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Rev. Rhoda's Weekly Sermons

(Sermon, "GOD'S JUDGMENT" as Preached)

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GOD'S JUDGMENT

7/2/17

Revelation 14:14-20 (NIV)

I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.  Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.

 

 

Our summer sermon series is drawn from the congregation’s list of favorite hymns or songs.  When I saw “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” I became excited about it being perfect for July 4 weekend.  As I begin to prepare for this sermon, I can’t help but wonder about how to present the information.

You see, when I was a computer consultant, I installed the Kenton County Water District’s payroll system.  After returning from vacation, the main bosses in the office invited me to lunch.  Sitting around the table of about 8 persons, I was asked about my vacation.  We had just taken our children to the Gettysburg State Park to see the reenactment of the battles of Gettysburg.  As I started to talk about the things I had learned from the week there, I was suddenly interrupted by my lunch companions that I had it all wrong.  Their defense of the south confused me.  “After all,” I said to them, “Kentucky never succeeded from the union.  Even as a slave state, you still fought with the north.”  They continued to confront with me how the north started the war and why Kentucky was not allowed to leave.  Again I answered them, “Wait a minute, the war started with the shots fired on Fort Sumter by the south.”  The response to that was, “Winners always get to write the history books.”  I changed the conversation.

So you can see my apprehension.  Where does this congregation stand with regards to the Civil War?  But, according to the Margaret Garner story on our website, written by Ruth Brunings, a member of this church, Presbyterians led the anti-slavery movement in Kentucky, joined by Methodists and Baptists.  Presbyterians believed slavery was morally wrong, but could only be ended by government.  Therefore, they saw that the role of the church was to change the hearts of men so men would change the law.”[i]  I am going to proceed believing we are on solid ground.

Our story regarding this hymn begins with John Brown, born in 1800.  He “was an American abolitionist who believed armed insurrection was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States. … Dissatisfied with the pacifism of the organized abolitionist movement, he said, "These men are all talk. What we need is action—action!" … In 1859, Brown led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry to start a liberation movement among the slaves there. During the raid, he seized the armory; seven people were killed, and ten or more were injured. He intended to arm slaves with weapons from the arsenal, but the attack failed. Within 36 hours, Brown's men had fled or been killed or captured by local pro-slavery farmers, militiamen, and U.S. Marines led by Robert E. Lee. He was tried for treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, the murder of five men, and inciting a slave insurrection. He was found guilty on all counts and was hanged.”[ii]

From this incident rose the song “John Brown’s Body.” “The song was popular in the Union during the American Civil War. The tune arose out of the folk hymn tradition of the American camp meeting movement of the late 18th and early 19th century. According to an 1890 account, the original John Brown lyrics were a collective effort by a group of Union soldiers who were referring both to the famous John Brown and also, humorously, to a Sergeant John Brown of their own battalion.[iii] 

You have heard the tune, [sing first verse].  The other verses are “He’s gone to be a soldier in the Army of the Lord, “followed by “John Brown’s knapsack is strapped upon his back,” and “John Brown died that the slaves might be free,” ending with “The stars above in Heaven now are looking kindly down.”

“In November of 1861, Julia Ward Howe, the daughter of a well-to-do New York City banker, was touring Union army camps near Washington, D.C. with Reverend James Freeman Clarke and with her husband, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, … . During the course of their camp visit, the group began to sing some of the currently popular war songs, among them ‘John Brown's Body.’ In one of those rare flashes of inspiration that leave their mark on the history of a nation, Reverend Clarke was moved to suggest that Mrs. Howe pen new lyrics to the familiar tune. She replied that she had often thought of doing just exactly that.

“The following morning, as Mrs. Howe later described it, she ‘awoke...in the gray of the early dawn, and to my astonishment found that the wished-for lines were arranging themselves in my brain. I lay quite still until the last verse had completed itself in my thoughts, then hastily arose, saying to myself, “I shall lose this if I don't write it down immediately.”’

