“Moving Toward the Resurrection”

Sermon – 08-25-19 – Proper 16 – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17
Sermon Title: “Moving Toward the Resurrection”

Jesus is in trouble! With whom? Is he in trouble with God? Or, is he in trouble with humans? What did he do? This holy Jesus did something holy on the Sabbath. Jesus healed a person who had been crippled for eighteen years. So the religious leaders of that day want to make Jesus look bad. However, Jesus stated his case. This is the day for this woman. This is the day on which she needed to be healed. It is the day that she and Jesus happened to be in the same place at the same time.

Accident? Not in my book! This is one more step on the road to Calvary for our salvation. Jesus versus the religious leaders of the day is the action to follow. God’s plan it is, leading straight to Resurrection Sunday – the ultimate “This is the Day” Sunday. This is the day, this is the day Jesus rose again!

“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy!” Straight from the Ten Commandments which we can find in Exodus 20. What makes anything holy? I would say that holy is when God is involved. It pushes worldly ideas and actions aside. The long version of the Ten Commandments says that God worked for six days and then he rested. This pattern is not meant to be punishment. This pattern is meant to be life-giving. Working at work for seven days without pause is not healthy! We need the refreshment. We need to relax. We need to allow “peace” and “joy” and even add “love” to flow into our souls just as the Conners sang for us.

My own version of what we should do and not do on the Sabbath is a test of sorts. We shall ask ourselves:
Does my activity on the Sabbath refresh me?
Does my choice of refreshing activity help my family to be refreshed and relaxed?
Are we sharing peace, joy, and love with each other on this holy day?
Do we invite God’s presence so we have true holiness?
Are we ready to start another six days feeling closer to each other and closer to God?

This sounds really good. How can we bring it to reality in our lives? Maybe our own goals need to come into alignment with God’s goals for our lives. Maybe we should sing over and over. This is the day when the Spirit came and comes and stays. The Spirit of God will direct and guide our choices for the Sabbath and each and every day.

As our young people and our teachers start a fresh new year, may the Spirit carry them and enfold them. May they not be threatened, bullied, and defensive. May the Spirit keep them from being a bully, causing fear. May students and teachers alike leave school each day singing, “This is the day when the Spirit came.”

Sing with me about the Spirit bringing rejoicing and gladness. (It is our first hymn, verse 3.)

“By Faith”

Sermon – 08-11-19 – Proper 14 – Cycle C
Scriptures: Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Sermon Title: “By Faith”

Our lessons today seem to be a continuation of our lessons last Sunday when we spoke about too much stuff for our barns. As a bridge from last Sunday to this Sunday, I am pleased to tell you that my friend, who with her husband clears houses and buildings when people die with uncleared stuff, emphasized that the possessions they bring home to their own barn do not stay there. People are invited to come and take whichever item they need at a particular time. Her husband says, “I think we have one of those in our barn. Come and see.”

The other bridge from last week is that many people told me they can definitely relate to having too many possessions. However, one person could tell me that she had gradually emptied her attic. What a pleasure it must be to see that empty spaciousness. I would be tempted to trek up the stairs to the attic daily just to fill my soul with the beauty of that empty space. Good exercise also!

So we have crossed the bridge and here we are facing more purification of our selfish ways. We are told to lay up treasure in heaven. Uh-Uh! Is there a ladder? Is there an elevator? Does Jesus know what he is saying? We should move our stuffed barns to heaven? I don’t think so. There are ways of laying up treasure in heaven that are radically different from coaxing a sofa through the clouds.

We shall sell our stuff, especially the valuable stuff and give the money to worthy causes here on earth. In so doing, we are laying up treasure in heaven. And our hearts will be found there because the scripture says, “For where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.” We will be more likely to do kind deeds, to pay attention to things that really matter here on earth if our hearts are beating in heaven, close to Jesus and the Father. The Holy Spirit will be caring for us while our bodies are on earth.

This is where the “have no fear” comes into the picture. When our hearts are in heaven, our minds and bodies can trust God to be with us and to show us the way. The way to what? Well, how to be ready for Jesus to appear at any time without announcement, probably without ringing the doorbell. Also, the way to solve earthly problems. If we are filled with contentment and peace in the absence of fear, we can look at things from a unique perspective. God helps us to see how the puzzle pieces could fit to bring peace on earth. But, no one is listening to us!

