“Full of Gladness”

Sermon – 04-23-17 – Easter II – Cycle A
Scripture: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Sermon Title: “Full of Gladness”

Are you? Are you full of gladness? Am I full of gladness? Should it be our goal? If we say we are Christians, should we be full of gladness?

Is anyone full of gladness? David, the psalmist, the shepherd boy, the king, writes to the Lord in Psalm 16:8-11 (CEV), “I am your chosen one. You won’t leave me in the grave or let my body decay. You have shown me the path to life, and you make me glad by being near to me. Sitting at your right side, I will always be joyful.”

The New Revised Standard Version writes it this way as repeated by Peter in Acts 2:28, “You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

Diving into the collection of Psalms is a deep experience. If we are actually diving, we will need oxygen equipment. Breathing tends to stop when we realize the levels of writing and understanding. There is the surface level – what seems to be said. Going a bit deeper, our minds go on alert. We say to ourselves, “Who is speaking here? To whom is this person speaking? Is this a time machine?

David, the psalmist, the shepherd boy, the king, the prophet, is acknowledged as the author of many of the Psalms. How can David be talking about the future; hundreds of years future – wait! David is confusing the tenses. Does David have two Lords? David refers to himself sitting on the right hand of his Lord. Is he talking God or is he talking just to Jesus? Is he putting words in the mouth of Jesus? Jesus is not yet human when David lives on earth.

But, David knows. God assures David that from David’s descendants will come the Messiah. David’s Lord, from past time and all time, promises that David will have a descendant who will be David’s Lord. This descendant will be David’s Savior. Only David? No! Our Savior also. Your Savior also. The addicted person’s Savior. The abuser’s Savior. Whoever wants to be saved can be saved through Jesus.

This is the David who is full of gladness. What does that do for you and me? We are not aware that anyone in our generation will be the ancestor of someone who will be our Savior. Then again it depends on how broadly we paint the word “savior.” Sometimes when we least expect, one of our children or grandchildren, or on and on, will change our lives by a word or a deed or a contribution to the condition of all humankind. So many earthly matters can be made better by the passion and knowledge of our descendants. But when laid before God, the ultimate saving is done through the body and blood of Jesus Christ, descendant of David.

Then about this gladness, how do we get it? Do we train for it? Can we buy it? Do we beg for it? Can we chase it as we may do to catch a butterfly or a run-away pony? Should we chase it as police chase an offender of some sort? What happens when we chase? The attempt to capture something intangible, something elusive, usually ends in failure. Rather, being still, holding conversation with God will find the sought-after feeling approaching us from the back, settling on our shoulders with a cheerful “hello there.” So it is with gladness! If our nature makes sitting still unlikely, we may go about our tasks, our planning, our housework, our teaching, even the restoration of our bodies in sleep. Before we know it, there is a song in our heads and hearts, our surroundings look lighter. Gladness has arrived! Thank God.

1 Peter 1:3-9 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
3 Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is so good, and by raising Jesus from death, he has given us new life and a hope that lives on. 4 God has something stored up for you in heaven, where it will never decay or be ruined or disappear.

5 You have faith in God, whose power will protect you until the last day. Then he will save you, just as he has always planned to do. 6 On that day you will be glad, even if you have to go through many hard trials for a while. 7 Your faith will be like gold that has been tested in a fire. And these trials will prove that your faith is worth much more than gold that can be destroyed. They will show that you will be given praise and honor and glory when Jesus Christ returns.

8 You have never seen Jesus, and you don’t see him now. But still you love him and have faith in him, and no words can tell how glad and happy 9 you are to be saved. That’s why you have faith.

Faith! Belief! Believing what we cannot see! We want to see, we want to have proof before we trust. Thomas is no exception even if he is a disciple. John and Peter needed to see. They ran to see the empty tomb. Disciples of this man Jesus are gathered in a locked room after the crucifixion. Fearful for their own safety. Heartbroken in their disappointment. These disciples feel betrayed. They had sacrificed their livelihoods when Jesus beckoned with “Follow me.”

Then Jesus appears despite the locked door – just appears. Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” He shows them his pierced hands and side. Jesus says more. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon these gathered individuals who come to accept that this is their Jesus, not an imposter or a vision.

But, Thomas, one of the twelve, is not present. When told by the other disciples whom he had missed, Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Jesus has time to catch another gathering in the locked room when Thomas is present. Thomas is invited to place his hands in the hands of Jesus to feel and see the wounds. He is invited to place his hands in the wound in the side of Jesus! Thomas believes. “My Lord and my God,” he says.

Jesus declares, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Returning to David, centuries earlier, we find him saying to his Lord and our Lord, “You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Do you yearn for this joy, this gladness? Just say, “I believe, Lord.”

From Troubled Soul to Glorious Overcoming!

