your temple will be deserted,” depending which version of the Bible we are using. Actually, the temple was destroyed around 70 AD. by the Romans.

Then Jesus says, “You will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” And we say, “Yes, that is Palm Sunday when Jesus rides into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey with the demeanor of humility.” It fits. However, the reference sources I studied took me to later times after Jesus had ascended in his return to the Father. This reading from Philippians 2 reminds us of the “humility” aspect and the “blessed” aspect.

I quote from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible. Paul writes, “Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God (the Father). He gave up everything and became a slave, like one of us. Christ was humble. He obeyed God (the Father) and even died on a cross. Then God (the Father) gave Christ the highest place and honored his name above all others. So at the name of Jesus everyone will bow down, those in heaven, on earth. And to the glory of God the Father everyone will openly agree, “Jesus Christ is Lord!”

As Jesus stands above Jerusalem, he knows his ultimate place as God the Son. He knows that once people accept the salvation of the cross, we will want to bow down before this humble person and declare to the world that Jesus is great; that Jesus is Lord.

He knows that, but he feels this intense sorrow and pity for Jerusalem because it does not seem that the people who walk and talk and exist in that city are going to be the ones to bow down before our Jesus. He wants to take them under his wing and pass his love to them to transform them, to offer them this freedom called salvation.

It is often not an easy freedom. The prophets before Jesus were usually killed. The prophets who came after Jesus were often killed. Think of contemporary missionaries who are killed in their line of work. Oh my! We do need the wings of a loving mother hen where we can feel safe and be renewed.

How about Abram and Paul? Did they feel the comfort and protection of a mother hen’s soft but strong wings? Or did they wish they might feel this mothering? Abram is still waiting for a legitimate heir. God seems to keep dangling this carrot in front of Abram. Now God is demanding that Abram bring specific sacrifices to him in a certain way, leading to the forming of a covenant between Abram and God. This is the section of their on-going dialogue where God takes Abram out to view the bountiful stars in the sky. This is how many children Abram and Sarai will have. Did Abram and Sarai feel any soft wings assuring them that this promise will be fulfilled?

Then we have Paul, writing after Jesus returned to God the Father. Paul started his adult life hurting Christians. Now Paul is suffering greatly himself as he is spreading Christianity. Would his writings have been less full of pain had he been offered some soft wings under which to crawl like a warm, living, protecting, electric blanket? Paul is sharing with the church in Philippi that no matter what happens to us on earth, our citizenship on earth is only temporary. We shall do what we can here and now to make it a better place but really our goal is heaven where we will really settle in; where we will really belong; where our loved ones are already settled in under those soft, downy, full-of-love wings. We can imagine them now.

While we are here, we are charged with making things better. In two weeks we will be invited to give generously to the “One Great Hour of Sharing” offering which is a nation-wide effort to make a comforting impact with the people of this world who are suffering as we speak. This year the theme is “More Than We Can Imagine.” You have received a brochure in your bulletin this morning. Our dollars could be the supporting, comforting wings that will be instrumental in transforming someone’s life.

Our mission trip team is using their carpenter and painting tools as soft, downy wings to change a run-down dwelling into a sturdy place to dwell.  They will return with aching bodies but blessed spirits.  We thank God for these ambassadors from our flock.  May we find our own mission fields around us and serve as God’s protective and transforming wings.

Shall Lent Be Joyless?

Sermon – 03-06-19 – Ash Wednesday – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 51; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10
Sermon Title: “Shall Lent Be Joyless?”

No delicious, greasy food. No alleluias. Extra church services. Ashes on our foreheads!

What is this? It is a time of repentance. It is a time of being sorry and trying to be good. No laughing matter. This is serious stuff. We are doing this to honor Jesus, to be a partner with him in his suffering.

He does suffer to be sure. One year in approximately 33 A.D. it was not fun! Not only does Jesus know he is facing unimaginable pain, but he has all these deadlines. I personally have been facing deadlines continuously since the beginning of December. For some of us, that is how life is – a continuous flow of deadlines. Self-care gurus remind us over and over – some in sweet fake voices, some in stern voices – that we need to step out of the pressure of deadlines. Get ahead of them or don’t accept them, side-step them. Deadlines. Some of my deadlines are self-imposed because ideas come to me. Some of my deadlines are imposed upon me. Whichever it is, most of my deadlines give pleasure to me; I look forward to meeting them, to have them behind me, to see the good results. That is where the joy is.

