“The Rejected Stone”

Sermon – 04-28-19 – Easter II – Cycle C
Scripture: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 & 147; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
Sermon Title: “The Rejected Stone”

Psalm 118: 22 “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”

Jesus uses a building to explain himself. The building is temporarily destroyed but the essential part of the building – of the body – becomes central. Jesus has to die for his saving grace to become effective. A seed has to die for a new plant to grow and produce many more seeds. Peter has to fall out of grace, so that he could become the key to the kingdom. Thomas has to be unbelieving so that believing without seeing could be lifted as the privilege. Things that seem to be dependable need to crumble to reveal the gem inside – the possibilities of new life.

Our combination of scripture passages today are interesting.

• We have the rejected stone becoming the cornerstone idea which Jesus pulls from the Old Testament to explain the significance of his death on the cross, before he finds himself on the cross.

• Then we have two scenes after the resurrection when Jesus is proving to his close disciples that he is truly resurrected and alive. Thomas appears in the second scene.

• Then we have Peter being arrested for spreading the word to begin the church. This is the same Peter who falls apart while Jesus hangs on the cross, denying that he belongs to this band of disciples around Jesus. But Jesus, forgives Peter and has a place for Peter in the growing of the kingdom on earth.

• Finally, we have the passage from Revelation where the person named John writes this letter to the seven churches in Asia proclaiming Christ as the timeless redeemer, who is and who was and who is to come – the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end. Here we have the cornerstone in polished form, being the alive and everlasting foundation for the world and the people in it – that is us, our ancestors, and our children’s children.

This seems like the gospel in a nutshell; a fast-moving synopsis of “The Plan.” I am wondering if “The Plan” is meant to be completely serious or is there room for joviality? I find the antics of Peter to be fascinating and, yes, funny. Peter reminds me of myself. Not that I am claiming any of the glory that Peter acquires, but the compulsiveness. Things burst from his mouth. He jumps from the boat and runs to the breakfast chef, the risen Savior, on the shore leaving the other disciples to care for the fish. If we had the words and actions of Peter on film in a light-hearted way, we would be laughing, then crying, then laughing again. It would make a great movie.

Do you know, that in some churches, today is “Holy Humor Sunday?” I have not ever been in a Holy Humor Service. I have only heard about them and wondered what place they have in Christian worship. Surely, we hear about laughter being good for our souls and actually for our physical condition. After Lent and Holy Week and then the depth of the excitement about the resurrection, a bit of laughter is what the doctor orders.

I can even hear Thomas being light-hearted in his response as the disciples find him and tell him that the real, risen Jesus appeared to them. I can hear him saying, “Alive! You must be kidding,” Well, something like that he says. I see the disciples walking away shaking their heads. They really want Thomas to believe. They care for him as a brother. Anyway, for the good of all, Jesus arranges to appear again when Thomas is present with the group. Thomas believes because he sees. Do we believe without having seen the holes in Jesus’ body?

Our proof comes when Jesus appears in our lives – not seen by us, but experienced by us. We know then that in dying and rising, the gem in the core of Jesus is revealed. In Jesus’ death the shell of his body is sacrificed so the gem could be revealed and this gem is alive – yes, an alive gem. This gem may appear to be hard but it propels us to share Jesus with each other. It expands, it bounces, it is full of joy, it invites, it embraces.

I am often chided about being too serious. I am too earnest about achieving what I perceive to be necessary and important. This past week, after many of us spent umpteen hours in this church or in the other Zion church before Easter, making candy, repairing, practicing, cleaning, writing sermons and services, preparing the Maundy Thursday meal, preparing Easter family meals, we are exhausted. Exhausted to the point of giddiness; when the only way to deal with picking up our daily lives, where we left them, is to laugh. Do you not feel the lightness of your soul?

I would have skipped the idea of humor and laughter for today except that two separate people pushed “Some Godly Humor” to me recently. It was the kind of email that we are supposed to pass on to avoid some disaster in our lives or to receive an extra blessing. I usually delete those emails. But today I am passing some of this humor to you not because I expect an extra blessing or that I am avoiding disaster but simply because Jim Althouse and Mary Ann Schwartz tempted me to try this Holy Humor stuff.