Sermon – 04-16-17 – Easter Sunday – Cycle A
Scripture: Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 28:1-10
Sermon Title: “From Troubled Soul to Glorious Overcoming!”

Once a woman lost a coin. She swept every corner of her room. She lit a lamp to look for the coin. The coin was of more value than a penny is to us today. She probably was holding her breath. Sweep. Sweep. Glare into the shadows. Move the lamp. I am guessing that she searched the whole room until she finally came to the place where the coin lay. Rejoicing happened! From Troubled Soul to Glorious Overcoming!

Once a shepherd lost one sheep from a flock of 100. The intended action with the whole flock came to a halt. Off goes the shepherd to find this lost one. Hanging on a cliff, there was the lost sheep. Using his staff, the shepherd gently maneuvered the curved top around the body of the frightened sheep and pulled that precious being to himself. The lost is found. Rejoicing happened! From Troubled Soul to Glorious Overcoming!

What else was lost? Oh, a son! A wayward son wanted to know, wanted to experience, wanted to have knowledge about life beyond the farm – a rather prosperous farm. Sounds a bit like Adam and Eve to me. There was this tree – the tree of knowledge. Well, the son learned his lesson and in humility came home begging to be received as a farm hand, not even as son. But the grieving father did not even hear that idea. Rejoicing happened. From Troubled Soul to Glorious Overcoming!

What about Adam and Eve? Where is the rejoicing? We don’t read that life became glorious for them, do we? Their temptation, their misjudgment seemed to keep them in darkness, in agony for generations! This is where Easter arrives in the picture, in the timeline. Adam represents the dark; Jesus represents the light – the glorious overcoming.

Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation. Jesus did not succumb to temptation. Satan was involved both times. Adam and Eve should not be our models. We need Jesus to be our model. This is not to say that the power of Jesus to overcome temptation will transfer to us just because we claim him as our model. Satan is still alive and well in our lives; not just to other people who walk in darkness, but to us. We will never be without sin. There will be dark spots in our lives – sometimes these spots are large as football fields or an ocean liner. Hidden darkness until we are negligent and there we are; caught in sin. Darkness casts its shadows over us; first, lightly; then with a heavy vengeance.

We think of our baptism as dying with Jesus. But, just as Jesus rose from death into new life, so are we raised with Jesus. It is a bonding that God offers to us. We can stay in the darkness of hurts we have caused. We can stay in the darkness of the hurts that were thrust upon us by fellow humans who were under some cloud of despair or unthinking unkindness. Or, we can rise with Christ. We can shed our old shells; we can find our wings; we can take our cue from nature.

God designed us to move from the protection of the womb, from the protection of the shell, into the world of light. “Aha” we say. “Why am I not finding the light? Why is my soul so downcast? Why am I missing the joy that is supposed to be in my heart?” I wonder that myself. I am not a bubbly, happy person. I praise God for the rare times that a song is singing in my head while my friend sings everywhere she goes. But I do know joy! I am exhilarated with light.

When I find a lost item, I rejoice. From Troubled Soul to Glorious Overcoming! Especially when I have lost my small purse with all my cards – all of my cards!!! I want to shout it from the opening door of the grocery store as I leave that store waving my little black purse with the brown leather strap! To God be the glory!

When depression grabs us, all is dark. The windows could be accepting bright sunlight, but it is dark around us. When God and people deliver us from the darkness, we want to dance and rejoice. From Troubled Soul to Glorious Overcoming!

I caused a snapped relationship . . . this schism happened in front of a group . . . troubled soul I had for four nights and days. Then came the joyous light. Sunday morning came and all was wonderful; better than I ever deserved! I felt as if a stone had been rolled from my heart. To God be the glory!

If we had been one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, when did we break the connection with our loving Savior? Suppose we had been Peter – yes, remember his three denials and then the cock crowed! Remember that it was Peter who cut off a soldier’s ear when Jesus said something like, “Nothing doing. We will not be cutting off ears.” Remember, it was Peter who wanted to enshrine Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in little shelters, like booths, so the moment of Transfiguration would not be lost. Jesus said something like, “Nothing doing. We are not going to stay here. I have things I must do, like dying so that you might live in the heavenly kingdom when it is your turn.”

In the accounts of Jesus revealing himself to his disciples after the resurrection, we find Peter being forgiven by Jesus three times – no accident were the three. Peter denied three times. Peter is forgiven three times. “I do love you,” Peter needed to say three times. “Then take care of my sheep,” said God.

What about Judas? Oh that we would not have done his betrayal act. But think! Have we betrayed Jesus by doing something rather on the stupid side, on the careless side, on the selfish side? Dark times follow. But had Judas lived, he would have heard Jesus explain that God was the scriptwriter, and God was the director. The climax of the drama is forgiveness. Yes, that light, heady, overwhelming feeling of forgiveness. That dark, heavy garbage bag of regrets and sins dissolved into nothing – yes, dissolved. The bright light and the beauty of the earth are beyond measure and our hearts soar with delight.

