Shall Lent Be Joyless?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the Glow About?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of his religious history because Joseph forgives his brothers!

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

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

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


Are We Among The Blessed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pass It On

Sermon – 02-10-19 – Epiphany V – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 138, I Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
Sermon Title: “Pass It On”

“Who will go for us?” says the voice of the Lord. “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah says, “Here I am; send me! Then we have Peter, James, and John leaving their fishing business to follow the Lord and spreading the word. ” And then we have Paul spreading the word after having persecuted Christians.

God reveals himself to Isaiah in a vision. It seems that a vision happens when people are awake and a dream happens when people are sleeping. This vision was HOLY, capital letters. There was the Lord on a throne and the hem of his robe filled the temple.

There were strange creatures, called Seraphs. I picture these seraphs singing the “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” to each other back and forth as they flew around in this spacious setting. The words of Isaiah in the Contemporary English Version (CEV) of the Bible are, “The doorposts of the temple shook and the temple was filled with smoke. Then I cried out, “I’m doomed! Everything I say is sinful, and so are the words of everyone around me. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord All-Powerful.”

Isaiah considers himself to be too much of a sinner to find himself in this vision. God does not say, You’re right Isaiah. I can’t use you. This vision is a mistake. Go back to what you were doing.” No. God fixes the problem. One of the seraphs takes a burning coal and places it on Isaiah’s lips. Ooo! Now Isaiah is free of all past sin. He is guilty no longer.

So as a spokesperson for God, Isaiah has the awful job of warning the Israelites that God is angry with them. They better change their attitudes and their habits. But of course, attitudes are not changed, habits are not changed. Idols and idolatrous ways continue. Whammo! God uses the Assyrians and the Babylonians to play havoc with these Israelites. The area called Judah falls! The area called Israel falls! Most of the people are scooted off to Babylon including some of the prophets.

Question! How are they moved from the promised land to Babylon? A question for research. Did they march? In Isaiah 5:29, the CEV uses the words “grab” and “drag.” It reads, “They (meaning Assyrians and Babylonians) roar and growl like fierce young lions as they grab their victims and drag them off where no one can rescue them.” The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is similar but uses the word “carry” instead of “drag,” I can’t quite picture each Israelite being carried or dragged from Jerusalem to Babylon, can you?

Now you are asking, “Where is Babylon?” followed by “How far is Babylon?” Well it is hundreds of miles. Babylon is to the east of Jerusalem. First the Jordan River would need to be circumnavigated. So the route needed to go north before it went south to get to the east. This is big-time drama. God is really angry because the people turn their backs on him and are living in anti-ten-commandment style. Poor Isaiah! God requires much from this servant!
Moving along to the time of Jesus, Peter (called Simon in our scripture passage today) and James and John are giving up after a night of no fish in their nets. So as God would have it, Jesus comes along right then. This is early in his ministry. Jesus is in the market for disciples. Jesus is surrounded by people already. This Jesus has charisma. The scene is the lake of Gennesaret.

Wanting to have a sort of pulpit instead of being in the middle of the crowd, Jesus claims one of the empty boats and sits in it to talk to the crowd. He finishes talking. Jesus turns to Simon Peter and directs him to put out the boat into the lake again. Peter says, “No way! We were out all night and look what we have – nothing!” (or similar words) However, Simon Peter mellowed and said “Okay.” So many fish came into their nets that one boat needed help from a second boat. Now Simon Peter is in awe of Jesus. Get this! Simon Peter announces that he is a sinful man! Sounds like Isaiah to me. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid. From now on, you will be catching people. And just like that, Simon Peter and his partners who are brothers, James and John, leave their boats, their nets, their families. I don’t know who took care of the fish.

So far we have two sinners who were called to work for the Lord with their mouths. Of course, where their mouths went, so did their weary bodies and discouraged souls.

How about our third character? Paul, starts life as Saul: Persecutor of Christians! He thinks he is working for God. He is a serious, devout Jew – one of the temple club. He thinks Jesus is a trouble-maker, like a cult leader. Even after Jesus ascended to be reunited with the Father after the crucifixion and resurrection, Saul is very zealous in his attempt to keep Judaism pure and healthy. Saul is present at the stoning of Stephen, an early speaker for Jesus.

But one day when Saul is heading for Damascus to persecute even more Christians, the voice of Jesus comes from the heavens as Saul is struck blind saying, “Why are you persecuting me? From now on you will work for me!” This account can be found in Acts 9.

That is when Saul became Paul, having his sight restored. With the same or more zealousness, Paul won people for Christ, starting umpteen churches along the Mediterranean Sea. In our passage today from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is saying that he is the least worthy of the apostles. Paul is saying, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.”