“Mrs. Howe's lyrics first appeared on the front page of the Atlantic Monthly in February of 1862. Editor James T. Fields, who paid her $5 for the piece, is credited with having given the song the name by which it is known today.”[iv]

Yesterday, in preparation for this sermon, I watched the movie “Gettysburg,” which was based upon the novel “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara.  Although we cannot know the actual conversations said at that time, Mr. Shaara took great care in being true to the battle and today’s knowledge of the characters.  Even though the south won the first day of the battle, based upon several unusual events; the war turned to the advantage of the north that day on July 2nd and 3rd.  When General Lee is told that tomorrow is the 4th of July, shortly before Picket’s charge, he declares “The Lord has a sense of humor.”  Throughout the movie, Lee is looking for the “will of God” and believes he is drawn into this battle by God’s will.  Until the battle at Gettysburg, General Lee has won every battle.  He has outmaneuvered the Union army every time even with the Union’s larger fighting force.  But this time, his decisions do not work.  Gen. Lee then says “God’s will be done.”  While singing the words of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” one cannot miss that Mrs. Howe believes the Union was fighting for God’s justice. 

Although today, most believe slavery is wrong, these southern soldiers believed they were fighting for states’ rights.  They were fighting for their home state to be able to choose its own country.  What impressed me the most in this movie was the commitment!  As the south advanced on cemetery ridge in Picket’s charge, it looked like an advancement toward death.  And the day before, Colonial Lawrence Chamberlain of the Union army held the right flank “to the last.”  They ran out of ammunition as the southern soldiers kept coming again and again.  So, the colonial ordered a bayonet charge.  53,000 soldiers, the total of both sides, died in those three days of battle.  They were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.  They had left their homes, their families, and the comforts of life behind to fight.  General Lee called it duty.

Where are our loyalties?  Where are our commitments?  Peter writes “Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:17 NIV) and follows that up with “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11 NIV).  One day God’s judgment will come for everyone.  We don’t usually worry about it.  After all, we have confessed our sins and God has forgiven us!  Have we really confessed them all?  What about the command to seek God’s kingdom first?  And if we have confessed that one, does it make a difference in the way we live on?  Or do we leave our time of confession and still make ourselves top priority?  If every Christian, every person who claims the name of Jesus Christ would make God’s Kingdom their number one priority, how much difference do you think it would make in our country?  May God never again need “loose the fateful lightening of his terrible swift sword” on this country.

Let’s pray.

 

(Sermon, "UNLESS THE LORD" as Preached)

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UNLESS THE LORD

6/25/17 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 127:1-2 (NIV)

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.  In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.

 

We are beginning a new series for the summer.  Fortunately, this series is not connected like usual, one building on another.  I will be able to skip the review at the beginning of each sermon.  Our series this summer focuses on favorite hymns or songs of the congregation and the story behind them.  The Worship Committee had asked for a submission of songs; and we received a great number.  It would have been fun to talk about each one, but I had to limit the number so this series would end on Labor Day Sunday.  I tried to pick songs covering a variety of topics and eras, as well as those with interesting stories behind them. 

Today’s choice is “The Church in the Wildwood.”  It is a favorite of this congregation and often requested to be sung on the birthday of this church.  I have printed a picture of the actual church the song was written about on the front of the bulletin.  The church is located in Bradford, IA.

“The first settlers came to the Bradford area in 1848 and with an abundant water supply and virgin timber, the town grew.  By 1855 the first members of the Puritan-Congregational Church had begun holding meetings.  By 1856, Bradford had 500 residents and was the first town in this part of Iowa.

“A young music teacher named William Pitts was traveling by stagecoach from Wisconsin to Iowa to visit his future wife.  While waiting for the stagecoach horses to be changed, he walked down Cedar Street and saw the empty lot where the church now stands.  Being a romantic young man, the thought came to him of what a charming setting the spot would make for a church.  Returning home, he wrote the poem ‘Church in the Wildwood,’ and later set it to music.  He put it away in a drawer and forgot it.

“Meanwhile, church members grew tired of meeting in places such as the lawyer’s office, abandoned stores and parishioners’ homes.   They began making plans to build a church.  A family in the parish gave them the property.  When Rev. Nutting arrived, talk of building became serious.  Limestone was quarried and by 1860 the foundation was laid.  The Civil War slowed the work, but when one family gave trees and another donated the sawing of the lumber, the work never really ceased.  By 1862 the building was enclosed and not a penny had been spent.  When it came time to paint the building, the cheapest paint to be found was Ohio Mineral Paint, which would protect the wood but which was unhappily brown.  With help from friends in the east, the building was finished, complete with bell, in 1864.