First, I found one all by myself. After Holy Week and Easter, pastors feel as tired as Charlie Brown did one day when his team lost yet another ball game. I am rephrasing this cartoon message a bit. “I am so tired from all the services, the sadness and then the rejoicing. I am too tired to cry. And even if I did cry, the tears wouldn’t run down my face. They would walk down.” Cartoonist Schulz gets the credit.

Here’s another one. There was a very gracious lady who was mailing an old family Bible to her brother in another part of the country. “Is there anything breakable in here?” asked the postal clerk. “Only the Ten Commandments,” answered the lady.

This joke explains partly why I think The Lord’s Prayer needs to be spoken with reverent slowness and clearness. A Sunday School teacher asked her class what they know about God. A boy burst out, “He is an artist.” “How do we know that?” asked the teacher. “You know,” said the boy. “Our Father who does art in heaven.”

A pastor asked the organist to think of something appropriate to play after the pastor made an announcement that the cost of the building repairs was going to be twice what they expected. So when the pastor made his announcement and asked the people to stand who could give $100 more, the organist played “The Star Spangled Banner.”

There are those who wake in the morning and say, “Good morning, Lord.” Then there are those of us who wake and say, “Good Lord, it’s morning!” Which one are you? I’ll say that God and I need to work on this attitude deficiency for myself.

Oh Lord, thanks for this laughter and the smiles. May our hearts be refreshed and renewed for doing your work. Amen

“This Mysterious Miracle”

Sermon – 04-21-19 – Easter – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; John 20:1-18
Sermon Title: “This Mysterious Miracle”

Do you like surprises or do you like to know ahead? Do you like the scientific approach or do you go for the emotional approach to life’s happenings? Believing all of the accounts in our Holy Book must be hard for the scientifically minded people among us. For the doubters among us, it is easy to fall into the pattern of “why would I believe this miracle stuff and why does it even matter to me?” Why indeed!

“This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made!” Well and good. How are we to perceive it? Shall we automatically feel good just because the calendar tells us it is Easter – the Christian Day of Resurrection? Well, it won’t hurt to try! Some of us find it easy to feel good on this very day. How about you? Some of us easily accept this strange story from approximately 2000 years ago. Then again some of us may still be questioning this impossible story. Or some of us can’t even think about the likely truth or untruth about this story because our own life fell apart either suddenly or slowly building over time. Then again, some of us simply do not care about the truth.

Some of us prefer life of the known, not the unknown; life with everything clear, not foggy; life on an even keel, without surprises; transparent life, not hidden; life that makes sense compared to life that is not sensible on the surface. Many of us are natured to be in control, not to be controlled.

Well, meet God. God is in control, not us. God has the plan, only partially revealed and, even then, not all at once. As life rolls along, the plan unrolls. Some of it makes sense and some of it does not. We think, “Why did God do that? Why did God allow that to happen?” We walk with God sometimes willingly and sometimes being dragged. On everything-is-alright days when the sun is shining with a gentle breeze; when the birds are singing, the daffodils are blooming, the world is turning green from having been brown; when the geese are honking their way north over our heads, God seems good. It is easy to declare “God is good all the time” and “All the time, God is good!”

On a day when a shocking surprise hits us that will alter our lives, God does not seem to be good. Saying, “God is good all the time!” simple gets caught in our throats or worse. We can’t understand what we did wrong or what message God is trying to give to us.

If we are the control freaks, we need to give it up, not only for Lent, but for every day. I am tempted to say that we need to learn to control in a submersive way, so that we seem to lose our “bossiness.” Wrong! Instead of being submersive, like acting under the radar, we need to be submissive. Our God is totally in control whether we accept this or not. It is beyond our control. We need to submit our wills. We need to say to God, “Help us to know your will and live it!”

But why would a scientifically-minded person accept this? If I were such a person, I would probably go my own way trying to forget all of this Easter nonsense plus all of the creation nonsense. Well the Good News on this Good-News Sunday is that science and God are being reconciled. However the earth was created – long version or seven-day version – it was God who engineered the process. Tomorrow has been designated as Earth Day. Even if we are still agnostic about God creating the universe, why would we want to spoil our living space?