Well, Jesus has deadlines. He has to prepare these 12 unusual disciples to start his church without him by their side. The weight of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth will be on their shoulders.

Jesus tries to tell his disciples what will happen, but their minds and hearts are set on this Master being with them forever. The mission with which Jesus is charged does not compute with the disciples. Jesus deadlines are not transferrable. He must bear them alone, except for the Father with him!

That is the key! The Father with us! When it seems that we are not aligned with the path on which Jesus is walking, we can call on God the Father to take our hands and lead us, our feet also because as you know – where our hands go, our feet must also go. Where our heart pulls us, our feet drag along. What does Jesus need from us? What is God wanting us to do for the kingdom? Are we paying attention or are we monopolized by the ashes, the doom and gloom? Are we like the disciples at the foot of the mountain after the Transfiguration? They could not heal the boy of the nasty spirit. How defeated Jesus must feel? Having just come from the glorious affirmation of his mission, he finds his progress toward that mission is not in good condition.

How does Jesus manage this frustration? Since we believe that Jesus is totally human during the time he spent on earth while still being fully divine, it can be understood why he displays disappointment to the point of anger.

When I am anxious about meeting deadlines, it usually gives me the necessary energy and motivation to press onward, vaguely as Paul plows diligently through numerous obstacles as we heard in 2 Corinthians 5 and 6. I would understand if Paul felt no joy, yet it is Paul who writes about rejoicing, “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

So here we move from the end of tonight’s Epistle lesson into our Gospel lesson. Matthew is telling us how to be effective followers of Christ through this season of Lent. He ends with, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth or rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

It is all about heaven. We emphasize being at peace here on earth. We emphasize loving God and loving each other. We press on toward justice for every living creature. We partly do this because it is right. We do this because we can see that force does not a peaceful world make. We see what works and it is kindness and fairness, respect and love. “Restorer of streets to live in.” Yet in the corner of our mind, we are yearning for the time of meeting God without a wall, not even just an open gate, but a wide open endless space where everyone who believes can float on in! Our treasure there will not be waiting in a corner or in a room. Our treasure will have been transformed into a joyous feeling; an everlasting feeling of delight.

As promised in Isaiah 58, “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; . . . you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.”

I left Jesus expressing anger and disappointment in the midst of his deadlines. How does he keep himself balanced? How does he keep from exploding under the pressure? Scripture indicates that he is continually in prayer with the Father. Additionally, we need to remind ourselves that Jesus is divine – one of the three persons of God. I believe that Jesus knows the plan. I believe that he knows that when the deadline has come and gone, the joy will be like fireworks that stay in the sky forever. Until then, he needs to keep his hand on the plow, as we say. Above the frustration with this curious band of disciples, he loves them. He knows the Father has given them to him, something like a choir, to be molded, to use the gifts with which they were born, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to start the Church of Jesus Christ.

Jesus knows that the Resurrection will follow the awful Friday on the cross with the drama of the thunder, with the desertion of the twelve disciples as far as we know, EXCEPT John who stands beside the mother of Jesus, Mary, at the foot of the cross. John says all through his writing that Jesus loves him more than Jesus loves the other disciples. Here John is rewarded for staying close. Jesus honors and charges John with caring for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Joy in this quarter! And then the resurrection – oh, one more task! Jesus must prove that he is alive after having been dead! It takes 40 days. He needs to convince the disciples, now called apostles, of his aliveness. No ghost here! Real! And then comes the ultimate joy for Jesus. Off he is whisked, feet last, toes last, to his forever joy! The angels sing. The alleluias return! There is everlasting joy in the heavens! So be it for us as we repent, as we pray, as we keep moving toward the restored joy.

“What’s the Glow About?”

Sermon – 03-03-19 – Transfiguration Sunday – Cycle C
Scriptures: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2; Luke 9:28-43a
Sermon Title: “What’s the Glow About?”

Jesus is not the only one who glowed. Moses glowed when he met with God when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Moses put a veil over his face so that the Israelites would not be afraid. This glow of Moses did not come from within Moses but was the reflection of God’s glow. This happened in the 1400s Before Christ.

Fast forward, to approximately year 33 in the time of the Lord, when Jesus invites Peter and the brothers, James and John, to accompany him to this momentous event on a mountain. There is a bit of uncertainty about which mountain it is. Jesus’ glow is more than reflection. It is God’s glow. Remember that Jesus, the Son, is one of the three persons of God. So the glow comes from within Jesus, revealed at that particular time and place.