“Meanwhile, Mr. Pitts had married and was living in Wisconsin.  In 1862 the couple moved to Fredericksburg to be near her elderly parents and Mr. Pitts was hired to teach a singing class at the Bradford Academy.  Imagine his surprise when he saw a little brown church nestled in the very trees where he had stood some years before.  He went home and found the song and taught it to his class who sang it at the dedication service of the church.  Pitts had written a song for a church that wasn’t there.  The congregation had painted their little church brown without ever hearing of the song.”[i] 

Because you are sitting in a sanctuary built within 10 years of this same church, it should be no wonder that everyone here feels a connection to the song and the church in Bradford.  Also obvious to me is God’s hand in the building of this church.  The Scripture read this morning Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1a NIV) surely applies in this situation.   God is responsible for building his church, whether that is in membership or in a physical building.

I get a kick out of the number of “marketing experts” who call or send me e-mails, wanting to help us enlarge our congregation.  Although we have a website and a Facebook page, I believe these are for information purposes only.  Jesus Christ is not a product that needs to be sold.  God’s Holy Spirit is responsible for convicting souls and bringing people to the church where he wants them to serve.  Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1a NIV)

How do we make sure we do not labor in vain?  Laura Tewes has been attending meetings at our presbytery about how to see God at work in our community and join him.  She shared this information at a Deacon/Elder Retreat two years ago.  But session’s response was that our congregation is so busy, taking on such a project requires a commitment that they felt we as a congregation were unwilling to make.  We have difficulty getting Sunday School teachers Children’s Worship leaders to give Sharon and Barb some respite.  We have difficulty getting deacons and elders and committee members.  Transformation 2.0, as the project is called, requires more time than being either a deacon or an elder. 

Are there options that require a smaller time commitment?  The largest Christian congregation in the world is located in Seoul, South Korea.  “It’s the mother of megachurches, with the largest congregation in the world. On a typical day 200,000 will attend one of seven services along with another two or three hundred thousand watching them on TV in adjoining buildings or satellite branches. While some other churches may be losing members, this one just keeps growing. The main sanctuary here holds 21,000 worshipers packed to the rafters seven times every Sunday. Each service has its own orchestra, its own choir, its own pastor. There are hundreds of assistants. There need[s] to be. Each service is translated into 16 different languages for visitors.”[ii]

One of their many pastors came to address our chapel at Asbury while I was in seminary.  This church had very humble beginnings.  Their only “marketing” tool, if you can call it that, was prayer.  It started with a small group gathering for prayer one morning a week.  Jesus said, Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20) 

Today at the church in Seoul, “every morning at 4:30 people come to church, and they pray for one or two hours, and all-night prayer meeting on Friday evening.”[iii]  Gathering for the purpose of prayer is crucial to this church.  Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1a NIV)  You are given an opportunity to gather for prayer in this church, both Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.  Are you willing to see what God can do if just a few will commit to 45 minutes a week dedicated to prayer and praise?  Are you willing to be part of “just a few”?

What happened to the little brown church?  “History was hard on the Little Brown Church.  The railroad by-passed the town and a flour mill moved to New Hampton to be on a bigger river.  The railroad and other industry moved to Nashua.  The town, once the county seat, slowly disappeared.  In 1888, the church building was closed, although the congregation continued to hold Sunday School every week at the school.  Occasional services were held at the building.  In the early 1900’s a Society for the Preservation of The Little Brown Church was started and by 1914, services were again held, as they are now.

“History took another turn when the Weatherwax Quartet traveled throughout Canada and the United States between 1910 and 1921.  Their theme song was “The Church in the Wildwood” and they talked about the little church.  After World War I, highways were improved and cars brought many visitors.  When a School superintendent and a merchants’ daughter were married at the church, a new tradition was started, the ringing of the Church bell. It was a means to proclaim the wedding and pronounce blessings on the new couple.