What about Thomas who doubted? Everything came to a stop until Jesus took time to let Thomas see those hands for himself. Then there was Mary, the mother of Jesus. We read of no sin connected to Mary. Could this be? Depending what nature of faith we follow, this is not a surprise. Scripture does not inform us of any sin from this precious woman. It would seem that following and watching her son’s three years of ministry, would be torture enough to pay for any sins. Then again we believe that forgiveness is free and not earned. If we had been Mary, how dark and tortured would we have felt? Betrayed by God? Thirty-three years of thinking more would come of this divine child.

Then whamo – out of the dark tomb; into the light, into the glorious light. The world is okay again. The nightmare is ended! Glorious Overcoming! Enter the Resurrection Day for all time!

To Live Again

Sermon – 04-02-17 – Lent V – Cycle A
Scriptures: Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45
Sermon Title: “To Live Again”

The field is full of loose bones. See them? While we are watching, the bones start to move. They start to dance. They begin to come together. They become connected with sinews and flesh – muscles and skin. Then they were really alive, really dancing. “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones … Ezekiel saw dem dry bones. Now hear the word of the Lord.”

Give yourselves a treat and search for “dry bones/muffinsongs” on your search engine.
There is another video where three skeletons do a great choreographed dance while someone sings the song again without the biblical reference. The world knows about the dry bone idea. The world does not know about Ezekiel the prophet who spoke God’s word and Spirit into those bones. The world does not know that this vision which God gave to Ezekiel is a message to the people in exile, in captivity in Babylon, while their temple in Jerusalem is destroyed by intruders.

We know that God engineers these punishments to give his people messages, to give them orders. God has reason to be quite irate with his people. These descendants of the Israelites, who were led by Moses, have not really gotten the message yet, as in “Oh, I get it!” No, even today, we who are descended from Gentile heritage but brought into the kingdom of God, have not gotten the message thoroughly either. We find other gods – think possessions; think power; think pride in ourselves!

I just saw a video of depression and anger and loss of self-control because of our current political state. Our reaction is all about pride, power, possessions. We see these attitudes and therefore actions at the highest government level; we carry these attitudes with us naturally. They are the sin in us. But our sin does not need to be the ruler of our lives. We can overcome. Our sins of pride, power, and possessions can be removed; can be overcome. It is a personal relationship with God that will lead us in a wonderful direction – that of selflessness, contentment, humility.

Picture ourselves having our bones separated, lying in a field, all because we let pride, power, and possessions overcome us. We walked away from God. God demands our faces, not the backs of our heads. We cannot be the persons God planned for us to be if our dry bones are scattered in a field. But wait! I hear a voice. The voice is the prophet Ezekiel calling from ages past saying what God is telling him to say. “Dry bones, listen to what the Lord is saying to you. I, the Lord God, will put breath in you, and once again you will live. I will wrap you with muscles and skin and breathe life into you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel is not finished. He says “I see the bones coming together and the muscle and the skin but they have no life in them. Again speaking for the Lord, Ezekiel says to the wind, “The Lord God commands you to blow from every direction and to breathe life into these dead bodies, so they can live again.”

This wind is the Spirit of God blowing on our bones, breathing life into us. Are we ready? Are we ready to live? Are we ready to give our lives to God, to seek God’s will and live it? To let go of our lives? Do you know that when we do things of our own will and desire, it does not work? There is always something askew, it does not quite fit – like struggling to place the wrong lid on a container. Or it could be much worse. We could find ourselves in Babylonian-like captivity such as the Israelites are at the time of Ezekiel. What is Babylonian-like captivity?

Well, we could find ourselves in prison – the kind with bars and loud-clanging doors and scowling faces. Or we could find ourselves in the captivity of addiction. We could find ourselves alienated from relatives or close family. Where are our faces? Where is the kernel of kindness waiting to spring forth?

How do we turn around? How do we repent before this Almighty God? We take courage in hand, we say good-by to desperation because even though our lives may not change immediately, God helps us to endure, God guides us through the maze, God’s arms are around us. God re-plants truth into our souls; truth and righteousness. God holds our gaze with his gaze. We are returned to the fold even though our circumstances are irritatingly slow to turn around. We see light instead of darkness. Our bodies seem to be working in a connected fashion no matter what health condition is our lot.

When once we cried to the Lord from the depths, “My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch for the morning,” we now feel that breath-giving Spirit of the Lord!

