Sunday Sermons

August 26, 2018

Did you ever feel like you just couldn’t say the right words, in a prayer, a speech, or how about an essay you had to write? Sometimes there are no right words. What do you say to someone going through a tragedy? Often times, I find it best to just speak from the heart. Just say, “I’m so sorry, I just don’t know what to say!”


I think Peter said some simple words from the heart. 


I hope to show you from this passage that simple words from the heart are the right words….. let’s look at our passage together: 


 John 6:66-69


66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”


Verse 66 sums up much of what we have been talking about the past three weeks. Jesus is the “bread of life,” and we must feast of “Him,” but it looks like many only heard the part of eating “His” flesh and blood, so they left. They didn’t stick around long enough to chew on the words of Jesus, to find that this is about nourishment of our spirituality!

All of this eating, feasting and bread, reminded me of cooking. A survey came out and said the three ways to find out if you are a bad cook: 


  1. You know you’re a bad cook when you use the smoke alarm as your cooking timer.
  2. You consider yourself a culinary success if the pop tart stays in one piece.
  3. Your dog heads over to the neighbor’s to eat.

I was raised with religion most of my life and learned the right words. How about you? Giovanni did you learn all the right words like I did? But the bigger question I need to ask is, “Is what we do here on Sunday, affecting how we are the rest of the week?” I posted on facebook that, “The mark of a great church is not how many people come, but how many people live differently for having been there!”


Verse 66 tells us many disciples turned back, it says, and no longer went about with Him. Why were the teachings so hard to follow? But look at verse 68. Simon Peter says, “…You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” We have to be careful here because we, in the modern church, get hung up on the phrase, “the words of God.” I’ll bet if we took a poll in here today, and we asked where are the words of God,  I know I would have said what I was taught most of my life, “the Bible IS the word of God.” But in my opinion, it may contain some of the words of God. Peter lived with Jesus, saw Jesus, but the Bible wasn’t written yet, so it would have been the deeds of Jesus, how Jesus walked, how Jesus talked. For Peter, Jesus was the one who revealed God’s activity; and through his speech and actions, not a book filled with the right words. 


But let’s explore these “words of eternal life” in verse 68. The church really latched onto that phrase, “eternal life.” We can argue about religion:  Christianity, Islam, Judaism, native American spirituality, and all will have something to say about our greatest human fear--Death, the after-life! Are you ready for it? Are you saved? Did you do what God asked? Did you do what the Bible says? How do I know if I will make it to the pearly gates? That’s why we have ministers, imams, rabbis and shamans to show us how to make it to the next life, right? Don’t we need reassurance; I can’t take any chances at my age! Will God welcome me? Are those even the right questions? I have some good news, but it’s just my opinion, my study, my life experience, my exposure to worship with the God of my understanding, my spirituality, I can say, yes, you are already a part of God! 


But what about Hell, Pastor? What about purgatory, the unbaptized? So many questions, and so many categories of places we have created in the centuries since Peter simply said in this passage we study today. “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to (believe) and know that you are the Holy One of God.” “The words of eternal life,” Peter says. Did you know eternal life didn’t originate in Judaism? It’s barely found until 600BC. That’s a long time ago, and this idea scholars trace to Persian doctrines, the Egyptians, and many others have views of the next life, but these ideas influenced Jewish writers of much of the Bible, much later in Bible history! Yes, it’s true! Not until 600 BC, the very faith Christianity is founded upon, did not have language of afterlife, Heaven or the next life! Judaism simply called it “life,” We walked with God, we talked with God, we followed God’s laws. And keep in mind, hardly anyone could read in ancient times, so how could they read the darn Ten Commandments? Someone told them! It had to be read, told. God tells Moses his name is “I am.” Jews cannot even say God’s name; The best the Hebrew dares to translate is “Being” its breath, Ruah. God is the source. If you go over to Rabbi Ken’s congregation here in town, God is “the Tree of Life,” that’s it. It just IS. You live life with God, and when you die, you continue to be a part of God. Did you catch that? You are a part of God, and you continue to be that in the next life! When Genesis describes Adam, he is a soul, he has “being” Pretty cool, huh? Uncomplicated as well, Jesus just says, “Believe.” But that word means more than just like we use it. “The Red Sox, I believe, they are gonna win the World Series.” It’s bigger than that, more powerful. It’s “trust, embrace, base your life upon, live your life like I lived,” Jesus says! 


So when you read this kind of stuff like the Gospels, keep in mind that Christianity interacted with knowledge of its time, Greek, Hebrew, Stoics. So what changed in the church? We sure don't today, interact with much of the knowledge of today, meaning to say if it isn’t in the Bible, I don’t need it! What about science, ugh evolution? God created the world in seven days., It says so right there see? Could that kind of thinking be why many young people don’t need what we say in church anymore? Have we become archaic? Our God is in Heaven up there, out there, we have to please this God. If we say enough prayers, we’ll change God’s mind to move that hurricane 100 miles south! But when Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote, most of the Christian movement was still part of Judaism. There was no institutional church seeking to grow. So these words must have meant something quite different to its first readers. So this is why we must be careful! 


Most of our Hell, Heaven, limbo, purgatory, lake of fire, this stuff was written in later centuries by churches that sought to control our behavior. The sooner we let that go the better! Why don’t we ever hear at church that the discovery of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), back in 1953, helped humans to understand the oneness of life, connectedness, we are a part of something big! We are related to all living things. Drink a glass of water, some of it’s alive! 


So the next life, the resurrection we talk about so much…we say we will be resurrected into God’s presence when we breathe our last breath. But the original language says, “it’s being called into a new being,” but it happens within life. It already Is! 


One of my favorite Church futurists, Bishop John Shelby Spong, says, “Christianity did not come into being with a Bible that contained ‘the Words of God.’ Christianity did not come with creeds fully formed that we had to memorize and believe. It didn’t place God upon a throne to dispense justice. It never was intended, in my opinion, to place us, the worshippers, on our knees like beggars. It never was intended to possess political power. It was never to set behavior standards or define good and evil for all to follow. This stuff was added by the church!”

 

If this thing we call the church is going to live into the future, we must recover the original meanings of our real identity. The ancient Greek Stoics who were kicked out of the early church, talk about the eternal principle of order in the cosmos. Then the Gnostic Christians (the mystical spiritual folks that got kicked out of the early church as well) went for creeds, dogmas and rituals. Isn’t it odd that so many today say they want to be spiritual and not religious? The fastest growing segment of religion is those who say they have “none.” Maybe we should have listened to the Gnostics, the Mystics, the Spiritualists. They grabbed this and said God is right here, right now, immanent we call it, in us, our breath our being, and we, you, are a part of that being. When I breathe my last breath, I can close my eyes and know that I am a part of God. I can feel God’s presence in me and through me. I can do that right now! So what happens when we interpret this passage this way today: 


68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”


I heard a story of a Dad helping his son get ready for kindergarten: the days of half-days, naps and lots of playtime are long gone. These kids are pushed right into the educational system. So this Dad, not wanting his son to be left behind, reviewed numbers and counting on his iPhone app, and of course the little boy asked what the biggest number was. Of course, “infinity” is a big concept, so the Dad tied that into God, and felt good that the kid was ready for kindergarten, so that night as he tucked his son in bed for his first day of school the little boy looked up and asked, “Dad, what’s the number right before infinity?” The Dad thought for a minute and said, “You!” 


The mark of a great church is not how many people come, but how many people live differently for having been there!


Amen.

August 19, 2018

  

John 6:35, 41-51


35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

This is a very difficult piece of scripture to interpret and even preach on, mostly because of that last verse, 51, see that: 

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

I can do verse 35 at the beginning, Jesus is “the bread of life,” but the ending eating the bread, Jesus’ flesh, is just downright unsettling for me. But it wasn’t always troubling. I was raised Catholic, and this is the liturgy of the Eucharist. The church teaches that the elements, the bread and the wine the Priest prepares every Sunday, actually become the supernatural real flesh and blood. Most of the rest of Christianity, teaches doctrine similar, at communion and other spots in the liturgy. Most Protestants speak of the broken body and blood shed. We talk about the blood of Christ as the work of Jesus dying on the cross. I have heard that all my life, and that’s been most the focal point of church teaching since Jesus, right? 

Well, I hate to mess up your theology, but not exactly. Most of this blood shed, and this flesh emphasis came about later in church history. It was 1100 A.D. when feudal castles, Lord’s, Kings and rulers, kept their people fed, sheltered and protected. So, these ideas from the Bible that people owed the Lord a debt emerged, a 1000 years after Jesus! So you're probably wondering what’s all this bread, eating flesh, communion and Eucharist, mean to us today, it isn’t even communion Sunday? Is he going to get us all saved again? This passage is about change; yes that word we all love, “change!”

There are two things in this passage. First, Jesus changed the Jewish religion as people knew it, and the rest of this passage is an explanation of that claim. Simple, right? Well, not quite, but all of this “change” talk reminds me of a big bank I used to work for in Los Angeles. It was the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s; we were on our second restructuring and the third CEO in less than six years. All we heard about from this Stanford MBA was “computers networking, databases, telephone systems with automated menus” (press 1 for this, two for that), the technology we all love! All of this new stuff, he said, was going to change the workplace. So computers on our desks were going to make our work so much easier. We’d save so much time, but to get there it was a huge change. So to make it through this change in workflow, we needed to come together. “Teamwork,” teamwork we all heard, this was upper management's mantra of the day. After hearing this all day in staff meetings and motivational speeches, with books on “who moved my cheese,” it got tiring but a guy in the breakroom would make us all laugh. He once acted like the CEO and walked around the lunchroom and said, “Teamwork is our motto here, it’s so important to our future, we have to work together as a team.” Of course it is, we all groaned, as he cleverly paused. You see, this guy was an actor. He did plays and bit parts in movies, so as he paused stroking his chin, pretending to be the CEO who was safely out of hearing range, dining at the fancy restaurants, a sly smile would run across his face. And we all listened intently in that crowded breakroom where the new giant size microwave heated up our leftovers. We had to listen as he was the bank wise guy, and didn’t really need the job. So, teamwork, he continued, “it sure helps, yes it does, let me tell you, it helps us figure everything out. Why we can now use this team-building spirit to work wonders, wonders yes, why we can then blame the computer team, or the phone system when the high tech computers all go down, and we can’t do any work. Yes we’ll all be one big, happy team,” and we all laughed. 

So maybe Jesus is like our lunch room guy, critiquing our systems today. Maybe God is challenging some of our ideas today? We just love that don’t we? So, let’s start with the easy stuff: We learn in seminary early on to interpret scripture first by identifying the key words. I made them bold in your bulletin, take a look. This will be the easy part. Do you see that “bread” appears seven times in only twelve verses. But look for another word. It’s “manna,” see that? Does anybody know what that word is? Look at verse 49: This manna stuff is from the OT Num 11. It is described as a nutritious, almost flesh-like, bread. It miraculously came from heaven, right after Charlton Heston, starring as Moses, gave the Ten Commandments from holy Mt. Sinai. Well, right after this dramatic scene, the Israelites begin to complain to Moses with layers of problems. First and foremost, is food and water. They are on their way to the promised land and the hard life of travelling, is taking its toll, no grocery stores on that highway, and they start thinking of the old days. Ahhh, the fertile land of the Nile, but they were slaves in 

the good old days! They prayed to God for 400 years for deliverance and wanted to go back? That’s what the story says. 

So first God miraculously sends flocks of quails to eat. Now I’ve had quail, and it’s really good. But every day, free lunch and dinner, yes, but roasted quail Monday, sauteed quail Tuesday, baked stuffed quail Wednesday…you get the idea, they complained again. 

If you are familiar with the story, the complaint department was fed up. Cecil B. DeMille’s movie shows scenes of God’s fire and the earth swallowing up all those whiners and complainers. Maybe we should tell this story to some on facebook? But of course, God’s good side comes out and the strange story of the nutritious bread, like “fleshy” stuff now found in between the meat aisle and the bread aisle, this super food of Jewish history appears, manna, down from heaven every night. And the best part--the Messiah, when he comes, will feed everyone with manna! 

So now you might get the connection to Jesus, the Messiah. The audience of this legendary foundational Jewish story is questioning Jesus’ claim he is the bread of life come down from heaven. Uh not so fast, Jesus. Look at verses 42 and 43… Jesus, you grew up in Nazareth, we know your Mom and Dad, how can you be the Messiah, we need some more signs? Jesus then lost it and said, I just fed 5,000 people, walked on water, healed people, and you need more signs? But it kind of looks like in (v 43), Jesus is making the connection between grumbling and death, from the Old Testament? 

I wonder if I need to quit complaining? But I do complain, I complain all the time, I wish I could stop. I actually made an always growing list of things I want to change in me, and God has actually answered some of those prayers! But sometimes I’m having enough trouble just trying to make a decision whether to continue seeing a relative who has too many cocktails every day. How about the difficulties we all face with things like do I fix that furnace now or try and make it through another winter with what little my paycheck has left over. God, a little bit of help here would be nice! 

Before we look at what Jesus is saying in this passage perhaps a story will help... 

Sometimes we have to get our elbow off the intercom button and listen to God or God speaking through those around us. We need to make a decision in our lives don’t we? Maybe God is speaking and our elbow is on the intercom. God has to send someone to tell us to listen up? So, back to the Gospel of John as I get ready to wrap this up and hopefully it makes some sense. John is known for mystical, spiritual language and symbolism. It will drive anyone that holds to a literal interpretation of the scriptures crazy. Just as it seems to have driven Jesus’ audience crazy, the Messiah has to do certain things the way our religion says…so they thought…..but Jesus changed all of that. He became the living symbols of their religion 

The fulfillment of God in man, who promised to live within us, we needed to take it in like a loaf of bread., it's not about ritual and systems anymore, it's not about animal sacrifices which we find revolting, but Jesus is it, the full package, so no wonder John uses these words. Maybe Jesus is our spiritual food, the Spirit is life, he says, his flesh and his blood is bread a superfood, if you will. But it’s the eating thing, the flesh and blood that’s still bothering me here, and I'm supposed to be ending this sermon.

But that gets cleared up quickly when I look at the Greek, to eat, is a poor translation it’s not to consume, eat and swallow, chew your food, like your mother used to say. The original language gives more of a sense of gnawing, chewing, feasting on Jesus’ words, not necessarily consuming. This is more about living our lives consumed by Jesus. It is a nutritious, spiritual food. We are to live Jesus’ life, we are to show how Jesus lived in our lives, nourishing our souls. 

But how can we unless we slowly chew on it, we work with it. Where else do we get this kind of stuff? it's here at church! One hour a week, we come to feast on Jesus’ words. Are you getting any clearer now? Jesus says later in John that the one who eats would abide in Him and live forever! 

The spiritual meets the physical right here, no pun intended. Jesus makes himself, life-giving, spiritual food! I think this passage invites you to the God of your own understanding deep within you. Feast, eat, partake, drink, believe that God is in everything, God is simply all-being, who wants to feast with you, and is glad you are here, loves you just as you are holds you together, no matter how many things you have going out of control in your life, just take them one day at a time. 

Amen. 

August 12, 2018

John 6:35, 41-51


35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.


This is a very difficult piece of scripture to interpret and even preach on, mostly because of that last verse, 51, see that:

 

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.


I can do verse 35 at the beginning, Jesus is “the bread of life,” but the ending eating the bread, Jesus’ flesh, is just downright unsettling for me. But it wasn’t always troubling. I was raised Catholic, and this is the liturgy of the Eucharist. The church teaches that the elements, the bread and the wine the Priest prepares every Sunday, actually become the supernatural real flesh and blood. Most of the rest of Christianity, teaches doctrine similar, at communion and other spots in the liturgy. Most Protestants speak of the broken body and blood shed. We talk about the blood of Christ as the work of Jesus dying on the cross. I have heard that all my life, and that’s been most the focal point of church teaching since Jesus, right? 


Well, I hate to mess up your theology, but not exactly. Most of this blood shed, and this flesh emphasis came about later in church history. It was 1100 A.D. when feudal castles, Lord’s, Kings and rulers, kept their people fed, sheltered and protected. So, these ideas from the Bible that people owed the Lord a debt emerged, a 1000 years after Jesus! So you're probably wondering what’s all this bread, eating flesh, communion and Eucharist, mean to us today, it isn’t even communion Sunday? Is he going to get us all saved again? This passage is about change; yes that word we all love, “change!”


There are two things in this passage. First, Jesus changed the Jewish religion as people knew it, and the rest of this passage is an explanation of that claim. Simple, right? Well, not quite, but all of this “change” talk reminds me of a big bank I used to work for in Los Angeles. It was the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s; we were on our second restructuring and the third CEO in less than six years. All we heard about from this Stanford MBA was “computers networking, databases, telephone systems with automated menus” (press 1 for this, two for that), the technology we all love! All of this new stuff, he said, was going to change the workplace. So computers on our desks were going to make our work so much easier. We’d save so much time, but to get there it was a huge change. So to make it through this change in workflow, we needed to come together. “Teamwork,” teamwork we all heard, this was upper management's mantra of the day. After hearing this all day in staff meetings and motivational speeches, with books on “who moved my cheese,” it got tiring but a guy in the breakroom would make us all laugh. He once acted like the CEO and walked around the lunchroom and said, “Teamwork is our motto here, it’s so important to our future, we have to work together as a team.” Of course it is, we all groaned, as he cleverly paused. You see, this guy was an actor. He did plays and bit parts in movies, so as he paused stroking his chin, pretending to be the CEO who was safely out of hearing range, dining at the fancy restaurants, a sly smile would run across his face. And we all listened intently in that crowded breakroom where the new giant size microwave heated up our leftovers. We had to listen as he was the bank wise guy, and didn’t really need the job. So, teamwork, he continued, “it sure helps, yes it does, let me tell you, it helps us figure everything out. Why we can now use this team-building spirit to work wonders, wonders yes, why we can then blame the computer team, or the phone system when the high tech computers all go down, and we can’t do any work. Yes we’ll all be one big, happy team,” and we all laughed. 


So maybe Jesus is like our lunch room guy, critiquing our systems today. Maybe God is challenging some of our ideas today? We just love that don’t we? So, let’s start with the easy stuff: We learn in seminary early on to interpret scripture first by identifying the key words. I made them bold in your bulletin, take a look. This will be the easy part. Do you see that “bread” appears seven times in only twelve verses. But look for another word. It’s “manna,” see that? Does anybody know what that word is? Look at verse 49: This manna stuff is from the OT Num 11. It is described as a nutritious, almost flesh-like, bread. It miraculously came from heaven, right after Charlton Heston, starring as Moses, gave the Ten Commandments from holy Mt. Sinai. Well, right after this dramatic scene, the Israelites begin to complain to Moses with layers of problems. First and foremost, is food and water. They are on their way to the promised land and the hard life of travelling, is taking its toll, no grocery stores on that highway, and they start thinking of the old days. Ahhh, the fertile land of the Nile, but they were slaves in 

the good old days! They prayed to God for 400 years for deliverance and wanted to go back? That’s what the story says. 


So first God miraculously sends flocks of quails to eat. Now I’ve had quail, and it’s really good. But every day, free lunch and dinner, yes, but roasted quail Monday, sauteed quail Tuesday, baked stuffed quail Wednesday…you get the idea, they complained again. 


If you are familiar with the story, the complaint department was fed up. Cecil B. DeMille’s movie shows scenes of God’s fire and the earth swallowing up all those whiners and complainers. Maybe we should tell this story to some on facebook? But of course, God’s good side comes out and the strange story of the nutritious bread, like “fleshy” stuff now found in between the meat aisle and the bread aisle, this super food of Jewish history appears, manna, down from heaven every night. And the best part--the Messiah, when he comes, will feed everyone with manna!