Of course, how could anyone hear our advice over all the hate that is being shouted with increasing meanness and gusto and dare I say “evil.” I will say “evil.” We could unite and shout “Get lost, Satan. You are in the way. You are poisoning our peace!” The world today matches our Psalm of today, written ages ago. We spoke these words: The king is not saved by the size of the army. The horse gives vain hope for victory. Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord. Happy the people chosen to be God’s heritage!”

The word “chosen” here, to me, means given the responsibility of continuing the faith in God. If we have the vision of a country indivisible under God, it is our responsibility to share this vision. But how to do that over the screaming and hate is a matter of faith. First, we need to have faith in God. That means we need to trust God. We need to let our faith in God override our own thinking. My own thinking is a parallel line to the floor – like a horizontal rod across my shoulders. My “God thinking” is a vertical line with an arrow at each end indicating that advice and assurance are coming down to my head from God and my response and more requests for assurance are going up to God. We need both kinds of thinking working in tandem with each other.

Our Epistle Lesson today is from Hebrews which is like a mini-history review. I counted the word “faith” 8 times in these particular 12 verses. Faith. Trust. Give it to God, literally. Lift that horizontal rod from our shoulders and make it the vertical line to God. It could be like a technician taking remote control of our computer to improve its performance. Once God assures us of his attention, we get to share the action, always checking to make sure we are complying with God’s plan for the project. Now what is the project?

Oh yes! The nation, Being ready. Storing up treasure in heaven instead of on earth. Think, just think, if the money that is spent on war equipment and walls could better be spent on helping people in distress; helping these people to be okay where they are, to be safe, to be fed.

Our Gospel lesson talks about a thief coming as well as the second coming of Jesus. How many thieves are in our midst? Think, are we ourselves the thief in some instances? Do we make matters worse? Do we take or accept the whole good life which should be shared with the other persons whom God created? Are we silent when we should speak or take action? Should we radiate love to suffocate hate? Should we take time to lift the horizontal shoulder rod into a vertical “God communication line?”

This is where faith carries the ball. It seems hopeless for our nation to agree on gun laws and the abundance of guns. The mental health aspect could take a century to solve. A wall. Oh, yes, a wall. The only kind of wall that seems practical is a prayer wall. Take it to the Lord in prayer. We need to take our faith and put it into the action of prayer.

We need to pray for the suffering people. We need to pray for the members of congress. We need to pray for the president. We need to pray for the vitriolic hate to dissolve and disappear as love flows in. How will this wave of love happen? A trickle starts here and a trickle starts there and they meet each other as well as other trickles of love. You know how trickles become streams and streams become rivers and rivers flow into the mighty ocean.

Also, if you will, picture love as tiny droplets of mist join other droplets of mist until there is an atmospheric change. A change in the atmosphere! Picture it! Imagine it! Imagining is the beginning of accomplishment. But we are big fools if we think this can happen without constant and continuous prayer – placing things in God’s hands. Are we afraid to pray with all of our mind, soul, heart, and strength? Jesus says, “Have no fear, little flock.” So, we can write old-time letters or we can use Twitter, we can attend a protest, we can shout ourselves hoarse, we can vote; but remember – prayer is more powerful than strong horses, prayer is more effective than an army. We can pray for a wave of love to move through the wheat fields and the corn fields; through hills and valleys, through factories and giant office buildings, through day cares and prisons, through the United States and its neighbors, through Russia and China, North Korea and South Korea, through Afghanistan and the Holy Land, through Africa and India.

Please say “yes” when you see an announcement of a prayer session here at Zion United Church of Christ. We don’t need to take a back seat to our neighboring churches in Berks County. It is fine to pray alone but something powerful happens when people pray together. Have no fear, little flock. Just your presence adds power. You will not need to speak. Please come. Lay up some treasure in heaven!

“How Much Stuff Is Filling Our Barns?”

Sermon – 08-04-19 – Proper 13 – Cycle C
Scriptures: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11;
Luke 12:13-21
Sermon Title: “How Much Stuff Is Filling Our Barns?”