The Gospel for this day shares the account of Lazarus, close friend of Jesus, sister of Mary and Martha. Lazarus is dead. His bones are not yet dry. Lazarus stinks because he has been dead four days. He is in a tomb. Lazarus did not die because he sinned. Lazarus did not turn his back on God. The account does not go that way. Sometimes God lets death happen to let the glory of God arrive on the scene. Seems sad and wrong but it is really glorious and right. Jesus is continuing in the effort to convince people that He truly is the Son of God. Jesus is not just a prophet. Jesus is one of the vital three persons of God. Three persons form God – one God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

Jesus is not hard-hearted. He loves Lazarus. He cries. So, here we go. Jesus lets out a loud shout! “Lazarus, come out!” Lo and behold, out walks Lazarus to be alive again until it is really time for him to die.

Have you heard the call? Have you heard the call, “Come out!” Maybe we have become nonchalant, not really sinning but not pulling our weight in the kingdom on earth. “Come out,” we hear the call. “Come out to what?” we ask as we straighten ourselves, our bones. Then we hear God inviting, “There is excitement in the kingdom! You have talents you are not using! Come out of your lethargy. Apply yourself. Live again, really live!” We shall live for and to the glory of God!”

Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

“Are We Still Blind?”

Sermon – 03-26-17 – Lent IV – Cycle A

Scripture – I Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Sermon Title – “Are We Still Blind?”

Psalm 23 is our featured Psalm for this day. How does being blind fit with Psalm 23? Let’s look. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …” Darkness, not being able to see even one day ahead, is a form of being blind. We are sometimes blind even though our eyes are okay. When the shade of being poor falls over us, we walk into darkness. When illness appears, the curtain of blackness is pulled in front of our vision. When a relationship has ended and we did not initiate the loss, light may be around us but our sad, sad heart causes a storm of vile black smoke which renders us non-functional.

Where is the light? Are we really blind, never to see again?

Way back in the years before Jesus, we find wonderful stories of how God provides light. Do you remember the little boy whose mother brings him to live in the temple under the teaching and guidance of Eli, the priest. The boy’s name is Samuel. God calls Samuel in the middle of the night. Three times the boy wakes Eli, thinking Eli is calling him. Finally, light dawns on Eli and Eli tells Samuel that it is God calling Samuel. Eli directs Samuel to say, “Lord, here I am.” Well, God takes Samuel at his word and through the years, God gives Samuel some challenging work.

One assignment for Samuel as an adult is to find and anoint a king for Israel to replace King Saul as Saul has become violently demented. Samuel heads into this task in the dark; not meaning at night, but without any instructions – blindly. God just says, “Follow me.” God takes Samuel to a family of eight sons. One by one the father, Jesse, presents seven sons to Samuel for consideration. Each one brings a “not this one” from God to Samuel. Then Samuel says to Jesse, “Are you sure I have seen each of your sons? Is there yet not another?” “Well, says Jesse, “the youngest son is out tending sheep.” Samuel says, “I will wait. Send for this youngest one, the shepherd.”

So time stops and everyone waits. Finally, this young shepherd boy is brought before Samuel. “This is the one,” God says to Samuel. “Anoint this one.” The darkness lifts from Samuel’s countenance. The light shines when God announces the chosen one. Blindness is replaced by sight. Only by God does this happen.

In our gospel lesson today from John 9, we are stepping into the account of Jesus healing a blind person. John often speaks of light. It is like a trademark of John. So a man who was blind from birth can now see. Jesus heals him, ostensibly, with mud. Jesus could have healed him without the mud but the man does not complain. He washes the mud from his eyes in the pool of Siloam. The darkness of mud releases the light of sight. Sounds wonderful. However, there are some problems for Jesus that day.

First, Jesus heals this man on the Sabbath. Second, the healed man does not know this man who removes the blindness and gives light. The man’s parents don’t know Jesus either and they were not present when their son is healed. They won’t speak without knowing the facts. The parents say, “Go ask our son who healed him.”

Third, the Pharisee watchmen are looking for any chance to discredit Jesus. This incident becomes one of the many incidents which the Pharisees are accumulating to get this man, Jesus, to STOP. Jesus is turning the religious world upside down, opening the dark blinds and bringing in the light. The Israelite religious leaders think they are doing the right thing for the Lord. They don’t realize that they are keeping themselves in the dark. They are cheating themselves of the light.

Jesus ministers to the man who now sees and the healed man believes that Jesus is truly of God and has the power to heal; to bring people to sight who are blind; AND, to close the door of understanding to the persons who think they know and see everything, but now will be left out of this new thing that is happening.

Talking of light and blindness, we think of Saul. Not King Saul in the days of David, the shepherd, but the Saul who is called to the Jesus movement after Jesus ascended to the Father following the resurrection. We have this dramatic moment when Saul is continuing his persecution of Christians. Why is he persecuting Christians? Saul thinks he is pleasing God, keeping the faith pure. As Saul is journeying to Damascus to quell the rise of Christians in that town, a bright, flashing light strikes Saul and he is knocked to the ground and is blinded. The Lord speaks from on high and tells Saul to go to Damascus. Saul’s companions are puzzled but they lead Saul to Damascus.