“In August of 2014, the 74,000 wedding was held at the historic church site.  It remains, as it was founded, a Congregational Church.  The song continues to be sung, as the response to the Benediction, in a little church that is painted brown and sits in the wildwood.”[iv]

In C.S. Lewis’ book, Prince Caspian, a child named Lucy encounter Aslan, the Christ-figure of the Narnia stories, after not seeing him for a long while.  “‘Aslan, you’re bigger,’ she says.  “That is because you’re older, little one,’ answered he.  ‘Not because you are?’  ‘I am not.  But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.’”[v] 

Have we found God bigger as time passes?  Do we trust him to do his will and his pleasure with our church?  Are we willing to look about in our community and discover where God is working?  Are we willing to give of our time to help this church to join God in his work?  Are we willing to gather in prayer to see what God wants to do with the little white church at the corner of Richwood Road and Richwood Church Road?  God does not call us to follow the plan of the little brown church in the vale or the plan of the great big church in Seoul or the marketing plan of advertisers.  God has a plan for Richwood Presbyterian Church.  He expects us to “Ask and it will be given to [us] you; seek and [we] you will find; knock and the door will be opened to [us] you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8 NIV Italics Added)

Let’s now ask.

 


[i] http://littlebrownchurch.org/the-church/history/

[ii] http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2012/08/10/august-10-2012-worlds-biggest-congregation/10162/

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] http://littlebrownchurch.org/the-church/history/

[v] Lewis, C.S. Prince Caspian, The Chronicles of Narnia. New York, NY:  Collier/Macmillan, 1985.

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(Sermon, "ONENESS:  THE TRINITY" as Preached)

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ONENESS:  THE TRINITY

6/18/17 Fathers' Day

 

2 Corinthians 13:11-14 (NIV)

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.  Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.  May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 

Paul’s closing to this letter should sound very familiar.  Only I have added adjectives to grace, love and fellowship.  Even my additions are not original.  I don’t remember where I heard this blessing with “amazing grace” and “extravagant love” and “intimate fellowship,” but it had such an impact on me that I decided to use it. 

Although last Sunday was Trinity Sunday, because of my illness upon returning from Europe, you are hearing the Trinity Sermon today.  In one sense, this seems appropriate in light of our calling God, our heavenly Father.  But, why the idea of the Trinity?  It is not a Biblical term.  Last week’s Scripture, Jesus repeated over and over how he was in the Father and the Father was in him and claimed to be one with the Father.  Yet how does that translate into Trinity?

Kevin DeYoung explains “The doctrine of the Trinity can be summarized in seven statements. (1) There is only one God. (2) The Father is God. (3) The Son is God. (4) The Holy Spirit is God. (5) The Father is not the Son. (6) The Son is the not the Holy Spirit. (7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father. … The Athanasian Creed puts it this way: ‘Now this is the catholic faith: That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons, nor dividing their essence. For the person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit, still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.’

“… We want to be true to the biblical witness that there is an indivisibility and unity of God, even though Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can all be rightly called God. The Persons are not three gods; rather, they dwell in communion with each other as they subsist in the divine nature without being compounded or confused.

“…Although the word ‘Trinity’ is famously absent from Scripture, the theology behind the word can be found in a surprising number of verses. For starters there are verses that speak of God’s oneness (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6; 1 Tim. 1:17). Then there are the myriad of passages which demonstrate that God is Father (e.g., John 6:27, Titus 1:4). Next, we have the scores of texts which prove the deity of Jesus Christ, the Son—passages like John 1 (‘the word was God’), John 8:58 (‘before Abraham was born, I am’), Col. 2:9 (‘in Christ all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form’), Heb. 1:3 (‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his being’), Tit. 2:13 (‘our great God and Savior Jesus Christ’)-not to mention the explicit worship Christ willingly received from his disciples (Luke 24:52; John 20:28) and the charges of blasphemy leveled against him for making himself equal with God (Mark 2:7). Then we have similar texts which assume the deity of the Holy Spirit, calling Him an ‘eternal Spirit’ (Heb. 9:14) and using ‘God’ interchangeably with the ‘Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor. 3:16 and 1 Cor. 6:19; Acts 5:3-4) without a second thought.