 

So now you might get the connection to Jesus, the Messiah. The audience of this legendary foundational Jewish story is questioning Jesus’ claim he is the bread of life come down from heaven. Uh not so fast, Jesus. Look at verses 42 and 43… Jesus, you grew up in Nazareth, we know your Mom and Dad, how can you be the Messiah, we need some more signs? Jesus then lost it and said, I just fed 5,000 people, walked on water, healed people, and you need more signs? But it kind of looks like in (v 43), Jesus is making the connection between grumbling and death, from the Old Testament? 


I wonder if I need to quit complaining? But I do complain, I complain all the time, I wish I could stop. I actually made an always growing list of things I want to change in me, and God has actually answered some of those prayers! But sometimes I’m having enough trouble just trying to make a decision whether to continue seeing a relative who has too many cocktails every day. How about the difficulties we all face with things like do I fix that furnace now or try and make it through another winter with what little my paycheck has left over. God, a little bit of help here would be nice! 


Before we look at what Jesus is saying in this passage perhaps a story will help... 


Sometimes we have to get our elbow off the intercom button and listen to God or God speaking through those around us. We need to make a decision in our lives don’t we? Maybe God is speaking and our elbow is on the intercom. God has to send someone to tell us to listen up? So, back to the Gospel of John as I get ready to wrap this up and hopefully it makes some sense. John is known for mystical, spiritual language and symbolism. It will drive anyone that holds to a literal interpretation of the scriptures crazy. Just as it seems to have driven Jesus’ audience crazy, the Messiah has to do certain things the way our religion says…so they thought…..but Jesus changed all of that. He became the living symbols of their religion.


The fulfillment of God in man, who promised to live within us, we needed to take it in like a loaf of bread., it's not about ritual and systems anymore, it's not about animal sacrifices which we find revolting, but Jesus is it, the full package, so no wonder John uses these words. Maybe Jesus is our spiritual food, the Spirit is life, he says, his flesh and his blood is bread a superfood, if you will. But it’s the eating thing, the flesh and blood that’s still bothering me here, and I'm supposed to be ending this sermon.


But that gets cleared up quickly when I look at the Greek, to eat, is a poor translation it’s not to consume, eat and swallow, chew your food, like your mother used to say. The original language gives more of a sense of gnawing, chewing, feasting on Jesus’ words, not necessarily consuming. This is more about living our lives consumed by Jesus. It is a nutritious, spiritual food. We are to live Jesus’ life, we are to show how Jesus lived in our lives, nourishing our souls. 


But how can we unless we slowly chew on it, we work with it. Where else do we get this kind of stuff? it's here at church! One hour a week, we come to feast on Jesus’ words. Are you getting any clearer now? Jesus says later in John that the one who eats would abide in Him and live forever! 


The spiritual meets the physical right here, no pun intended. Jesus makes himself, life-giving, spiritual food! I think this passage invites you to the God of your own understanding deep within you. Feast, eat, partake, drink, believe that God is in everything, God is simply all-being, who wants to feast with you, and is glad you are here, loves you just as you are holds you together, no matter how many things you have going out of control in your life, just take them one day at a time. 


Amen. 

August 5, 2018

Multimedia presentation today.

July 29, 2018

Multimedia presentation.

July 22, 2018

Multimedia presentation.

July 15, 2018

Multimedia presentation today. You had to be there. 

July 8, 2018

Pastor Ron was away this week. No written sermon. 

July 1, 2018

Mark 1: 16-20


Jesus Calls the First Disciples


16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.


A clever idea emerged from our VBS planning this year. We are making the VBS curriculum the same as the big church the next four weeks. We’ll sing one of the VBS songs, like we did earlier, and follow the weekly VBS topics in our weekly sermon teaching. So the first week of big church VBS is “discipleship.” Right from the get go, you know how I get annoyed with big old church words nobody uses anymore, that word is an old word but I’m sad that we hardly hear of it anymore. But I have to ask today, could you explain what that word meant, what that word is? With dwindling church attendance, I doubt you’d get any solid answers at Starbucks. What would you say? For me, when I try and wrap my mind around that word, and for many it might conjure up an image of going somewhere to learn, like maybe to a dark and damp swampy planet to train in the ways of the Jedi with a little green alien? Or perhaps finding a hidden door at a train station that leads to a private train taking students to Hogwarts University, where Professor Dumbledore teaches you to become a Master Wizard?


So this idea of discipleship it’s all over the place isn’t it? But’s it’s really an old concept. In our Old Testament passage, Isaiah had disciples we read about, but often that word, “discipleship,” alludes to going away from your families it seems. So, in the church do we think that when we read about the calling of the disciples of Jesus? I think we genuinely have that “leaving to go learn,” don’t we? I saw the Marvel movie, Dr. Strange. He travelled to a monastic temple in Nepal where he studied ancient cosmic teachings. Do you really have to go away somewhere to be a disciple? I hope to show you today that you do not!


So when we start VBS, we will teach you to use the force for good and be a disciple in just 5 days. For most of us it’s right up the road, an easy drive, one stop light, and it’s four hours and poof! On Friday you become one of Jesus’ disciples. So if you think you cannot be a disciple of Jesus, because you can’t afford an X-Wing fighter ride, I want to show you that you can be a local disciple, right here, right now. I have the Bible on my side to prove it!


So it occurred to me that, that this passage, Mark 1: 16-20, for years I tended to read about this and I have preached before about the disciples, up and leaving Mom and Dad’s little fishing business. How shocking for Mrs. Zebedee at the market--yup they left us, for that Jesus, to be his disciples. Papa’s getting old and he has to run the whole business now. No more golfing trips, they left! They’re studying with Jesus; it’s a whole new way of life, away somewhere.


So my problem of being a disciple “away somewhere,” leaving Mom and Dad with the fishing boats is geography, simple geography and throw in some business. Let’s look at our passage again to clear up my issues with this passage. In verse 17, Jesus says, “follow me.” In the Greek version, it’s “come after me.” “After me,” in the Greek, indicates that Jesus was not calling Peter, Andrew, James, and John into a partnership of equals but to be his followers and servants.


That’s what a disciple did. No surprise here…even Yoda made Luke Skywalker carry his stuff around the swampy planet and do goofy exercises. Even Old Mr. Miyagi trained the karate kid, waxing the car, “Wax on, wax off!” But Jesus was different in his time. Usually the Rabbis taught the law. They had schools, Mom and Dad enrolled you and you went to their schools often every day and sometimes overnight. But Jesus’ followers were not called to follow or study the law, but they were told to follow “Him.” Do you catch the difference? That’s why Jesus’ followers were soon called “Christians” They weren’t followers of a particular teaching, or a sacrament, not even a religious theory. They followed the ethics, the lifestyle their Master lived; they followed a person—Jesus Christ. Jesus’ very daily life was and is the object of their faith and hope, and ours too!


But we tend to think that one must drop everything, just like they did in verse 20? We drop everything go to church to find religion. The disciples, they were great, they left everything to follow Jesus! No wonder all the Cathedrals are named after them? 


Except I missed one tiny phrase, I read right passed it, it’s about business, it’s about our local lives. I forgot about “the hired men.” See that little phrase I overlooked at the end of verse 20? I read about some historians and scholars who point out that the family business that we all think was drastically affected by the disciples leaving, may not have been so drastically affected. The disciples may not have actually left Mom and Dad!


Most of Jesus’ ministry was only a 1-2 days walk away, if you read through the Gospels. Where did they get the boats to go to the other side of the lake? Where did the boat come from that Jesus taught in? Maybe from Mr and Mrs Zebedee and Sons Fishing Company? These say that perhaps they studied with Jesus, followed him around and saw how he lived, loved and healed, and still worked the family business? So what’s my message?


You may not have to run off to Yoda’s planet to learn the force, after all. Don’t get that red-eye flight to Nepal to study with Dr. Strange and the bald headed lady called the Ancient One. All you really need is right here. Jesus asks two things of a disciple: Repent, make a U-turn from your life's agenda, and the second thing is really, really simple, just believe. Yoda said, “Luke, don’t try. Do,” as he raised that X wing fighter out of the swamp.


The nets still need mending back home. The hair salon staff needs to run the hair dryers and fold those foil wraps, the wine barrels at the winery need scrubbing, so, you can be a disciple right here, right now. The Rabbi’s school comes to you to change your life if you’re willing, wherever you are. Jesus said, “You will know my disciples because they got all the religious laws and rituals,” correct? No, because the Kingdom of God is in you at work, changing you. You should be seeing a difference in your life, how you react, how you treat one another. They will know we are Christians by our love! Jesus cares about how we are, not by how many rituals and regulations we get right on a Biblical law test! 


Amen.

June 24, 2018

  

Psalm 9

God’s Power and Justice

To the leader: according to Muth-labben. A Psalm of David.

1I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
 I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
2I will be glad and exult in you;
 I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

3When my enemies turned back,
 they stumbled and perished before you.
4For you have maintained my just cause;
 you have sat on the throne giving righteous judgment.

5You have rebuked the nations, you have destroyed the wicked;
 you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
6The enemies have vanished in everlasting ruins;
 their cities you have rooted out;
 the very memory of them has perished.

7But the Lord sits enthroned forever,
 he has established his throne for judgment.
8He judges the world with righteousness;
 he judges the peoples with equity.

9The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
 a stronghold in times of trouble.
10And those who know your name put their trust in you,
 for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

11Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion.
 Declare his deeds among the peoples.
12For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
 he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

13Be gracious to me, O Lord.
 See what I suffer from those who hate me;
 you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death,
14so that I may recount all your praises,
 and, in the gates of daughter Zion,
 rejoice in your deliverance.

15The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
 in the net that they hid has their own foot been caught.
16The Lord has made himself known, he has executed judgment;
 the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion. Selah

17The wicked shall depart to Sheol,
 all the nations that forget God.

18For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
 nor the hope of the poor perish forever.

19Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail;
 let the nations be judged before you.
20Put them in fear, O Lord;
 let the nations know that they are only human. Selah


Mark 4:35-41

35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”


Our Gospel passage today is Jesus, in a boat with his disciples, and it says a few other boats. Jesus willfully and purposefully decides to cross a lake. It’s in the evening; do they know a storm is approaching? This story, along with David and Goliath, are great Sunday school lessons, packed with faith. David the Shepherd boy, willfully enters a type of storm, if you will, in the shape of a giant, an enemy soldier. This giant taunts the Army of Israel’s King Saul, but the King and his Army get a big lesson on faith from a small boy with a slingshot, and one tiny smooth stone aimed just right, that easily defeats an overwhelming power.

So these stories speak volumes to our lives. Are you in a giant situation? Is a fierce storm headed your way? Are you feeling a situation where you’re oppressed, like the like the troubled writer of Psalm 9? If so, you are in the right place today. Would you hear some Biblical words of faith today? And maybe just maybe, the God who hears you, knows you and cares for you, will calm some of the things going on in your life today. 


I was reading an article this week, about the alarming rate Doctors are prescribing anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. The article pointed to natural and homeopathic ways of relief; it mentioned faith, meditation and alternative treatments, all of which I think can work wonders. And the article is very timely, because many people I talk with when I’m out and about, tell me about things going on in their lives that they say, things like, “I feel ground down.” “I feel a sense of overwhelming, sometimes despair.” “I just can’t get caught up. When we get one thing fixed, the next week the roof leaks, a relative needs medical care, the car check engine light comes on…” But if you look into the scriptures, it seems that the folks in Jesus’ day, in David’s time and the Psalmists era, all thousands of years apart felt like many of us: facing a Goliath, a sudden storm on the Lake of Galilee, or a Caesar in a distant and brutal capital threatening higher taxes. When we think about these storms, these giants, and our troubled times, they can easily have the effect of distorting our vision like when the windshield wipers are so worn, you can’t see through the rainstorm you just drove into. Many pull over and put on the flashing warning lights. 


Which reminds me…Ralphie called last week and he said he has such an easier time driving since all the snowbirds have been headed up North for three months already, since he discovered this new technique. He said there are times when there is a lot of traffic on the road, and he needs to cross three lanes of the one of the busiest roads in town. His condo complex is right down the street from the big grocery store. He says that at his age, he isn’t sure which lane he wants to get in, since they widened the road, and he’s not used to it yet. So I said, “Ralphie, you have to be careful on that street. People really do drive faster since the tourists are gone. You have to make your way to the left turn lane fast.” 


Ralphie said, “Oh, I have that figured out. My new technique works just great. I just turn on my flashing hazard warning lights and drive right out into the center lane.”


I said, “Ralphie, you can’t do that! You’ll get a ticket, or worse, someone is going to clobber you! Why are you even doing that?” 


Ralphie said that it’s so much easier at his age. “I may be going left, I may be going right, but either way everyone is warned.”


Now these storms in our lives, they often come without warning don’t they? Giant Goliath's, Caesar’s, these storms have many faces, many names, but don’t they often leave us often feeling manipulated, alone, powerless, or in pain? And no wonder so many today, think like the ancient Stoics of Jesus’ time. These Stoics were the original “keep a stiff upper lip” folks. They believed that the most they could do in the face of suffering was to accept it. But that’s not what we see in the scriptures. The little shepherd boy that would become King. Jesus, who wasn’t even a sailor; they ventured into the storm, they stood up to refute the oppressive things of their day.


So let’s talk about Jesus today. He heads into a storm, and this story is in Matthew, Luke and here in Mark. So my first question as a Navy Veteran, is right in verse 35. When did they set sail across this lake? 


Yes, evening. Now I know you all heard the saying, “red sky at night, sailor's delight, and red sky in the morning, sailor take warning,” and verse 36 says there were other boats. I know this is Jesus, and this is a faith lesson, but who takes their disciples out on the lake in the evening, especially since the disciples are fishermen, who fished? This the only lake in Israel, and they knew the weather better than anyone else. Not a word from anyone asking Jesus if it might be better to wait until morning. And of course, we read what happens next. Look at verse 37. A great windstorm arose. Now the Greek is a bit more descriptive. It’s really violent; it says a storm “thrust itself” onto the lake. And I will tell you that when I toured Israel, and we sailed across this very lake, our boat captain pointed out the unique makeup of the lake. The winds from the hot, interior desert meet the cooler air over this really deep cold lake, while moist humid air with thunderstorms are pulled in through a small opening in the valley right off the Mediterranean sea, and it’s a perfect storm. There really are violent, swirling winds and dangerous thunderstorms in a lake surrounded by mountains, so there is no place for the storm to go.


So that's the background of this story, but what if this story is a metaphor designed to teach us something? Like David vs Goliath, it would make sense because Mark puts them right after Jesus’ parables.


If we do the metaphor interpretation then, what do the storms symbolize in your life? Storms can be unexpected, but storms can have warning signs like Ralphie's flashers in the center lane, but back in Jesus’ day there were no flashers, no weather alert stations. In Florida, before a tropical storm, the birds suddenly and mysteriously stop tweeting. And there is a thing called the frontal wind:  it’s a creepy, calm, gentle wind that comes by, rattles the palm trees just a touch and whispers, then it’s gone. Silence, calm, but that’s a sign of things to come.


So whether we have a literal or metaphorical storm, one of the lessons here today is that God has the power to speak to it, and Jesus does just that. And we know what happens in the rest of the passage. But sometimes we miss that there is power delegated to us as believers, by Jesus Christ, in the form of the Holy Spirit. We have God’s voice, like those warning signs in the wind, the birds, and the red sky. We have God’s self in us, God’s Spirit living in us, God’s wisdom to see the beginnings of a storm, and you don’t need the weather app to detect these storms. Some of the worst storms I see are brewing misunderstandings in our relationships, those storms really get out of control fast! A storm slowly grows in a health challenge, or how about a cloud on the horizon of another high priced repair bill? Sometimes, I find God tells us how to dismantle all of this before it gets out of control. Other times, we must be like David the shepherd boy, and use the tools we have: a small stone, a slingshot, the things we have, instead of what everyone says we need to use, like King Saul's professionally handmade armor made from the strongest man-made materials.


This passage, whether you take it literally, or metaphorically, speaks to us doesn't it? When we choose to follow Jesus and live into God’s word, even when we don’t see the storm on the horizon, God will protect us through the storm if we use what we already have! If we do our part like David, we already have given the problem to God. All we need to do is just show up just as we are, not in some clinky suit of armor we ran out and bought in order to fix the problem ourselves. We just need to sometimes be as we are, believing in the knowledge we gain from knowing God and standing in faith. But what about the experts telling us about rampant depression, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness? The media has us all upset, purposely dividing. They make up a crisis every hour it seems.


One of my favorite devotional writers, a Catholic Nun, wrote, “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul.”


In Verse 37, when the sudden and intense storm cast’s itself, with waves aggressively overpowering your boat, don’t back down. Look for God’s signs, listen for the Spirit. There may not be an easy way out, but trust God that a red sky at night is coming! 


Amen.

June 17, 2018

 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

34Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.


David Anointed as King

16The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.


6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.


1 Samuel, the calling of King David is an amazing story. God looks at the heart. I read several articles this week on fatherhood, all packed with stories of how to be a good father: how a Dad can teach their sons and daughters to be good people, great leaders, successful.  But one thing was missing; one thing the writers, reporters and commentators left out, is an amazing part of Father's Day, and it’s found where the prophet Samuel, God looks at the heart. How can we really impact our kids, as fathers, and mothers, grandmothers, uncles, really whatever role you find yourself in? It has to do with our hearts, and when we work from the heart, we are present. What does that mean? Our hearts make us present?


I was in second grade this week saying goodbye to the kids for the summer and they were making Father's Day books. They had to write a sentence and draw a picture. One page was, “The funniest thing about my Dad is…,” and in a class of 23, about 7 of the boys wrote and drew pictures of their Dad passing gas! But as I went from student to student, I tried my best to be 100% present. I got down on their level and looked them in the eyes, closed my mouth and listened. These are second graders; I think they haven’t learned yet not to speak from their hearts.


I have a whole shelf of books on listening and communication, and they all say it’s a practice; you have to work at it, and when we discover presence, we listen and speak from the heart. So I am far from an expert, but I am doing something very difficult this morning. I’m practicing presence and speaking from the heart.


I heard a story about listening to our hearts recently. An African village in the 1800’s, was threatened by the commander of a foreign occupation with thousands of troops nearby. The gruff commander said to the leader of the mountain village, “We know you are hiding a traitor. Turn him over to us, or we will harass you and your people by every means in our power.”


The village was, in fact, hiding a man who seemed kind and innocent and was loved by all. But what could the mayor do now that the welfare of the village was at stake? The Village Council spent days discussing and arguing about what to do, but they could not agree on anything. So the mayor went to the village priest. They spent the whole night searching through scriptures, trying to decide what to do. Finally, they came to a text that said, “It is better that one man die to save the nation.” So they mayor handed over the innocent man, and he was quickly executed by the Commander.


A year later a prophet came to the village and asked the mayor, “How could you have done this? That man was sent to save this country, and you handed him over to be killed. What possessed you do such a thing?”


“Where did I go wrong?” pleaded the mayor. “The priest and I looked at the scriptures and did what they commanded.”


“That’s where you went wrong,” said the prophet. “You looked at the scriptures. You should have also looked into his eyes, and his heart. The prophet said, “Had you looked into his heart, had you asked the common people he lived with, you might have come up with a wiser conclusion.”