So far, we have met three persons called by God: Samuel is called to anoint David, the young shepherd boy to be the king of Israel. David is therefore called. Saul, whose call is to stop persecuting Christians. Now we meet a fourth person; Ananias of Damascus is called to minister to Saul.

Ananias receives the call from the Lord to go to Saul in the same town. “No,” says Ananias. “I have heard about Saul. I really don’t want to be persecuted.” But, the Lord succeeds and Ananias goes to teach Saul, whose name becomes Paul, how salvation works – the salvation Jesus earned for us.

This Paul adapts his extreme zealousness to the spread of “The Way,” the name used for followers of Jesus. The goal is to leave no one in the darkness. Paul starts many churches. Then Paul stays connected with these fledgling congregations with letters. In the letter which Paul writes to the people of Ephesus, the Ephesians, we find these wonderful words about trading light for darkness.

“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. . . . “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (NRSV)

Swinging back to the time of King Saul, the days when young shepherd boy, David, is anointed but in waiting; back to the days when David writes many Psalms, including Psalm 23. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me. Thy rod and staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (KJV) David knows about enemies, demented King Saul being desperate to eliminate this anointed successor. Through this darkness, despite this darkness, hope fills David. “Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth 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.” (KJV)

Hear also words of David in Psalm 27:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? . . . One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord. . . . I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (NRSV)

Let blindness of the heart be gone! Out of the darkness and into the light. Yes, the Lord is my light and my salvation! Praise the Lord forever and ever! Amen

Harden Not Your Hearts

Sermon – 03-19-17 – Lent III – Cycle A

Scripture – Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

Sermon Title – “Harden Not Your Hearts”

Romans 5:1-5
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, wh have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

“God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” This from the Roman’s passage. Would anyone know that by knowing us? Have we hardened our hearts after God’s love flowed in? When in your life did you realize that your heart was full of God’s love?

That is a tough question! Can you remember when you felt extraordinarily exhilarated? Maybe when you met your mate for the first time. Maybe when you received your first paycheck. Maybe when your child was very sick and then got better. Maybe you know when God’s love was poured into your heart the first time or the second time or the fiftieth time.

What happened in between those pourings? Why did your heart freeze over like a skating pond? Maybe a very, solid, safe, skating pond? A hard heart! Did someone hurt you big time? Did you lose a job by no fault of your own? Did your relative connive to grab all the inheritance? Did your siblings leave you to care for a parent alone? Did your son or daughter become a tricky thief in your home and in other homes and businesses to support addiction? Good cause for a hard heart! No way out! Pressed against the wall until you are a flat pancake with no coping mechanisms, no relationship with God or any source of love. Did illness – yourself or someone you love – cause your heart to gradually shut the door?

The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 95 admonishes the reader to listen for God’s voice as God declares, “Harden not your hearts…!” Once there was this scene in the wilderness – that forty-day trek that went in circles as a test. It seems that God was so upset with these Israelites whom he had rescued as slaves from Egypt, that he waited until the first generation died to open the gate into the Promised Land. It seems to me that even God had developed a hard heart!

At one stop on this journey, there was no water. No water? If you were one of the Israelites, how would you have handled the situation? I think that I would have curled up in a ball on the ground and waited to die. But, then again, what if I had young children? No, I can’t just take the easy way. Oh, I know. I will become angry at our leader. Yes, that is how it works. Everyone around me is shouting for our leader, Moses, to do something. Moses must be very frightened and weary by this time. Moses must feel like a flattened pancake himself; maybe a flattened manna cake. What does Moses do? He cries to God, “What am I supposed to do? Do something, God!”

God actually tells Moses to go to a certain rock and to tap the rock with his staff. When Moses does this, water pours forth like a waterfall! Great, God! Thank you, God! It seems like a miracle! One source suggests that Sinai limestone does retain moisture.

Believe it or not, this one incident of complaining to God prevents Moses from entering Canaan, the Promised Land, when God finally brings the second generation and on down to the entrance of this longed-for completion of the promise that was given to Abraham roughly 700 years earlier.

From The Taize Picture Bible we read, “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “In the past you failed to trust that I could make my holiness plain to the eyes of the people of Israel. For this reason you shall not lead this people into the land I am giving them.”

In the Zondervan Handbook of the Bible, we find: “God tells Moses to climb Mt. Nebo in order to see the promised land. He cannot enter it because he failed to honour God in the matter of water from the rock at Meribah (Numbers 10:1-13) – an incident that became an example forever of the stubbornness of God’s people (Psalm 95:8). (The account is also found in Exodus 17:1-7.)