How do we fit into these three pictures? Remember the live coal that removed Isaiah’s sins in that Holy setting? Then do you know the time when the symbol of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Jerusalem was little tongues of flames that came upon everyone assembled and they could understand the spoken words in their own language? When Jesus blinded Saul on the way to Damascus their was blinding light to convert Paul to speak for Jesus. So we shall think of the light and the jumping flames of the Holy Spirit coming into our lives. Did you never notice a jumping flame in your life? Look again! Be aware again! Maybe a live coal came upon your mind and heart. Let us not put a band-aid on that spot and ignore it. Let us pay attention to what God wants us to be doing, how God wants us to live. Let us share the news, spread the news. Let us pass it on! Let us not stifle the excitement of the Holy Spirit when it comes upon us! Let us give our souls freedom to blossom like the buds on the trees in the springtime.

Pass It On
Kurt Kaiser
It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it:
You spread His love to everyone, you want to pass it on.

What a wondrous time is spring – when all the trees are budding,
The birds begin to sing, the flowers start their blooming;
That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it:
You want to sing, it’s fresh like spring, you want to pass it on.

I wish for you my friend, this happiness that I’ve found –
You can depend on Him, it matters not where you’re bound;
I’ll shout it from the mountain top, I want my world to know:
The Lord of love has come to me, I want to pass it on.

What Kind of Love is This?

Sermon – 02-03-19 – Epiphany IV – Cycle C
Scriptures – Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30
Sermon Title – “What Kind of Love is This?”

I am looking in the mirror. I am thinking that this is a poor mirror. I can’t see myself clearly. Of course, that is merciful. But I am looking for reality – the real image – the truth. I want to know what other people see when they look at me. This is all vanity. What God wants me to be examining is the condition of my heart. Yes siree! My love quotient is what God sees and wants me to see. How kind am I? Is it a surface kind of veneer? Or is it a deep-down first-impulse reaction to be helpful, to be uplifting, to be reassuring, to be a silent companion no matter how many hours is needed? Or, even the kind of love that confronts a person who has slipped off the path with a vengeance.

Last week we focused on the gifts which God instilled in each of us when we were conceived. Today our lesson from I Corinthians 13 says that no matter to what grandness we have nurtured our gift, it is of no consequence if love is not the base and the glue. Paul, the writer of this passage is explaining to us, that faith is good, hope is good, but they do not have the power of love.

How can love have power? This question possibly brings to mind many ways that you have seen love work. As a starter, once I was very annoyed with my mail delivery person. My first reaction was to prepare a speech for the post master. But God intervened and reminded me that love would be a better approach. I realized that I had been receiving service from this post office but I was not giving in return. Because our designated post office is out of our way, I was buying stamps and having packages weighed in post offices which I pass regularly. God managed to convince me that I should start buying stamps with my own post office and to start writing thank you notes to my mail delivery person. Things changed. Service improved and I passed into a new place in how things can be changed through love.

Have you thought of a time when you saw love have power? Oh, yes, I have another example. It is a family setting where the members had not learned to speak in loving ways. They existed with each other. But contentment, and a safe feeling were not there. Then one of the members – could have been one of the children – heard or saw an example of how loving speech, loving attitudes can bring the atmosphere in a home to a 180º change. Through this one person, seeing how kindness and love work, became an example to the rest of the family. Father, mother, children, father-in-law all gradually felt inclined to support each other, to compliment each other, to think of the happiness and the fairness for every person in that home, including the dog. Oh, and the bird started to sing!

What is God calling each of us to do, as our circles widen, to influence the environment where we work or spend whole days in a classroom or when we shop? What do you think of this image? We could imagine that we are wearing a life preserver of love. So wherever we go, we are walking with this band of love pushing the environment around us. This life preserver of love can work inward as well as outward. In our Corinthians passage today, we heard what real love is supposed to be. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Wow! This life preserver of love is mighty powerful if it can change me to match these characteristics. You see, living into that kind of love takes a lifetime. This life preserver saves us as we are in the act of becoming.

You may not need as much saving as some of us do. I have noticed that God creates some people to be filled with his kind of love from the very beginning. People who take a chance of losing his or her life by diving into water to save someone else, or run into a burning house to save a person or even a pet or put aside his or her schedule for the day to be a companion to someone in grief or worry or illness.

Then there are the people whom God calls to be his spokespersons. Does a call from God have anything to do with love? Where is the love? Think Abraham and Moses, think Jeremiah, think Jesus! Fear seems to be the prevailing feeling. Where is the love? Why do we have these three particular scripture passages today. The Corinthians passage about ultimate love is matched with Jeremiah’s call and with Jesus telling his relatives and neighbors that he can’t heal them.

How do they fit together? Where is this ultimate love? What kind of love makes Jesus talk so ruthlessly to his friends and relatives? I am getting this understanding. It is one kind of love to care for and be kind to the people around us. Surely, there are plenty of people in arm’s reach who need this deep level of love, who need our care, who need our understanding, who need our sacrificial companionship and skill.