 

But instead, they relied on just texts that, in the end, led them astray. In the face of a great challenge, they did not know how to, or perhaps even why, to summon forth a deeper wisdom, having learned to rely only their scriptures for the answers they sought. They soon forgot about leading with their hearts.


We have two parables before us. All of the parables here in Mark reveal the secrets of the heart of the kingdom of God, and they begin with things that are small and insignificant.

 

The Parable of the Growing Seed 

26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”


The Parable of the Mustard Seed 


30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”


Maybe these parables can help? They don’t explain how one is supposed to recognize the reign of God, but they make it clear that we will need to adopt or receive new ways of perceiving, and the answers aren’t always in the fine print. Two small parables of Jesus today. Now before we start, I just want to let you know these parables are often very confusing. They have a number of interpretations; the disciples even have a hard time with them. Look down to verses 33 and 34.


The Use of Parables

33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.


So let’s say a prayer together and let Jesus’ parables do what Jesus intended: to speak to our own hearts, and that may be different for each of us. 


Now in the first little parable, the emphasis is on the stages of plant growth. You see it’s a seed, look at verse 26. “Seed is scattered,” verse 27, “even as we sleep the seed sprouts and grows,” verse 28, is the process. Verse 28, “The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” 29, “But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”


When I read one of Jesus’ parables, my mind sometimes wanders, as it naturally does, and I’m thinking about who’s the one scattering the seed, Jesus? God, and we are the seed, growing, sprouting, until I get to the sickle and I’m no longer wanting to be the plant. But if you are like me, trying to figure who’s what in this parable, it might leave you really confused but Mark, who wrote this, and Jesus would be pleased. It is supposed to get you to change your thinking. So what struck me about this parable of the hidden seed, is verse 28. Take another look at that: “The earth produces of itself.”


“The Earth produces of itself?” What does that mean? The earth produces and runs itself without human help? Amazing huh? We think we can fix everything don’t we? We have it all figured out? 


What about our hearts? I wonder what would be produced without our control if we let God produce our actions from the heart? 


There’s a picture in your bulletin, under the odd sermon title, “Chuck Did It.” Chuck is our resident woodchuck. It’s a girl; we weren’t sure the last 3 years until this year 2 babies appeared. Chuck ate most of our garden last year, and this year we moved it up onto the back deck. We fenced our potted garden in, but he found a way in, and Chuck ate our peas, beans, and all the best veggies about 2 weeks ago. And this week, I forgot to close the gate and he or she sneaked up and ate everything again.


But the amazing thing is, just as verse 28, indicates, “the earth produces of itself,” things grew back by themselves. But what grows in our hearts? Those second graders, as they grow up, Chuck might eat the plants in their hearts, but they grow back, if we let God do what God does. 


Why is that so important today, Father’s Day especially? To figure this mystery and my half grown theory of the heart today, we need to jump ahead to the second parable about the mustard seed plant. When the folks listening to these parables heard them, they would have thought them to be ridiculous and they really did question, what is this guy saying? Jesus was considered by many an itinerant, uneducated, self-proclaimed teacher, a Rabbi, with no home. He left his family business, his family questioned his sanity, and if you read these parables, he must have had no clue of how agriculture works. Now older translations indicate that the mustard seeds were small and the plant was actually a wild variety; it was considered a weed. Look in your refrigerator mustard. For us, it is usually not the most popular, everyday thing we use. Maybe we only pull it out for hamburgers or hot dogs? So it wasn’t the most popular pant in the ancient garden; you didn’t need a whole field of it. And one of the scholars I read said that you really didn’t want mustard in your garden, why? It was wild and unpredictable because the wind blew those tiny seeds everywhere and just like the first parable, they grow without any human help. This is an exaggerated story; it’s supposed to be. But the emphasis here is on small-to-great.


So Let’s put all of our passages together this morning. In 1 Samuel, we saw God’s choice of a young shepherd boy, later to be king of Israel, the psalmist’s encouraging of Israel not to put its trust in military might and armaments but instead in God, which resulted in King David’s reign growing into a great nation. Do you see any similarities to that mustard seed? So Mark’s story about mustard seeds, going from small-to-great, what’s this all mean to our lives? Maybe God is reminding us, the church, to listen, listen carefully to the little people. Maybe I need to listen to Chuck the woodchuck? My plants grew back; maybe we need to look at the little things in life, the insignificant? Maybe we need to ask God to help us see the needs of the world around us, or in our own community? How might we as a church cooperate with God in responding to issues in our own town? Maybe we should listen to the unemployed mechanic, or hear the single mother raising three children on welfare, or an immigrant who sends all his money to his poor family back home? Maybe we should listen to the stories of our seniors? Or take a few minutes to listen to that scruffy teen on a skateboard in the special program that meets at the old Bacon Academy. We can’t solve all the big problems in town, but maybe just one? Maybe we aren’t really supposed to solve anything. Maybe we are just to listen and speak from the heart? Kind of like the plants that grow, with no help from us?


Maybe a tiny seed is growing in your heart right now. It’s like that pesky mustard seed, those seeds that blew in the crack in your sidewalk. If you don’t pull that weed out, it will turn into a tall shady tree? Maybe it’s growing slowly, it’s your faith or your spirituality. You might not notice it right now, but if it grows untended, it gets set back once in a while, like my beans by Chuck, the unwelcome neighbor. Maybe your faith grows and provides shade?


I heard a story about a recent graduate of a business school. This young MBA, who landed a big job at a big company, flew down to Mexico for a fishing trip. He chartered a boat and the boat captain, who was his age, took him out for the day. During the entire trip, the young American looked for ways that the Captain could better run his boat: add fish tracking technology, hire fishermen to fish more while the tourists fished, it went on and on. The MBA said that this Captain could easily retire early after 10 years of hard work and dedication; he could finally relax and enjoy his family, after all his hard work, and live the good life. After the taxi took the tourist back to his hotel, the Captain brought three fresh tuna to his wife and kids, they ate dinner, watched the sun set and played soccer. His wife asked how his day went, he said that another American spent the whole day trying to tell him how to have the good life, while I tried to tell him how grateful I was with just what I already have. You know mustard just isn’t the kind of crop even back then most people grew, mustard was almost like a weed and popped up anyplace. Mustard isn’t really a valuable cash crop is it? Yet where Jesus lived, good luck keeping it under control. It spread seeds all over, in between the cracks on the walkway, it could get in your way, but it had seasoning and medicinal use. Why didn’t Jesus use the delicious beans, giant trees? But Mustard? I don’t even like mustard? This often uninvited plant just grew, all by itself, in a crack in the sidewalk, maybe in your heart? Some might complain about this plant, but it grows, challenges us, and soon birds take shade. Maybe this messes with our religion, our spirituality. Birds are supposed to be in beautiful trees, not a mustard shrub.


Jesus what are you saying? You will get into all the odd places in my heart? You mean I just might be powerless over people and places and things? I can turn my life over to you and I will see a change in my life? But God, my life seems so insane. Jesus will never remain a seed buried in your heart!

 

Amen! 

June 10, 2018

Mark 4:21-25 

A Lamp under a Bushel Basket

21He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”


This passage is about light. Light is a common metaphor in scripture; light is usually contrasted with darkness, but that’s not the case here. This little light of ours in this passage today has a distinct purpose, and it could be you and your purpose today, so get ready to turn your lights on as we discover what God is saying to us today.


Light, in the Bible, is used to describe Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, goodness, truth, God’s love, and justice, among many things. It's often said in scripture that the light exposes the darkness, but this passage is most unusual. The emphasis is on the purpose of the light and the use of the lamp. If you saw the Disney movie, Aladdin, the evil Jafar says, “I must have the lamp.” We all know why Jafar wanted the lamp right? Kids? 


Look at the intro. What does it say? This little parable is in between Jesus’ most famous, bigger parables, and these sayings are difficult to understand and Jesus often says these on purpose. They are sometimes so hard that the disciples pull Jesus aside to ask what they are about. So take a look at verse 21, “and he was saying to them…” Who do you think “them” might be? If you need a hint go to 4:1-2 and tell me what you find? 


Mark 4:1-2

The Parable of the Sower

Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:


4:1-2 is a crowd yes, but there is another audience here, and your clue is in 4:10-12


Mark 4:10-12

The Purpose of the Parables

10When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand;so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”


So, who is the other audience? Yes, the disciples. 


So, most of the parables are what Jesus calls “the wisdom of the Kingdom of God,” and Jesus says it’s for “those who have ears to hear.” There’s a reason for that, and of course, many have trouble with these parables, and they certainly have some language of judgement. They also tend to speak to those who are “in” and “out.” But we will stick with the metaphor of the light in this parable today, because this light from this little lamp, in this passage, is much more defined. This light and this lamp have a purpose, and I think this might be speaking to many of us today as we look at God’s purpose for our lives.

 

Now having just been in Florida, of course, the big joke down there is Florida is God’s big waiting room. It is true, and funny, but also very sad. You all remember Ralphie, well he is still doing wonderful, I didn’t get to see him but my friends assure me he is doing well: But I remember a story Ralphie told me of one of his former employees. John was one of Ralphie's employees. John is the kind of guy you love to hate. He is always in a good mood and always has something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, "If I were any better, I would be twins!" He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, John was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation.


Now Ralphie said that seeing this guy John in action made him curious, so one day Ralphie went up and asked him, "John I don't get it! You can't be a positive person all of the time. How do you do it?"


Well, John looked Ralphie right in the eyes, and said, “Mr. Blattner” (Ralphie owned the company), "Each morning I wake up, I say to myself, ‘John, you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or you can choose to be in a bad mood.’” John says he always chooses to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, John said, “I have choices. I can choose to be a victim or I can choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or I can point out the positive side of life! I choose the positive side of life."


Now Ralphie said he interrupted John right then and there on the warehouse dock, and said, "Yeah, right, John, we both no it's not that easy." 


“Oh no, I’m sorry Mr. Blattner,” John said. "It is that easy. Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people affect your mood. You choose to be in a good mood or bad mood. The bottom line:  It's your choice how you live your life."


Ralphie said that John has since left his company, but he was awarded “Employee-of-the-Year” almost every year. Several years later, Ralphie found out that John was involved in a serious accident, falling some 60 feet from a communications tower. After 18 hours of surgery and weeks of intensive care, he was released from the hospital with rods placed in his back. Ralphie said he saw John about six months after the accident. Ralphie, of course, wanted to know how he was. A smiling, happy John slapped Ralphie on the back and said, "If I were any better, I'd be twins. Wanna see my scars?" Ralphie doesn’t do medical stuff well, but he did ask John what had gone through his mind as the accident took place. "The first thing that went through my mind was the well-being of my soon-to-be born daughter," he replied. "Then, as I lay on the ground, I remembered that I had two choices: I could choose to live or I could choose to die. I chose to live."


"Weren't you scared? Did you lose consciousness?" Ralphie asked.


Well those "paramedics were great. They kept telling me I was going to be fine. But when they wheeled me into the ER and I saw the expressions on the faces of the doctors and nurses, I got really scared. In their eyes, I read, 'he's a dead man.' I knew I needed to take action."


"What did you do?" Ralphie was now riveted to John’s story. 


"Well, there was a tough nurse shouting questions at me,"you fell off of a 60 foot tower, we need to do some surgery right away,” said John. "She asked if I was allergic to anything. 'Yes,' I replied. The doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for my reply. I took a deep breath and yelled, 'Gravity!' Over their laughter, I told them, ‘I am choosing to live. Operate on me as if I am alive, not dead.’"
 

He lived, thanks to the skill of his doctors, but also because of his amazing attitude. I learned from him that every day we have the choice to live fully. So Ralphie says that he sees God’s light in God’s waiting room, in Florida. His calling is to meet and greet people at church. He isn’t an official greeter, he just goes around and greets people. He is the advisory to the church facilities committee because he put much of that campus together in the 1980’s.

So why is this light in Mark's Gospel so different from the rest of the light in the Bible? What is this light? Is it our inner light? Is it God’s presence in us? Is it the light of God’s message in the Gospels? Or could it be the light of salvation?

 

I can tell you that most scholars will say this passage, the light of the lamp, is the kingdom of God, and the lamp is the arrived person of Jesus Christ, placed on Earth to show God. I can see that. We could end here and go home, but I think there is more. In Greek, the passage says, “in the coming of the lamp” in verse 21. In the coming of the lamp, is it brought in to be placed under the bed, or covered with a basket? In the 1st century, this would have been really funny, or folks would have said, “duh?” You don’t light a lamp and cover it, let alone put it under the bed.

 

And verse 21 says we cover it with a bushel basket, poor translation. If I may explain, there was a special container made to cover the lamp, when the candle was extinguished this special basket was used to suffocate the flame, cutting off the oxygen and making sure you didn’t have a bunch of smoke in your house, who wants to smell that before you go to bed, right? So the coming of the lamp at the end of the day, it was special, and really important in the home. It was ritually placed on a special stand, so to cover it up, or hide it under a bed, again, people would have thought this saying was silly. You just didn't do that. The light was placed. Hold onto that word, “placed.” 


So, where is the coffee machine in your house? Mine is placed in a prominent place in the kitchen. It has a really, really important purpose. In order to fulfill its purpose, its mission of a good, fresh cup of Starbucks strong morning Joe, the coffee machine has to be in place. Are you in your place? Is your light on? Another illustration:  When I was in the Navy, I chose supply, I went to schools, trained, and eventually I was put in place in order to fill my purpose. Are you in your place? Have you found your purpose? Has it drastically changed, and you’re left wondering what it is? Do you know your “why” every day? Is your lamp hiding, dim, the oil in the lamp low? Or Did Jafar steal your lamp all together? This is a powerful metaphor isn’t it? Maybe you have hidden your lamp under the bed, or under the basket. Maybe you might feel like things in your life have been stifled or suffocated?
 

Most of the last three verses are talking about the divide between the Jewish religious rulers and the Christianity that would emerge and change the world. But the light, the lamp…I stayed with my Mom last week who is going through some serious life changes. It was hard, hard on me, hard on her. She had been in one living situation for many years and now must move into another. It’s so hard; she holds onto routines. We all do, but today, I ask, about your purpose, your why. Ralphie is 92 this year and walks around and greets people, is there a purpose God is speaking to you about? Maybe God is moving you into a different place in your life? It’s scary. Your place might not be in a prominent place like it was, but God is there with you so let that little light shine, wherever you are placed. This light might be an opportunity for you to grow, to take your light out and put it in the place it was meant to be. The light challenges our spiritual practices. Are we seeing God change our lives? Your purpose is to be joined with God. Your purpose is to be spiritually changed. Are you seeing results? If so, thank God today. If not, we are going to take communion together. Would you ponder and pray upon these things (while we) join the choir in our communion hymn? 


Amen

June 3, 2018

Pastor Ron was away this week. No written sermon.

May 27, 2018

We have three passages of scripture today, and maybe that’s because not only is it Memorial Day, but it’s Trinity Sunday and maybe storm chaser Sunday? Would you open your Bibles and turn to Psalm 29 please?


Psalm 29


The Voice of God in a Great Storm


A Psalm of David.


1Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendor.


3The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.


5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.


7The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.


9The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”


10The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!


This is an unusual Psalm; most scholars think it’s written during a severe thunderstorm, but thankfully this is not our forecast today.  This was written around 1,000 BC, but the same type of storms it describes still roll in with dark clouds off the Mediterranean Sea, and with these late summer storms comes a deluge of rain. And this is dangerous, because in the dry desert regions, the canyons, they call wadis, often turn into deadly raging rivers, much like our Southwest. Now maybe this writer is an ancient version of what we now call a “storm chaser.” If you have ever seen an interview with Jim Cantore of the weather channel, he is passionate about the weather, and he has been since he was a little kid. His passion shows, but when he actually shows up, as he has in Naples, FL., we start praying to God, perhaps like the Psalmist. Verses 5, 6, and 7 actually describe some of the storm damage. Look at verse 5. Can you imagine a lightning strike breaking a cedar tree? In verse 6, the thunder shakes the ground, and it’s like a skipping calf. In verse 8, the voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl. Can you imagine the gusty wind blowing the oak leaves around? 


In this writer’s ancient world, all he had was the three tier view of the cosmos. They had an underworld, the Earth we lived upon, and above the blue sky was God, so anything from “above’ had to be God, and you can see his language reflects this. But I can sure relate to this Psalm, having lived in the desert and in Florida, the lightning capital of the US. I have always loved to watch the weather, but I don’t want to go out and chase storms; I’ll just watch in a safe place.

 

In Florida, they have the daily three o’clock t storms. And we would often sit out on our patio watching. A few times I can remember the lightning hit so close, you could feel the energy and power, and the first thing we yelled was “Oh my God,” and perhaps this writer felt the same things.

 

If you look through the passage you might see that “the voice of the Lord, is used seven times here. That’s not an accident, seven is important. So how did we go from theology, to meteorology, and now numerology here? Seven for the Jews is completeness. It’s power and strength, so when he compares the thunder he says “the voice of God” seven times. That’s important.

 

But what makes this Psalm unusual? Look at verse 1. Who is it addressed to? Heavenly beings. Why heavenly beings? Most scholars believe this phrase is to show God is powerful over this Earth, and the “up there,” meaning the entire cosmos. They had no idea, like we do today, that there were multiverses out there. We have found more than we ever could have imagined, and science still wonders what holds it all together!

 

But, imagine being this man, in the middle of this storm. He feels chaos, danger, and the damage it describes, but you can still catch the writer saying, “there is the voice of the Lord,” in the storm, in the flood waters, and perhaps this passage is asking about your storm today? How many of us have storm damage in our families, our relationships? Maybe verse 11:  “May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” 

So before we talk about the ancient prophet Isaiah...let’s enjoy some beautiful music from Karen and Mindy, would you just meditate, breathe, and remember, “God so loved the world,” and that world includes you. Meditate on this as they sing our anthem for today, “Trust in God.”

 

Isaiah 6:1-8 


In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

 the whole earth is full of his glory.”

4 The pivots [11] on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, 

holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph [12] touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”


This passage is most commonly known as “the calling of Isaiah” but it may be a call for you today? Take a look at verse 1. The King just died, and he led a prosperous and solid reign, but there was trouble, it says elsewhere in the Bible, and it was an uncertain time when Isaiah was called. Many historians say this was a time of transition. Israel’s neighbors were threatening invasion, there was political turmoil, skepticism, and widespread corruption as the King's very young son takes over the kingdom. But I’d like to take a minute to show you just how the Bible can often give clues to actual history, and help us with our passage, go in your Bibles to 2 Kings 16:32-35. It says he knew King Jotham was only 25 when he became king, but it tells you that there were some religious troubles, perhaps storms, if you will. 


So, Isaiah was called to be a prophet in the midst of this uncertainty, and his job was not to predict the future, or the weather. It was to speak on behalf of God, and usually prophets spoke out against injustice, poverty, and keeping God’s laws, and often they were killed, because people didn’t want to hear the truth that they needed to change. Isaiah's vision is a bit more bizarre than the scary thunderstorm of our Psalm. But just like the stormy Psalm, we again read about heavenly beings, a vision of God, and again, “the voice of the Lord,” in verse 8. The ritual, the vision, it’s amazing stuff. We’d run out of time today if I went into that, but I hope you see a pattern here, because Isaiah responds to God’s call to go into the storm, to be a storm chaser, and he says, “God, send me!”

 

Have you ever wanted to run into a storm? Not me, how about a stormy work situation? Most of us just want to run away! But sometimes God asks us, or sometimes, places us, in difficult situations, not as a storm chaser, but a comfort. Not always to fix it, not to offer solutions, not always to take it on, but how about being just a calming presence? We can actually be the presence of God in the storm, the voice of God that just is a source of peace and sometimes there’s a lesson in the storm too. 