There is this hut – ground floor, sides and roof made of plant material, no door, no windows, all one room, no stove, no sink, definitely no refrigerator and no toilet. A family of six persons live in this “building.”

There is this mansion – grandiose entrance and circular staircase to three floors, as many bathrooms as bedrooms and then some, enough closets and floor space to store all possessions efficiently and attractively.

There is this modest home – working class level, two bathrooms, window air conditioners, not enough storage space and floor space and wall space to handle the large entertainment equipment, an exercise bike, a set of drums, a keyboard, ceramics, newspapers, a dog, toys for the dog, photographs, fishing equipment, plants, not to mention clothes and more clothes and crafts.

Well! Which scenario seems to match your reality the closest? Oh, I forgot. Do you collect souvenirs from trips, near or far? I know. Even the car displays how we have spent our money.

Do we build extra buildings or an extension on the house or do we make our car sit out in the weather, while we use the garage for storage? Does this sound vaguely familiar? The farmer with so many crops that he built bigger barns? What would God have wanted him to do with his abundant crops that year? Should he have left them rotting in the field? The next planting season may have been a real challenge if that matted mess of vegetation had been left to spoil.

Yes, you have the right idea if you are wanting to shout that this farmer should have given part of the crop to people who did not have fields or could not afford the seeds. Some of us have the ability to give certain necessities to other people, while at the same time depending on other people to provide goods and help for us; a market-exchange type of arrangement.

In my opinion, that is how God envisioned his world to be. People sharing with people. People who live in towns and cities cannot grow crops easily but they can grow hospitals and gyms and shopping centers and food pantries and food kitchens.

But here is a new thought. Can we have too many hospitals, rehabilitation places, gyms, stores? Maybe accumulating these businesses and services is similar to building new buildings to store extra crops.

Why do we go overboard with things and activities in our lives? Why can’t we keep life simple? Well, my house has too many pieces of clothing because if I kept it to a minimum and a blouse or skirt or coat or boots or shoes or raincoat suddenly became unusable, what would I do? Well, I would do what many people in this world do – I would “make do.” But, I need to look nice, I tell myself. I need to stay dry, I tell myself. I need to look professional, I tell myself.

There is this thing called “time.” I can’t drop everything to run to a store. And the store will not have something I like in the size I need.. No, I definitely need to be prepared. Hence, the squashed-full closet space. And those of us who change weight frequently need to have several sizes hanging in our closet.

How much stuff is filling our barns?

We did not even mention technology. Oh my! What is enough? Enough indeed! Do we really NEED ipads and iphones and iwhatever? I heard an advertisement where the speaker said a string of idevices and ended with “idon’t know what I am doing.” We could also say idon’t know where iam going because iam not looking where iam going and idon’t know how to hold a live conversation because inever do a face-to-face activity unless we count Skype or Facetime.

How much stuff is using our time and our money?

Some of us work from our homes. That means equipment and supplies. Next to the fear of fire is my fear of having no working computer. So I have two computers. One computer pushed out my AOL program. On the other computer, I allowed an update of my WordPerfect program to download and install. Well, the minute it was installed it took over! It would not allow any Word documents to enter when people would send Word documents by email attachment. So until I found time to let an expert help me – a free expert – I had to be sneaky to work around my ailing computers. I needed to involve my smartphone in the process. It stretched my mind for sure.

Do you think there is too much stuff in my barn, disguised as an office?

Our Colossians passage today mentions a string of sins some of which surely match each of us. Those sins are like the stuff in our barns. They need to go. They keep the pure and simple among the missing. We don’t need to swear. We don’t need to lust. We don’t need to be angry. We can banish those things from our lives – our barn lives. They keep us from the purity, the clarity that is Jesus. We read, “Christ is all and in all!” Sweep our lives. Send the bad stuff packing! Immediately invite Jesus into our lives full time and filling every inch of space. Jesus is not clutter. Jesus is not extra. But, we can share Jesus and still have enough Jesus for ourselves.

You do know what happened to the man who built bigger barns so he would not need to work or worry ever again? Well, he didn’t need to work or worry anymore because God took the man’s life on the very night he began to relax, eat, drink and be merry.

The moral of our four scripture lessons today seems to be: work just enough to have just enough and clean up our behavior and attitude. In this way, we will receive the blessings God has in store for us.

