“Rejoice, But Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need we wait? Dwelling on the scene of the future, we find some of our worry lifted, gone. A good feeling moves in. Peace moves in. We soon find ourselves singing, “I have the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart. Down in my heart. Down in my heart. I have the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart. Down in my heart to stay.”

And, the peace that passes understanding . . .

I have the peace that passes understanding down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart. I have the peace that passes understanding down in my heart. Down in my heart to stay.

Thank you and Amen.

The Lowly Shall Be Mighty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Evil Real?

Sermon – 08-26-18 – Proper 16 – Cycle B
Scripture – Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18
Title: Is Evil Real?

Oh God of the whole universe and more, guide my words and the thoughts of our minds and hearts that we may come close to understanding your message from our scripture lessons today. Amen

“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” We say that every Sunday in church. You may say it every day of the week. First, would God really lead us into temptation. I mostly think of God being loving. That does not seem very loving to me. Why would God lead people he created and loves into temptation?

There is the idea that we are being tested just as Jesus, himself, was tested in the wilderness directly after his baptism by John the Baptist. So when Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer to us, perhaps he was warning us to ask for protection from temptation.

Who tempted Jesus in the wilderness? We say the Holy Spirit took Jesus there, but who did the tempting? The whole passage of Matthew 4:1-11 is dialogue between Satan and Jesus. Why did the Father allow that to happen? Why did the Holy Spirit lead Jesus to the location – this place of isolation – no food, how about water – 40 days? The physical body surely was weakened. Did Jesus sleep? Maybe. I don’t think we know. Surely, though, a very weakened body!

Let’s see. The temptations were bread to eat. Protection from a fall. Wealth and power beyond comprehension. Jesus countered these temptations with scripture. Each response from Jesus started with “It is written.” Jesus resisted temptation by knowing and quoting the Hebrew scriptures which we call the Old Testament.

Why would the Father allow Jesus to be tested this way? Indeed, the Father engineered this testing of the Son as training for this rite of passage as a human on earth. Therefore, should we not be honored that the Father would lead us into temptation as training for our lives as Christians, as followers of the Son?

However, this is not a fun thing like winning a prize or a maybe a game. This temptation business can be ultra-scary. Where is the line between the Father’s leading us to test us and the devil taking over? We pray, “deliver us from evil.”

Have you ever looked evil in the face, nose-to-nose or has your life been even-keeled and rather on the safe side?

I have known several children who seem to be filled with evil spirit. How did they get that way? Surely, God would not have deliberately caused that or allowed that – to a child! Maybe you have known adults who seemed not to have a loving bone in his or her body – filled with meanness, revenge, spitefulness. My theory is that these people missed out on love. That in the case of individuals, the space that love could have filled was left empty and Satan moved in without a qualm.

How often have you heard it said that we are born with sinful natures because of the sinning of Adam and Eve. It is quite easy to find verses in the Bible which point to how we need to be more determined, more focused on doing the right thing, not succumbing to doing the “bad” thing. We need to make the right choices, to choose to serve the Lord and not other gods. It is up to each person to resist.

However, Christian writers are reminding us that it is not the fault of the individual when evil moves in. It is the influences around the person which are responsible for the downfall. Eve was influenced by the snake. We could ask who influenced the snake. Then Adam was influenced by Eve who had been influenced by the snake. The chain goes on and on.

A recent article in Christian Century, told of a man who had become involved in a sinful business. It was all that he knew. From childhood, this person only knew this way of treating people for money. It is the only thing he witnessed. It was natural for this man to continue this sinful way of life which damaged other people’s lives beyond any relation to sanity, much less respect.

In Paul’s passge today in Ephesians, he instructs his readers how to protect themselves from evil. Paul is saying that the evil of this world goes beyond individuals to whom he refers as flesh and blood. Paul goes on to use terms such as authorities, cosmic powers, darkness. Paul gives us the picture of armor: the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes that proclaim peace, a shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit, which is really the word of God. Other places in scripture, Paul speaks about principalities, which I translate to mean governments but principalities can be giant movements of evil spirits that entangle governments and other authorities and kingdoms.

We yearn for the complete Kingdom of God to break forth. How will it happen? When will it happen? Paul thought that Jesus would come to earth again in Paul’s life time. Not so! Many of us call our present kingdom of God as a partial arrangement. God is here. Many believers are spreading love and assistance. You are probably one of these people. You are workers of the Kingdom as the Kingdom exists now. When the Kingdom of God is fully operating, Satan will have been banished. The evildoers of this world will be transformed or vanished.

In the meantime, how can we handle the evil of this world? How can we manage temptation, even temptation by the Father as we are tested? Paul says, “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.” I suggest walking away from foul language, walking away from bullying, staying away if at all possible where violence is likely to happen. Mainly, increase the outpouring of love and sharing and caring.

What does our Old Testament lesson today have to say? With the Israelites in early days, if they were focused on God, capital G, God took care of them, provided for them, blessed them. As soon as the eyes and hearts of the Israelites turned to other gods, God punished them. Our Old Testament lesson today is an example of God clearing the path for the Israelites as they entered the land of milk and honey. Joshua said, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua took a stand.

Looking at our Gospel lesson today, Jesus was speaking very strangely about his body and blood which would be our salvation in the end. The crowds did not understand. The crowds stopped being crowds. Even many of his followers, left the tour. When Jesus asked his twelve disciples if they were leaving also, Peter, the bold, compulsive disciple said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God..” Let us echo Peter’s words and keep our eyes focused on this Holy One.

Lord, before we think of resistance as a battle, help us to try the resistance of peace, love, joy, and the provision of bread, water, and comfort. Amen

Resisting Evil With Love

Sermon – 09-02-18 – Proper 17 – Cycle B
Scripture: Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-9; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Sermon Title: Resisting Evil With Love

Lord, thank you for your presence in our hearts and minds. Amen

Evil did not go away since last Sunday. How many accounts in the news came straight from the darkness of evil? On the other hand, how many stories in the news filled us with hope and a sense of rightness and of God’s presence? How can the world move from darkness to light? From ugliness to beauty and hope?

The Ten Commandments shout at us from the Old Testament. We could expect that these instructions, straight from the hand of God, would not let a crack open, through which evil could creep. But alas, where in these Ten Commandments do you see and hear “love?” In Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 6 we find the love part. You see, the law from God, as in the Ten Commandments, needs to be combined with the love of God to be effective.

There is the idea that we are born with sinful natures. It seems that we should move through some kind of machinery to squeeze the sinfulness from our innermost parts. I propose that we reverse that thinking. God creates us in love. God loves us. It makes no sense to me that he would include sinfulness in the development of his precious creations. I think that all babies are born pure and innocent and sacred no matter how the conception happened. Do you think that is wrong thinking?

In the Reformed tradition, we baptize early. We are wrapping the child more securely in God’s love and care. We are accepting the blanket or bubble of protection of God for the child so that evil will be resisted. Along with this once-in-a-life sacrament, we lead parents and child on the path to a close relationship with God. The closer the relationship, the tougher it will be for Satan to influence and spoil the child’s life.

So where are the children? Where are the parents, we ask? What did we do wrong that we are especially thrilled to have one or two children and young parents?

Trying to find the blame in ourselves for this state of being as a church will get us nowhere. We know it is the way of the world at this moment in time. The world largely is not pure and sacred and innocent. There are so many temptations, not the least of which is the scarcity of time.

The world really does need “Love, Sweet Love.” Think of love as a visible substance; maybe like syrup – chocolate or maple – take your pick. It will flow wherever there is a possible path. Think of it not as something to be cleaned and stopped. Think of it having a healing effect where ever it goes. Or we can think of this spreading love like the water of the recent floods. Love has a force of its own. It can move into lives unexpectedly, even unwanted. Just as flood waters chase people who don’t want to be chased, love can invade people’s lives and chase evil which does not want to be chased.

How many acts of love come to your mind? Zion Womelsdorf is filled with acts of love. They are obvious from looking at the website, from reading the newsletter, from hearing your stories. Could there be more acts of love, can there be more love flowing out the front door and the side door and the windows into the streets? Would the borough workers, other than those of you who work for the borough, be awestruck when they can’t help but notice the flood of love? Would it not be interesting if love oozed from every church in the towns between Womelsdorf and Reading?