Right there in Psalm 95, verse 8, is where we started. “Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah…” Where is the love, the love of which Paul writes in Romans 5:5. “… and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Paul is a New Testament writer. The New Testament is full of love. Where is the love in the Old Testament? Is it there? Can you think of an incident of love as compared to justice? Justice or love? Is that a marriage? Does justice require love? Is love always attached to justice? Does God display love in the Hebrew scriptures? Does God save Noah and his family because he loves Noah or because God is not ready to give up on his creation plan and process?

Moving to the New Testament and the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, we have this tension between the Samaritans and the Jews. One ethnic group feeling superior over another group. Differences in religious beliefs. But look closer. Is there a difference in the love quotient? Think of our Bible stories: the Good Samaritan, the father of the Prodigal Son, and this woman at the well. This Samaritan woman was even an outcast of the Samaritans because her life had become sordid with many husbands. We are not told how this came to be. It does not matter now. She is forgiven by the master of love, Jesus. And does she claim the news that Jesus is the Messiah and keep it to herself as some kind of revenge toward the people who did not accept her? No. It seems that love sent her flying to the village to share the good news. She needed and wanted to share this phenomenon.

If the New Testament would be extended to our very day, what examples of love would shine from the pages? In our very own time, we cringe with all the hate and anger that is being accepted as okay, to be permitted, to be emulated. But, if we really take notice in our own lives, in our various media, we are hearing and seeing deeds of kindness, deeds that are pure love. You can probably think of one right this minute.

I confess that I succumb to the temptation to zoom through the AOL news each time I start my computer. You may know that there are scandulous, sinful pictures and stories there. However, I honestly skip right over them. There are stories of kindness lurking between the sordidness, stories of people helping people and people helping animals, in astonishing ways.

I have a propensity for political news. I look and listen for movements of justice, of a well-oiled government process with fairness as the goal; government personnel genuinely wanting to help people and not their own images. I pray through all of this, including newspapers and Christian magazines.

Whoever and wherever we are, we are models for other people, especially young people. Let us remember that God has poured love into our hearts. Will we allow our hearts to be hardened because we have prominent bad examples in our world today or will we keep our hearts soft as we pray for God to soften the hearts of these bad examples who are in our faces at every turn?

Jesus said, “It is not healthy people who need a doctor, but sick people. . . . And indeed it is not to the good people that I came to give my message about changing their way of living, but to the bad people.” In which group are we – the healthy people or the sick people, the good people or the bad people?

Prayer
Oh, Lord God. So many questions we have. Help us to examine ourselves. In the assumption that each of us falls in both categories as we walk the line between healthy and sick, between good and bad, between loving and sinning, heal us, not just once but over and over as needed. Help us to keep our hearts soft and loving. Amen.

Harden Not Your Hearts

Sermon – 03-19-17 – Lent III – Cycle A

Scripture – Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

Sermon Title – “Harden Not Your Hearts”

Romans 5:1-5
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, wh have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

“God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” This from the Roman’s passage. Would anyone know that by knowing us? Have we hardened our hearts after God’s love flowed in? When in your life did you realize that your heart was full of God’s love?

That is a tough question! Can you remember when you felt extraordinarily exhilarated? Maybe when you met your mate for the first time. Maybe when you received your first paycheck. Maybe when your child was very sick and then got better. Maybe you know when God’s love was poured into your heart the first time or the second time or the fiftieth time.

What happened in between those pourings? Why did your heart freeze over like a skating pond? Maybe a very, solid, safe, skating pond? A hard heart! Did someone hurt you big time? Did you lose a job by no fault of your own? Did your relative connive to grab all the inheritance? Did your siblings leave you to care for a parent alone? Did your son or daughter become a tricky thief in your home and in other homes and businesses to support addiction? Good cause for a hard heart! No way out! Pressed against the wall until you are a flat pancake with no coping mechanisms, no relationship with God or any source of love. Did illness – yourself or someone you love – cause your heart to gradually shut the door?

The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 95 admonishes the reader to listen for God’s voice as God declares, “Harden not your hearts…!” Once there was this scene in the wilderness – that forty-day trek that went in circles as a test. It seems that God was so upset with these Israelites whom he had rescued as slaves from Egypt, that he waited until the first generation died to open the gate into the Promised Land. It seems to me that even God had developed a hard heart!

At one stop on this journey, there was no water. No water? If you were one of the Israelites, how would you have handled the situation? I think that I would have curled up in a ball on the ground and waited to die. But, then again, what if I had young children? No, I can’t just take the easy way. Oh, I know. I will become angry at our leader. Yes, that is how it works. Everyone around me is shouting for our leader, Moses, to do something. Moses must be very frightened and weary by this time. Moses must feel like a flattened pancake himself; maybe a flattened manna cake. What does Moses do? He cries to God, “What am I supposed to do? Do something, God!”