“Taking the Prayer Route”

Sermon – 07-28-19 – Proper 12 – Cycle C
Scripture: Genesis 18:20-32, Psalm 138, Colossians 2:6-19, Luke 11:1-13
Sermon Title: “Taking the Prayer Route”

Shall I wear the black shoes or the brown shoes today? Will it rain today? What shall my family eat today? How can I order my day so that I can get Shelby to nursery school, stop to buy coffee, get to work on time looking calm and collected and ready to start work immediately? Did I check with my mother about getting Shelby from nursery school and caring for her all afternoon? Oh, God! God is this really how days are supposed to be? Keep me calm. Keep me loving. Lead me.

I am a Dad who shares the responsibility of family life with my wife who is a teacher. Yes, and this is only the beginning of the day. I am a leader at work, not someone who can work in a cubicle without interacting with individuals of various personalities. Instead, it is not only individuals; it is a collective group personality. It is keeping motivation high, all moving in the same direction while allowing freedom for insights by individuals. Again, Oh, God! God this challenge needs your direction, your guidance. Help me, God. Take charge.

Then the end of the work day is here. How did that happen? Oh, yes, it is God’s plan for the passage of days. Okay, then. Time to relax. Relax! What is that? Yes, relaxing is good for my health. So God, help me to change my mode and mood; present a delighted face when getting Shelby from my mother; thank my mother, and now enjoy the meal wife and I and Shelby prepare together. God says simple meals! Simple but delicious. Thank goodness that my wife has this talent to make delicious but simple. We take time to thank God for the day and for the food. Shelby delights in our conversation as we re-live her day. How does this happen? Because we asked God for his help every step of the way, through every dilemma.

As I switch to my pastor voice, we are surely wondering where and when such a perfect day is in our lives. We have temptations that bring an unpleasant tone to our voices. We make rash decisions and speak hurtful words or use an unsettling tone of voice and then feel terrible. Or some of us have lives that offer no opportunity to be upset; lives that are the same, same, same. But then comes the property tax bill or a big dental bill. What do we do then? Do we fall into straight-line worry?

That is how I picture my worry, or my rational thinking, to solve a situation. It is parallel with the ground. God is not part of my thinking. Then suddenly it occurs to me that God is available at all times, in every situation, be it keys locked in the car, or a lost wallet with all of the cards that are necessary for daily functioning, or a crying baby whose problem we can’t tell, or a bill that is impossible to pay, or a car accident that happens in a second. Oh, God! God, I can’t handle this . . . whatever it is! God this is in your hands!

Guess what! Then things fall into place. The world looks light after being gloomy or even black. Don’t ask me to explain why God directed violence in the Old Testament and Jesus, who is one of the persons of God who was sent to be a model for us on earth, proposes love instead. Don’t ask me why God helped Moses to coax water from a rock and then punished Moses for it later. But ask me how God helps me everyday and I can give you example after example.

I attempt to keep visitors from entering my house because I don’t have time to deal with the mounting piles; piles of old papers from previous jobs, piles of old financial records, piles of dust, piles of reading material, piles of blankets because I have too many for our closets and chests, piles of empty containers like boxes and jars and coolers because I am sure if I give them away or throw them away, I will surely need them, piles of papers needing shredding. Oh God, when are you and I going to deal with this pile? Amazingly, soon I find my hands dealing with this pile.

I am unsettled that my son is acquiring a habit I don’t think is good or a habit that encroaches on my territory. I can feel my anxiety rising in my chest. Finally God breaks through and reminds me that prayer is the way to deal with this concern. Then I am given a new perspective, a new acceptance, an especially kind word or action from my son.

For some reason, I am drawn to politics. I look at the workings of government through the eyes of justice and serving the population with ways that work. Yelling and anything not productive is not how we unify people. Hate has no place anywhere. Government needs to be the model. Recently, I heard the person, who was assigned to pray for the federal house of representatives to open a daily session, pray that the evil spirits would leave that place. Yes! The evil spirits are running rampant in Washington. To counter this evil, multitudes of people are praying that God’s will be done. How long, Lord, how long?