What does this caring for the earth have to do with our celebration of the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ? Indeed, is keeping our air and waters clean in any way connected to the suffering of our Lord on the cross and then moving into the Resurrection?

As our hearts sink every time we hear the dying part of the story, so our hearts rejoice when we get to the glorious morning “He is not here!” part of the story. Therefore, we are resurrection people. The dying part happened so that we can be resurrection people. So that we can be assured of our salvation, our place in heaven when we are called. But being resurrection people is more than our eternal salvation. It pertains to our living on this earth among people and nature.

Part of the mystery and the miracles is that even if we do not know the exact past and the exact future, we are still part of the mystery and the miracles. Each one of us matters. As we heard in our Isaiah scripture today about how the new heaven and the new earth will be, it is a model for us to use now as we improve our living habits – both maintaining the earth and maintaining our status as Resurrection people in the kingdom.

In the garden, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene to go to the disciples and proclaim this mysterious miracle that Jesus is alive. Let us go and do the same. May we ourselves live as Resurrection People – accepting our salvation, caring for each other, and caring for our planet on which God planted us. Did I mention our own personal relationship with God? With Jesus? It is the great gift of God through the Son, Jesus. All day every day we can be in communication and communion with Jesus, with the Father, and with the Holy Spirit. Mystery though it may be, it becomes reality to us. Amen

“The Lord Needs It”

Sermon – 04-14-19 – Palm Sunday – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 19:28-40
Sermon Title: “The Lord Needs It”

This whole Lenten and Easter scenario is pre-written and choreographed by God. We are drawing near to the climax of this drama. Electricity and puzzlement are mixed in the atmosphere. Remember how Jesus does not go to Lazarus to heal him while he is still alive. Instead, God designs the script so that Jesus will be there to raise Lazarus from the dead after four days in the tomb. Here we find Jesus weeping as the family and friends of Lazarus are weeping before Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb. But the weeping abruptly stops when Lazarus walks forth from the tomb.

However, the weeping is not yet finished. After the holy parade on the path from the Mount of Olives, the followers of Jesus spread their cloaks and wave palm branches and shout, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” After this parade, Jesus weeps as he looks down from his position on the hill above Jerusalem. He weeps as he talks to the city as if it were a person. The solemn, heart-wrenching drama about a city that will not bow, the city which will not bend, the city which will not repent. But then this city is drama itself. It is in seige by the Roman government with all of the Roman personnel in place and in charge. The Jews are in captivity so to speak. Their world has gone haywire. Nothing new of course; the Israelites, the Jews, God’s beloved people, have led lives of desperation through history. Why is that? God’s people? Hold that for another sermon.

In today’s act of the drama, not only are the Romans in charge over the Jews. Now, this fiesty person comes from Nazareth and further upsets the already bent applecart, the already bent system. This city is to be pitied. This city calls for tears. Jesus gives them. The tears flow as Jesus speaks to this chaotic locale of confused hearts and minds in their Roman bondage.

When are we going to hear “The Lord needs it?” Let’s backtrack up the hill to where the parade starts. The disciples of Jesus are in the dark about this drama. The location is near Bethpage and Bethany, Bethany being the hometown of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. This area includes the Mount of Olives which is frequently referenced in the gospels. Jesus tells two of his disciples to go the the nearest village and untie a colt, a young donkey, not even a grown donkey. This story in Matthew mentions a mother with the colt but it is on the colt that Jesus rides. One would wonder how a colt could carry an adult man. Then the silliest of silly, the scripture says the disciples set Jesus on the colt.

One author I read, explains this act of the disciples and the acceptance of Jesus to be set on the colt signify a change in Jesus. It is like he is on automatic pilot now. He does not seat himself on the colt. Someone else takes care of that action. The drama has been pre-arranged by God. The password to use the colt is “He needs it.” Jesus directs two disciples to go into town and find this colt. The colt is exactly where Jesus says it will be. If anyone asks why they are taking it, the disciples shall say “He needs it.” The disciples go, they untie the colt, the owner says “why are you untying the colt.” The disciples say “The Lord needs it.” The owner seems to say no more but I picture the owner watching as the colt goes on to serve God as planned by the Almighty.

Here we have Jesus on the colt moving along the path to Jerusalem which would be an upward walk since Jerusalem is on a hill. God has supporters of Jesus appear waving palm branches and throwing their cloaks on the road, something like a red carpet. They are not doing this in silence. No! This is loud, enough to start a disturbance if the Romans and the Jewish leaders start taking offence. Someone who is supposed to be keeping the peace, asks Jesus to tell the rabble rousers to be quiet. You never know what kind of chaos could develop. Did you hear what Jesus replied?

“If these people are silent, the very stones will cry out.” You see, this message had to be said. It was in the script! Someone has to say it! If not people, then stones. This praising God is of the ultimate importance. This praise has to be shouted. The Lord needs it! The Lord needs it! Even as we walk head-on into the disaster of Good Friday, the Lord needs our praise.

Even as we face the disaster of a hurricane, we need to praise the Lord. Even as we are walking into divorce court, we need to praise the Lord. The Lord needs it. Even if our hearts are cold and hard as stone, we need to crack that hardness enough to praise the Lord. Even as our long-time family pet has died and we need to decide how to bury it and live with the grief, we need to shout “Blessed is the Lord” added to “Bless our Devoted and Beloved Pet.”

Even as we are moving into a new home, do we remember to say, “Praise the Lord.” We need to dedicate that house or apartment or mobile home or assisted living or even the nursing section to God. God has a plan. Let us be open to see it as it unfolds.

We can wander all we want, making haphazard choices, taking the easy road, the tempting road. What is the destination? What is the outcome? Instead, let us join the parade of the donkey with the king as the rider, so low, so humble, that we need to push close to see this new kind of king. From Philippians 2, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, . . . but humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” Because of this, . . . “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

If we join this parade of humility we need courage. We need courage to say, “Jesus is Lord.” We need courage to tell our adult children that they are missing the parade.

Oh God, meekness and humility are not soft and wishy-washy. They take backbone. Help us to develop the necessary impulses to share our faith, to invite our relatives, to invite our friends. Or maybe we could be quiet and pray and let the stones tell the story and shout the praise. But then again, you need us to be part of the story. Will we ever have enough courage? Will we ever step over the failures on to the successes? Only with your help, Lord! Only with your help! Amen

“Despair Before Joy”

Sermon – 04-07-19 – Lent V – Cycle C
Scripture: Isaiah 43:16-21 – Psalm 126 – Philippians 3:4b-14 – John 12:1-8
Sermon Title: “Despair Before Joy”

Illness before healing. A flooded house before a mission project brings it to life again. Something lost before it is found. A huge medical bill before a “Go Fund Me” rescue or the mercy of the hospital and doctors involved. Addiction before recovery. Good Friday before Easter Sunday. Endless material concerns before spiritual concerns.

The spirituality displayed by Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, the close friends of Jesus, as she anoints Jesus with very expensive perfume; the materialism displayed by Judas in expressing displeasure about the perfume which seems very extravagant to him (especially because he would not be getting his hands on the money which was used to buy the perfume). The despair of Judas which becomes joy as expressed by Jesus for Mary’s loving act.

Was Mary doing this purely as an expression of love, and thankfulness, and devotion for Jesus or did she know that she was preparing Jesus for burial? Could God have been directing this scene without Mary knowing?

Have occurrences happened to you that seemed like setbacks but then proved to be blessings? This may seem like a frivolous example but just the other day, I had an eye doctor appointment in Pottstown. Even though I had written 11:00 a.m. in my date book, I thought it was 10:00 a.m. It probably was wishful thinking because I also had a meeting in West Lawn at 2:00 p.m. So I arrived even early for 10:00 a.m., which was amazing in itself, only to be told that my appointment was at 11:00 a.m. My first thought was that I could have slept an hour longer. My next thought was “How can I make good use of this hour?”

Between the receptionist and myself we decided that I could do the registration procedure and maybe the doctor could see me sooner than 11:00 a.m. So I took a seat, and promptly started to write an e-mail, thanking God that, yes, it is good that I now have time to do this. Part way through writing the email, a woman headed for the empty chair beside me. No problem. I smiled and said something about the weather before re-entering my password to continue writing the email. But God had other plans. This person really needed to talk. Wearing a clerical collar is like an open invitation to talk. That is good! That is one of the reasons why I wear a collar. So as I listen, I am realizing that God engineered my time mix-up.

In what seemed to be “no time,” I heard my name being called – Mary Etta, not just Mary! I went to my early encounter with those familiar machines that can do wonders to discover what is happening inside our eyes and also with the drops that make our eyes blurry and wanting to seek darkness. Then I encountered a talkative optician when I was selecting frames. He also started his conversation because of my collar. He shared some confidential family happenings with me.

Finally, I leave, only to notice that I really need to pay attention to be in West Lawn by 2:00 p.m. But my eyes are something else! So I make myself relax until I am confident that I can see well enough. I am wearing sunglasses on a rainy day. I also need gas plus lunch. I finally and safely reach my destination in West Lawn just comfortably before the meeting. I am always so amazed when God does this for me. Does this happen to you? Something seems to go wrong but then it becomes a good thing?

Well, so it is with people in the Bible. Abram waiting until he is 100 and Sarai waiting until she is 90 to become parents, to start the lineage that became Jesus. Mary and Martha waiting impatiently for Jesus to come and heal brother, Lazarus, and it does not happen. Jesus only comes when God directs – that is after Lazarus is in the tomb for four days.

Now this dinner with guests in the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. Was it not planned for a nice occasion of pleasure? Then it is marred by the criticism of Judas Iscariot. But Jesus saves Mary’s day by receiving her loving action with praise all the while hinting at the coming gloom.

The parade with the future Savior on a donkey while people cheered! The time at the cross and on the cross, certainly the world gone wrong. The saving king dying horribly while he remembers to give Mary, his mother, to John, the beloved disciple.

The women go to the tomb on the day after their Sabbath, with dark, sad, hearts, carrying spices to anoint the body as in burial. But no body. Not a burial! Where is this man? In fact, how did the stone get moved? A puzzling, sad, mystery. And then this new thing! There has been a resurrection! God is doing a new thing!

Remember Paul, who had been Saul. Darkness, hate, despair. Saul, in all his zealousness is causing ugliness for the Christians even though he thinks he is following God’s directions. Wrong! Jesus, from heaven, catches Saul, transforms him into probably the most successful evangelist of his time. God is doing a new thing!

What new thing is God doing in your life? Have you stopped to think? When was the most recent case of despair in your life? What was it? Is it still in despair stage? Does it look like it might be moving into a good, new thing? Has it become a transformation, a glorious new thing that makes you want to dance with joy? Do you think it may have already happened but you have not noticed because your mind is still in despair stage?

We need to pray.
Oh God, help us to move on from despair into the new thing, into the joy that you are presenting to us. Take our blinders from our minds and hearts. Help us to think about this as individuals and as a congregation. Open the windows and the doors! God, through Isaiah, you are saying, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Oh God, help us to spring forth with this new thing! And all of God’s people say, “Amen”

Full Cycle: Coming Home (Reconciliation)

Sermon – 03-31-19 – Lent IV – Cycle C
Scriptures: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-23
Sermon Title: “Full Cycle: Coming Home (Reconciliation)”

Reconciliation. Making Up. Forgiveness. Love. Coming Home To Each Other.

How hard it is to make up. Somewhere along the way, a wise person told me that in conflict, there needs to be a way for all sides to be winners. Everyone needs to feel good about themselves to resolve conflict. This is not the “eye for an eye” of the Old Testament. This is “love your neighbor as yourself;” or even harder, “love each other as Christ has loved us.”

So in our parable today, one son is wayward and gets lost. One son stays at home and works faithfully and diligently. The audacity of the wayward son is great. He asks for his share of the inheritance before he leaves. Right there, most of us would have said “no way!” But then again, do we want a slothful son hanging around?

Whatever the father’s thinking, he gave his wayward son a decent amount of money. Off goes the son into sin city, squandering his money so that in no time the money is gone, caput. The son needs to earn money now. His self-image has dropped to the ground. A hired man he becomes. Worse yet, a Jewish man working on a pig farm! We suppose this son was Jewish, and we remember that pigs and Jewish people do not go together.

Here he is – the wayward son feeding pigs with no food for himself. The scripture says that “he would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating.” Every time I read this story, I wonder why he did not eat the food that he was feeding to the pigs. I think I would have, unless it was very hard, like field corn, which would not have worked well in his mouth and stomach.

So then this wayward and desperate son has a light bulb come on. He could be working for his father as a hired worker and would at least be fed decent food. Off he goes, leaving the pigs to fend for themselves perhaps. We don’t know.

The story goes that the father sees his son coming down the road when the son was still a distance away. This leads us to think that the father watched for this son continually. Does the father wait for the son to reach the entrance to the farm? No, of course not. This father runs along the road to embrace the wayward son! The father is so relieved, so happy! His lost son is found!

The son is quite surprised. He knows he does not deserve this mercy, this reception. But he was lost and now he is found! He tries to tell the father that he returned home to be a hired man on the father’s farm. The son does not expect to be returned into the household of the family. Here he is being honored with a feast, a party, a calf being roasted!

You and I know that something is not quite fair here. There are two sons. The one stayed home and was obedient. He is earning his place in the family. In fact, at the very time that the wayward son walked into this place called home, the older, sincere son was working at a distance on the farm. He did not see or hear this event. But as he approached the barn and house, he began to hear the commotion. What is going on he thinks? “What is going on,” he asks the first person he encounters?

The person proclaims, “Your brother has come home. We are roasting a fatted calf. We are celebrating! “What?” says the obedient son. “This is ridiculous. This is totally unfair. Where is my father?” The obedient son hurries to find the father and give him a word or two or more. Jealousy rises to the roots of his hair. That is not in the Bible. I can just see the skin tone changing, the hurt look on the face mixed with anger. “How can I be expected to join the party. I am so angry. Why shouldn’t I be angry? Wouldn’t anybody be angry?”

Now the father is upset. He was so happy. He cannot understand why the obedient son is upset and refuses to join the festivities. It is easy for us to say that the father should have had an open mind and understood the hurt that the obedient son was experiencing. The son bursts his reasoning to the father. He says, “you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.”

Then the father says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

This is not just a story from the 1st Century. This is a here and now story. This either reminds us of our own family or a family that we know.

The dilemma of being a parent. How much shall we do for our children? How much do we long to have them with us more than our children want to be with us? Do we do enough for our children, especially in today’s world. Do we do too much for our children? Are they spoiled? Are we fair with our children? Do we treat them as equally as possible? Do we rejoice over one more than another? Do we check ourselves to know if we are ignoring one child’s needs over another child’s accomplishments? If we have only one child, do we dote on him or her or do we pay more attention to our own life than to the child’s concerns?

Many of us can only look backward to when our children were young. Or, is there something we can do yet to reconcile what we did or didn’t do? Is there a chance that we can have a closer relationship with our children than we do? Is there a chance that we can strengthen our children’s relationship with God even when they are adults without harping, without getting on their nerves.

Many families find themselves in the same situation as the father in our story. One child becomes alienated by something – a word, an action. Is it too late to change that? I say, “Never too late, but how can it happen?” It cannot happen without asking God to direct the action. You see the father in this parable represents God our Father. He is concerned about every single child who exists. I believe that each person in this world was close to God at birth. Many of us wandered from that closeness. We become lost. Some persons managed to stay on the path and expect credit for doing that. But, our loving heavenly Father and Jesus, the Son, care about each one of us- righteous or lost. So we hear the voice of God the Father saying, “Child, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we have to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

“Mercy for the Fig Tree”

Sermon – 03-24-19 – Lent III – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
Sermon Title: “Mercy for the Fig Tree”

“Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Jesus said this when some newsbearers reported to Jesus that Pilate had killed some Galileans and again when he was told that another 18 people were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. “Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

We assume that whatever Jesus says to the people of his time, applies to us some 2,000 years later. “Unless we repent, we will all perish.” What is this perishing business? Oh, maybe hell. So how do I repent enough to stay out of hell?

Hear ye! Hear ye! There is this fig tree! Did you notice the fig tree on the cover of your bulletin? The picture is a bit distorted in that we see Jesus mending the fig tree. In our gospel parable today, it is the gardener who begs for a chance to nurture this tree for another year and who is given permission by his master to do just that.

The point of the gospel is that God has given us a number of years to produce fruit, to be a productive part of the kingdom of God on earth. Have we produced any good deeds, shared any wisdom about the kingdom, opened anyone’s heart to Jesus? Have we been good examples for young people who are watching? We may be blind to the people who watch us. We don’t notice. We think other people don’t notice any unkind expression or action. We think that our own actions and speech don’t muddy the waters.

Maybe you are starting to seethe as my mouth goes on. Maybe you have every justification to say, “How dare you!” to me because you truly are a good example and model for growing the peaceful kingdom. I reply, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart” and “I am glad that I know you” and “May I walk beside you long enough to get the hang of being a good example; of being a productive tree in the kingdom.”

Others of us need the year of mercy to put more effort into being productive. Or we will be pulled from the garden because we are taking space and nourishment that could be used by someone more deserving.

Even as we look for human models in our endeavor to be considered worthy, Jesus is the ultimate model. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Jesus is our model. I repeat the ending of our Epistle Lesson today. “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

What is this way out? Lean into Jesus! Let’s look at the picture again. Pretend the tree is us. We are leaning away from Jesus, following the way of the world and our selfish, foolish desires. But Jesus is not just praying for us. He has set a straight pole, presumably firmly in the ground and is using soft strips of cloth to draw us from our wayward ways. We can think of the pole as being Jesus himself. Firmly rooted. Straight. That reminds me of the “straight and narrow path.” We are instructed to take the less-traveled path, not the easy path of the world. There is no structure in the easy path. The boundaries are more vague. How much should we be saving? How much should we be giving to the work of the kingdom? How much should we be spending on enjoyment? How much time should we give to help our neighbor, including the neighbors we cannot even see but they need help way around the world? Does our next-door neighbor have an empty refrigerator? Does our own anger need some kind of management? Does someone else’s anger need management?

Can we do this in a year? Do we even want to change our ways? Do we want to lean on Jesus? Are we malleable enough to become straight; to align ourselves to the straight pole which is Jesus? Is Jesus pulling on those strips of cloth with all of his might or is he pulling more gently. Is he determined to make us straight or does it look like we may have some free will? Do you see the water jug with the spout? Jesus does not leave us struggle to find our own food and water. He assists us.

Let’s take a guided tour of our hymns today. In “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” see the line that says, “All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.” I think of my credit card and how easy it is to whip it from my handbag and swipe or insert. Not so easy to pay the monthly tab. I think of the wasted minutes scrolling through my aol news which is mostly sensational in nature- something like facebook. The things that charm me most.

Looking at “There is a Balm in Gilead,” a balm is a healing substance or a healing act. It can be a soothing influence. Each time we fail in our attempt to be like Jesus, to lean toward Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to our rescue; to revive our soul, to encourage us to try again and again. Is the year up yet?

Then the gift of all gifts! The hymn “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” has us melting in thankfulness. Oh, God of all mercy, thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you! We start to dance. Imagine a cold drink on a scorching day! Imagine resting our feet when we had been standing and walking for hours! Imagine the load lifted from our brains, from our hearts!

Could we please say the words to this hymn together now? Then when we sing it, we will feel an increased fervor which means increased warmth and intensity of feeling or zeal.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice Which is more than liberty.

There is welcome for the sinner And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior; There is healing in His blood.

For the love of God is broader Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the Eternal Is most wonderfully kind.

If our love were but more simple We should take Him at His word,
And our lives would be all sunshine In the sweetness of our Lord. Amen

“From Dust to Eternal Life”

Sermon – 03-20-19 – Wednesday in Lent
Scriptures: Job 38:1-7, 12-13; Job 42:1-6; John 3:1-9, 16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:49
Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:14; Job 19:25; Ecclesiastes 12:7
Sermon Title: “From Dust to Eternal Life”

The story in Genesis tells us that man was created from dust or soil. Do you think of dust and soil as totally mineral or a combination of animal, vegetable, and mineral?