“…

“The doctrine of the Trinity, as summarized in the seven statements earlier, is not a philosophical concoction by some over-zealous and over-intelligent early theologians, but one of the central planks of orthodoxy which can shown, explicitly or implicitly, from a multitude of biblical texts.”[i]

The Trinity is important for understanding ourselves as God’s creation.  “God, unlike the gods in other ancient creation stories, did not need to go outside himself to create the universe. Instead, the Word and the Spirit were like his own two hands (to use Irenaeus’ famous phrase) in fashioning the cosmos. God created by speaking (the Word) as the Spirit hovered over the chaos. Creation, like regeneration, is a Trinitarian act, with God working by the agency of the Word spoken and the mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit.”[ii]  Whether you believe this creation story as a metaphor or literally, this revelation of God’s nature is still true.

Secondly, “Christianity, with its understanding of God as three in one, allows for diversity and unity. If God exists in three distinct Persons who all share the same essence, then it is possible to hope that God’s creation may exhibit stunning variety and individuality while still holding together in a genuine oneness.”[iii]

And finally, We worship a God who is in constant and eternal relationship with himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Community is a buzz word in American culture, but it is only in a Christian framework that communion and interpersonal community are seen as expressions of the eternal nature of God. Likewise, it is only with a Trinitarian God that love can be an eternal attribute of God. Without a plurality of persons in the Godhead, we would be forced to think that God created humans so that he might show love and know love, thereby making love a created thing (and God a needy deity). But with a biblical understanding of the Trinity we can say that God did not create in order to be loved, but rather, created out of the overflow of the perfect love that had always existed among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who ever live in perfect and mutual relationship and delight.”[iv]

What does this mean for us?  Very few of us fail to embrace the work of Jesus Christ.  Accepting his overflow of love in his sacrifice so that we might wear his righteous robes, once we believe comes very easily.  We can almost live the stories of Jesus here on earth and the kindness he showed to needy persons.  Sometimes, his teachings appear difficult, but we struggle through and relate as best as we can.  We have little vision of his heavenly person.  As we picture him or hear his name, do we not conjure up some image from his life here on earth?  It is in Jesus where our most comfortable relationship with the Trinity usually resides.

Our struggle may begin with the Holy Spirit.  Her responsibility is to guide us into truth and convict us when we are wrong.  We like the idea of Jesus forgiving our mistakes, but we don’t like to be told what to do once we have been forgiven.  Should our relationship with the Holy Spirit suffer because of our own self-will, we may try to distance ourselves from this person of the Trinity.  Learning to become sensitive to the workings of the Spirit in our lives must be part of our Spiritual life.  That sensitivity should be followed by obedience.

God the Father’s love is different for each person.  Because God has chosen to use a Father as his metaphor, some will truly appreciate this image while others suffer.  If you read the Pastor’s letter in the newsletter, you can see that I have little trouble referring to God as Father.  But my mother, whose Father was jailed when she was only 12 because of abuse, never prayed to God the Father.  She couldn’t bring herself to do it.  She always prayed to Jesus.  She had memories that needed healing. 

Jesus told a story about the love of God the Father, the story of the Prodigal Son.  Today, on Father’s Day, I pray that you will allow this song to heal any wounds you might have from your earthly father, great or small, in the presence of the Jesus we worship and in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

Let’s pray.

 

 

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(Sermon, "ONENESS:  CHURCH WITH EACH OTHER" as Preached)

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ONENESS:  CHURCH WITH EACH OTHER

6/11/17 Trinity Sunday

John 17:1-23 (NIV)

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:  “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.  I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.  My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

 

According to the gospel writer of John, this is the prayer Jesus prayed the night of his betrayal.  It was before he had gone to the Garden of Gethsemane.  The author chose to record this prayer rather than the one with which we are so familiar where Jesus agonizes over his upcoming death.

There are three parts to this prayer.  First, Jesus prays for himself.  Then he prays for his disciples; and lastly for future believers.  When he prays for himself, he is praying for the time beyond the crucifixion, remembering the life he had before the world began.  In this section, Jesus also defines eternal life.  “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3 NIV)  Eternal life is an intimate relationship with God.  This is the oneness I talked about in my last two sermons.

In the second section, Jesus prays for his disciples.  Most of this part of the prayer, Jesus converses with the Father about his relationship with his disciples; but he does ask for three things:  1) that God would protect them so that they may be one in the same way God and Jesus are one; 2) that God would protect them from the evil one; and 3) that they would be sanctified by the truth.