We could get very technical about the idea of three persons together being God. Theologians have spent countless hours speaking, discussing, and writing about this mystery. Not being natured for such depth, my own perception of this Triune God became part of me as a child. I did not find myself thinking, “How can this be?” No, it seemed so natural. It still seems natural to me. The image of a shamrock works for me. Father, Son, Holy Spirit – each a heart-shaped part of the total leaf. If one part is missing, it is not God.

Some people like the image of H2O to explain the Trinity. H2O can be H2O in three forms: solid, liquid, gas. There is a problem with this image. The same H2O can only be in one form at a time. So following that analogy, we could only have one of the three persons of God with us at a time. If we say that Jesus is with us, that would exclude the Holy Spirit and the Father.

We don’t need to cheat ourselves. We can be supported and guided and nurtured and forgiven and healed at the same time. We can even glow. We kid about glowing from nuclear energy, but this glowing is a sacred happening. It is the glory of God. Ordinary people have been observed to be glowing. Well, maybe not just any ordinary people. Better to say, people of God. Ordinary people who have been drawn into relationship with God. People who are energized by this relationship.

Is there a benefit from this glowing? Yes, it is a witness. It reaches the senses of people who see it happening. It reminds the witnesses that God is alive and active – surely not dead, God surely exists! Think this particular mountaintop where Jesus invites Peter, James, and John. There is no doubt afterward in the hearts and minds of these three disciples. Not only is there this strongly defined voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, my Chosen. Listen to him!”

There is more. Necessary to this account are the two figures from history appearing with Jesus – Elijah and Moses. This is a complete picture of the past with the present. The history of the Israelites is not separate. This is not two stories: one before Christ and one from Christ forward. This is an on-going movement – God’s movement. The people of the world may jump into this movement or they can reject this movement. We can use the ability God has planted in us or we can leave it wither and die within us.

I am thinking that is why we have this strange happening when Jesus and the three disciples descend the mountain. A father brings his son to the disciples – not necessarily Peter, James and John – and asks them to heal his son of a spirit which controls the son. It does not work when the disciples try. When Jesus comes along and asks about the commotion, he addresses the spirit and the spirit leaves the boy. Almost with the same breath, Jesus rebukes his disciples for their lack of success. The disciples and we are responsible to keep the movement going forward until we get the signal to stop.

We shall grab whatever talent we are given and use it. If we fail, we shall try again and again and again until we succeed. I have been hearing counseling announcements on the radio encouraging people to overcome addictions. For example, smoking. The message is to try and try and try, failure after failure, after failure until finally the addiction is overcome.

If we think our prayers have no power, keep praying. Be faithful in praying. Make it a habit. Keep asking God for favors. Ask God to heal our friend. Ask God to have money appear just in time for the deadline for the electric bill, for the rent payment after we have been diligent in the use of our money. Ask God to control our temper. Ask God to give us the energy and motivation to help our neighbor whose body can no longer do necessary tasks. Ask God to let only kind words burst from our lips. Watch! After months, we realize that our prayers have made a difference. We are changed or a person, who was not expected to live, revives.

If we want to be considered one of God’s faithful flock, we need to do our part to keep the movement moving. Keep watching! Keep doing! Someone may come to you and say, “Do you know that you have a glow about you?”

This very Peter, who sees the dazzling Jesus and hears the voice from the cloud, later writes the two epistles (letters), in the New Testament. In 2 Peter, chapter 1, Peter writes, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.”

Peter continues, “So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

Paul also speaks to us about the Holy Spirit’s transforming power in ourselves. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul says, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

Let you and me dedicate ourselves to welcoming this transformation in our souls by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen

“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy or The Privilege of Freedom”

Sermon – 02-24-19 – Epiphany VII – Cycle C
Scriptures: Genesis 45: 3-11, 15; Psalm:37; I Corinthians 15:35-50; Luke 6:27-38
Sermon Title: “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy or The Privilege of Freedom”

Of course, you saw the cover of our bulletin! “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” By Lewis B. Smedes

Do you know the feeling of this chunk of something in your chest where your lungs are supposed to be? Do you remember how your mind is filled with a kernel of anger surrounded by pieces of corn cob? Where did that image come from? Maybe you are sitting here at this very moment with those feelings comsuming you. Is there a smidgeon of guilt trying to hide by clinging to the anger?