So now let’s go to our New Testament reading.


John 3:1-17 


Nicodemus Visits Jesus


3Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “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.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above. 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16“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.  

17“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.


I’m not going to read the whole thing, for sake of time, but we’ll touch on the finer points of this classic passage. Every time I study this verse, I see something new, and today is no exception. I would like to point out, in case you didn’t already know this: God is just simply beyond our understanding, and maybe it’s a good thing to let go of trying to figure God out, and let God speak for God’s self? To prove this point, I want you to focus on good old Nicodemus. He’s an important guy you can tell from verse 1. Verse 2 tells us he came to Jesus by night; we don’t know exactly why. But the point is, if you read this passage, it seems many of the Jewish leaders recognized Jesus came from God. Look at the last part of verse 2, and tell me how they knew Jesus was from God? 


But, in verse 3, and 4 Jesus leaves this great teacher-leader scratching his head. And poor Nic at night is still confused in verse 9. “How can these things be?” he says. In verse 10, Jesus says, “You are a teacher of Israel, and you don’t get this?? Jesus tries to explain again in verse 11, but I’m with Nic. The language is really strange; it says we speak of things we know, and we testify to what we have seen, so stop there on verse 11, for a minute, do you see that Jesus says we? Who is we? The answer: Not only is it Memorial Day; it’s Trinity Sunday! 


The answer is Jesus is speaking of heavenly beings, it's like the other passages we read but, this time it’s the Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit and Jesus is really talking about himself! I have never seen this before! Which goes back to my point. We try so hard to figure God out, and Jesus helps me to realize that, especially if you go back to verse 8, the wind blows, and we sure can’t figure out the wind can we? 2,000 years later, with the storm chasers, and Doppler Zoom phone apps, we still can’t tell which way the storm may shift, and especially the ones in our lives! And so it is with the Spirit, we just can't figure it out, control it, we want to regulate it, govern it. D don’t we love it when things are out of control? Isn’t it great when we realize we even can’t fix ourselves, our family members, our relatives, or even our church? 


But Jesus says in this passage, simply says believe, that's all believe! Preacher, are you saying that there’s room for me to find the God of my own understanding? I didn’t, but that's what I submit for your consideration today. I found God at age 6 in the woods in Hebron next to Hope Valley Brook. It was that simple. I just believed, but sometimes religion, just like Nic the greatest teacher in Israel, overthinks. Don’t be like Nic. Be like the Psalmist, the storm chaser. He just says, “Wow!” That’s God, and Isaiah into the storm, send me! 


How did Jim Cantore get to be a storm chaser? He probably looked up when he was a kid and said, “Wow! So go chase the storms in your life, or look up at the one God put you in and know that God is with you! God is “over” the storm, seven times. That’s powerful!


Amen.

May 20, 2018

It’s Pentecost Sunday. I suspect for most of us from mainline denominational churches, we might just say, “Hey Happy Pentecost Day?” I doubt it, but if we were a Pentecostal, or Southern Baptist Church, and I said, “It’s Pentecost Sunday,” well there would be folks saying, “Praise the Lord!” and “Hallelujah!” and there might be some loud organ music. Someone give me an Amen!
 

So, two different views of Pentecost, but they might have a lot more in common than we might imagine. A Pentecost Sunday sermon is just about always from Acts Chapter 2, so let’s stick with tradition and open up our Bibles to Acts Chapter 2


Acts 2:1-13


The Coming of the Holy Spirit


When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”


My Pentecostal friends often get very excited about statistics. Yes, they’ll shout a “hallelujah” because recent church statistics show that mainline churches are in double digit annual rates of decline. See, we told you so. “You need a dose of the Holy Ghost,” they might say,” but hold on my friends. The growth in the Pentecostal movement from bilingual Spanish speaking, and black churches, and especially third world countries, are flourishing. Why this change? I don’t have time to go into why, but I can tell you that at a Spanish-speaking Pentecostal church or a black, inner-city, storefront church, it’s either an amazing experience, or it's unnerving and frightening. It’s unusual to find an in-between reaction. 


I wonder if it has something to do with how us mainline Protestant or Catholics view this very day: “Pentecost Sunday.” Maybe it’s because we look at it as an historical event? Theologians tend to agree: we mainline folks de-emphasize this third person of the Trinity. It could be many just associate Pentecostalism with the emotional, and “loud worship”, add a dose of over exuberance, I think you get the idea. But have you ever considered the way we pray? You’ll hear the “Our Father” or “Oh Heavenly Father, grant us” this or that, or “Dear God we pray,” and we tend to pray “in Jesus’ name,” but I don’t recall much mention of the Holy Spirit in our prayers, do you? 


So I hope to put some balance in between Pentecostal energy, and conservative mainline Protestantism and I won’t leave the Catholics out either as they view the Holy Spirit. I have a feeling that God is speaking today about our relationship with this third person of the Trinity? The mystery of the Holy Spirit. 

So take a look at John 16:4 -15 


The Work of the Spirit


“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate[a] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about[b] sin and righteousness and judgment: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.


I’d like to explore with you today what the Pentecostals get so excited about. One of my favorite “church futurists,” Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, says most of Christianity holds to sixteenth century views. He calls out the fact of double digit declines every year, and he thinks if Christianity doesn’t change, it will die. I agree with him. Did you hear that? We have to change! But the thing about all these church futurists, who write best-selling books only clergy tend to read, well, not a one ever tells us what or how to change. But this is the exciting part, it’s the perfect time, the perfect Sunday, on Pentecost Sunday to introduce us to the Holy Spirit, not just the Pentecostal one, not the mainline version, not the Congregational view, but the Spirit of Creation and creativity that already flows in you, that is the change. A Spirit that changes our very lives!


Now relax. I know that word change in any form, unless you’re running for political office, makes us squirm in our seat. In my last seminary class, we talked about a diagram that the business world borrowed from grief therapy. It's called the change cycle, and the first stage? It’s shock, disbelief, denial, you may have heard it when a loved one dies, no it can’t be, I don’t believe it. Then there is fierce resistance; this isn’t happening. So this grief cycle was applied to business, have you ever seen what happens when you change someone's work environment? Watch out, and change something in the church, watch out even more. Change something in the church and they’re looking for a new preacher. The church clearly is the last place anyone wants to see change, of course. And of course we don’t; in a world that changes with every twitter feed or facebook post, we need a safe place where we know what to expect. 


God is always the same; that’s comforting, but the coming of Jesus and the giving of the Spirit and how they function was a huge change, and what did they do to Jesus? So change is hard, anywhere, but especially church. I've seen Churches split and close, and most often we fight, yes churches do fight, first over style of worship, next comes music, and then government, and money is actually fourth. So we have a lot to learn don’t we? But as a student of inter-faith dialogue, we can learn how to have uncomfortable conversations about change. In interfaith dialogue between religions, if it’s to be successful, we have to follow some guidelines. I won’t go through them all, but the basically, we are not to convert the other, and one’s faith is not superior, right, or better than the other. We are to learn from our fellow religious others which changes us, we hope.


So put this in our conversation today, and what can we learn from our religious others: the Pentecostals, the Baptists, the Catholics and how about those who are almost 35% of the population who have no religion? They are called the nones. They don’t live in a convent. They will tell you they are Spiritual but not religious, and here we sit celebrating a Spiritual occurrence--Pentecost Sunday. It should be perfect for them, right? Not necessarily. I think we, in the church, need to reconnect with our Spirituality before we talk to the nones. I think first we need to look at ourselves, and connect with this Spirit that changes our lives, in the church first.


John’s Gospel shows us Jesus is saying get ready, and we all know what’s going to happen. But the good news is look at the passage with me. Verse 5: "5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. "


Jesus is leaving, and the disciples didn’t study the change cycle. They are in the shock and disbelief stage, perhaps fiercely resisting Jesus’ constant predictions of what going to happen, and their relationship with Jesus will change! “Where are you going?” they say in Verse 6. “Sorrow has filled your hearts,” Jesus says. Verse 7 says, “Nevertheless, it is to your advantage” that I go away.” I don’t want to keep bringing up the change cycle, but, Jesus is leading change, but change, even for the disciples, was and is hard! So Jesus, says He is sending an advocate! What in God’s big blue Earth is an advocate, Jesus? It’s what we are talking about today. Pentecost, the Holy Spirit--it would happen after the resurrection, we read in Acts. It’s the coming of the Holy Spirit. 


Verses 8 and 9, now, are a whole different sermon and lesson. We don’t have time to go there today, so skip to verse 10. Where is Jesus going? “You will no longer see me!"  Verses 11 to 13 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” We have an advocate, a spirit of truth, so what does that all mean? The word, “advocate;” we think of a patient’s rights advocate, many special education kids in the schools need an advocate to help them, because their rights are often violated. An advocate is someone of usually high legal standing, who knows the laws, knows how to negotiate, and key word mediates between the patient or client and “the system.”


What is Pentecost about? Jesus promises you a spiritual advocate. I like that I have a high powered, high level spiritual advocate. That gets me excited and all Pentecostal! So you and I have right now in us God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit walking alongside us, guiding us, it says into truth, in verse 13 did you know that you had that much power in you? “He will glorify me,” Jesus says here, the Spirit, the Holy Spirit; the Holy Ghost, call it what you will, but “He will glorify me,” Jesus says, because “He will take what is mine and declare it to you.” So Pentecost, and life by the Spirit is what my Pentecostal friends jump up and shout about! I can see why! That’s exciting! This Advocate, this living Spirit is in you! It’s a living, present reality, not just a past event. The Spirit, it says later in John’s Gospel, speaks through the community of disciples, us, we! That’s spiritual transformation everyone is looking for! 


This Spirit teaches us to bear witness, to speak of our relationship with God. We have God’s Holy Spirit, whether we are Pentecostal or Mainline, or Catholic, living within us. We have to recognize it, call upon it, not only with our lips, but with their lives. As Jesus, himself said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The most compelling witness that any disciple can bear is to love others as Jesus did, in deed and in truth. I hope that you are coming here each week and growing spiritually. Are you seeing a difference in your spiritual life? Are you changing? 


Keep working. Continue prayer, meditation, studying the Word, worship on Sunday. When God changes us in the church, the church changes the world out there, that needs it so badly! 


I’ll close with a story: 

As the war wore on it became more and more difficult to get food where they lived in the Netherlands. But Christmas was coming and my colleague’s grandmother managed to squirrel away enough food to make what would have to do for a Christmas meal. She even managed to get an orange for the children to share. But then just as they were about to sit down, a knock sounded at the door. Outside stood two Nazi soldiers, who pushed their way into the house. “We want you to feed us,” they demanded. “But this food is for the children,” the mother objected. One of the soldiers took a pistol from his holster and said, “Then we will just have to kill the children.” Of course the mother backed down, the children scattered, and the Nazis sat down to eat the family dinner. While all this was happening, the father had slipped into the next room and sat down at the old pump organ. As the soldiers began to eat, he pumped the old organ to life and began to play a familiar hymn, Luther’s "Ein Feste Burg," in which the familiar words of Psalm 46 are set to music. “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing, / Our helper he, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.” But with a war on, two Nazi soldiers threatening violence and about to wolf down the family’s Christmas dinner, mortal ills seemed to be prevailing with Jesus nowhere to be seen. But then as the music wafted into the kitchen something strange happened. The mother noticed a change in her uninvited guests. They had stopped chewing and tears were rolling down their faces. They knew that hymn. It was one that they had sung back home around the communion table with friends of Jesus. And suddenly a reality so palpable and real filled that room that the soldiers found themselves inviting the family back to the table. Together they shared the Christmas meal as the Holy Spirit mediated, promised presence of Jesus drenched the room.


Amen.

May 13, 2018

  

John 17:6-19
 

6“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.


This is a beautiful prayer of Jesus, it’s a long piece of scripture with so many layers to interpret. I just won’t have time to tackle all of this in one sermon, so for today…


Chapter 17 in John’s Gospel is considered a large part of what’s called, “Jesus’ farewell narrative,” which means that Jesus is preparing the disciples for his death, resurrection and especially important, his sending the Spirit, which is the goal of having seven weeks of Easter. Next Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, the sending of the Spirit. But this Sunday is Mother’s Day, but not according to the church lectionary. If you are not familiar with this church term, the lectionary is a structured and intentional plan to help a church go through the Bible in the church year, which is Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and we look at the Bible in weekly pieces. So if you’ve been in church every Sunday for three years, you will just about have experienced, in some way, most of the Bible and its messages. This lectionary method goes way back to the 4th century, and even further to Judaism.


So now that we read Psalm 1, and fourteen passages of John’s Gospel, and we figured out what the lectionary means, you might be sitting there wondering, “It’s Mother’s Day. When is he going to talk about Mothers?” It’s a special day today. But I’m off the hook, because the lectionary all set way back in the 4th century, means Mother’s Day wasn’t even invented yet. But not so fast, moms. There is something for you in today's passage, and actually fathers too. Let’s expand this even more, and this sermon is for every member of the family!


Before I even get started in this family affair, I want to acknowledge together today what the church often misses on a day like Mother’s Day. What is it we miss? Pain, pain in families, anguish from broken and strained relationships, patterns of dysfunction handed down from generations; we don’t need to look very far for our pain. Just the mention of this tense subject causes stress, why do we have to talk about this in church, and worse, on Mother’s Day! 


I can tell you I have read a ton of books, psychology, sociology; I have read countless self-help books, from parenting to church conflict. But one family psychologist said it best without all the fancy technical language:  “Parenting is the most painful, yet rewarding process known to humankind.” I agree with this because I was in Second Grade last week.  I help with writing, and I am aware of some troubled little ones, as I worked my way from kid to kid looking at their writing which needed a picture. I caught a few glimpses of strained relationships. So fresh off of these types of experiences, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Mother’s Day is often one of the most painful times of the year for many. It’s the card that never came, the phone call, did they forget? We hurt, they hurt back, we all know this too well. And the best the world has to offer the precious gift of “mothering” is one day a year, just one Sunday in May with a message that can be found in shades of red, up and down the aisle of cards, in the florist shops, the candy sections of our stores or the crowded restaurants. So I don’t want to make church too sad today, but we do need to acknowledge this pain, and the church is the place we look for God’s healing, because a bright red $6.99 Hallmark card might not make our relationships right, so perhaps some nostalgia is a good start.


In the late 60’s and early 70’s while Beatles, and Stones rolled over the chaotic world with louder than ever music, a quieter sound snuck up on us in the form of the Mamas and the Papas. (who names a folk rock group that? Momma Cass, the lead singer did, that’s who.) The Mamas and the Papas didn’t dominate the record charts, but they sure made an impact with songs like this one: “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” Perhaps it’s a nice thing to dream a little dream of your mom once in a while? We talked about pain, how about the good stuff? Did your mom dream up things in your life with you? Did your mom teach you how to make pancakes? Moms are usually really good teachers. My mom took me to Gilead Hill Elementary, and I loved to type and write. Of course I still do today, because my mother taught me to type, and she actually read what I wrote. 


So I have a list of five things your Mother may have taught you: 

  1. My mother taught me about ANTICIPATION: "Just wait until your father gets home."
  2. My Mother taught me LOGIC:  "Because I said so, that's why." 
  3. My Mother taught me MEDICAL SCIENCE:  "If you don't stop crossing your eyes, they are going to freeze that way."
  4. My Mother taught me ESP:  "Put your sweater on; don't you think I know when you're cold?"
  5. My Mother taught me about GENETICS:  "You're just like your father."

Mothers are often great teachers, aren’t they?


I want to bring our focus back to our passage, John 17. There are so many themes in this passage; I only have time for one, just one today. And it’s about extravagant giving. This theme appears in this passage with intimate relationship between the Father, God, Jesus the Son, and the disciples, who were given to Jesus, by the Father, and this is done so Jesus might extravagantly give. I noticed extravagant giving back in the 1980’s. I read a book when I started my banking career called, In Search of Excellence. It was a huge bestseller; everyone talked about doing things with excellence. It was all about an airline who empowered ticket agents to do anything they needed, even walking you over to another airline and buying you a ticket on the competitor’s airline to get you where you were going, and how about Nordstrom stores, where the everyday sales clerk would often take your new power suit to the in-house tailor shop for you. That same salesperson often had your new suit delivered to your office and called you asking how you liked it! It was IBM computers that sent a real highly trained tech in a white shirt and tie to fix your new word processor, even if it was just the keyboard that needed to be plugged in. What ever happened to that? We forgot that it was excellent service--extravagant giving that made things excellent; we missed that message in the 1980’s and instead we focused on excellent procedures, rules, efficiency and cost-cutting. 


Soon in the 1990’s we were wondering what happened, so another book came and asked who moved my cheese. I still don’t think we have figured that out yet, but the cheese today just might be our not-so-excellent relationships, especially when we all too often have unrealistic expectations. So from service excellence, to missing cheese, we now have excellence in our culture of super-moms, soccer moms, helicopter moms, dance moms, overextended moms, tired moms, glued-to-work moms, email moms on devices. The list goes on and on, and it makes me tired just thinking about it. So whatever happened to just being Mom and I’ll add just being Dad, or just being Grandma, or Grandpa? Isn’t that in search of excellence? What does it mean just to be?


I think the relational words in Jesus’ intimate prayer found in this passage, might have some powerful answers for us today. In verses 6-19 we see that the disciples overheard Jesus praying; maybe they were eavesdropping? Maybe they were purposefully listening to Jesus pray, and what did they hear? Who is Jesus praying for? You’re right. Jesus was praying for them, the disciples. I think there’s something here for us today us today. Now before we get too excited, keep in mind Jesus asked the disciples to pray once before. It was the night he was betrayed, and we all know that story-they fell asleep. So I promise not to preach too long today and put you to sleep.

 

So let's go back to the bigger question today. How do we “just be” excellent Mamas and Papas, Grammas, or whatever role you find yourself in? I wonder if it’s right here in the passage? How about giving? Not just giving, but extravagant giving? Look at the passage again. Run your finger through from verses 6 to 19 and you will find the words, “give,” “gave” and “giving” nine times. That's a lot of giving; it looks like some extravagant giving.

 

That reminds me of a story: I bought a suit at a big name store recently and the clerk was nice, but I had a question. Before I even got the question out, I was told, “Sir, the line starts back there.” So I found my own on-sale suit, found my own way to the fitting rooms, waited in line to pay, and the 2-foot long receipt asked me to fill out a survey rating my experience on their website so I could get a 10% off coupon emailed to my phone. Giving is the gift. Extravagant giving is the message of Mother’s Day. We can try and be excellent all day and half the night, but will the kids remember that you did everything just right, you got your whole to do list done? What is it that the kids remember the most? 


Maybe this will help: I hear it every Friday in school. I don’t hear it, I see it, I sense it. When I go from kid to kid to check their reading or writing, am I listening? Their eyes lock on mine. They can spot it in half a heartbeat. Are you present in the moment? Are you listening or thinking about how to correct them, or are you thinking about the 12 other things you have to do? Your giving is yourself, your presence. After reading and writing I was looking at the kids’ Mother’s Day cards. One had a cute little picture of Mom packing a backpack to go to the beach. The next one showed Mom’s purse and the little girl said it was full of love and kisses. The next one showed the Mom taking away some candy, but the caption said, “You take care of me.” And the last one said, “Mom, I love you, just don’t make any more meatloaf,” with a picture of an oven with smoke coming out. Not one picture was of a busy mom at work, on the phone, depositing her paycheck, updating a resume, or scurrying every which way. Every one of the kids’ cards were relational. That’s the essence of this prayer in John’s Gospel.