And then Jesus prays for all future believers.  That would be you and me.  But what is interesting here is that he prays for only one thing, but he prays it three times.  We should think this very important.  Also, this is the only time Jesus prays for his future church, the only thing recorded that Jesus prayed for us.  Let us not miss this imperative message.

Verse 21, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”  (John 17:21 NIV)  Verse 22, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—“ (John 17:22 NIV) and verse 23, “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.” (John 17:23 NIV)  We are to be one.  Paul writes about the Spirit of unity in Ephesians as read to us this morning.  What does that mean to us?  Obviously, God enjoys great variety in his people.  We do not share the same talents or same personalities. 

How can we possibly be one?  You will notice with each one of the references to our oneness is a comment on the oneness of Jesus and God the Father.  Verse 21, “just as you are in me and I am in you”; and verse 22, “as we are one.”  And then also our oneness with Jesus, verse 23, “I in them and you in me.”  Are we truly united to each other the way Jesus and God are united in the same purpose? 

As some of you are aware, this chapter in John is part of the Easter Story that I memorized for presentation.  Part of my memorization process is to record the Scripture and listen in my car.  One day as I was working on this particular portion, I happened to be driving to physical therapy which took me off I-71 the Pfeiffer Road exit heading toward Montgomery Road.  As I passed 3 large church complexes along that road, I very flippantly prayed, “So, Lord, how do you feel about this?”  In that moment, I felt an agonizing mental pain that I cannot describe.  It may have lasted only a fraction of a second, but I began to sob.  I had to leave the road because I could not drive safely.  It never occurred to me how much our differences in theology affect our Lord Jesus.

I had Sally read for you the first disagreement recorded in the Christian Church that was not resolved amicably.  Paul and Barnabas had a quarrel over whether or not John Mark was fit to be a companion on their missionary journey.  Paul believed he was not and they parted ways.  For some reason, we Christians use this passage as an appropriate response to disagreements.  I don’t believe we should.  Paul and Mark are reconciled later; for Paul says in a letter to Timothy right before his death “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11 NIV)  Somewhere along the line and for some reason, Paul’s opinion was changed.

But our list of disagreements, that is in the Christian Church, goes on.  The Trinitarians who declared theology of the Trinity was correct versus the Arians who believed Jesus was subordinate to the Father.  Later there were the Iconoclasts who divided the church over whether the pictures of Jesus displayed in churches was a violation of the Ten Commandments displaying a graven image.  Again, we have the large split in the church between the East and West, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.  This year we celebrate the 500th year of what we call the Reformation, another church split.  And we, Protestants, just keep splitting.  Currently, we are now at about 9,000 different denominations.  In all of Christianity, there is estimated to be about 33,000 denominations. 

“I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me.” (John 17:23 NIV)  No wonder the Lord Jesus has a deep sorrow over his church.

What can you and I do about it?  We can start with ourselves.  I firmly believe the answer is in prayer and listening to the spirit.  There is nothing in me that can believe that God would tell me one answer and give you another, just so we can duke it out.  If we are getting different answers, it can only mean one thing.  One of us or both of us are not listening to the spirit of God.  We need to get on our knees in prayer.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “we need to agree to disagree agreeably.”  Now I believe this is true if we are talking about what color to paint the sanctuary or whether or not our worship should be at 10 or 11 AM on Sunday.  I don’t believe for one second that God really has a preference on such matters.  In such matters, I would be very careful if someone said “God told me to tell you…”

But if I think John Mark is suited for the ministry and needs a second chance and you don’t believe he is, leaving in sharp dispute does not reflect a unity of the spirit in God’s church.  Now we do believe God uses our mistakes.  As a result of this dispute, two missionary teams went out preaching the gospel.  But what about the argument that was left in the church of Antioch?  Even though Paul wrote most of our New Testament, he was wrong.  Because somewhere along the way, Mark proved he was suited for the ministry and became a help to Paul. 

I have seen it work before.  I have seen those in disagreement pray together, pray apart and continue to pray until God reveals the answer.  Unfortunately, most of us can’t be on our knees that long, physically or mentally.  But prayer is the answer.  The best prayer would be “Change my heart, O God.”