Think Joseph. His brothers have first thrown him into a deep pit. One of the brothers has more kindness sitting in his heart and he does not want to know what a large chunk of guilt would feel like. So this brother proposes that instead of leaving Joseph in the pit to die, they could sell him into slavery because just by chance a caravan is coming past heading for Egypt. Aha! They will be rid of Joseph without killing him.

Problem #1: They need to explain to the Father Jacob why Joseph is not with them at the end of the day. Another aha!

Why do the 10 brothers want to get rid of Joseph? You probably know. This is the Joseph with the coat of many colors. Actually, I don’t blame the brothers. This Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob because Jacob loved Joseph’s mother and he did not love the older 10 brother’s mother but he had been tricked into marrying her by her father. Jacob does not hide his favoritism for Joseph and also for little Benjamin, youngest son – same mother as Joseph.

If you were one of the older ten brothers, would you not also have feelings of anger because this Joseph flaunts the special gifts Jacob gives to him?

Well, fast forward. Joseph landed in Egypt, a slave. But the location is in the king’s compound. He is evidently on the handsome side and the king’s wife takes a liking to him which he does not reciprocate. But she tricks him and it is believed that Joseph is compromised and lands in jail.

From birth, God seems to have given Joseph the ability to interpret dreams. In fact, it was one such interpretation that was the last straw with the 10 brothers that fateful day when they sold Joseph. Joseph starts interpreting dreams of the other prisoners in the jail.

The king has a dream. He does not know what it means. Word about Joseph’s ability reaches the king’s ears. He sends for Joseph. Joseph interprets the dream. There will be seven years of good harvest and then seven years of drought. Because Joseph also offers a plan for Egypt’s survival, the King makes Joseph Governor, second in command only to the king. Joseph’s plan produces enough extra grain that Egypt can invite other countries to come to them for grain.

You may know the story or you may be guessing the next scenario. Yes, Jacob in the Holy Land, sends his sons to Egypt to get grain so they can survive. Oh, you guessed it. When the ten brothers come, Joseph recognizes them but they do not recognize him. Fun time!

Instead of getting even with them, Joseph has nothing but forgiveness in his heart. He wants them to bring Jacob and 12th son Benjamin to Egypt where they will have sustenance to live for the five years of drought yet to come since this is the second year of drought. They resist this idea, gracious as it is.

But Joseph tricks them into coming again by leaving the money they paid for the grain in their sacks. When they arrive home, there is this money. So a second trip seems in the works. Will Jacob leave Benjamin go with them? No. No. So Jacob and Benjamin make the l-o-n-g trek to Egypt. This is how the Israelites come to be in Egypt. They multiply while there and eventually they are so numerous that the current Pharoah, or King, and these Israelites cannot co-exist and Moses is called by God to lead this large civilization from Egypt, through the Red Sea, into the 40 years of wandering which then ends in the Israelites entering the Promised Land.

All of his religious history because Joseph forgives his brothers!

How does forgiveness work in our lives? For starters, forgiveness takes away the large chunk in my chest if I need to get rid of anger and revenge. Looking at the situation from a totally different angle – the other person’s perception – does start this change in motion. Thinking how I am going to deal with relationship if I don’t get rid of the anger is another step. So what if I am right and the other person is wrong? So how is that going to bring the estrangement around? In any kind of conflict, small or large, everyone has to come out of it a winner in some way! Think about it. Maybe you already know this and are far ahead of me. Wonderful! You are a leader in the movement toward peace.

How do we carry this idea of “everybody needs to come out of a situation a winner” to the world of race, to the world of war, to the world of outsiders moving into our community, to the world of how do we love? When does every person in the world get to feel the freedom God intended? When does each person get to fly from the cage into the blessed state of being the person God created that person to be?

We shall commit our way to God; we shall put our trust in God, and see what God will do!
We shall commit our way to God; we shall put our trust in God, and see what God will do!


Are We Among The Blessed?

Sermon – 02-17-19 – Epiphany VI – Cycle C
Scriptures – Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26
Sermon Title: “Are We Among the Blessed?”

If we lived in the golden age of the ‘50s, the accepted way to say b-l-e-s-s-e-d was bless / ed. Nowadays, we hear that same spelling pronounced as blest. Bless/ed or blest? I think of bless/ed as a mellow and honored and holy adjective. It is a state of being. While I think of blest as a verb – having received the act of blessing.