Other long-term prayer is that our children will come to have a relationship with the Lord as much as we do in the way that we do. Would we consider our prayers answered if our children say that they do have a relationship with God but they are spiritual and not religious? Often our children are kinder than many “Christians”are.

But if our children are not part of the church, how will the church keep going? Who will pay for these huge buildings? Who will pay for pastors? We pray about our debt and the costs here in this church we call home. Perhaps we are not praying often enough or earnestly enough or long enough or we are not praying as a group or in small groups. Perhaps! Are we willing to increase our praying power?

But then again, maybe staying in this huge building is not what God has in mind for this congregation. I believe that our congregation pleases God but that we could be even more effective in our corner of the world if we spent more time praying together, asking to follow God’s will. Let me know if you are interested. Meanwhile, let each of us be in prayer concerning our own part in the opportunity to follow God’s will for us. This is the prayer route to a long-term problem whose time is now. May we feel the Holy Spirit inspiring us and revealing God’s will.

“Is My Compassion True or Pretend”

Sermon – 07-14-19 – Proper 10 – Cycle C
Scripture: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
Sermon Title: “Is My Compassion True or Pretend”

With all your heart and with all your soul. Did you hear, “Surely this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. . . . No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”

What is the commandment? From Jesus, as written in Mark 12:29-31 in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In the Gospel of John, when Jesus is with the disciples in the Upper Room, he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12,13)

Of course, that is exactly what Jesus is about to do – lay down his life for his friends. Just this past week, I read of a father who tried to rescue his daughter when a rip tide caught them by surprise and the daughter was carried too swiftly to be grabbed. He drowned but the daughter lived. Success? He saved his daughter. He sacrificed his life for his daughter. On the other hand, Jesus’ sacrifice for us was a win-win act of love and compassion. Jesus really died but only for a few days. He lives, therefore we live!

Are love and compassion separable? Can we have compassion without love? Can we have love without compassion? The Dalai Lama writes, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”

Some of you were born with a generous helping of compassion and love in your bones and your heart and your mind. You are naturally like the father who, without hesitation, entered the mighty pull of the water to reach his daughter. When you saw the picture on our bulletin today, did you heart react? Natural love and compassion! Tears come to my eyes. Some of us were born with a bit more selfishness, less percentage of compassion and love. I know this is true.

Serving God in Pottstown for a number of years, I helped with the Homeless Ministry called “Ministries on Main Street.” I gave money. I volunteered with the community meals, with the overnight shelter, saying hello to these people on the street. But having a conversation with them, sitting beside them or across the table from them was not natural for me. The lack of cleanliness, the disorderly lack of teeth, the uncombed hair, the runny noses were automatic keys to turn off my compassion and love. Oh, I could feel sorry for them; I could shed tears for them; I could give an unusually clean person a gift card to a good hair salon; I could say to her, “Call me when you need to talk.”

In reality, I had no desire to stop what I was doing when the call came from this promising person who was blessed with living in four walls and under a roof when she called. I would be genuinely nice for about 5 minutes. After that, I was just trying to find a gracious way to end the conversation so I could return to my projects with deadlines.
It was not lost on me that other volunteers easily sat as friends with an unkempt person. I heard and saw other volunteers leaning back in their chairs, telephone to ear, for as long as it took, just listening and making affirming sounds every now and then. There is no way that I can justify my lack of genuine compassion. So I pray about it and work on it. I continue to help these people from afar.

I believe, with all certainty, that I, or any other person, could become the person who needs help.
Maybe health, mental or otherwise, goes south as we say. Maybe we are foolish with our money. Maybe we are suddenly laid off from what seemed to be a rather secure job. Maybe religious persecution is afoot. Maybe a cruel dictator comes to power where we live. Maybe our spouse declares that his or her love for us has vanished and instead of working together to have a loving home, we are plunged into having double expenses. Maybe, maybe, maybe , , ,

Maybe contentment becomes a lost commodity. There is no peace in our lives. I know a person named Bruce who lives in the high-tech society in California. Wealthy! Good physique! Leisure time is spent with other wealthy friends in luxurious style. Pity seems the fartherest emotion that I should have for him. But any level of compassion and love, that I can muster, fills my mind and heart for him. There may be laughter in his life, but I don’t detect joy, I don’t detect any contentment, any support system when life crashes or when even one day unravels. What kind of band-aid will do the trick?

You know. You are probably rooting for me to get to the point that only God in our lives can keep us afloat. Are we just after “afloat?” Are we just after the quiet pleasant day as we float on a mildly moving raft? Or we may be needing a bit more excitement like water-skiing behind a fast moving motor boat, or a walk over the Grand Canyon, or the biggest roller-coaster in the world and as it happens, it stops when we are at the top? For some of us we would be high with the majesty of God! For others of us we would be seeking God’s help with all of our might.

Seeking God’s help when we are in desperate situations. Feeling God’s presence wherever and whenever life call us. Genuine love and compassion wants that kind of connection to God for everyone; not just the clean person, or not just for the person who has no access to a shower; not just the wealthy person who is seeking for whatever is missing, not just for the person who is clinging to God for dear life for rescue from mental health gone awry. For everyone! When the joy of life is available, our compassion and love want to share it.

We won’t sing this tricky song, but there is a song that says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” In our Colossians 1 lesson, Paul writes, “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”

Another verse says, “He gives me living water and I thirst no more.” From John 7.38, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

And then this verse, “The word of faith is nigh thee, even in my mouth.” Straight from Deuteronomy 30:14

Later we will sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Look for these phrases, “Thy compassions, they fail not . . .” and “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow . . .”

From Psalm 25,“Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting. All your paths, O Lord, are steadfast love and faithfulness to those who keep your [commandments].”

Lord God of faithfulness, compassion, and love, inspire us increasingly each day. Amen

“Minding Our Own Business – Or Not”

Sermon – 07-07-19 – Proper 9 – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-9; Galatians 6:1-16; Luke 10:1-20
Sermon Title: “Minding Our Own Business – Or Not”

Minding our own business – or not! What would Jesus do? What does God say? On a spectrum of 1 to 100 how nosy are we supposed to be? Not at all? Zero? Half-way as in 50? Would our nosiness be to satisfy ourselves or would it be to honestly help someone else? What if they don’t want our help even if they need it?

Millie – oh, I met a Millie recently. Was it here? Where did I meet a Millie? I will assume it is not here and I will call my character Millie. Millie knows a lot about a lot. Does she need to share her wisdom to build her own self-esteem or does she need to share her wisdom to fulfill a genuine need to be helpful and see someone thrive under her guidance? It is hard to tell. Has Millie analyzed this herself? Or, does she just know that it feels good to lay her head on her pillow at night after helping someone.

What kind of help does she give? Does she just talk or does she act? Some of you are genuine helpers. You are always ready to lend a hand and you do it well. I’ve observed that you are not busybodies. However, when you notice or hear or are asked, you step in naturally and selflessly. Some of us are more hesitant to give of our time and our strength. Maybe it is pure protectiveness. Maybe we are short on time and strength. Maybe we are not good at cooking or cleaning or repairing. You might chide us saying that we will never become good if we don’t try and don’t practice. How true!

What if our neighbor is an unhappy person and we are convinced that if that person knew about Jesus it would change our neighbor’s life? Would we find it easy to go to the fence that separates us and casually bring Jesus into a conversation? Or maybe when we are helping that person to clear the tree that came down in a storm, we mention the “Jesus” word.

What if Jesus knocked on my front door and said, “Mary Etta. I have a job for you immediately. Do not bring anything with you. I need you to knock on doors and say, ‘I have good news for you. May I come in and tell you?’” “Do I have a choice, Jesus,” I say. “Not really,” Jesus says. So how do I say “no” to Jesus? I am the one who dreads packing to go overnight lest I forget something and oh the time it takes to pack and then to unpack. Jesus is saying, “Take nothing.” And immediately! I wonder if that means no time to use the bathroom even. Oh, misery! This is the epitome of trust. We are to trust the Father to take care of every need!

I feel powerless to slam the door in the face of Jesus so without looking at the meal half eaten on my kitchen table, I step outside and close the door behind me. No keys, remember! I become a salesperson for Jesus. I put on the mind of Jesus. I need to be a humble salesperson. Are those two words oxymorons? Thank goodness that Jesus does not expect us to stay where we are not welcome. We present the message. If it is not well-received, we get to shake the dust from our sandals and face the next dwelling. A whole town could be against us. On the other hand, the whole town could welcome us. Then there is the thing of having a partner. Jesus does not give us personality tests to know which two people would be compatible partners. Some of you know that I would rather go alone, at my own pace, telling the story my own way. Having a partner! Oh Jesus, mold me, melt me, fill me, use me, by the Spirit of compatibility.

Does Jesus know the word “nosiness?” Are we interrupting people’s lives to prepare them for
a different way of life? Granted, in the time of Jesus it was not unusual to receive unexpected guests and offer overnight accommodations plus food plus conversation. But, we Jesus-followers are coming with authority. Our instructions are to say, “God bless this home with peace.” If the people living there are peace-loving, they will feel blessed with peace and with healing! “Cure the sick who are there,” Jesus instructs.

When we return to Jesus after our mission travels, we are jubilant. Our attempts at healing succeeded. We were filled with power and authority but the overwhelming feeling was peace. We brought peace and healing.

I dared to place myself in this 1st Century setting with the living Jesus. Will Jesus give me power and authority to heal and to bring peace in this 21st Century? More importantly, will he give each one of us the command and the power. It is about all of us – each one of us who cares about the sin-sickness of this world. Can we go two-by-two into our town to share the peace? We certainly love to share the peace in our weekly worship. But going into the town! No way, we find ourselves saying. But, wait, this is Jesus at the door. This is Jesus at the door of our hearts!
This is the kingdom of God coming to spread the peace we need so desperately!

Some of us who did the clean-up walk last Sunday two-by-two, feel the call to walk the town as a group. To say hello. To say “God bless you with peace” or “Peace be with you.” Maybe we could even wear T-shirts which say “Peace from Zion UCC.” That sounds selfish. We should probably declare ourselves as working for Jesus. Our shirts could say, “Peace from Jesus!” Then in small letters we could identify ourselves as “Believers from Zion UCC Womelsdorf.”

Would we do this for the reward of having our names written in heaven? We would do this because of our longing to have the peace of God pervade the world. Our names are already written in heaven by the grace of God.

If you are sitting near someone who has the more modern picture on the bulletin cover, take a glance, please. This “going out” can lead us on multiple paths. The paths converge, sharing our love of Jesus, strengthening our beliefs, then branching into the world not to mingle and to be absorbed but to bring the joy and the peace that passes understanding and the love of Jesus into the world to overcome the world, to prepare the world for the ultimate, perfect kingdom of God.

Sing
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.

I have the love of Jesus, love of Jesus down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart.  I have the love of Jesus down in my heart; down in my heart to stay.

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.

“The Freedom to Follow”

Sermon – 06-30-19 – Proper 8 – Cycle C
Scripture: I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 Psalm 16 Galatians 5:1, 13-25 Luke 9:51-62
Sermon Title: “The Freedom to Follow”

“Follow what?” we might say. What might we want to follow? What might we want to have?

Freddy the fish was in a habitat with other fish. One day he noticed that there was a wonderful empty habitat close by. Was it a good habitat for him? He studied it. Freddy lived in a clean fish bowl. Someone took care of this home for Freddy and his family and friends. Was he lacking anything? Was something not good in his home? Freddy thought and thought. He thought, “I perceive that there is more freedom in that empty bowl.” I am here with all these other fish. I can never be alone. Certainly there is no privacy in any fish bowl but I could at least be alone!

How high and how far can a fish leap without dying in the air? How far can I leap without falling on the table? Do I have that much courage? Does it really take courage? It may only take foolishness. Freddy did not have a thought about the fish he would be leaving behind if he exercised his own freedom. What was his responsibility here? Did he have a role that benefited the community? Who would miss him if he left? Did he have children there? Did he have some upkeep chores that would not get done if he left?

And besides this would be one chance and done. If he did dare to jump from his fish bowl to the other fish bowl and he failed, that would be it. No second chance with this escapade! But freedom called him. The idea of having the whole fish bowl to himself was alluring. One morning he was feeling especially energetic and he found himself in the air between the two fish bowls. Wow! This is freedom! Will I make it? In a flash, Freddy splashed into the never-been-used bowl of water. “Wow!” Freddy said again. “Wow!”