 

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 (Sermon, "BE GENTLE WHEN YOU TOUCH BREAD" as Preached)

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GUEST SPEAKER:  REV. DICK FOUSE

6/4/17 Pentecost Sunday

John 6:41-57

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(Sermon, "ONENESS:  JESUS WITH THE CHURCH" as Preached)

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ONENESS:  JESUS WITH THE CHURCH

5/28/17

  (Sermon as Written)

John 14:15-31 (NIV)

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.  Because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”  Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”  Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.  All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.  I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.  Come now; let us leave.”

 

We continue with the words of Jesus on the night of his arrest in the garden.  The Last Supper is over and these are his final words to the disciples.  Last week, we talked about Jesus’ relationship with God the Father.  Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?”  (John 14:9b-10a NIV)  This creates a “oneness” between God the Father and God the Son.  Trying to understand this relationship has developed the theology of the Trinity, a concept not specifically referred to the Bible.

But now Jesus continues his talk about “oneness” moving the information from Jesus and his Father to the relationship that exists between himself and his disciples.  Because of the information given in this text, we can assume this refers to future disciples as well.  That is, us, his church. 

In addition, Jesus introduces us to the third person of the Trinity, the Spirit of Truth, who is most often referred to in the News Testament as the Holy Spirit.  Jesus in this text calls him “another advocate.”  Another, because Jesus is our first advocate.  An advocate, because an advocate is “a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc. (usually followed by of); such as “an advocate of peace.” (dictionary.com)  This advocate, according to the text “lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17b)  Jesus goes on to say, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”  (John 14:20 NIV)  It may be difficult to ascertain what day Jesus may be alluding to in this text, but it makes sense to me that he is talking about the day the Holy Spirit comes to the disciples.  For them it was the day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate next Sunday.  For us, it is the day we become a disciple of Jesus.  There it is, the “oneness” with Jesus as his Spirit of truth lives in us.  How can it be doubted that we are called to be one big happy family?  Yet, as Christians, we should be the first to admit that we are a long way from the truth of that “oneness.”

What have we missed?  In discussing the Holy Spirit’s coming, Jesus continues with this message “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  (John 14:26-27 NIV)  What have we missed?  We are not listening to the Holy Spirit’s teaching and we are not accepting his peace.

To listen to the Holy Spirit remind us of everything Jesus taught, we must first come to learn everything Jesus taught.  If someone were to read to you a list of 100 sayings and ask you to identify how many of those sayings Jesus said, would you be able to do it?  Perhaps I should hand out a test.  The directions would read, “Listed below are 100 sayings.  Identify those sayings that come from the mouth of Jesus.”  Would you pass or fail that test?  Only you can answer that question. 

Secondly, we refuse to accept the peace that Jesus offers.  “Peace in this world is always precarious, always threatened.  We can have it for a while, only to be robbed of it again.  Just as the surface of the ocean can be calm for a while, then erupt into violent swells, so our peace seems always at risk of falling apart.  Even those who have everything going for them—health, relationship, wealth—must live with the knowledge that at any moment these things can be taken away.

“Allowing God to order things in his way and in his time is hard because it means letting go of things we want to hold on to.  And letting go of things that really do need fixing can feel like injustice, irresponsibility, or indifference on our part.  Sometimes [we] have even felt guilty about trying to leave in God’s hands the things [we] know [we] cannot change, as if worrying about them means [we/re] doing something positive about them.  But that’s shallow thinking on [our] part.  [Peace] of soul is not equal to being in control.  Far below the surface of the ocean lie depths that are undisturbed by the fierce storms that rage above.  Where we see only choppy waves God sees the potential for calm and the path to peace and order.”[i]

If you remember nothing else from today, think of the videos shown the children.  We saw the waves of a ship trying to travel above the surface.  Then we saw the song from the “Little Mermaid” movie.  There was a spiritual lesson there for all of us.  We can ride with waves on the surface, hoping for calm waters.  Or, we can go to the place Sabastian sings about “Under the Sea.”

Darling it's better
Down where it's wetter
Take it from me
Up on the shore they work all day
Out in the sun they slave away
While we devotin'
Full time to floatin'
Under the sea

Nobody beat us
Fry us and eat us
In fricassee
We what the land folks loves to cook
Under the sea we off the hook
We got no troubles
Life is the bubbles
Under the sea (Under the sea)

“Have you noticed how easy it is to hand over the steering wheel of your life when the waters are calm?  It is easy to trust God when we have already engineered the outcome we want.  It isn’t so easy—but this is what we request in our prayer—to tell God we will no longer fight for absolute control because we trust his control is best.