So what about us? How about we start with listening to our kids, no matter how old they might be. Maybe we stop trying to change them, fix them. How about we take one Saturday, off! How about we don’t go anywhere, play a game of cards, bake together, ask your kids about God. Don’t tell them about God, just ask their opinion! Perhaps you might find there is some work you need to do in your relationships? Maybe this prayer helps us to ask God, to extravagantly give by helping me change first!


I’m going to play this song, and I’d like you to meditate, think for a moment, ask God to speak.

 

((Dream A Little Dream of Me))-The Mamas & The Papas


Dream a little dream of me….whatever relationship, whatever memory in your life that needs some work. Give it to God, and just “be,” and maybe those relationships will change. They might see the real you, not the excellent one, but the real one!


Amen

May 6, 2018

Guest Preacher today.

April 29, 2018

  

John 15:1-8


Jesus the True Vine


15“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.


When I read this passage and I started to write this sermon, my spell check went crazy with verse 1. I copied and pasted the verse, and it kept changing the vine grower in verse 1 to the wine grower. I have to tell you that I wrote an entire sermon on this passage, and just couldn’t finish. I had the most awkward, unsettling feeling about this passage, which usually means the Spirit is at work.


As I read more about this passage, I begin to think about vineyards, growing grapes, and you all know we have Gary and Caroline:  real Vineyard owners and growers.  God is at work, because they really are wine makers. They are downstairs teaching Sunday school. I asked Gary to come up and comment on this passage, but he loves teaching the kids, so he taught me.


I drove out to the winery, the former Moose Lodge; if you haven’t been, it’s amazing. I can’t wait to get back to school this week, because I did real live field work. I walked into the vineyard yesterday to prepare for this sermon; it doesn’t get any better than that. I told Gary as we walked in the green field of new grape vines, (they aren’t any higher than this). They sure don’t look like they can produce bunches of grapes, but they sure did last year. I told Gary as he knelt in the field next to the grape vine with his pruning scissors in his hand, that I was just was not getting this passage scripture-me, Mr. Seminarian, self-proclaimed Gospel text expert. I read the best scholars, the best commentaries, and I still wasn’t satisfied. Something was missing. So I walked the fields with Gary, and a pair of pruning scissors.


I’ve heard this passage used every which way, and it often ends as one of the tools for those who want to reinforce exclusivist and judgmental views of God, and especially salvation. They read right through the passage with a missionary zeal to verse 6, “whoever does not abide in me, is thrown away like the branch that withers, and it’s thrown into the fire.” I sure don’t want to be that branch, and if that doesn’t scare you enough, they go back a few pages and hit you with John 14:6:  “No one comes to the Father except through me,” so God will prune you. “If you don’t believe in me,” if you don’t believe right, well, you know what happens. I left this kind of theology behind many years ago, but it still haunts me. Revisiting this passage reminds me how easy it can be to make scripture fit to our own theological bend. I think most of us, whether it was Sunday school, sermons, or a devotional, were taught a few verses and just a few words stick with us, and form us. Some say that verse 6 implies the branches that don’t produce fruit are unbelievers and they are headed to be burned in the fire of Hell!


This is especially why we have Bibles in our pews. I ask you to open them and I do my best not to tell you how to interpret the passage; you are as capable as I am of hearing from God. You have your scriptural struggles; I have mine. So let’s do our scriptural work together. Sometimes we just need to let this speak for itself; sometimes it doesn’t speak for days, and all of the sudden, you’re in a real vineyard, with real vines, and branches, and God is speaking through a real wine maker with a pair of pruning shears.

Have you ever noticed the Bible sure has plenty of wine? Of course there was. Water was scarce! Wine was like water:  life giving, sustenance, so no wonder Jesus used this metaphor. Everyone in his day would have gotten this, but we are so removed from vineyards and fields. That’s why I went for a walk with Gary yesterday. 


So wine was not just a way to unwind after a hectic day; it was a necessity. I doubt folks went around saying it had a slight nose of vanilla with a buttery finish, like those wine reviews. So the Bible has wine, and plenty of it. It’s a symbol of vitality, sustenance, blessing. Old Testament prophets say when the people follow God’s ways, good wine will be flowing. Probably not a good Sunday school lesson, but there is plenty of wine in the Bible. It’s often a sign of joy and celebration; even Jesus’ first miracle is turning water to wine at a wedding.


But sometimes, the wine goes bad. Some of the same prophets spoke about Israel’s relationship with God, soured all too often, and mostly the souring was caused by the ethics and morals of the people. But in the New Testament, Jesus changes the imagery. The Gospels tend to show vines and vineyards as the kingdom of God, and this is done to show our relationship to this kingdom. Even communion, has wine, and the cup is life giving sustenance. 


So if wine was sustenance in Jesus time, I wonder. Did they know the secret of enjoying a good bottle of wine? First we open the bottle allow it plenty of time to breathe. If it doesn't look like it's breathing, give it mouth-to-mouth right away! Doctors recommend 8 glasses of water a day, I don’t know about you, but that’s kind of hard isn’t it? But many can easily have 8 glasses of wine in one meal. Don’t try this at home.


So when I went for the walk in the vineyard yesterday, my problems were with verse 2; take a look: He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. Do you see the difference? I didn’t until Gary knelt down in next to the vine and pulled off dead branches, and had to snip off budding healthy ones. I’ve read this passage many times, and missed that the non-fruit growing branches, it says are removed, and the ones that bear fruit at the end of verse 2 are pruned, that’s the difference between removing and pruning.


Gary said that there are always branches that wither, they are simply unproductive, you just pull them off and burn them, they may be diseased, Gary said that’s why Jesus said in verse 4 you are cleansed by the words I have spoken to you. We don’t know why some branches wither, but the ones like this budding, he cut them. They won’t tear, off, and they do grow even more fruit. Next he took me near the river and cut this big old, naturally growing vine, water poured out, he said no vines will grow out of this, it’s never been pruned, it will grow up the tree and slowly kill the neighboring tree, we’ve all seen these in our years. So of course, maybe Jesus isn’t implying that we’re good or bad, heaven or hell, in or out, do your faith this way or else.


Go for a walk in the vineyard, and maybe you’ll find that God sometimes needs to prune us, as many times as I read this passage. I couldn’t get past God’s discipline; this was a punishment passage if you will. Cutting hurts, pulling hurts. Maybe these are my bad habits, bad relationships. Cut them off God, burn the bad stuff. It’s cleansing.

How does all this happen? How does the vine grower do the vine grower’s work? Back to verse 2: Every branch that does not bear fruit “in me…” See that little phrase that’s important? It’s not just important it’s life changing. And what are we supposed to do as branches? First, we are to abide, look at verse 4, it’s in there four times, abide, in me “in Jesus” so that we can bear, get pruned and bear even more fruit, grapes which turn to wine, living sustenance, as valuable as water!


Now go to verse 8. “…That you bear much fruit and become my disciples,” verse 9, “as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, abide,…abide in my love!” So we have branches, some that wither, and branches that bud like these. We even have old branches that can be so stifling, but all of the branches need some attention. If you stick these pruned branches, and even these old ones back in the ground, they will grow, but these withered ones, Gary says burn them, they are like things in our lives: they end up sucking the life out of the vine, they may have disease. Jesus says the word he speaks-purifies, not a ritual, but a relationship.


What’s all this say to our lives?  I don’t know about you, but volumes? This takes on a whole new level of meaning when we just ask the text to speak, put aside our preconceived ideas. This is speaking. Are you listening? What’s it saying?


I talked to a guy in recovery recently he said he was called in from a big shipyard to do what he does best, fix it. He said he’s good at that, but he said the crazy thing is, he can’t even fix his own life without God, he’s been trying to fix it for 30 years, and it’s just God. I know from studying John’s Gospel, John addressed a community, a small home church perhaps, and loyalty was an issue. The community is warned about what happens when we don’t abide in Jesus, being a Christian when this was written could mean a death sentence.


But the passage says to abide in the love of the vine, and the vine gardener will love and care for you. You might have withered branches, they might need to be pulled off, you might have some branches that look so healthy, but He’ll cut them off. He knows what he’s doing. Abide, don’t get spiritually disconnected. Sometimes I have to take a step or two back and in my meditation, I have heard God say, stop, stop doing, stop thinking, stop. Just be here right now, I’m just glad you’re here! Wow, is that powerful!


Wine can be transformative it was recently.

 

A bunch of highly successful MBA grads got together with their professor not too long ago; they were by now well established in their careers at Mobil Oil, Verizon, Amazon and Tesla executives, the best of the best companies. These were the best young minds in business. Their conversation quickly turned to their company’s complaints about the stresses of politics, trying to be good executives, fixing, managing, controlling, and then they complained about trying to balance their work and their family lives.


Offering his guests a nice bottle of wine, the professor opened the cork, passed around the cork for them to smell, and proceeded to pull out a mixture of fancy crystal fancy wine glasses with trinkets around the stems, then some not so fancy wine glasses, and some more--these were faded looking little glasses that looked terrible. He even pulled out some old plastic tumblers, and told these former students to take a glass and he would pour the wine for them. Well, the students closest to the wine bar grabbed the exquisite fancy wine glasses with the little decorations around the stems holding them up to see them better. While the professor poured, the rest of the students were left to pick the odd glasses. They shrugged their shoulders and the professor now pouring the second bottle of exquisite wine, put the bottle down.


He looked at his former students, and said, “If you noticed, all the expensive wine glasses were taken first, leaving behind the plain and cheap looking ones.” The room was silent, as the wise old professor, sipped his cheap plastic tumbler, the last cup available, his eyes twinkled in the candles and soft lighting of his study. While it is but normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that just might be the source of your problems and stress. The students looked at their glasses, and looked back at the professor, now with a gleam in his eyes. “Be assured,” he said. “Life is the wine, and the jobs, the money, the positions in society are the cups that you hold in your hands. The cups are just tools, tools you hold in your hands. Cups, yes, but the tools, the cups you hold…they contain life, and the type of cup we have, must never define nor change the quality of life we live. The professor, an eloquent speaker, paused and said, “Sometimes, by concentrating only on the glass, we fail to enjoy the wine God has provided for us.”


God makes the wine ferment, and it’s good, and it’s not always about the glass in your hand. Life is like the wine! “Take now and drink!” So, what’s the fruit? Maybe it’s when we let go of resentments, when we ask God to change things in our lives. We ask God to help us with our family relationships, in our own homes and here at church, in the office, at the town meeting, and how about on Facebook and twitter? Maybe it’s when we dream a new way to reach out to the community? I believe these are not words of condemnation and rejection, this is reassurance. This speaks on so many levels. What is God saying to your life today? 


Amen


April 22, 2018

  

John 10:11-18 

11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”


Keep the passage open, and take a look at the picture of the good shepherd in your bulletin, did you find it? (picture at left) It is a beautiful picture but I want to tell a few sheep jokes.

So, what did the cloned sheep say to the other sheep? 


I’m ewe! 


One more: Why do sheep always drive so fast? 


Because they all drive LAMBorghinis!


So wool you now join me as we look at our passage today, “Jesus the good Shepherd.” I’m going to put this passage in context today.  The first thing I would like to point out is that this passage is a metaphor, if we want to really understand John 10, we’ll need to go back one page to John Chapter 9. What does the introduction to John 9 say? “Jesus heals the man born blind.”

 

So I’ll summarize John 9 for us today. Jesus in John 10, is interpreting what happened. So take a look at John 9:1 The disciples, saw a man born blind as they walked along with Jesus, are you with me? They ask Jesus what? “Rabbi, teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents?” Jesus answers the question in verse 3, who sinned, because this guy was born blind? “Neither!” The rest, verse 4, could be a whole other sermon.

 

In Jesus’ day, they believed that any sickness or physical deformity was God’s judgment for sin, and it was passed down to the next generation. But, Jesus clears that right up in verse 9:3: neither sinned, he says. Now go ahead to verses 5 and 6. Jesus is the light of the world, he says, as he is about to heal a man born blind. Think about that for a second:  blind people live in darkness; many blind people have trouble sleeping because they cannot perceive night and day! 


In Verse 6, Jesus stoops down and spits in the ground, mixes it with mud, and he rubs it on the eyes of the blind guy, and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. He washed, and came back healed! What a bizarre healing ritual? 


This just isn’t right Jesus; this just isn’t done this way! Now the neighbors are involved, and they are asking about this, but the thing I want you to notice is the end of verse 8. It says he is a…? Yes, a, beggar. This really changes the story and adds suspicion, even some mistrust. I was all for this poor blind guy, but maybe the neighbors are right, so this ups the intensity of this story a notch, why? 


I’m glad you asked. You see, in this culture, you just cannot trust a beggar, no way, and a blind beggar, even worse. This guy is worse than the guy with the sign out in front of Stop & Shop. I think this implies that many neighbors believed he was faking it for the money. 


Now look at 9:14. It’s the Sabbath; no work is done on the Sabbath, so now you have an investigation by the religious legal authorities. So far, we have Jesus who sent this blind beggar, illegally against the law using a healing concoction never used before, to a pool to wash the yucky spit and mud off, and voila! He can see! If that doesn’t upset everything about religious practice, I don’t know what will. Don’t you love it when God upsets our practices?

 

Now, the neighbors are suspicious and we have the local religious legal department investigating. This is trouble! If this couldn’t get any worse, any darker, wolves seem to be ready to pounce on this poor blind beggar. His testimony in court is illegal; a blind beggar is a nobody. But the now former blind man, proceeds to tell these priestly attorneys what happened, and of course they haul in his parents, the real legal witnesses here. Do you see that in verse 18? His parents, in verse 22, testify and are afraid of the religious folks, see that? That’s important because when we go back to our actual chapter of study, are you seeing any wolves here? 


Maybe some hired hands here, that Jesus may have been talking about in Chapter 10? But here’s the sad part of Chapter 9. It’s in Verse 28: the religious folks now revile the man, and I often ask when I read this, how can they so miss the point? How can they be so blind? I have read this so many times and just can’t get that?  
 

But the religious attorneys are just so right, in verse 28, they’re Moses disciples. (They say) we know God spoke to Moses, we follow the law, the tradition was handed down to us. Don’t upset our religious system, but this guy Jesus, he sure upsets our practices. But the sheep, ah those sheep in the picture, they hear the good shepherd's voice. That’s chapter 10! Is this getting any clearer for you? 


Back to 9:30. You guys don’t know where Jesus comes from, in other words, you don’t know what to do with this teacher, this miracle worker? Yet he opened my eyes? Yeah, but he’s not following the rules they say. We have laws here you know, it was the Sabbath! Verse 32, the blind man says, this just isn’t done, yet, my eyes are opened I can see!


Verse 33, a nobody, blind beggar, is schooling these learned disciples of the Law of Moses. If this man were not from God, he says, then, he could do nothing, go blind beggar now healed, you tell them! But sadly the story changes, we look at verse 34, how did the priest/attorneys answer him? “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.


But onto Verse 35, later on, Jesus heard what happened, and Jesus, the good shepherd, simply says: “Do you believe in the son of Man?” (verse 35).

 

“Tell me,” the guy says, “so that I may believe in him!” Jesus reveals his identity, and the man worships Jesus.  
 

Verse 40, but the Pharisees heard about this continuing story, and they ask Jesus in verse 40, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”


At the end of verse 40, Jesus says, “Now that you say, ’We see’ your sin remains.” Ouch! 

So what about the good shepherd? Are we ever going to get back to Chapter 10? Yes, we are, but that reminds me of a good story. 


Once upon a time there was a good shepherd watching his flock in a field by a lonely road. Suddenly a brand new Range Rover screeched to a halt next to him. The driver, a young man dressed in an Armani suit, Gucci shoes, Ray-Ban glasses and a Hermes tie, buzzed the window down and asked the shepherd, “If I guess how many sheep you have out there, will you give one of them to me?”


The shepherd looked at the young man, then looked at the sheep which were grazing beyond and said, “Alright.”


The young man parked the Range Rover, tapped up his state-of-the-art smartphone, went online, entered a NASA site, scanned the ground using high-intensity SatNav device, opened a data base and 60 Excel tables filled with algorithms, then printed a 150 page report on his mini-printer.  He then turned to the shepherd and said, “you have exactly 103 animals here.”


The shepherd answered, “that’s correct, you may have your sheep.” The young man opened the tailgate of the Range Rover Evoque, and put the animal inside. The shepherd looked at the young man and asked, “if I guess your profession, will you let me have my sheep back?”


The young man answered, “Yes, why not?”


The shepherd said, “You are a business performance coach.”

“How did you know?” asked the young man.


“Very simple,” answered the shepherd. “First you come here without being invited. Second, you charge me a sheep to tell me something I already know. Third, you do not understand anything about what I do, because you took my Border Collie.”


“The good shepherd,” John 10 says, “lays down his life, but the hired hands, when the wolf comes around? The hired guy runs away?” Many scholars believe this passage was written 20 years after the Jewish Temple was destroyed. The same priest, who may have been in this very story, was hiding in a small town. For fear of the Romans, they left their people and the sheep. Interesting huh? 


The hired guy, he really doesn’t care for the sheep. What does he care more about in the story? Is it being right? Is it about Orthodoxy, doing the faith the right way? Is that what God is saying to us today? Do you see any things in your life that resemble this story? Is there room for God to upset your religious life? Is there mud, if you will, needing to be washed in your faith practices? Can you imagine being blind and having to meander through city streets to find a pool, your eyes full of mud, but some teacher sent you to wash and promised you would see? This is an amazing story! 


Maybe this passage and the picture of a white North American, nice Jesus with light brown hair, blowing in the breeze is our Jesus carrying us, the sheep, on his shoulder? I want to be that sheep, or maybe we are the sheep following along. That’s me; I can do that! I like that.

 

Maybe, maybe, just maybe, we can wash our eyes today, look at the picture with different lenses? Look at the picture. Maybe it says to us that the good shepherd gathers those cute little sheep and stops in that green pasture and points! He points out there! He points into this troubled world and says go out into that world and be like me. I’m the good shepherd; I’ll help you be a good shepherd too if you want?

Maybe you’re seeing this picture from a way different angle? What if that picture of Jesus, is you, and you’re not the sheep? The picture is you out there being the good shepherd? Maybe being a good shepherd is the daily sacrifices of paying a visit to an elderly neighbor who needs looked after? Could the good shepherd be providing a listening ear to someone who has an unbearable burden, and this good shepherd keeps it confidential? Maybe the picture, the story in Chapter 9 is really you?


Amen.

April 15, 2018

  

Luke 24:36-48


Jesus Appears to His Disciples


36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.


44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.


Keep your Bibles open today, there’s a lot of scripture to cover.

 

But, speaking of openings, like Jesus opening minds to the scriptures, a little boy was waiting for the drug store to open in a small town early one Saturday morning. As the little boy waited next to his bike, the manager rounded the curb, pulled out his jingling key ring and picked through the mess of keys to the only one that would open the big glass doors, which were plastered with church suppers and community leaflets. The bells on the doors jingled as the store opened early:  7 AM only on Saturdays, just like the faded red and white sign said. So the boy entered cutting in front of a few other early bird shoppers crowding the entry with the manager holding the doors open wide. 


The boy made a determined beeline, straight past the candy aisle, past the Pokémon stuff, and stopped abruptly in the greeting card section. He started pawing through the cards, anxiously and was already making a mess of the nicely organized cards. The Manager walked over and looked down at the boy and said, “son, are you looking for a Mother’s Day card? It’s almost May; you are so smart, thinking ahead.”


“No,” said the little boy, as he wiped his nose on his sleeve.

 

“How about Father’s Day cards? That’s in June, still not far away. Those are over here.”

 

“Nope,” said the little boy as he pawed through more cards, adjusting his ballcap, which slid down over his eyes.

 

“I know! You are getting a birthday card?” asked the manager.


“Nah, I need a card for my Mom and Dad, right away.”


“Oh, it’s their anniversary,” the manager said. “We have some fine ones, over here.”

 

This went on for a while, when the manager looked at the boy and said, “son, we will have to have someone straighten up all these cards up, you don’t need a Mother’s Day Card, not even a Father’s Day card, it’s not there anniversary, and your folks aren't having another baby. Son what kind of card are you looking for?”


The boy shook his head and said, “It ain’t here.  I have been through this whole aisle.”
 

“I can see that,” said the manager. “I’m here to help you, son, but you’re making an awful mess. What kind of card are you looking for?”


“Mister,” the boy said. “I have been through all these cards.”


“Yes you have,” said the manager, now getting a bit annoyed.


"Don’t you have any cards, well the ones…” and he paused, all choked, his lower lip stuck out, “the ones like the teachers fill out. Blank report cards? I’m really going to need one for my Mom and Dad next week. They are really going to be disappointed.” 


Kids can sure get into a mess, can’t they, and how about us adults? Our adult messes just get bigger don’t they? Well the disciples were in a mess; they had been seeing the resurrected Jesus and like the little boy, they just couldn’t find the right one.

 

So here’s the background to our passage, go back to verse 13 and 14, see that it’s a discussion about Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus is walking and talking down the road, even asking about who and what they think Jesus is, are you with me? See that in verse 17, “what are you discussing?” keep in mind this is Jesus!

 

They stopped and their faces became how? What’s it say? This is amazing, look at verse 18, Cleopas says what? And Jesus says in verse 19, what things? He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed. And it continues; Jesus is actually listening to their view of His very life and death! 

Now skip down to verse 27, he explained to them what was said about himself in Moses and the Prophets. Would you consider a blank report card, maybe do something fun for yourself, and have a new opening day in your life? Let’s see if we can do that today?

 

Go to verse 42 and 43. The resurrected Jesus ate broiled fish, it says, while the disciples most likely sat there, as I would with blank stares filled with doubt and disbelief. Now on to verse 44 he says to them: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you - that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” So apparently Jesus enables the disciples gathered, after a fish breakfast, their minds are opened to understand the scriptures.


I like that, but it also opens up some questions: What is Jesus trying to open their minds to? The problem is they didn’t have the Bible yet! 98% in first century Israel, probably couldn’t read the Hebrew scriptures. I think they were absolutely confused about Jesus, they couldn’t read the only scriptures they had, and Jesus tells them about what is written about Him in the Torah, the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets.

 

So one word, might have cleared up what was going on for the disciples and it might even help us today. The key word is in verse 46, it’s Messiah, look for that in verse 46, did you find it? 

“The Messiah will suffer,” Luke writes. Jesus says that He will rise on the third day, according to the Hebrew scriptures!

 

Now take your finger and go to the end of verse 44. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you— that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” So, Jesus, is clearing up a huge problem they were having the days after the resurrection.

 

Jesus was a big scandal. The New Testament writers even call it a scandal; everyone was talking about it we saw back in verse 18: the scandal, the understanding of the Messiah. 

And for time’s sake, I will condense this for us:  The Jewish Messiah is supposed to be a David- like King, who rides in on a white horse and kicks out the Romans. He cleans up Jerusalem and makes it the center of God’s rule and religion, forever. That’s the short version, and a few versions of this promise is still hoped for in Judaism today! 


But Jesus had to open their minds, He had to erase their self-imposed report cards, all their spiritual grades, were reset to another view of the scriptures, and remember this is spiritual, they couldn’t read it! But the problem was, even the ones who could read, missed it. This Messiah, Jesus, was another radically different view of scripture; this was the spiritual one, this was the way of the heart. 


Jesus opened their minds, and changed their hearts, their souls, their inner beings. There really is a part of the brain called the pineal gland. In ancient times it was called the third eye; it’s supposedly spiritual. Science now says that this area lights up when spirituality is practiced, so Jesus opens up a whole different view of scripture, and it’s God’s view! Did you catch that?

I’m going to say that again: Jesus opened their minds, and change their inner beings to a whole other view of scripture, and it’s God’s view! Have you ever had your view of scripture or God turned upside down? I hope you have; if you haven’t, just hang around with me long enough and you will. 


So it’s no small wonder that Jesus’ proclamation of an otherworldly kingdom, a spiritual kingdom, where we loved even our enemies (the Romans), where we fed the hungry, a place where we loved instead of gossiped about our neighbor, even here in church, all of it can be changed from the inside?

 

What kind of Messiah, they said, is crucified and offers to save people, but can’t save himself? It was a scandal! So, what kind of Messiah is this? One that continues to defy expectations! Be assured today that in Jesus, God is revealed on God’s own terms.


Be assured today that in Jesus, God shows that being human is not beneath God. In Jesus, even physical death is not beneath the One who is called “the very author of life.” In Jesus, Spirit and body are still among us, in us, if you are willing, today. In Jesus, the scandal of the cross is God’s being; it’s open to many interpretations of this love. There is no report card! If you will, there’s a card for you in the clearance section. It’s way in the back of the store, and it’s blank; you get to fill it in, and God will love it just as it is. It’s you! 


Amen! 

April 8, 2018

Can you think of any words or expressions that have gone out of style? How about “Heavens to Murgatroyd? Do you remember that one? Or how about a junky old car? We used to say “jalopy” I never hear that anymore. Can you think of any? Monkey’s Uncle? Knucklehead? What if Superman were around and asked a kid where a phone booth was? How about “It’s your nickel”, and whatever happened to “fiddlesticks”? Well, it’s the second Sunday of Easter and I hope you are just Hunky Dory today. 


I wonder if after our Gospel reading, if I stopped in the middle of the reading and said, “Don’t touch that dial?” There’s a forgotten phrase...Did we actually have to get up go to the TV and turn that big round twist knob? Forgotten words, just like the good old days. Isn’t it great to remember them? Some say we had a lot more “Moxie” back then; that meant tough. Do you remember that strong soda from Maine? They still make it.

 

I think the disciples needed some Moxie. It’s the second Sunday of Easter and they are hiding in a locked room. Let’s take a look and read the passage.

 

John 20:19-31 


Jesus Appears to the Disciples


19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”


Jesus and Thomas


24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


We aren't going into the doubting Thomas piece of this passage today, we’ll stay in the locked room, with disciples in fear.

 

So they were hiding, we read, for fear of the Jews, verse 19. Anyone associated with Jesus would, of course, be hiding, and very afraid, but now we add to their fear a scene right out of a sci-fi movie: Jesus materializes in their midst.

 

Now John’s Gospel doesn’t go into the details, only Luke does that. He writes of a “ghost like” Jesus and there was an intense fear. The Greek is more about being frightened to death; things are about the same in the Hebrew scriptures. We see similar stories that speak of people being afraid to death, when they encounter angelic beings, but here we have the risen Jesus that says twice to these scared to death disciples, look at the end of verse 19, then over to 21: “peace be with you” twice. Now that’s a phrase that will never go out of style, or be forgotten, Peace!

 

But the disciples, filled with anxiety, worry, fear, but, what’s that sound? It’s a still quiet voice, calmness and Jesus says, “Peace!”

 

Now we aren’t exactly facing arrest and brutal treatment in our lives today, but we certainly have our share of modern anxiety. Just watch the news; it’s enough to leave you filled with enough fear, but in 2018 we too, have a voice that still speaks. A calm voice that says: peace!

 

So maybe, this story can take on a snapshot, or a metaphor for our lives today, does life sometimes make you feel like locking yourself in a room? Or maybe you locked your heart in fear? Whatever your situation today, I invite you to let this passage speak to you today. Jesus is saying in that still calm voice, “Peace!” But don’t touch that dial; there’s more! 


Look at verse 21, Jesus says the second time, “peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Now hold on a minute. We are in here hiding, scared to death, worried about arrest, and a ghostlike Jesus says he is sending us on a mission? I’ll take the peace, for right now Jesus, I’m not going out of this room, I locked those doors for a reason! But verse 22, is a dream- come-true for a spiritual mystic like me. Take a look: “He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’” 


But I’m still stuck in the locked room, with “ghost Jesus.” How about you? Ah, but here’s the good stuff. I think we all need Jesus to breathe on us. I think we all need a healthy dose of this Holy Spirit, because if you read on in the Gospels and into Acts, the disciples emerge from their locked rooms. They come out of hiding and where did this “scared to death” fear go? It all changed. I doubt it was right away; change takes time, and that’s where this sermon is going. It’s about being transformed one day at a time. The disciples were changed somehow, after being breathed upon by Jesus with this Holy Spirit.

 

So what does this mean to our faith, and our spirituality today? We hardly ever hear about this mysterious Spirit, but it’s right here; it’s the third part of the Trinity. But I know what you might be thinking, “Pastor Ron, how does this story of being in a locked room, with ghost Jesus affect me today?” Sure, we may not fear arrest and brutal Roman troops, but we sure feel like locking ourselves in a cabin in Maine sometimes, don’t we? And how about some herbal tea, and skip the Moxie.

 

But Jesus is already in our locked rooms. We may not hear those words, “peace be with you,” but they are there. Maybe we’re so busy doing, we might not even notice God’s voice. It’s peace, it’s the Spirit; Jesus has to say peace twice. If it were me I would need him to say it twelve times! 

Verse 22, says he breathed on them. This isn’t the best translation; it’s better said, “He breathed in them” and that word “breath,” unusually similar in Greek and Hebrew, two very different languages, but so close. Hebrew calls it “ruah.” It’s the very breath of God; it’s the very life essence of the Divine, breathing life into existence. It’s Genesis, the very creation. Breath is God, breath is the Spirit, breath is life, breath is everything.


So something happened to the disciples, with this “breathe in.” It was something new, but at the same time it was something ancient. Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit, the Genesis the new creation. In them, it changed them from the inside! 


This stuff, it’s ripe for the picking. Especially in today’s world, I hear all the time, I am spiritual not religious. This is the new “buzz phrase.” This isn’t new; it’s ancient, older than dirt, older than don’t take any wooden nickels, way beyond Kilroy was here, and living the life of Riley, this is living the life of the Spirit.

 

The Spirit in this passage actually recreates the disciples. They are born again with a mission, a new purpose. They changed the world after this encounter, so something really transformative happened. Did they run out of the locked room, shouting about Jesus? He is risen, He is risen indeed, just like He said. I doubt it; perhaps the word practice will help. 


This is about practicing a relationship with the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If we want to be spiritual, and not religious, then we recognize that Jesus’ presence is promised to us, in us, a real supernatural presence, a day by day relationship that’s in us, already breathed into us. It could be right in our locked rooms, if you will, and we might not even be able to see it. This is a relationship; it takes practice. 


Would you consider asking God about opening your locked doors? Do you need to let the Spirit breathe in you? There’s lots of doubting in this passage, so it’s OK to doubt, to question. But it’s time to let God breathe in you! This is the transformative stuff; this is spirituality. When we open ourselves to this, we might start to notice little things changing: I was driving to the Fire Station last week and a big SUV was on my back bumper. In the old days I would have slowed down, sped up, I was so bad I used to pull the emergency brake so the brake lights don’t show. (I’d think), “that’ll show ‘em.” Well this time I put on my signal, slowed down, pulled off in the JW church driveway and waved them by, they took off down Shailor Hill in a silver SUV blur never to be seen again.

 

But I must warn you that you have an enemy, some call it a Satan. Some say we need “thought replacement therapy.” I wonder if the enemy is the one staring you back in the mirror. That’s our toughest opponent, when it’s time to do spiritual practices, the enemy speaks with its voice. I don’t have time. I’m tired. This isn’t working yet. I’ve been at it for weeks now. Tell that voice inside you, “I am a spirit being, I am being transformed, it takes time!” So unlock those doors, let Jesus give you that peace, let the Spirit breathe in you and you just might end up living the spiritual life of Riley.

 

Amen. 

April 1, 2018

  

Gospel Readings

Mark 16:6-7

6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

John 20:17

17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”


We have two passages of scripture today, and just like so much of our modern world, we have choices today. So we have two choices today from our Gospel readings, Mark or John? What’s your choice this Easter Sunday? I ask this because these are two very different resurrection reports, both unique. As I studied these, I noticed a similarity between them. There was something about them side by side that grabbed; they just wouldn’t let me go. When that happens, it’s usually God speaking. But when God is speaking through the Word, it takes time. It just needs to set for a while, kind of like Jell-o. You mix it, boil it, and it needs to just set for a while, while you look at it every time you open the fridge. 


Since I followed the directions and edited for God, one morning last week I woke up and opened up Mark and the similarity between these two passages hit me. But it was a surprise that changed my whole Easter, and perhaps it might change yours. Easter Sunday service for me has always been the traditional church greeting: He is Risen, and we reply loudly: He is risen indeed!

So what changed, in this 2,000-year-old message? In Hollywood, why is the Christian resurrection so unique? Harry Potter rose again, and defeated his enemies. Obi Won Kenobi and Yoda speak from the next life. You can have many lives if you play Roblox. Why is this message so powerful? 


Take a look at Mark 16:7: “He is going ahead of you, to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Now look at John 20:17: “But go my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father, and your Father, to my God and your God.”

So what’s my point here? Where are these two similar verses? What’s this mean for us on the second most recognized Sunday of the year, Easter? What’s this little detail you keep hinting about? What you are wondering is, who is this guy so are excited about? I know you are just ready to find out.


The detail that God is speaking through, I believe, is something I seem to have missed every Easter for probably 20 years. The resurrection is not the end of the story. 


I’ll say it again. The resurrection isn’t the end of the story; it’s a whole new beginning! 


But we seem to pause or even stop here every year. The church, too, preaches the resurrection every Easter, and of course we do. It’s the most pivotal happening of the Christian faith. 


I was at the gym yesterday and a very excited evangelical church goer high fives me loudly and said, “He is risen, hallelujah!” and of course I high fived back and said, “He is risen indeed!” I had another evangelical friend stop by recently and he started asking my grandkids about heaven. “Won’t it be wonderful, being with God all the time?” My Grandson just nodded, but my Granddaughter looked a bit confused, as most kids I think aren’t really thinking about the resurrection and the next life. Most kids are thinking of what’s in their Easter baskets. 


But for years, every Easter, I’ve talked about the resurrection and the next life as we should. I have taught about the empty tomb. The shock of Mary and the disciples finding a resurrected Jesus is a wonderful sermon, every Easter. But I think I have unintentionally kept Jesus stuck at the resurrection every year, yes I have. “He is risen,” I say, and you answer back, “He is risen indeed” just like my friend at the gym, and we go about our normal lives.

 

I’m sorry that I’ve been playing it “preacher safe” the past few Easters, but the resurrection is central to our faith. It does mean we are now free from sin and death, and we have eternal life. I think we all get that. But Christmas and Easter are the most difficult time for Pastors; we dread it, so we play it safe. But this year, the resurrection message has been on my mind all month. It’s different this year. I am going to do something radical and unsafe for a minister. I’m going to change the Easter message; I’m going to move it to Monday.

 

I am going to skip Easter Sunday today. Yes, you heard me right, because John or Mark never leaves us at the empty tomb, they don’t high five and say he is risen indeed. Both don’t even stop at the resurrection; they don’t move on to heaven and “won’t that be wonderful having eternal life.” No, Mark and John keep on going, because Easter is about our daily life. It’s how we are in Easter Monday and Tuesday, and next month. This story is only the beginning.

 

It’s not end of the Gospel story and not the end of yours; it’s only the beginning. Both Mark and John challenge us to be resurrected. And I mean changed, transformed in this life on Easter Sunday and especially Easter Monday morning. Alright Pastor, so what's that all mean? Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection. It’s our story: we are raised with him. It’s our story to keep living out, Monday, Tuesday, Friday, next week, next year; we are changing.


If you keep reading the Gospels past Easter, you’ll meet a Jesus who met the disciples for days after the resurrection. He cooked and ate with them, He let doubting Thomas touch his scars, He was living again with his friends. He would ascend up to Heaven and promise to be with us, and love while never leaving or forsaking us. Jesus left the Spirit!

 

And most importantly, the Holy Spirit is what transforms us by dwelling in us. This is a transformative faith, lived out in our daily lives. In this life, in the here and now, what about Heaven? Yes, we look forward to a new, next life, but I’m pointing us toward Easter Monday.

 

Monday is our story lived out in the world, resurrection from sin, from our past, from those habits we ask God to help us with. The ones we all know we are powerless to change even though we tried everything. Did you ask God to take them away to change you?

 

My sermon title is, “Not the End.” There’s a picture in your bulletin and it says, “You are not alone, and this is not the end of your story. Many people tell me they are spiritual and not religious. I’m with you, so how are you on Monday? Are you seeing change in your life?

 

I’m going to tell the camping story again, because it’s God’s Spirit, Spirituality in action.

 

I changed and didn’t even notice it, but I worked with God on it! I identified what I wanted God to change, and the resurrection power of Easter Monday, the Spirit, transformed me. This works! That’s an Easter Monday miracle. Something new has been added to your life. I’m looking forward to Easter Monday with the Jesus that went ahead to meet me: an eager Jesus to share with me what’s next to change in my life, what’s next in my story. May our lives be changed; that’s the evidence of our spirituality, the resurrection Spirit in us. 


Amen. 

March 11, 2018

  

John 3:14-21


14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “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. 17 “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. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”


A piece of this passage, John 3:16, is probably the most well-known passage of scripture in the Bible. You’ve probably seen it at football games, or off the interstate on a giant billboard. [Re-read] just that verse, John 3:16. 16 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.


I have preached on this passage many times, and I’ve had it preached to me for almost 30 years. It seems to take a different turn every time I study it, and today it takes a really different turn. 

The turn starts, if we take the focus away from verse 16, and direct our attention to verse 14 and 15. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.


Every time I read this or hear it preached, this is the passage on how to gain eternal life, but in the Greek, it translates more like this: “an infinitely high quality of life in living fellowship with God - both now and forever, but we get stuck on this heaven, hell, sin and eternal life ideas, what about transforming our lives today - in the here and now? That’s what I hope to show you today. So verse 14 references an Old Testament serpent story. You see Moses in the passage, and John compares this to Jesus’ crucifixion. See where it says “so must, the Son of man (Jesus) be lifted up.” When I started this study, this whole thing bothered me. What if someone was a casual or first time reader of the Bible, lifting up a serpent and lifting up Jesus? What does that mean? Well we are going to find out this morning. 


I really hate snakes, and this is a tough comparison to make, so, no wonder hardly anyone preaches on this part. But I will overcome my fear of snakes and we are going to do some scriptural detective work together, are you ready? We have to go on a journey, a trip way back in time, 1400 BC. That’s about 3,100 years back. Moses has led his people, the Israelites, out of Egypt, and they were now free from cruel slavery. This story is the still celebrated; it’s just like our Independence Day, but it’s Israel’s Liberation Day. This is also the story almost always behind any freedom movement; Gandhi and Dr. King, studied this. It’s Charlton Heston’s classic Ten Commandments and Disney’s Prince of Egypt


So we are going back in time, and we have escaped Pharaoh's army, who were drowned in the Red Sea, and headed to the promised land, crossing the brutal Sinai Desert. Would someone please say, “are we there yet?” 


Speaking of “are we there yet, one of these modern day “super Moms” with a blog wrote about how to do a family road trip with kids. She has it all figured out, nicely packaged, so maybe this can help for your next road trip. Or if you are like me with kids all grown up, you too can roll your eyes and say, “ya’ right,” but I’ll let you judge these for yourself: 

  • Keeping the kids happy starts with the packing. To get the kids involved from the outset, let them help you pack their suitcases. Or, let them pack their own, but check and make sure they don't just put in a T-shirt.
  • Pack a separate beach bag so if you stop to swim, you're not rooting through all the bags.
  • Take a cooler because picnics are part of the fun. You don't want to sit in a fast food place with them fidgeting. And, while they're eating, they can play. So, throw in their soccer balls or softball mitts. And don't forget paper towels to help you clean up the mess.
  • Put a pile of pillows, blankets and favorite stuffed animals in the back seat. That's where the kids will be.
  • · As soon as they're buckled up, hand them a roll of quarters to use for souvenirs. Every time one kid slugs another, take a quarter away.
  • Take masking tape so they can mark off their own spaces in the back. It will prevent a lot of fights. When they're finished marking off their spaces, they can decorate their seats. Keeping them active is important.
  • Don’t forget a boring and silly joke book. Knock knock, orange and banana. 

So let's get back to our scripture. Here’s the situation: John 3:14 compares Jesus’ crucifixion to an Old Testament Moses story, where a serpent is lifted up, so let’s look at this Old Testament passage together.


Numbers 21:4-9, are we there yet? 


4From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way.5The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” 6Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.8And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.


But before we read our snake bite story, we need to go back in time just a bit more, look back a page at the big number 20, That's Chapter 20, what’s that say? Yes, the waters of Meribah, when we read through this story, people have been complaining all through the desert. It started shortly after the Red Sea miracle, the story says, some began talking about going back to Egypt, to be slaves again. It was better that the problems of scarce food and water in the desert, but the story keeps telling us that over and over of God-promised provision. Miracles were happening every day, and they still complained. If you read the whole story, it’s never good enough. Does this sound familiar? Every religion seems to have this kind of theme:  gratefulness and appreciation. 


Chapter 20:10-11


10Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”11Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank.


Yes, Moses uses his famous staff, the same one he used to part the Red Sea-just like the movies. Here in this story he hits a rock, and a spring, “an abundance of water comes from a rock”. Nice on a hot day in the desert. The rest of Chapter 20, I’ll quickly tell you, from verse 14, we have a local King who refuses to let the travelling Israelites pass through his territory, so they had to take the long way around the main trading route. Who wants escaped slaves who they heard ruined Egypt with their powerful God in their country anyways? So they had to go “off road”. 


Next, Aaron dies. Look at verses 22-29. Things are tough here; he was Moses’s right hand man. That's at the end of verse 29; there is mourning for 30 days. Do you see that at the end? Now we go to where we should be: Chapter 21, verse 1, where we should be, all caught up, but here we meet another hostile King. A skirmish broke out. Some Israelites were captured by this King Arad. The people pray, make a vow to the Lord it says in verse 2, and it’s your typical Old Testament battle, all the bad guys are killed, and the towns they lived in are destroyed, so they are on their “way around still avoiding the other King we met earlier, it says in verse 4. 


Well, next, the people have had enough, they are worse than the kids in the back seat, saying over and over are we there yet? They are complaining and impatient, the blogger lady would have run out of quarters, and knock-knock jokes, but in verses 4 and 5, we have people speaking against Moses, and now God, this is not good! No food no water, and we detest “this” miserable food, they say, the end of verse 5. 


I’m going to stop there at verse 5, and talk about this food, if you are not familiar with this part of the story, God provided a heavenly, bread- like superfood. The Bible calls it “manna.” It was there on the ground every morning and they ate this; it’s even described as sweet. So no grocery shopping for a diet of sweet health food. I would love that, but people complained while: God delivered as God promised.

 

This is where the story takes a bizarre turn, God doesn’t just threaten to take away quarters or pull the car over, like the super Mom blog suggests, God must be really angry. In verse 6, God sends, poisonous snakes to bite them, now if that doesn’t make you just wonder, but rest assured, most Jewish scholars and Christian scholars are not literalists. These stories were orally handed down, generation to generation. Most would say that the idea here is that we should not complain against God. I would argue otherwise, but we’ll save that for another sermon. 


Jewish scholars say this story is the most grievous and openly defiant act yet. The Hebrew Scriptures call these snakes Seraph Serpents, which means the bite was not only poisonous, but it burned. So it says in our Bible that, people died in verse 7. Soon the people relent and beg Moses to ask God to remove this punishment. Do your kids ever beg you, perhaps “wear you down,” is a better way to describe what kids do, to lighten the punishment? “But Mom, Dad, can I only be grounded Friday and not Saturday night?” Well, God offers an unusual cure; it’s a bronze snake. Look at verse 9, it’s put up on a pole, and this is the cure if they will gaze up at it. Ironically it’s the modern symbol used today used by the AMA, it’s a symbol of healing. 


So what’s this all mean? Jewish scholars say that this is a reminder that we should look up, towards God, especially when we complain. They say that it represents the serpent, which is the snake that caused Adam and Eve to sin. And this was done by means of clever and tricky words, so the serpent would always be the instrument, or a symbol of punishing people who sin with tricky words. 


So the remedy was to look up at the serpent raised on a pole. Another famous Rabbi says that this symbolizes the first step towards repentance; we look up to God. But the image the Rabbi argues is supposed to remind us that we deserve the punishment, the bite of the snake, but God is a God of forgiveness. 


And now the big, huge, crazy question I dare to ask: How did we get here in the desert:  burning snakes, Kings, and water from rocks? Why does John use this stuff to introduce us to Jesus, let’s go back to John now, page 863/114, are you there yet? The end of verse 14, says, “so the Son of Man be lifted up”? So what does this have to do with my life? 


Well maybe a quick trip on a Greyhound Bus from New York City to Albany can help us? The little old lady seated herself right behind the bus driver. Every ten minutes or so she'd pipe up, "Have we reached Oriskany Falls yet, sonny?" 


"No, lady, not yet. I'll let you know," he replied, time after time. The hours passed, the old woman kept asking for Oriskany Falls, and finally the little town came into view. Sighing with relief, the driver slammed on the brakes, pulled over and called out, "This is where you get out, lady."


"Is this Oriskany Falls?"


"YES!" he bellowed. "Aren’t you going to get out?"
 

"Oh, no, I'm going all the way to Albany, sonny," she explained sweetly. "It's just that my daughter told me that when we got this far, I should take my blood pressure pill."


So what was the big problem in our desert trip today? The people complained all the way through the desert. They didn’t trust God to lead them. Isn’t that one of our biggest daily struggles? To trust God in our life’s journey, each day? 


So maybe we are being challenged to look upon Jesus and the symbol of the cross - look up. I’m going to unpack and repack this for us today, as we get ready to close. 


So this passage confirms that the cross of Christ lies at the center, John was a Jew, and the Moses, bronze snake, lifted up story was the only way he had to explain the crucifixion, to explain what it did. It was healing, it was relief from the burning bite of the snakes. So the question we must ask is what does that symbolize in your life? 

Another Rabbi I read, says that religion often runs the risk of having people put too much holiness on instruments. In the Jewish story, the instrument was the bronze snake on the pole; for us it might mean how we view the cross. 


It is often argued that the church seems so focused on the message of “Jesus died on the cross for our sins,” and the blood of the cross, but maybe as the Rabbi says, we make “things” more Holy than they were intended. When we do this, we lose sight of “whom” the instrument points to. Whom does the cross point to?

  

Verse 17, take a look. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world,” I’ll say that again.  “Jesus didn’t come to condemn, to have snakes bite you and punish you, to make you repent.” The rest of the verse says Jesus came to save, to save. Jesus came, why? It’s in verse 15, so we might have, more than eternal life: “an infinitely high quality of life in living fellowship with God - both now and forever.” Maybe being saved is following how Jesus showed us how to live? 


You know, in my many years in different kinds of churches I have heard over and over about what I am not doing right, what I am missing, what I am not doing. Do we ever ask what are we are doing right for a change? We have people involved in the community luncheons, Willimantic soup kitchen, we helped Habitat for Humanity, we have two large recovery groups, flourishing scout programs, people from the community we don’t even know came by and put stuff in our new blessing box. That’s ministry! 


We are changing; we are learning to depend upon God. Bad things in your life aren't God’s snakes sent to bite you. We will have tough situations; and they might burn and bite, but I wonder if God might be asking you to change! But as we go through this desert of life, God shows us how to live our lives with less and less fear, shrinking levels of uncertainty, and disappearing anxiety. And best of all, when we work on our list of things we want God to change, when we faithfully pray about these things, you will notice these scary serpents, the fear about no good food or water, these things are eventually replaced by faith and confidence in God, and as the Dalai Lama would say, we discover joy in gratefulness! 


Amen. 

March 4, 2018

  

Gospel Reading:  John 2:13-22


13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

February 25, 2018

  

Mark 1:12-15


The Temptation of Jesus


12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.


The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry


14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”


Mark’s gospel gets right down to business in verse 12. Jesus is immediately driven into the wilderness, but the Greek here for that word, “driven,” is pronounced, “ekballein,” and means it’s hurled. The Spirit immediately hurled Jesus into the wilderness, and of course in Israel that was the desert.

 

So have you ever been pushed, or hurled into a hostile or uncomfortable situation? Who enjoys being in a tough spot, a place you just don’t want to be? And what’s our first inclination? Psychology says our brain goes into primitive survival mode, it’s fight or flight! Some want to quickly numb the pain, others just run away, but we know that this doesn’t feel good; this isn’t right. Our culture tells us we have to do something about this: buy something or we have to fight. But how about when you just can’t get out? Have you ever felt just trapped, helpless, stuck in the mud? Are things are changing in your life and you just don’t like it?

 

Maybe this passage of scripture is for you today, maybe you're facing some figurative “wild beasts,” and a Satan like situation? Maybe you are like the scene in The Lion King movie. Jackals have surrounded you, wild beasts, they know you are weak, hurt, not in your comfort zone. They’re watching, and every once in a while, they sneak in and bite you, but you're tough. You bite back, you fight back, but it’s getting tiring for you, and that’s just what they want. The jackals are good at sensing that, running you ragged, exhausted. Are you in the wilderness with Jesus today being tempted? Is it dark, lonely, dangerous? Do you feel like you are on your own? Maybe you are mad because you even put yourself into that situation?

 

So what does this scripture about deserts, beasts, and a Satan say to our lives today?


It reminds me of a story perfect for talking about the desert: a famous astrophysicist and his son went camping in the desert: the young man was in the final stages of his own PhD, studying Quantum Physics and the universe. They were camping in this remote desert; they set up their tent, and after stargazing ‘til the late hours of the night, they climbed in the tent and went to sleep. 


Some hours later, the Astrophysicist wakes his son up and says: "Jake, look up at the sky and tell me what you see." His son says, " I see millions of stars." "What does that tell you?" asks the Dad? His son ponders for a minute. “Well, Dad. Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Chronologically, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it's evident the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Dad?"


His Dad is silent for a moment, and says, “You have learned well son, but one thing you missed. Someone has stolen our tent.”


Now Mark’s Gospel is all about action; this story is to the point. Jesus’ coming into our world is confrontational; it’s intrusive. Jesus comes into this hostile place, a wilderness, to confront chaos and brokenness. Jesus enters this rough and tumble world to do one thing:  to win, to overcome this world of sin and death. 


So why am I always finding myself in these situations, you might ask. Maybe a good Rocky movie can help you, because before his big fights, Rocky goes to radical places to train. Like in Rocky 4, he goes to the snowy, hostile Siberian desert of Russia. He needs to work hard, to find himself, to look deep inside to see what he’s made of. He does like Jesus and emerges from the adversity, tested and tried, with a new vision, and he emerges, and has the eye of the tiger.

 

But you have to go through the desert. It’s 117 degrees in the daytime, and freezing at night, wild animals, etc. That’s often the scene throughout the Bible; it’s portrayed as a place of evil, it’s the opposite of God’s intended order of peace. It’s contrary to the lush green garden of Eden, but Jesus is there “and there isn’t an easy way out,” but Jesus is there to transform our world, and your world, your own desert if you will. It’s time to change things into something new. 


But human pain and suffering, tough situations; these are all over the stories in the Bible. It just is! This reality is the same in just about every religion. The Dalai Lama says these things have power, and through them, you will emerge with a new feeling, different and deeper. You’ll experience a more genuine joy, but you have to go through that desert.


So, of course, where else would Jesus be “hurled” to? The desert. It resembles the story in Exodus:  they wandered forty years in the desert. Is this a coincidence for the Messiah? Of course not. Where else would the Messiah begin his work? If not on skid row, then in the hospice ward, or at the cancer clinic, and how about the dementia unit at the nursing home? Or maybe in your sometimes lonely living room in the evening.

That’s where Jesus is, right there with you! These are the places that are our deserts. These things grab the chaos for us. These are the wilderness places most in need of healing. Of course Jesus has to go to the chaotic wilderness first and foremost. Why else would he have even come?


It reminds me of three men driving across the desert when their car breaks down. For their hike to town, they each decide to take one thing with them. One man takes a jug of water. The second man takes a sandwich. The last man takes one of the car doors. The first man says to the last man, “I’m bringing the water because if I get thirsty, I can take a drink.” And it makes sense to bring a sandwich in case we get hungry, but why bring a car door? The last man replies, “If I get hot, I can just roll down the window.” I think the guy should have taken the a/c unit, but isn’t that how we look at pain and suffering? What’s the quickest way out? How do I fix this? What can I bring to prepare for my pain and suffering? How can I get out of here?

 

This reminds me of a show Kristy and I watch on Netflix it’s about a super-rich, self-consumed LA family. They lived in luxury, with maids, pools, world travel, but one day the Feds arrived. Their business manager hadn’t paid any taxes. They say he took off to the Cayman Islands, and suddenly trucks show up with crews and they cart everything off. They are penniless except for the small rural Midwestern Canada town he bought as a joke to shield his income a few years ago.


Off they go to the small town on an all-night Greyhound bus; they have to live in the only motel in town. It is run down, with bad plumbing, 1980’s pastel pink and blue sheets, and simple small town folks. This high brow family is devastated, and complains non-stop, reminiscing of the high society life they left behind. But slowly, and painfully, episode-by-episode, their status attitudes change. This wilderness experience brings them closer together as a family. They start to appreciate the people around them. They find who they are, what they really have, and this is the wilderness: a time of trial and testing. All through the Bible we see this.

 

So we are two weeks into Lent, now. I’m not one to give up meat, but I use this season to look inward, to pray more, to pay attention more, to go for a walk, to add an extra rep at the gym. It’s when I say, “God, what are you saying, what am I missing,” but the hard part? Often I don’t like the answer. That’s not on my plan, this isn’t on my agenda! Even worse, it’s most often something I have to let go of. We all have many tough situations in our lives. What’s on your list? What would you like God to change?

 

I find that God doesn’t always tell me how to get out of situations. Never do I hear a voice telling me what to do. “Ron, just do this, don’t do that anymore.”  I wish, but, instead, God changes my heart, because I did some time in that desert. I have the burn marks, the bites from the hyenas to prove it! 


I had a situation last week:  I was getting a family member’s bills, but as I walked out of that desert, the sun was setting and a mysterious calm came over me. I felt like it was time to let it go. I noticed that my reaction to the situation was less extreme. The things that bothered me about this so much, they just didn’t matter anymore. It wasn’t mine, but I kept trying to fix it! It no longer mattered. That’s when I knew I’d begun to change. And for the first time it really wasn’t mine, did you hear me? It wasn’t mine!

 

That’s a miracle, but how did I get there? I made it through the desert. Was it easy? No! Those jackals kept nipping at me, tempting me with, “You gotta fix it, you have to tell them what to do, how to do it.” I, me, you should, I ought to…. Let God, let go. It hurts at first, but once you do it’s amazing. You move from the desert, back to where you belong, in the lush green garden God intends! The closing verses, 14-15, as soon as this time of tempting in the desert was ended, a glorious day began a new era:  Jesus began his ministry.


Just like when Rocky won the fight against the invincible, ripped, steroid-infused boxer, Ivan Drago, in Rocky IV. During his wilderness training, the music played. “There ain’t no easy way out.” After the fight, Rocky looked out at the hostile crowd and Communist leaders, and declared that hostility wasn’t the answer. Jesus started his ministry of peace and reconciliation in the desert. It begins with me: How I react, fight it, or give it to God, it’s always your choice. 


Amen

February 18, 2018

No Sermon this week. Worship was canceled, due to inclement weather.

February 11, 2018

  

Psalm 50:1-6 


The mighty one, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. 2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. 3 Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him. 4 He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: 5 “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” 6 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge.


Mark 9:2-9

 

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.


This was a tough passage of scripture for me, I struggled with it all week. This passage is traditionally called “The Transfiguration,” and today we celebrate transfiguration Sunday on Scout Sunday. So what exactly is a transfiguration in verse 2? It’s a complete change of appearance, it’s a move into a more beautiful and spiritual state, but the original language here is Greek, and that word is a “metamorphosis.” There’s not much difference between the two, I think. Metamorphosis is a word kids might recognize from their science classes when they study caterpillars and pollywogs. They change their appearance, into almost another thing. The difference here I want to emphasize is the change. This is a process, and that’s what I went through this week as I studied this passage.

 

So my trouble with this passage is what we have been reading together these last few weeks:  stories of miraculous healings, and then suddenly it’s Jesus vs. the demons. Those kinds of stories are hard for me to understand. And I’m in good company. Thomas Jefferson published his own Bible in the early 1800’s. In his version, he cut out all the miracle stories; he says they were just too unbelievable. I’m not going to cut them out, but there are several famous theologians who feel as I do about these kind of stories.

 

So, for me demon possession was probably psychological disorders. And Demons, a 16th century devil, with a pitchfork, from a literal hell, and he has little demons that run around tempting and possessing people. I just can’t find room in my experience of a loving God to allow some kind of evil presence to inhabit or oppress God’s beloved creation! So this scene today, just adds to my supernatural problems; it gets harder when Moses and Elijah arrive on the mountaintop. These two, according to the Biblical writings and much of the Jewish tradition, never died. Elijah, it says, was taken up to the heavens in a fiery chariot. TV’s late night Ancient Aliens and UFO hunters portray this kind of stuff.

 

So there you have it. That’s my struggle with this passage, my modern, scientific, graduate-school, iPhone app-using mind is struggling to grasp this story. So off to work I went, solving this passage; this is what I’m trained to do. But the more I read, the more I studied, the more I struggled, I realized God was speaking through this passage, as God often does. But the Spirit in me said something unusual, instead of a Divine study help, I heard a whisper, a thought, and it was (saying), “Stop, just stop. Don’t struggle. Stop trying to translate. Don’t bother interpreting, it. Just stop and let it speak as it is now.”


Well let me tell you, for a type A, get-it-done, lifelong Bible student, letting the scripture “be” is really hard. I want answers, and I want them googled now! But that’s when the metamorphosis started! I thought about the movies I love: a Harry Potter movie, and how about Star Wars. Listen to Yoda teach Luke about the force; that stuff speaks to my life, and it’s very supernatural.

 

So why am I worried about presenting a scripture like this? Isn’t God really supernatural to begin with? So the changes started for me when just like the Apostles in this story, I ended up in two worlds this week. Now don’t call the Doctor quite yet, hear me out. I know what you might be thinking: How did he get into two different worlds? 

I began playing a popular kids’ game on my iphone. It's called Roblox, a virtual reality game. 


This happened because I text my grandkids in Florida every day, but it seems they are always playing this game. So instead of complaining, I asked if I could play this Roblox game. Now keep in mind I’m going on 58 and all of the sudden I am playing virtual reality with a bunch of kids. So before I entered their world, I had to register, as probably the oldest player, and security probably put a flag on my account. Then it said I needed to create an Avatar. I thought an Avatar was a blue alien from the movie called Avatar, but on my Roblox metamorphosis, I was fascinated to learn that this word comes from Hinduism, and that’s OK for me as my specialty is interfaith. 


So in case you were wondering, an Avatar in Hinduism, is the appearance of a deity, or it’s the release of the soul that’s visible in our world. It can also be a Divine teacher. But this was all too much of a coincidence that this Avatar stuff was happening at the same time as the scripture we are talking about: transfigurations, and the Spirit is telling me “to hold it.”


But before I spiritualize this, in the computer world, an Avatar is a figure that represents a particular person in a video game. So my grandson, Luke, helped me create my Avatar. I am a bald guy with a black leather jacket a T-shirt with a lightning bolt and cargo pants with red, high-top shoes. I am a cool hipster old Grandpa Avatar, ready to jump into virtual reality.

 

So the first “world” my grandson invites me to, well I literally appear there, and it’s some western town, and it’s called called, “Murder Mystery. Let’s just make it simple and say I was the victim. But thankfully, Roblox has resurrection too. 


Fortunately, my granddaughter, Leia came to my rescue. She invited me to her world, one she created, a charming little town with green grass, trees, and shops. People, or Avatars, were out walking. 13,000, it said, were playing. Some were shopping and playing with families, some said hello. We stopped at a candy shop and played on swings. Leia even had me tour her own house she bought and paid for. Before I left the game back to the real world, she helped me get money and some hair, and I now have long beautiful hair. So virtual reality is miraculous, and I could see why God told me to stop before trying to figure out this scripture: because I needed a guide. 


So this game changed me, and it changed my view of this scripture, God used my real, everyday life and this virtual world of Roblox, to cause a real metamorphosis. I realize now, that somewhere along the line, the church put everything in nice categories. It’s easier to say that miracle stuff happened in the Bible, that was Jesus. It was 2,000 years ago, things were different; they believed the world was flat and God lived up there. If we had a bad storm, it was God mad at people, but now we have science, rockets that launch red Tesla Roadsters past Mars, exoplanets, black holes and Doppler weather radar. No wonder I have trouble with the supernatural, I think I have the natural world all figured out, but do I? 


If you were to walk around the real world today, just outside the church, you might not see a shining transfigured supernatural Jesus. But what you will see is a natural God. If you look out that window, the buds in the trees, are getting big, they know Spring is coming. If you look harder, you might see a chrysalis on a tree. It’s hanging there getting ready to metamorphose into a new creation. You might go to school this week and learn in science class that our bodies are made up of matter. We are full of quantum particles of energy so small, and electrons that circle around the exact same way they do in deep space. Not one scientist can figure how they stay in place, and I have a hard time with this Bible passage?


But if you know Harry Potter, you know Professor Dumbledore, the wise wizard with the wooly hair and long beard. This mystical and spiritual professor, always seems to give Harry just a few small glimpses of truth. But Dumbledore is so wise, he never gives away the whole story It’s always in a misty vision, not much different from this Bible passage. Harry always gets just a few hints of just what he needs to trust in himself, and I will add the Spirit within him, our guide, just like my Roblox guides I needed. Dumbledore gives Harry Potter just the right stuff for part of the journey ahead. Isn’t that a lot like this passage? 


So why has the modern church become the last place that believes in a supernatural story like this? For one, I don’t know about you, but a miraculous healing you don’t see every day. They are very few and far in between. Maybe this story is a reminder that God is capable of supernatural things like this story? And this is stuff we just can’t figure out. So how about a supernatural God that cared enough to come to our world in the form of Jesus to live with us and show us a better way to live. Why not?

 

But what I really need to do, and ask you to do is take time to look for God in the everyday, the regular ordinary stuff, the natural things, like those buds on the trees, like when your kid grew an inch last month. That’s really supernatural stuff! Listen for the Spirit that guides you. 

If you look at things like that, you might just see that God is really in our midst. Take a look at verse 7.


7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”


That’s all God said, “All we need to do is listen,” it says. And does Jesus add, “You have to pray this way, do your religion this way? Read the Bible this way?” No, Jesus says simply, “follow me, don’t be afraid, only believe!” This passage is designed to make you wonder. It just is what it is. You are invited into a mystery. It’s too big to fit in a book or a religion, even a science book, but this is a way of being that changes us from the inside out if we let it. It’s a process; it’s a metamorphosis.


No wonder Peter says in verse 5: “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here” Maybe we are just supposed to “be here” with God right now; this is really supernatural! 


Rest assured, just as my grandkids guided this old grandpa through Roblox, God will guide you too. No Avatar or registration and password required. May God’s word speak to us and transform us today.


Amen. 


February 4, 2018

  

Mark 1:29-39


Jesus Heals Many at Simon’s House

 

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.


It’s Super Bowl Sunday; yes, it is, and it’s exciting we have the home team, looking to make football history. I don’t really follow football, but I do know that the game is rich with metaphors, and teachings about life, winning losing, training, success, so what actually makes a football team great? I read an article by ESPN called, “Why the Patriots Win.” The writer has every good reason to think, and I think he is correct:  many of the Pats great wins came down to a few plays in the 4th quarter.

 

But I think the reporter missed something. I think the Patriots coaches know a good football story and it goes like this:

 

Way back in 1961 on a hot July day, before fitbits and air conditioning, a pro-football team met in the locker room, for the opening day of practice. 38 anxious professional athletes, gathered in a locker room, waiting to hear what the coach would say. They had waited an entire offseason for this day with dread. You see, their minds had played over and over their painful championship game loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, they still heard the game commentators saying, how they had the championship in their hands. They had the ball at the end of the fourth quarter and a 17-13 lead but three painful plays, just three, ended the game in a loss. 


So especially tense it was that morning. The coach knew all too well how that game came down to three plays in those closing minutes, three short plays, late in the fourth quarter. Decisions were made that cost the Green Bay Packers that championship game. Three plays, just three, and two were called by the coach. 


Everyone knew the coach had taken the off-season hard. He retreated, he withdrew, and they say what happened that off-season was simply transformational, and here was the coach, back for that first day of practice, staring, looking quietly at his dejected team. The critics in the press were already counting this coach and these players out, but the coach looked different that day they say. There was a new gleam in his eyes, and he reached into a box and he held up a brand new brown leather football and simply said, “Gentlemen this is a football.” He then proceeded to go back to the fundamentals of the game.

 

The guys complained for weeks that season. Sports writers said this was demoralizing, for professional athletes. Fans in town railed against the strategy, but there they were in the classroom learning, instead of out on the field sweating like the other teams. They learned, they practiced. They worked harder than anyone else, on the basics. The coach, you might have guessed was the one and only legendary Vince Lombardi. The Super Bowl trophy is named after him. This team would go on to win five of seven championship games, because the coach believed it all came down to basics. “This is a football. There are 2,000 plays in each game, we play 16 games each season one play at a time.” 


This is probably the Patriots’ secret today that I think ESPN missed. The Patriots are good at the basics. To them, every play matters. They out-practice, out-study, outwork everybody else. Excuses for practice and study have no room in their team vision. They simply work hard at the basics. 


So, what does this mean for us in the church today? What does the bible passage have to do with the basics of our faith? 



I placed a picture in your bulletin. It’s not a football picture. It’s an “I Love Lucy” picture. In the picture you will see Lucy with a big drum that says something on it. What does it say? 


Choir: “we are friends of the friendless” 


Now Lucy in the episode, thought that everyone forgot her birthday, but a big surprise party was planned by Ricky, Fred and Ethel at the Tropicana Club. Lucy becomes sad and dejected, hinting to her friends about her upcoming birthday, and it sure looks like everyone forgot. In her sadness, Lucy takes a walk to the park and meets the upbeat, drum-banging group who go around making friends of the friendless. 


What does this have to do with our Bible passage today? 


I hope to show today that the basics of the Christian faith, is where we need to be. 


We must do like coach Lombardi, and the Packers, and the Patriots and go back to the basics. And the basics begin for us, not on the football field, not in the locker room, not in the classroom. We start to learn here in the church. We learn from studying scripture and we learn from being with one another here. We learn in here, so we can be good out there. But what, what is it? What should we practice to be good at? How about we become friends to the friendless? And we start by loving one another right here.


Church history show us over and over again that it grows the most when Christians love one another in here and especially out there! How do we get back to the basics and be friends of the friendless? I can’t answer all of this in a short sermon, with kickoff looming, and communion, so I will focus on one thing. A friend of the friendless, is a Christian with a mission to share God’s loving presence in this world. But in order to do this, the basics demand that we must take care of ourselves. I’ll say that again: 

A Christian with a mission to share God’s loving presence in this world, must take care of oneself.


Let’s look for this in the passage: 

verses 29-31: 


29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. The fever left her and she began to serve them. 


Jesus took her by the hand, healed her, and she began to serve. This woman most Bible scholars say, went on to an amazing ministry. Let Jesus take you by the hand, heal you, and prepare you to be a servant.

 

But there’s more. Look at vss. 33-34


33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases. 


But here is the important part, the healer, the teacher, the servant, healed many but Jesus, did what next? Look at verse 35.

 

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

 

“This is the football!” This is the why this is the basics. Jesus models for us. This is how to get really good, so you can be really good out there. 


The Patriots win because they practice harder, they work harder, they get up earlier than their opponents. They take time to take care of themselves, to learn, and they win. They have a clear vision of where they are going and who they are as a team. They practice self-care! 


Do we? Nobody said this was going to be easy, there will always be peaks and valleys, high highs and low lows, but it takes more than just going to church for an hour on Sunday! To be a friend of the friendless, to be a healer, to get healed, you have to join the band, you have to practice. I’ll bet the band that led Lucy back to her surprise birthday party were transformed inside. To be a healer, you must take time to be healed. People will see that transformation. 


I heard a story about a punk kid, that moved into a tough neighborhood, a person of color, a big clumsy, clunky kid, with an attitude. He was 16 and had just had his first arrest and was headed for trouble. One day, he walked defiantly into the teachers’ lounge in this new school. He used the teachers bathroom and walked out. Not one teacher said a word. 


The next day, this boy does the same thing, but one skinny teacher in white shirt and tie, stood up and said, “Hey, this is the teachers’ lounge. You can’t be in here. Get out of here now.” Well, this boy looked down on this teacher and says, “Yeah? I’ll leave when I’m done.” As he dried his hands slowly, brushed by this teacher as the teachers’ lounge was silent, the teacher was fuming. This boy, left and for some strange reason he tells in his story, he went home that night and felt really bad. There was something in that teacher that just changed him. 


The boy came back the next day and went looking for the teacher, and apologized. He stuck out his hand, the teacher looked up at this boy, looked at his outstretched hand. This kids says, he will always remember the look in that teacher’s eyes, and the amazing thing was that when the teacher shook hands with the kid, he wouldn’t let go. He held that kid’s hand tight, looked him in the eyes and said, “I want you to do something for me. Come out and play football after school today. I’m the coach of the team.” The kid agreed. 


This teacher was legendary high school coach, Jody Swick. He was an amazing father figure and a legend in the community. He mentored and tutored this big kid. His grades got better, and the next thing you knew, this kid was being recruited by some top colleges to play football. This kid thanks the coach for changing his life. Instead of calling school security he looked this kid in the eyes and saw something. This kid went on to be a great football player for the University of Miami, and was drafted by the Canadian Football League. He was cut, and then he decided to become a professional wrestler, like his grandfather. He became an eight time WWE champion and has had an amazing movie career. He is none-other than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Thanks to a teacher in a teacher’s lounge who was a friend of the friendless.

 

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 


As we prepare for communion this morning: I pray, God, may we not be always doing for you, God may we just “be” for you.


Amen. 



January 28, 2018

  


Mark 1:21-28


Jesus Drives Out an Evil Spirit


21 They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching— with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.


Occasionally there is a passage of scripture that pops up, like today, a piece I just want to run away far away from, like this: an exorcism story. at first I thought this might be better for a Harry Potter movie, but I stuck with it, and it spoke to me, so I hope it does the same for you today.


Now If you meet people from third world countries they will tell you demons and demon possession are real stuff. But us scientific, linear thinking, folks in the West, well we can easily explain away this encounter as possibly mental illness, or I’ll bet if you asked a police officer about the behavior of a crack addict, it might be similar to what we read about today. We just don’t know, what this describes.


But my goal is to interpret what this scripture says to us today, as a church, and as disciples in 2018. Besides, I have enough trouble trying to figure out my own behavior sometimes. Which reminds me, did you know that studies say that psychotherapy works 10 times faster for men than women? Hooray for us guys! 

I was just astounded at the research and the reason why they say this? It’s because when it comes to going back to childhood, men are already there.


Now let's go to the village mentioned here in verse 21. It’s called, "Capernaum." It’s a real place, a few miles above the sea of Galilee, on the Northern end of the famous Jordan River. Its ruins can still be found today. It was and still is a strategic boundary. Today it’s a military hotspot, between Israel and Syria, so hold on to that idea of hostile boundaries as we move forward.


So, I'll add some more intrigue to this location. This was the place where trade routes crossed from three continents, so there was a major Roman toll station here, and of course a tax office, and people just loved tolls and taxes, especially in this setting, when it represented a brutally oppressive, slave making foreign empire.


We know that Jews hated Rome, and its oppressive and unfair taxes worse than we hate the IRS, which reminds me, did you hear about the guy who hijacked the plane of IRS agents coming back from their annual convention? He threatened to release an agent every hour if his demands weren’t met. So the IRS and Rome are offensive, dirty, unholy invaders, and religiously unclean. This is why some scholars think that the demons here might allude to Roman occupation. 


So, our theme these past few weeks of Epiphany has been discipleship, what does it mean be a disciple, how does this change us, and how exactly does the kingdom of God in the form of Jesus enter and change us, I believe this passage speaks to this, and you may find that it has something to do with our well-guarded borders, the ones in our hearts.


So what about this Roman border station outside of Capernaum? In verse 21, imagine it with me, camels and donkeys loaded with taxable imports, agents checking them in and out, soldiers watching nearby, you aren’t cheating on your taxes here. And down the hill, in the valley below, the entrance to the Holy Land, a people conquered, a nation who claimed to be God’s people, ruled by an oppressive evil empire that they despised, then Jesus enters the synagogue, the Holy place. This was the very identity of Jews, so he begins teaching about His Kingdom, and the people are amazed, astonished, his teaching was powerful, it crossed their borders, it ripped open spaces in their hearts, he spoke on His own authority, as God, he was the Kingdom of God, he crossed the border into our world, but really for Him there were no borders, so a lot is happening here. I’m out of breath it’s so exciting! But something happened in our story, something pushes back, when there’s change there is always push back, resistance.Look at verse 23, just then there was a man in the synagogue with what? An Unclean Spirit.


I hope you notice that the entering here, the encounter of the evil may have deeper symbolism. It says something to us today. It asks questions of us today:  Is it the Roman borders, synagogue boundaries, teaching boundaries, change, resistance? What is in our hearts?


Where are your boundaries? Who or what is guarding those borders?

But it may ask you an even bigger question: What “unclean spirits” might we need to exorcise in order to fully embody his spirit of love and mercy?


Lots of questions today, let’s try and get some answers, starting in verse 22. They were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as having authority and not as the scribes. What was the difference? Scribes normally taught in the synagogues, they taught about oral traditions, how to follow the law, they debated, their sermons were way longer than ten minutes and no jokes allowed, but their goal was to preserve the traditions and the rituals, so why was Jesus’ teaching so authoritative? Because he said stuff like this:

“You have heard that it was said. . . . But I say to you . . .” (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28).

He uttered commands, on his own authority: “You must love the Lord your God…You will love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12: 30-31). “This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you” (John 15: 12). Jesus enters our world, he crosses with authority, but we have a choice, you have a choice, as you always do. What are you going do?


Our Kingdoms, my empire's, the power structures in our lives, influences, politics, economics, religion; it’s all here today, but I’m supposed to be telling us all how to be disciples? How do we become disciples? It’s here in Jesus’ message. It’s a message of liberation, freedom, release from the bondage to a slavish obedience to an evil and oppressive power. This was a radical message, that awakened love in people's hearts, it overcome their guilt, it was change, and it gave them hope beyond death. We preachers hate these exorcism stories, but maybe they end up being really important?


So what does all this represent in your life today? I saw a presentation in my class this week on leading change: it said that 65% of the people who come to church, are struggling with a host of issues, issues they feel utterly powerless over, health, mobility, taxes, job stress, finances, substance abuse, you fill in the blank. How might these words transform us today? What “unclean spirits” or better yet what forms of empire might we need to exorcise in order to fully embody His spirit of love and mercy?


A famous military leader wrote in his autobiography about his first assignment as a young Army officer during the tense parts of the Cold War near the border of what was East and West Germany. His duty was to lead the platoon that guarded a remote part of this tense border. One day his Captain dispatched him to a tense area where East Germans tried to escape to the West and East German soldier ran across the border, firing upon those who risked their lives for freedom. He alerted his men as he hastily loaded the magazine of bullets into his .45 pistol, jumping on the jeep headed for the border. He hadn’t gone far, when he noticed his loaded .45 was missing. Now frozen with fear, he looked down the bumpy road, in shock, losing a weapon in the Army, especially for a new young officer, this was serious! He had no choice but to radio back to the Captain of his loss, the Captain of course said, “You did what? Well, continue with the mission”! 


When he returned from the border mission, nervously contemplating his fate, his Captain called him over, and said: “I have something for you” he handed him his pistol and said some kids in the village found it on the road where it fell out of your holster. The young officer was mortified, a cold chill crept up his spine. "Yeah," the Captain said, “luckily they got off one round before we heard the shot and took the gun away." The young officer, said the possibilities spinning through his mind left him limp! The Captain looked at the young officer and said, "Don’t let that happen again!" The Captain drove off in his Jeep and, the officer checked his pistol and strangely, the magazine of bullets was all the way full; the gun had not even been fired!


Later the officer found out that his gun was actually dropped in his tent, before he even got in the Jeep. The wise Captain made up the story to give him a good scare. This Officer wrote in his book that today the Army would have launched an investigation, called in lawyers, made a bad mark in his file, but the Captain said gave him the chance to learn from his mistake, this was an example of intelligent and compassionate leadership. Nobody his book says ever made it to the top without slipping up. When someone stumbles, I just don’t believe in stomping folks down. “Pick ‘em, up dust ‘em off, and get ‘em moving again,” wrote former four star General Colin Powell.


So what’s happening on your border? Jesus’ presence, His word, His deeds, His Kingdom, sometimes it threatens forces in our lives. Maybe you simply need to let Jesus through. Are you tired of guarding? Being a disciple in the Gospels is often about change and letting go, most often on the inside. Maybe we simply need to admit we can’t do this on our own. We need God, we need help. That might be the first step, and if you just take that step, Jesus will cross through your boundary to meet you just as you are. He’ll Pick’ you up, dust ‘you off, and get ‘you moving again. Jesus simply says, "I love you just as you are.  I’m just glad you are here, let's get moving together!"


Amen.