Freddy realized that he had this freedom and he found himself accepting it. Was he happy? Remind me to come back to that question.

What is this thing called freedom? Why are we willing to spend so much energy and risk to preserve our freedom? Because the calendar has brought us around to the day on which we express renewed thankfulness for our freedom to live in a relatively free country, we are thankful for the people who either chose, or were forced, to fight to keep our country and other countries free. We are probably guilty of not expressing our thanks well enough and often enough and with action instead of just words. Some of us are negligent in expressing thanks because we are so focused on expressing our dislike and even hatred for any kind of killing. “What does it solve?” we ask.

We wish every leader of every everywhere would understand that the way of Jesus is the secret to true freedom. Jesus advocated for a blanket of love. But what is love and how do we develop love? In our Galatians lesson today, Paul is talking about the Fruit of the Spirit. We naturally see apples, peaches, oranges, pineapple, pears, mangoes, cherries, plums, strawberries, and the like floating around us. However, Paul lists nine qualities, nine ways of being that bring us a pleasant atmosphere, a fruitful life. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Count them. Nine! Ask our after-school people. They learned a song pronto which went very fast. It surely was an easy way to learn these nine ways of being as Jesus wants us to be; as Jesus wants the world to be.

Imagine with me a war plane that would drop,, or even shoot, doses of joy or doses of love and peace onto the shoulders of the leaders who are filled with hatred and determination, with jealousy and pride. Think that there is no antidote for these doses of kindness, generosity, patience. It would be like agent-orange or another poisonous substance being sprayed into the heart and lungs of the leaders who have no time and no vision of contentment and sharing.

We believe that Jesus is the source of these qualities. We have noticed that these qualities can spread just as infection spreads from person to person. But peace, joy, and love are a good infection. Someone, or someones, need to start this infection. We might think that we can take a vacation from spreading these qualities but one grouch episode and we have just soured the whole project. So we keep trying to avoid grouchiness or anger. Slowly, we become more like Jesus and we are helping the world little by little – a slowly spreading phenomenon. This is achieved by the Holy Spirit. Fruit of the Spirit. Without the Spirit, these fruits wither on the branch or on the vine.

We’re talking about the world. Does the Holy Spirit work in the whole world or just where people believe there is a Holy Spirit? Hm-m-m-m-m. Very interesting question. Take this home with you and ponder. Does the Holy Spirit work in the whole world or just where people believe there is a Holy Spirit? If we studied the various religions of the world, we would find beliefs very similar to our Christian beliefs. There are peace-oriented religions to be sure. Is Jesus upset if people come to the Fruit-of-the-Spirit kind of living but call their leader a different name? This is another Hm-m-m-m-m.

Meanwhile, do you think we have freedom to follow the path of peace or to follow the path of hurt and destruction and animosity? Or don’t we have this freedom? Does God gives us the choice or are we led by the nose? And . . . what is the limitation of our freedom? Can we leap from one fish bowl to another fish bowl simply because we want a taste of the greener pasture on the other side of the fence? I always say that my freedom ends where the next person’s freedom starts. If my claim to freedom hurts someone else, it is not my freedom.

Our scripture lessons today give us two people who asked for the freedom to say good-by to their families and to tie loose ends in changing their careers to follow God’s plans for their lives. When Elijah, a prophet in the Hebrew or Old Testament time, was needing to retire, Elisha was in line to be Elijah’s successor. Elisha asked permission to dispense of his livestock in an orderly fashion. Elijah granted that request to him.

In our passage from Luke, Jesus was recruiting a team to spread the gospel of salvation. To one person who asked to go home to bury a relative who had died, Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another person wanted to just say good-by to his loved ones but Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

So freedom is a precious commodity not to be taken for granted or lightly. Freedom is a variable commodity, not the same for everybody or for all times. As we go on our way today, let us ponder the many freedoms that exist. Let’s think if we are claiming freedom without thinking about the next person or the next group of people. How can we be sharing our freedoms? What do you think? Was Freddy happy being alone in this new freedom fish bowl?

God of boundaries and God of freedoms, help us to know when to claim courage and leap into new freedoms as did Freddy the fish. Help us to know when to rein in our claims and instead pull out our Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and use them with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Amen