But Jeremiah was informed by God that he is being appointed over nations and kingdoms, not his neighborhood. Would Jeremiah be filled with love or fear with such an assignment? And Jesus? Jesus is telling his relatives and neighbors about the people in previous times who were sent by God to outsiders, not to stay with the insiders. Being outside the comfort zone, for sure! Fear of the unknown! But remember, God’s people are privileged to be wearing the life preserver of love. I am focusing on the word “life” now. When we are serving the Lord, fear has a way of appearing in our path. But, our faith and hope in God can make us oblivious to fear. If we take one step at a time, it is the love of God that draws us toward the goal, whatever the current assigned goal.

Love is an all-encompassing blanket. Love can blow us through a wind tunnel to find a new bonding with the people who were blown with us. Love is letting someone we love listen to God’s calling without our interfering. Love permits people to go – to serve God wherever God calls. Fear is inevitable, but the Love of God meets our love for God and the kingdom moves on alive and well.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

What Is A Spiritual Gift?

Sermon – 01-20-19 – Second Sunday After Epiphany – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; I Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2: 1-11
Sermon Title: “What Is A Spiritual Gift?”

It is something we are supposed to have. If you do not know you are supposed to have one and you have not identified one within you, you are probably saying “I must have been missed when these gifts were distributed.” Well, there must be at least one of these gifts hiding within you.

The “Spiritual” part does not necessarily mean that your gift is religious or understanding the Bible especially well. I think the “Spiritual” aspect is that it is given to us by the Holy Spirit. Whatever your gift or talent is, if it can be used to the glory of God, it can be called a Spiritual Gift.

How does that translate for our congregation at Zion Womelsdorf? Well, if you would actually enjoy welcoming people outside either door on a Sunday morning, that would be your spiritual gift. If you can easily climb a ladder to change light bulbs in the church, that could be called your spiritual gift. If your talent is being used to glorify God, it is a spiritual gift.

What else could your gift be? Oh my, this will take a while. Do you enjoy baking, sewing, cleaning, washing dishes, preparing communion, painting, decorating, giving church cards to anyone you pass, raking leaves, shoveling snow, planting and caring for flowers? Did I hit your gift yet? What else is there? Changing the sign at the corner? Did I mention cleaning? Doing small repairs? Singing? Being the second adult for Children’s Church? Sending cards to our homebound or sick or birthday people? Surely, you have thought of something that you enjoy doing that would glorify God. How about preparing several meals that we could freeze to give to people who are temporarily unable to cook?

Of course reading scripture for all of us to hear and digest in our souls, being the acolyte and the crucifer, being a greeter, organizing readers and greeters, caring for the candles, counting the money, paying bills, preparing the bulletin, keeping records of all kinds straight – these are all spiritual gifts if we are doing them because we are able to do them well and they help the group. The bonus is if we ENJOY doing them. Or maybe we dislike doing them but we want to serve the Lord. and it gives us deep-down pleasure. Nursing! Being a companion to a person who needs assistance. Did I get to your gift yet? This sermon sounds like the cover of the bulletin looks!

Identifying spiritual gifts is exhausting and endless. Just when we think we know all our gifts, someone pulls another one from our inner being. Are you a poet and did not know it?

The same ability can be used for good or for bad. Being a leader could pull people into bad activities, activities that destroy a person instead of building-up a person. When we have an ability, it is our responsibility to use it for good – to make the world a better place, to make a person feel good about himself or herself. We need to think about helping rather than hurting. Are we acting for the common good or for ourselves? Are we spreading love with our actions or are we growing hate; are we welcoming people or building walls at work, at school, in church? Are we being inclusive or are we excluding people?

Maybe we think we are too ordinary to have a unique gift. Can you think of people you know who look very ordinary? Yet, when that very person starts to speak, or creates a beautiful flower arrangement, or creates a wonderful shape from a piece of wood, or a farmer who knows just when to plant or harvest, or someone who can quiet a child just by touching it or being present with the child, we are seeing spiritual gifts. Gifts that were given by the Holy Spirit person of God when we were being formed in our mother’s womb.

Are you part of a community? Do you work with another person or two hundred other persons or more? You are part of that community. Do you live in a family? That is a community. Do you come to church to worship? The worshiping body is a community. Did you ever go to a school board meeting or a township meeting? The attendees plus the leaders form a community for that point in time. What happens in worship, what happens in meetings, what happens in a choir rehearsal, what happens in a classroom is determined by each person’s gifts and ways of being.

If every person in that room had the same gifts, the meeting may not be as effective as it could be because everyone is like-minded, like-gifted. If persons of different gifts are gathered and are invited to participate, the thinking reaches a new level. Various approaches or insights or possibilities take the thinking of the whole assembly to a wider view.

The interesting and necessary thought is that our Spiritual Gifts, given to us by the Holy Spirit, need to have the Holy Spirit involved in their use. Our talents, abilities, interests usually fall flat if we forget to invite the Holy Spirit.

Lord of our gifts, remind us to invite you as Holy Spirit to our every thought, our every action, our every opening of our wings, each opening of our lids. Let your breath of fresh air and enthusiasm bring our community to new heights of service and effectiveness. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen