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Does Evil Have the Last Word? II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does Evil Have the Last Word?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence

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

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

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

“The Unity Circle”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It Started This Way”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Healing of the Nations”

Sermon – 05-26-19 – Easter VI – Cycle C
Scriptures – Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10,22 – 22.5; John 14:23-29
Sermon Title: “The Healing of the Nations”

Today we find ourselves approaching Memorial Day tomorrow, Ascension Day on Thursday, and a verse that says “. . . and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” You know how people say “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” I doubt whether anyone could say the the world is not broken. If the world were not broken, why would we be honoring people who died in war. Why indeed would brothers have been fighting brothers in the Civil War if the world was okay? We might say, that was long ago. We have improved. Really! We can tell the ages of our contemporaries when we hear in which war they served their armed services time. These days we are not talking muskets or whatever the equipment for war was in the 1800’s.

Today, approximately 160 years later, one person’s one finger could annihilate the world or so I have heard. What the world needs now is not more animosity. Cory’s sermon last Sunday kept us on the road to love as the secret to a good world. Our present governing personalities could be models for us and for the world. But as we know, if there are models of love in the government, we need to dig below the surface. There is genuine love happening but it is more-or-less hidden underneath the screaming and name calling. So let’s dig!

Is it my imagination or are there more good news stories in the news these days? Every time I read or hear the word bi-partisan my ears perk up and I read. “How is this happening?” I say to myself. Well, people underneath are not giving in to the rhetoric above them and around them. They sincerely wanted to be elected, not for false power, not for money, but because they think they can work with their colleagues to bring more justice, more equity into our existence as a powerful country.

I cling to the words “for the healing of the nations” which we heard in the Revelation scripture. It is impossible for any big nation to sneeze without the rest of the nations catching the cold. We could, at least be sharing the tissues. Better still, is there a way to prevent the sneeze? Is there a way for countries to reach for each other’s hands, not to arm wrestle but to be friends? Could the leaders of countries be indoctrinated in the way of Jesus without using the name Jesus? Or must we announce that we are doing this in the name of Jesus?

Another question: Can the regular citizens of a country transform the philosophy of the nation? Philosophy – the thinking and manner of acting by an individual or by a group of people. Can a movement start at the root level of a civilization and move upward to the leaders? Maybe you appreciate history and know that this has happened. I don’t know if it has, but we say that with Jesus anything is possible. How many Christians would it take to move genuine love from the soil, so to speak, through the stem and the leaves to the tippy, tippy top of a government to produce a bloom and not a closed bud?

Marches, letter-writing campaigns, knocking on doors, writing blogs, teaching, preaching – is this how love moves upward from the grass roots? “No, thank you,” some of us say, “I will be at home praying.” Can we get away with just praying, powerful as prayer is? James, the brother of Jesus, who wrote the book of James in the New Testament, insists that action is required to make our faith valid. We are saved by grace through faith but sitting back gloating about the grace bestowed on us is a fast way to lose the grace. We need to go into action, we need to make our feet and hands and mouths act and speak in loving ways. Are we afraid to do this? Of what specifically are we afraid? Are we doing this on our own strength? Does Jesus say we need to go alone? Jesus says, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

So we have the Holy Spirit! Are we going to place ourselves in the Holy Spirit’s guidance and power and move ahead or are we going to curl in a ball and wait to die?

Wait, don’t die! What about Ascension Day? What is it? Is it just about seeing the toes of Jesus disappear into the clouds? Why is Jesus ascending? He is going home. Only thirty-three years was he on earth. Think – thirty-three years is a tiny speck on the time line between past eternity and future eternity. But long enough to tell us about the Father and the Holy Spirit! Long enough to establish loving rules. Long enough to give us backbone. Backbone to establish “The Church of Jesus Christ.” Backbone to insist on justice in the world. Backbone for us to give our lives for righteousness. Here we are full circle! Is war the only way that we can work for right ways of being God’s people on earth? How can we establish a world of “rightness?”

The healing of the nations. Can it only happen when Jesus comes again, when the New Jerusalem descends from the heavens? Must the whole world groan in agony, as in childbirth, waiting for the end of the world? Waiting for this new earth and this new heaven? Must the world be unjust until then? Is this the plan?

Jesus promises a safe, happy place in heaven. “I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus says. Not as the world gives; no, this is different. We can be assured of this. Christ died for our salvation, our saving. That is great and we are grateful. But shall we live in this turmoil that is the world without striving to make it safer and happier while we are here?

Thankfully, you as a congregation are doing much to make the world more just, more safe, more pleasant by your actions. We are passing the magic penny jars for four weeks to help the victims of floods of which there is no end. How many magic penny collections have you taken in the past? How many other things have you done for the sake of kindness, goodness, and blessing. In Revelation we have these images of the tree of life with 12 kinds of fruit and the leaves which are there for the healing of the nations. Leaves for healing! Can we think of ourselves as leaves with the purpose of healing relationships? Nations consist of people, each being a leaf. You know how leaves seem to be everywhere in the Fall. Can we picture each of those leaves being a healing leaf. Go away we usually say to leaves. You are in the way. You are causing trouble. But the healing leaves are not a nuisance. We are the healing leaves. We shall not go away. We shall not get lost. We shall be about the healing of the nations, starting with the closest person who is disagreeable.
Oh Lord God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – fill us with the healing power of the Spirit so we may leave your healing fragrance wherever we go. Amen

“Then Feed My Sheep”

Sermon – 05-12-19 – Easter IV – Good Shepherd – Cycle C
Scripture: Acts 9:26-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-27, John 21:1-17, John 10:22-30
Sermon Title: “Then Feed My Sheep”

Mother says to young Joey, “Joey, did you eat a bunch of cookies that I just made?” “I did not,” replies Joey.

Mother says to young Sarah, “Sarah, did you bring this dirt in the house on your shoes?” “No, I didn’t,” replies Sarah.

Mother says to young Ellen, “Ellen, did you let the cat go outside?” “Not me,” replies Ellen.

It is so easy to deny something that we did. It is our first natural reaction, especially when trouble looms ahead. Of course, it is possible that Joey and Sarah and Ellen are actually telling the truth. You know we are innocent until proven guilty. How often do we as parents and teachers blame someone for something they did not do? Where is love in that reaction?

In the Maundy Thursday scenario, when Jesus and his disciples were still together in the Upper
Room, Jesus and Peter have this scenario. Peter is insulted when Jesus tells Peter that he will deny Jesus three times before the cock crows. That passage is in John 13:36-38. Simon Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answers, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.” Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, why can I not follow you now?” I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answers, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”

We know what transpires during the night. Three times Peter is questioned by people who recognize him. Three times Peter says he is not that person – the disciple of Jesus. No! No! No!

So now? How can Peter live with guilt, this disappointment in himself? This impulsive soul really did it this time. How can he live with himself? What do you do when you have hurt someone badly, probably unintentionally? It certainly takes the wind out of my sails. I should know, I am way too much like Peter. First, I make excuses. Then the awful truth settles in. I am awful, just awful, I say to myself in a whisper – just awful, I say. Then I get serious in begging forgiveness from God. I say to myself, “God will forgive me, I know. That is not the problem! The problem is how I have hurt the other person; how I have disappointed the person!

Worse yet, can I possibly trust myself going forward? Will I ever learn to control my mouth? I am so bad, I keep saying to myself. But I know I need to keep going. I can’t just crawl under the bed and wait to die. Someone has to pay the bills. The next step is to think how this awkward and awful situation could possibly be turned into good. Did God actually allow, or even plan, for me to be in this place so that it is a turning point for me to help the person I disappointed and hurt?

Do you see where this is going? Maybe, just maybe, the Father had this all planned so Peter will be in position to do the work of Jesus when the Father calls Jesus to his place in heaven. Thankfully, Peter did not crawl under a bed and wait to die. He also did not buy a field in which to hang himself as Judas did after betraying Jesus. This Peter is tough.

As we move to the scene today when yet again Jesus is making sure that his disciples believe that he is the resurrected Jesus – not a ghost, not an imposter – but the real Jesus. According to John, the disciple and the author of the gospel of John, Jesus makes yet another appearance to persuade his close disciples that it is really he, their Savior. This group of disciples was fishing in the nighttime, as was the practice, but they had caught nothing. When Jesus asks if they caught any fish so he can place it on the fire he has started, they need to admit they have nothing to contribute to this surprise breakfast. So Jesus, knowing the plan, says, “Put your nets down on the other side of the boat.” They did. Aha!

There are enough fish for a hundred breakfasts. The nets should be tearing – there are so many fish! But the nets do not tear. Of course, this man with the glowing fire can be none other than their Jesus. Peter is so excited. Remember he is carrying his guilt. He jumps out of the boat and runs to the shore. This story seems to have a gap. It says nothing about Peter hugging Jesus or kneeling at Jesus’ feet. It just leaves a gap. They eat breakfast. Another mystery: The story talks about Jesus having bread. How does this happen? If you are a detail person, this could lead you off the main track.

The goal is to look at the main points. Finally after breakfast we get to the main point. This is the salvation of Peter. This very time in history is where Peter is forgiven his three denials, where he is dedicated to lay the foundation of the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus says to Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Peter answers three times, “Yes, Lord, I love you. Each time Peter tells Jesus that he loves Jesus, Jesus says, “Feed my lambs” and “Feed my sheep.”

So you see, Jesus does not picture this developing church to be a structure only. This developing church of Jesus Christ is about caring for the sheep of the world. This could be humorous as we picture sheep sitting in these pews with little lambs beside them. Sheep are used as symbols of the helpless people in our world – helpless in mind, body, or soul, . . . or circumstance. So the church of Jesus Christ is about helping and sharing. Some kind of building is nice for protection but not to be the focus of our existence.

I appreciate this story because it gives Peter the opportunity to get his feet on solid ground after his major lapse. But now it is being revealed to me that the program that is being placed in Peter’s lap is not about buildings as in a church building. It is about developing a dynamic, a movement, an open mind, a dwelling place for Jesus to be the center and the in-dweller. This Jesus with headquarters in heaven, has campus dwellings within groups of people. Furthermore, each of us is welcome to invite Jesus to dwell in our own hearts and minds and souls. We can be walking dwelling places of Jesus to be church wherever we go. That is what Christian families can be – places where Jesus dwells. So mothers and fathers and children are encouraged to function with Jesus in their midst – small communities of love, small churches of love!

Next Sunday, the concept of love will be carried to an even greater level by Cory Putt as he brings the message.

“The Turn-Around”

Sermon – 05-05-19 – Easter III – Cycle C
Scripture: Acts 9:1-20, Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14, [John 21:1-19]
Sermon Title: “The Turn-Around”

Saul – S-a-u-l – is zealous without a doubt! He is zealous to keep the religion pure. No heretics shall ruin this religion of superfluous rules and regulations. It is the law! As far as I know, Saul’s persecution of these followers of Jesus is not selfish. He personally is not gaining money. Well, maybe he is accumulating fame and acclaim within the Hebrew community.

But Saul is a vicious person. He is very determined and ruthless has the respect of his elders and peers. You see, these followers in the movement called “The Way,” the followers of Jesus, being called “Christians,” are like poison in the religious system. Never mind that a Messiah was predicted hundreds of years earlier. This Jesus could never be that Messiah – coming out of nowhere. This homeless man with a scruffy band of followers could never be the Savior that Isaiah prophesied. These people need to be purged before they can multiply. They are like a serious, controlling weed that needs to be pulled and destroyed before it takes over the field.

This is Saul’s mission. To purge the Christians. Our passage today is chapter 9 of Acts. If we read before that in chapter 7, we find the persecution of Stephen. Apparently, Saul was not the person who started the persecution of Christ followers because in this story he is watching the persecution of a young man filled with the Holy Spirit named Stephen. We call Stephen the first martyr. He sacrificed his life to save our lives! Wow! That is some claim. Stephen is like the disciple Peter. Neither one can stop talking about Jesus. Nothing is going to clamp their mouths. The Holy Spirit is within each of them.