I think of bless / ed as having a rounded feeling, a nice, safe, secure feeling – something like floating in a big inner tube on a lake of calm water on a warm day with no agenda on the horizon. With blest, I perceive a quickness – something like a splash of cold water on a hot day.

Then our scriptures today emphasize the opposite of the state of blessedness. We see a balance of being righteous or being evil and cursed. Where does “cursed” fit into this picture. I think of someone poking a knife into my safe inner tube leaving me to flounder, to splash for dear life.

Let’s explore these alternatives. First, bless / ed are we if we trust in the Lord, if we remain faithful to God. Picture ourselves being trees planted by water. Because we have the water by our side, we don’t need to worry. Our roots will reach for the water in a dry spell. Our leaves will not wither in a dry spell. We will still bear fruit because we are supported by the water which does not disappear.

In contrast, the people who do not remain faithful to the Lord, are like a shrub in the uninhabited, parched desert. These people are cursed. Oh my! Where am I, where are you?

Our scripture lessons today do not sugarcoat God. There is no dodging the idea that God will not be turning the other cheek to us if we don’t show our face to him. God wants to see our full face, not a full back of the head, or a sideway profile. No, God is a jealous God. He expects obedience. Do we want to be planted by the stream or in the parched desert?

Can we plant ourselves or does it just happen to us? Or is this part of God’s plan. Would he purposely plant some of us in the desert? These are very deep questions. Does God give us a neutral spot until we show that we deserve a place by the stream or a dry spot in the desert? In other words, do we earn our spot – being blessed or cursed – or is it our choice or God’s choice?

Well, if we look at Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is saying it depends on our belief. If we believe that Christ was resurrected from the dead and is now with the Father and if we believe that because Christ was resurrected, we too shall be resurrected to the heavenly life, we shall be called “bless / ed.” This is our hope – our Christian hope. How do we explain this to people who have not heard? Or to people who have heard but cannot take the leap of faith to believe? How do we believe this ourselves with conviction? How can we claim the joy?
Do you find it easy to believe because it has been told to you? Or are you natured to have a questioning mind? Do you need to have things proven to you? There is nothing wrong with that nature. We need you in the kingdom. We need you in our society. Religion needs scientists just as science needs religion. Religion needs searching and questioning minds. Religion needs ongoing research.

My question is, “Is there no place in the blessed category for people who are happy now and full now and comfortably rich now and well-thought-of now? We read in Luke 6, “Woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are full now. Woe to you who are laughing now.”

But, I only need to look at the Psalm today to see happiness being approved. It reads, “Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, not lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful!” What is that – “sat in the seats of the scornful?” I think it means making fun of other people or bullying other people or putting down other people – scornful.

To me it boils down to, “Do we lift people or do we squash people? Have we learned to phrase our comments in a favorable way or an unpleasant way? The words in the English language can be arranged and re-arranged endlessly. While we go our way – whether merry or disgruntled – let’s practice saying things to people in our minds. The more we practice, the better the chances are that, when we are actually speaking to someone, our comments will be uplifting and not discouraging.

I like to think that being blessed or being cursed is not a permanent division. Perhaps one day we have had our mind on God in a really connected way, and our language or our actions helped someone. So we are in the blessed category. Another day, something may have happened to weaken our connection with God, and we are out of sorts, and kindness does not readily flow from our minds and bodies. On those days, cursed may apply to us. Which happens the most – a blessed day or a cursed day? Check it. Start a diary. Or start a log. Pray to God asking for a transformation of your thinking. Say, “Am I lifting or am I squashing?” Was this a blest day or a cursed day?

We heard John read this statement. “Life with God brings blessing; the power and vitality of God is active in our life. Life without God brings a curse, the power of death.” We also heard these words from Jeremiah. “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse – who can understand it? I, the Lord, test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.” So what is our fruit on any given day? What about yesterday? Did you and I display and share the fruits of the spirit which are listed in Galatians 5:22 which says, “God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.”

Think then. When we are a tree planted by the water – partly because we worked on our personalities and partly because God honored and approved our desires – we grow fruit. Not easily recognizable, not necessarily oranges and apples, plums and pears, but uplifting fruit in a humble way. Did we encourage someone without claiming a reward? Are you ready? Can we review our day and feel that we need not be ashamed when we stand before God and feel God’s eyes upon us? Did we squash someone or did we lift someone?