It is already happening. Just like the kingdom of God is here but is not complete. Satan is still alive and working. So it is with love. Love is already being spread by the churches along the 422 Corridor but is it complete?

Should we be checking ourselves to measure our own personal love quotient? How do we hold back in this loving-our-neighbor business? I fall far short. Many of you are models for me to grow my love quotient.

There is another commodity akin to love. It is joy. I am in the habit of receiving and reading and meditating on the daily devotions which are provided on-line by the UCC and are written by various individuals. Thinking about resisting evil, Emily C. Heath, wrote “Joy as Resistance.”

Emily used Philippians 4:4 and 7 as her starting place. “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Quoting part of her devotion, “As a young activist I believed that it was irresponsible to be joyful while injustice flourished in the world. Happiness felt almost sinful while others suffered. Later in life I learned that it wasn’t my responsibility to fix everything. And I also learned a lot about joy. I learned that though this world will always be imperfect there are often moments of extraordinary beauty and grace that require nothing less than our abundant joy.

Emily continues, “Paul wrote to the church in Philippi and told them to “rejoice.” It’s worth noting that he was likely writing his letter from a jail cell. If anyone has reason not to be joyful, it is Paul. And yet, even in the midst of injustice, he found reasons for joy, and evidence of God’s peace. If that isn’t resistance to the forces of evil in this world, I don’t know what is.” End Quote

It is interesting that at the present time the United Church of Christ, under the leadership of Rev. John Dorhauer, is functioning and growing in the Holy Spirit by focusing on the program of “3 Great Loves” which are “Love of Neighbor, Love of Children, Love of Creation.” We can be using this vision and purpose along with Zion’s own mission statement.

Love and joy. Joy and love mixed with the Ten Commandments is the recipe to resist evil in ourselves and in the world. Will this recipe work in borough meetings, in school board meetings, in state and national government, with our growing children, with our adult children, our grandchildren? Do you think the Father is waiting for the second coming of Jesus until we get this love thing right?

Holy Father, this is a big project, definitely only possible with your approval, your guidance, and your power. We anticipate your presence with us. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen

“Be Gone, Spirit of Slavery”

Sermon – 07-23-17 – Proper 11 – Cycle A
Scripture: Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8: 12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Sermon Title: “Be Gone, Spirit of Slavery”
We wrestle with the spirit of slavery, with Satan, with evil.  You say not?  Let us investigate.  Remember Eve succumbing to Satan in the form of a snake in the creation story?  I dare say, she had not learned to wrestle with evil.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil.”  We wonder why would God even think about leading us into temptation.  That stretches our mind but let’s move on.  “But deliver us from evil.”  Aha!  God does not desert us or so we hope.  Is that true?  Do we need some magic words with God so that we can resist evil?  I think we need God’s assistance to recognize evil when it confronts us or when we casually meander into it.  Do we sometimes mistake evil for a good solution only to find that we have walked straight into quicksand?
If God, himself, prepares temptation, it may be a plan to strengthen us.  Life’s experiences provide lessons for us.  Therefore, we are surely wiser at the end of our years than in the beginning.  Do you find yourself saying that you just had a learning experience?  I could write a book based on my “learning experiences!”
Remember how Jacob wrestled with God unbeknownst to Jacob.  This story is found in Genesis 32:19-29.  All night a man wrestled with Jacob.  Jacob did not know the man.  Neither one could get the best of the other until the other man struck Jacob on the hip and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint.  And still Jacob did not let the other man go.  “I will not let you go until you bless me,” said Jacob.  Finally, Jacob realized that this adversary was God himself.  God did bless Jacob.  God had big plans for Jacob from the beginning but Jacob had to wrestle first with Esau, then with his father-in-law, Laban, and now with God himself.  Now Jacob receives the affirmation that his struggles were part of the plan.  Jacob persisted through the struggles.  Jacob has permission and assistance to move ahead; to be part of this big plan that eventually leads to our Lord Jesus Christ being born to a direct descendant of Jacob.
Imagine!  I was always tempted to take the side of Esau, the twin of Jacob.  Esau was tricked, pure and simple, into losing his birthright.  He was the first-born.  What is fair about having your mother help your second-born twin to steal your own birthright?  Is fairness a criteria of God’s plans for us?  Oooh! and Ouch!
Where does humbleness enter the picture?  Are we set on keeping things fair or do we see the light and realize that being humble is God’s recipe rather than “fairness?”  Does being humble feel like being in slavery?  Maybe when we have not seen the rewards of being humble and we still have our sights set on that seat at the head of the table or being in the pulpit on a Sunday morning instead of being on the organ bench; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  Bring on the mantle of humility.  Look for the good.  Stop wrestling!  It is God!  Don’t you see, it is God’s plan for our very lives that we are resisting.  And where will that get us!  Absolutely, no where.  It is the grip of evil we are wrestling, but don’t you see – the Lord is waiting, the Lord is hanging on!  Shall we persist until our hip is out of joint?  Ask for the blessing!  Let go!
Resisting is the slavery.  Instead, we shall accept the spirit of adoption from our loving Father, Abba, God!  Paul puts it this way in Romans 8:14-17, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”  Glory is the gift!  Paul goes on, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”
This wrestling that we are doing now with evil, seems far removed from any shade of glory.  But, it is according to God’s plan.  In Matthew 13, we find the parable of good wheat and weeds growing side by side as they tend to do here on earth, do they not?  The Master explains that an enemy has put the weeds, the evil, alongside the good.  The plan is for the weeds to be gathered first at the time of harvest.  They shall be burned up with fire.  Then the good wheat will be gathered into the Master’s barn.  Jesus explained to his disciples that this parable refers to people.  At the end of the age, the Son of Man, Jesus, will send angels to first gather the evildoers and throw them into a furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  “But the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
How shall we abide until the end of this age – the age of good and evil whose roots are mingling beneath the soil and whose branches are weaving with each other.  Which are we anyway?  Which are we – good or evil?  Which are our children – good or evil?  Whoa!  This touches our nerves, does it not!  Is God going to hold us accountable for our children’s behavior, for our children’s salvation or lack thereof?  First of all, are we to judge our children’s salvation quotient?  Shall we consider ourselves slaves to sin because of our children’s actions and attitudes and seemingly lack of acceptance of Jesus as Savior?  Can we be free, should we allow ourselves to be children of God when our own children outwardly seem to reject that condition?
Shall we be weeping and gnashing our teeth in fear and agony for our own children?  These words of Paul in Romans 8:22-25 help me.  Watch for the word “hope.”  Think “loved ones” and “children,” as well as ourselves, as we read.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Let us do our best with ourselves and our loved ones to keep our minds on being wheat and not weeds.  Let us wear the cloak of humility and leave the king’s robe and the seat at the head of the table and the pulpit for whomever else God invites.  Let us shed the chains of slavery for the freedom of being a child of God.  Let us savor the condition of contentment.  It is a gift from God.  Amen

“Like Sheep, But More”

Sermon – 05-07-17 – Easter IV – Good Shepherd Sunday – Cycle A
Scripture: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
Sermon Title: “Like Sheep, But More”

Sheep go astray. We go astray. We bring hurt upon ourselves. But if we become Christian, everything is fine and dandy. We don’t get lost. We don’t have problems. Jesus made everything perfect for us on the cross.

“Oh my,” you are saying. “Am I not a Christian?” we say with confusion in our eyes plus disappointment and hurt and anguish.

We may search for days in the Bible looking for a promise that says life will be problem-free if we give our hearts to Jesus. We will not find it unless we write it in the margins ourselves. What experience would lead us to write such a thing? If anyone tells us that false statement it is probably because someone told that falsehood to them.

Life on earth is not trouble-free. It is heaven where we are taught to believe life will resemble a floating ride on a cloud or something similar. And how we look forward to that.

What does becoming a Christian do for us on earth? Well, if we get lost, Jesus comes looking for us. If our pantry is bare, we often find a loving person heading our way with food.. If we are behind in our rent . . .sometimes there is help, but not always. Not always! What does scripture say about that? From I Peter 2:19-25: “It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. . . . If you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.”

So what is the benefit of being Christian? Why should we suffer and bring our families with us into the suffering for following this man on the cross? Should there be a benefit? Why don’t we just forget commitment, and blow with the world’s wind?

Why did the disciples drop everything and follow Jesus in the first place? Oh that we had lived in those three years when Jesus walked and talked, healed and forgave! There must have been some magnetism in that man’s personality. Why would crowds gather? This man was very special. There must have been charisma in the DNA. There was, of course!

Shouldn’t we try to resist charisma? Can most people with charisma be trusted? Why do we take this leap? Why do we heap possible suffering on ourselves when maybe we could resist? Because, resistance may do not good. We may be helpless against this force. Force seems to be an undesirable shade of word. Jesus as a force! If you have ever tried to resist the call of Jesus, you may be able to explain how this irresistible force feels and works.

We may want our freedom. We are loving it just liked the Prodigal Son relished his freedom. If we think of ourselves as a sheep, we are free to run in the pasture outside the fence that once held us. No rules! All the green gas we could possibly want to eat and make our bed. Uh oh, we did not do our research first. There is a big black and white moving object with big horns coming our way. We are not alone in this heaven-like place. Supposing we are less huge than a giant ram, we cower. Even a ram would not match this animal. We have eaten the grass to a level in which we cannot hide. And besides, this monster has already seen us; probably smells us. This black and white moving object starts to move faster and faster. The closer it gets, the faster it runs. Now it is snorting! Why is that big bull snorting over me? It is not like I am another bull. I am just a regular sheep.

Has this bull not been fed today or is it a game the bull needs to play to maintain his ego? I am frozen to the spot. But, out of the corner of my eye, I see a red cloth. Someone is waving a red cloth. What will that do? Oh, now I see! The bull saw the red cloth out of the corner of his eye. The red cloth has charisma for the bull. The bull cannot resist heading for the red cloth.

“Hallelujah!” I scream. I become unfrozen. My legs actually start to move. My knees bend. I am running. I don’t even realize that I am running back to the very safety from which I escaped. Amazingly, the gate is open. The head shepherd even knows my name. I know his voice! Oh my, that feels good. Safety. Protection. Safety. Protection. For me! For me!

Why become a Christian? Why profess it to the world? “Yea, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (from Psalm 23) Even though trials and tribulations find their way to me and you, as Christians, we have this comfort, something like a turtle’s shell. It may feel like the crook in the shepherd’s staff when we have slid far down the mountainside and are clinging to a little bush for dear life. We feel the rescuing action. All is not lost. We are saved.

Think of the cross. This saving has to do with the cross; yes, that hastily constructed piece of equipment that suffocates people as they hang. Jesus did the suffering there. We suffer in our lives also. Jesus died. We die in our baptism with water in the name of Jesus. But, Jesus was resurrected. We also, therefore, are resurrected.. Our suffering as Christians enables us to be one with Jesus Christ.

In Psalm 23, the psalmist says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Jesus says in John 10:1-10, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

“Who Knew?”

Sermon – 04-30-17 – Easter III – Cycle A
Scripture: from Acts 2; from Psalm 116; I Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
Sermon Title: “Who Knew?”

On this road
the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus
On this road
walked two sad men

On this road
another man appeared with the two
On this road
he asked why the sadness

On this road
the two men started to recite
On this road
the third man overtook the recitation

On this road
the two men listened, astonished
On this road
this man spoke as a prophet

On this road
the two men planned to stop and eat
On this road
the two invited the third

While they stopped
the third man took bread, gave thanks, broke it
While they stopped
the third man offered the bread to the two

Then
the eyes of the two were opened
Then
the third man vanished

Then
the two returned to Jerusalem
Then
they joined the eleven close disciples and other disciples

Then
all had a sharing-experiences fest
to get the day in perspective
and to declare,“The Lord has risen indeed!”

Is that it?
Is that all there is to this story?
This holy one, this resurrected one
appeared many more times

To prove that it was he for real
To prove that this is not a sad story
To prove that the disciples could be transformed
from un-energized to re-energized

There was a mission
for the eleven and other companions
There is a mission for us
and other millions of believers

Peter accepted the mission
three thousand were baptized; the church was founded
Paul accepted the mission
churches were established

How can we stand before the risen Christ
and claim to be doing our share for the kingdom
Peter suggests in I Peter 1:22
love one another deeply from the heart

I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all God’s people!