As it happens, Saul is watching Stephen being stoned to death. Saul’s presence there is documented by the statement in Acts 7, stating that the people who are present lay their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. “And Saul approved the stoning of Stephen.” So history sets this young man named Saul into position. Position for what? In position for God to use Saul as the most powerful and dedicated starter of churches. And that brings us to our lesson for today.

This very Saul keeps stretching his circle. He asks his religious leaders to grant papers to him giving him permission to go to a town called Damascus to ferret more Christians in that town. On the way a bright light from heaven surrounds Saul and he drops to the ground as you see on the bulletin cover. And a voice booms into the air, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul replies, “Who are you?” The answer comes. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting!”

How is that for a shocking scenario? But Jesus does not leave Saul lying in the road. Jesus tells Saul to get up and to finish his journey into Damascus. He shall stay there until a man named Ananias finds him. The problem is that Saul has become blind. So his companions guide him into Damascus where he waits for three days. Saul neither eats or drinks that whole time. So that is one shocking event. But here is another one.

This man named Ananias is a follower of Jesus – a disciple we heard John read earlier. He may have had some courage but not enough for this assignment. Ananias says, “No way, Lord, not me. I value my life more than that.” But Jesus, the Lord, says to Ananias, “I need you to go to Saul. He is expectiing you. I have blinded him to get his attention. I have great plans for him. But Saul and I need you to go touch Saul so he will regain his sight.” So Ananias goes to the street called Straight to the home of a man named Judas and finds this man from Tarsus named Saul.

Things like scales fall from Saul’s eyes and he can see again. But now he sees as Jesus, the Lord, wants him to see and to understand. Saul confesses that he now is a believer in this Jesus. Saul is baptized. He regains his strength and starts to preach again but now he is preaching in support of Jesus, not against Jesus. I had thought that Saul’s name changed at this point in time. Upon investigating in the book of Acts, I need to go to Chapter 13:9 to find this mild statement, “But Saul, also known as Saul, filled with the Holy Spirit, . . .”

I love this story – how God stops someone in his or her tracks and transforms him or her. When you and I have those times when we wonder how God could possibly love us or have good use of us, we can think of Saul-Paul. If it had not been for Paul, I wonder who would have started the Church of Jesus Christ. Paul traveled and traveled and traveled, starting communities of believers as he went. This is in the days of walking or traveling by boat. You may have seen the maps which show his three major trips around the Mediterranean Sea. Paul and his companions nearly die in an awful storm on the sea. He finally makes it to Rome and finds himslef in jail there because of his preaching about Jesus and the salvation he provides. Paul writes rejoicing expressions in his letters to the other churches which he has started – all while he is in jail! “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!”

Between Peter and Paul the church is birthed and flourishes. Even with the small hiccups and through the dark ages, the church has survived. What does that mean for us? Our church and similar churches don’t appear to be thriving. It takes some imagination to think our church would still be serving God another hundered years not to mention a thousand years from now.

A thousand ages in your sight are like an evening gone,
Short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun.
O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
Still be our God while troubles last, and our eternal home!

A thousand years may be short in God’s eyes but not in our eyes. A thousand years is beyond our perception. I perceive that our place in history is now. We are not responsible for a thousand years from now. That will be someone else’s charge from the Lord. We are now. We can’t change history but we can learn from it. We could default on our responsibility. We could stay home on Sundays; we could keep our money for ourselves. We could say “the heck with it!” But God would come calling us as he called Ananias to take courage and have faith and go to this monster amed Saul. Today we have other monsters but God will take care of them. We just need to do what God says.

How do we know what God wants us to do? Not many of us are privileged to hear Jesus’ voice coming from the sky. But God speaks to me by putting a very strong thought in my head and it reaches my heart. And I say, “Where did that come from?” How does God direct you? We need open minds. We need to be pliable. Even when we are in our eighties, God may have a task for us. “Go Ananias, go!” Even when we are one hundred, “Go Zion UCC in Womelsdorf, go!”