How about ashes? How do you classify ashes? Picture a forest fire even though it hurts us to bring such a disaster to mind. Desolate! Nothingness! Everything once living – animal, vegetable – blended into ashes! No life! Now picture a little section of these ashes, a small heap. In fast forward motion of a camera, a seed starts to sprout, two tiny leaves appear, they move upward, more tiny leaves appear. As the motion of the camera speeds along, the stem becomes thick, the branches spread, more and more leaves appear. It is a new tree from an old seed that would not be burned. It is a resurrection.

Yes, a seed must die before new life can arise from it. O-o-o-oh. Now the green blade rises from the buried grain. When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain, Your touch can call us back to life again. Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been; Love is come again like wheat arising green. Do you know that hymn?

Ashes, dust, soil! How many times do these words appear in the account of Christianity which is named the Bible? In Genesis 2:7, God breathed life into the nostrils of the man he just shaped. It is the breath of God, the very breath of God! Then in Genesis 3:14, we find the evil serpent who shall from now on, eat dust. No reaching for apples for this particular creature in our literature. Thankfully, not all snakes are punished for this one snake’s deeds. I know snakes that have climbed trees. Double thanks that I have not yet come face to face with a snake in an apple tree or a peach tree or a lemon tree.

How about us? Are we really punished because Adam and Eve did not resist temptation? Is that why we don’t live in a paradise environment until we die? Maybe, but I have other ideas. Maybe we inherited Adam’s and Eve’s arrogance. However, we got it, most of us have it. But do you know people who seem to have not a smidgeon of arrogance? I have known such people. I am certainly not thinking of myself! I constantly need to be replacing the lid of humility on my arrogant nature. What did we inherit? What did we acquire from the other people around us? What did we acquire from the devil? Do you ever recognize and accept the idea that the devil is tempting you?

Moving right along to Job, something was keeping Job from a good relationship with God. You may remember that God was taking almost every material possession and almost every living person and animal from his life. Why? Did Job deserve this punishment? Maybe. It is not for us to judge. But this book gets rather monotonous as three friends and Job dialogue with each other – more like accusatory conversation about why this is happening to Job. He must have done something wrong, his friends say. God seems to be silent through all of Job’s arrogance.

“Not one wrong thing did I do,” says Job to his friends and to God. I did not do anything wrong. Pure arrogance! But in Chapter 38, God speaks and speak he does. He sets Job free of his arrogance. Who does Job think he is, says God. Did Job know how to keep the waters from covering the whole earth? Does Job know how to get a day started, the dawn to appear?

Listen to this again from Job 38:12 and 13. “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?

“The dawn shakes the evil from the new day,” I think God is saying. The evil is shaken away at the start of each new day! We can start each new day with the breath of dawn!

God finally lets Job speak. Uh-oh, God had spoken these words to Job. “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” So when Job gets to speak it appears that the first confession that Job makes is this: “ ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

Let us ask ourselves, “How often have we spoken with self-assurance when we really did not know the subject matter and the truth.” Have you come to realize that we are very much like Job?” We falsely tell ourselves and try to convince others that we have the story straight or that our version of the weather is the very version that is going to happen right down to the 1/8 of an inch. Or that the stain remover we use will work for everyone, or that God favors a certain politician. Or that the little white lie we told or the money we kept from our income tax form will not hurt our record with God. Or that how we think about scripture is exactly how the scribes got it from God.

We are full of dust and ashes. Purify us, God! Let us say with Job as he confesses further something like this. “Now things are clear to me. I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

We are here today somewhere in the season of Lent. We are here in a repentant spirit. It is good to admit our need for repentance. But let us not quit there! No, no. There is life in the ashes! The Spirit is still in us! The Spirit will breathe on the little tiny spot of life and bring it into full life. In the precious verses in John 3, we find Nicodemus walking away from the new life. If he ever declared Jesus as Lord of his life, we don’t know. I find myself praying for Nicodemus.

But John 3:16 is not just for Nicodemus. It is for us who are Job-like creatures. We do not need to walk away. We can accept John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:49 which is, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.” We can eagerly await the eternal life which is waiting for us. Job says in Job 19:25, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth . . .” Verse 3 of the hymn “In the Bulb There Is a Flower” reads, “In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; in our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity. In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”