God actually tells Moses to go to a certain rock and to tap the rock with his staff. When Moses does this, water pours forth like a waterfall! Great, God! Thank you, God! It seems like a miracle! One source suggests that Sinai limestone does retain moisture.

Believe it or not, this one incident of complaining to God prevents Moses from entering Canaan, the Promised Land, when God finally brings the second generation and on down to the entrance of this longed-for completion of the promise that was given to Abraham roughly 700 years earlier.

From The Taize Picture Bible we read, “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “In the past you failed to trust that I could make my holiness plain to the eyes of the people of Israel. For this reason you shall not lead this people into the land I am giving them.”

In the Zondervan Handbook of the Bible, we find: “God tells Moses to climb Mt. Nebo in order to see the promised land. He cannot enter it because he failed to honour God in the matter of water from the rock at Meribah (Numbers 10:1-13) – an incident that became an example forever of the stubbornness of God’s people (Psalm 95:8). (The account is also found in Exodus 17:1-7.)

Right there in Psalm 95, verse 8, is where we started. “Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah…” Where is the love, the love of which Paul writes in Romans 5:5. “… and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Paul is a New Testament writer. The New Testament is full of love. Where is the love in the Old Testament? Is it there? Can you think of an incident of love as compared to justice? Justice or love? Is that a marriage? Does justice require love? Is love always attached to justice? Does God display love in the Hebrew scriptures? Does God save Noah and his family because he loves Noah or because God is not ready to give up on his creation plan and process?

Moving to the New Testament and the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, we have this tension between the Samaritans and the Jews. One ethnic group feeling superior over another group. Differences in religious beliefs. But look closer. Is there a difference in the love quotient? Think of our Bible stories: the Good Samaritan, the father of the Prodigal Son, and this woman at the well. This Samaritan woman was even an outcast of the Samaritans because her life had become sordid with many husbands. We are not told how this came to be. It does not matter now. She is forgiven by the master of love, Jesus. And does she claim the news that Jesus is the Messiah and keep it to herself as some kind of revenge toward the people who did not accept her? No. It seems that love sent her flying to the village to share the good news. She needed and wanted to share this phenomenon.

If the New Testament would be extended to our very day, what examples of love would shine from the pages? In our very own time, we cringe with all the hate and anger that is being accepted as okay, to be permitted, to be emulated. But, if we really take notice in our own lives, in our various media, we are hearing and seeing deeds of kindness, deeds that are pure love. You can probably think of one right this minute.

I confess that I succumb to the temptation to zoom through the AOL news each time I start my computer. You may know that there are scandulous, sinful pictures and stories there. However, I honestly skip right over them. There are stories of kindness lurking between the sordidness, stories of people helping people and people helping animals, in astonishing ways.

I have a propensity for political news. I look and listen for movements of justice, of a well-oiled government process with fairness as the goal; government personnel genuinely wanting to help people and not their own images. I pray through all of this, including newspapers and Christian magazines.

Whoever and wherever we are, we are models for other people, especially young people. Let us remember that God has poured love into our hearts. Will we allow our hearts to be hardened because we have prominent bad examples in our world today or will we keep our hearts soft as we pray for God to soften the hearts of these bad examples who are in our faces at every turn?

Jesus said, “It is not healthy people who need a doctor, but sick people. . . . And indeed it is not to the good people that I came to give my message about changing their way of living, but to the bad people.” In which group are we – the healthy people or the sick people, the good people or the bad people?

Prayer
Oh, Lord God. So many questions we have. Help us to examine ourselves. In the assumption that each of us falls in both categories as we walk the line between healthy and sick, between good and bad, between loving and sinning, heal us, not just once but over and over as needed. Help us to keep our hearts soft and loving. Amen.

There Once Was a Pharisee: Sharing the Blessing

Sermon – 03-12-17 – Lent II – Cycle A
Scripture – Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5,13-17; John 3:1-17
Sermon Title – “There Once Was a Pharisee: Sharing the Blessing”

In the beginning, after Adam and Eve, after Noah, there was Abram. God later called him Abraham. God blessed Abram and made a big promise to Abram. God said to Abram, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” And so began a long, long story. It became our story, not because we were born in the Jewish/Hebrew line, but because God brought non-Jews into the same blessing. So when we discover a Jewish friend, we already share a blessing from God.

Once there was a Jewish Pharisee named Nicodemus. This was in the time when Jesus walked on this Earth. Nicodemus secretly came to Jesus when it was dark so as not to be seen. You see, the Hebrews, that is the Jews, thought God’s blessing to Abram was just for them. The people in charge of the Jewish religion, the Pharisees, thought they were following the rules very well. “Don’t let any false prophets draw our attention and the way we live!” they thought. So it was a situation of them against them; the Jews against non-Jews.

But, God had other plans. Sure, God blessed Abraham and all of Abraham’s descendants; but, God cared, and still cares, about all of the people in the world. Nevertheless, while Jesus walked on this earth, antagonism existed. So Nicodemus comes in this clandestine manner to talk with Jesus. Nicodemus says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

In that one statement we hear Nicodemus making a confession; the kind of confession which states our beliefs, just as we sometimes use the Apostles Creed or other Creeds to make known what is in our hearts and minds, what we believe. And, Nicodemus said “we” as though he has been talking to other Jewish religious leaders and they have quietly come to this conclusion.

Jesus takes his turn in the conversation. Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.” Strange answer, do you agree? Nicodemus thought it was strange also. He is puzzled. Born from above! He questions Jesus what he really means. Jesus replies that water and Spirit need to be involved in this new birth.

Then Jesus continues with a short discourse about the wind to explain the Spirit, capital “S.” Jesus says that the wind blows where it will, we can hear it, we can feel it, but we cannot actually see this force, only what it does. So it is with God’s Spirit. It causes an effect, but we cannot see this Holy Spirit. We can feel this Spirit as it changes our minds and hearts and sometimes our very physical being. We can usually see the change that the Spirit causes or allows in other people and, yes, even in ourselves.

A light heart – a happy, comfortable heart – changes our very minds, our view of each day, our view of the world. Did our friend, Nicodemus, feel this change? Did he allow the Spirit to enter his mind and heart? Apparently not. Nicodemus exits this episode with Jesus with a sad heart. He is caught in the middle as in a vise; seeing the truth but afraid to make the break, afraid to declare that he is leaving his position as a Pharisee, maybe leaving his family, to receive the Holy Spirit by the water of baptism.

Do we find ourselves wanting to be free of the grasping vise – that tool, that situation that is stronger than our own will? But it is not stronger than God’s will! But dare we? Do we dare give it to God no matter what the ensuing consequences?

Nicodemus did not dare. Jesus watched Nicodemus slowly and reluctantly walk into his old world. He was afraid to break loose now. But if you know the Jesus resurrection story you will recall a man named Nicodemus. This is a happy-ending story if we but wait.

Meanwhile, are we like Nicodemus? Do we miss opportunities to come close to God? Do we miss opportunities to be a live participant in the Kingdom of God on earth? Do we cling to our old world, the world we know, the world that we may have inherited or a world into which we were sucked like quicksand? Quicksand? Can a person break free of quicksand? Maybe other people are trained in the process of rescuing a person headed for a disappearance into that unusual natural phenomenon. What help is available to those of us who are stuck in the quicksand of beliefs and relationships? Who will help us? Who is trained or who has the power to save us?

We who are supposedly trained in such saving, will say, “God will help, give it to God, hand it to God, God has broad shoulders, God died on the cross to rescue us from our captive conditions, to save us!” To save us! Being saved! How do we plug into this “being saved” idea? Some of our Christian friends will name a date and sometimes the actual time when he or she was “saved.” Then there are other friends who don’t use that terminology. For these persons, being saved is a gradual process. These persons come into the Kingdom of God in a less precise way. Sometimes we can identify a moment when our perspective changes, when we are given insights, a drawing close to God. 1 Corinthians 13 brings to our insight the idea that now we see dimly, then we will see clearly.” When is then? When we are finally called face-to-face with God.

There is not only one way to “be saved.” Instantly or gradually. Sudden revelations or a slow slide show. It is our being drawn closer to God – sometimes in jolts, sometimes in a slow-moving snail pace. Do you think Nicodemus’ being-saved process actually started when he approached Jesus secretly? But when was the water applied with Nicodemus? When Jesus said that we must be born again with water and the Spirit, did Jesus give water and Spirit equal emphasis?

Is baptism required for our entrance to the ultimate Kingdom of God? If so, who shall administer the water with the Spirit? Must it be an ordained person? Could it be a friend? Could we baptize ourselves? [comments welcome]

God’s plan of having Jesus suffer on the cross so that our sins would be forgiven, without bringing perfect animals to the altar, requires a moment of acknowledgment, but that moment is only the first step. We are saved, we are redeemed, each time we confess our wrongdoing, our wrong attitudes, our wrong path. Each time we confess and are granted forgiveness, we are privileged to be drawn closer. This redemption is not given reluctantly. This redeeming is given graciously. You see, Jesus shows us the God who loves each one of us with a divine heart. There is no selfishness, no longing for revenge or punishment.

John 3:16 and 17 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

This promise of eternal life is not granted because of our works. We could never earn such a gift because we are human. We are descendants of Adam and Noah. God’s gift of salvation comes to us through grace and faith. Abraham was reckoned to have righteousness not because of what he did but because he believed; Abraham had faith. We too must change from a works mentality to a faith mentality. We must submit ourselves; we must lose our longing for perfection, for control. How do we do this? How do we let go?

Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

* Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.