“Peace does not begin with nations, or even among family members or friends.  It begins with our own humble relationship with God.  It begins when we pray, ‘God, grant me your peace, in your way, in your time.’ …

“We, like Saint Paul before his conversion, are often ‘kicking against the goads’ (Acts 26:14), resisting God’s plan for us, and this brings us stress and anxiety.  Worrying, because we fail to trust, we are left restless and agitated.”[ii]

“The great German theologian Karl Adam once write that ‘reality is the expression of the Father’s Will.’  Isn’t that consoling?  God’s will—the good he does and even the evil he permits in this fallen world—is never for our destruction, but always for our good!  Remember the words of Jeremiah: ‘For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope’ (Jeremiah 29:11).”[iii]

Let’s pray.

 


[i] Morris, Father Jonathan. The Way of Serenity. Harper Collins Publishing: New York, NY, 2014 p. 14.

[ii] Ibid. pp. 14-15.

[iii] Ibid. p. 17.

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(Sermon, "ONENESS:  JESUS WITH GOD" as Preached)

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ONENESS:  JESUS WITH GOD

5/21/17

 (Sermon as Written)

John 14:1-14 (NIV)

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”  Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

 

This text from the gospel of John is rich in information about our God.  Jesus is talking to his disciples that Thursday night before his arrest.  They have not reached the garden where Jesus will pray.  However, the Passover meal has been completed.  Jesus has already washed their feet and shared the bread and wine which we continue to emulate 2000 years later.  Judas has left and gone to the priests to carry out his betrayal.  Jesus is trying both to warn his disciples and to comfort them.  It is beginning to sink into their uneducated minds that Jesus intends to leave them. 

Jesus appears to be talking to them of mystical things and they are truly trying to understand him.  Jesus continues to refer to God as his father and even this seems to confuse the disciples.  In fact, these concepts often confuse people even today.  The idea of the Trinity is as much a mystery to us today as it was 2000 years ago.

The Trinity is not a definition God uses of himself in the Bible.  The idea of Trinity was not in existence until nearly 250 years after Jesus was crucified.  Why did the Trinity become a part of our theology?  What brought the notion into the gospel of Jesus Christ?  Reading our New Testament lesson today can certainly bring some understanding to the questions that began to develop in the minds of our forefathers. 

Philip opens a can of worms when he says “Show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” (14:8 NIV)  We could do an entire sermon on the phrase, “that will be enough for us.”  With humanity’s insatiable desire for undeniable evidence, I truly doubt that would have been enough.  However, the response of Jesus leads us into the beginning of the mystery of the Trinity.

Jesus answers, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?”  Jesus is clearly stating that either he is the Father or that he is an exact replica of the Father.  But just in case Philip and the other disciples miss his point, he emphasizes it not once but three more times.  Verse 10, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?  I do not speak on my own authority.  Rather, it is the Father, living in me, doing his work.” (14:10 NIV) And then again, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”  (14:11 NIV) 

At first, the image this draws up for me is a Marvel Comic superhero.  The superhero has wonderful powers and does acts of kindness without others knowing his or her secret identity.  Then the superhero removes his mask (or puts on his glasses) and ordinary clothes and continues living a normal life.  It appears that the superhero and the alter ego are two different people, but in reality they are one.  Jesus is the every day mild mannered reporter and God the Father is Superman.

But that doesn’t work.  When Jesus is baptized, who is the voice that speaks from heaven?  When Jesus is on the cross, who is Jesus telling us has abandoned him?  When Mary met him outside the tomb on Easter morning, why would Jesus say he needed to ascend to God the Father if he is God the Father?  These questions cannot be answered if we go with the “Secret Identity” theory.   For if Superman had been crucified, Clark Kent would no longer exist.  And the world was certainly not without God the Father during Jesus’ three days of death!

The conclusion of this analysis by the ancient fathers was the beginning of trying to understand what will become known as the Trinity.  What can we discern from this passage that would aid us in our daily lives?  Should we dwell on the mystery or should we draw from Jesus’ words a useful lesson? 

Jeremiah writes, “This is what the Lord says:  ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this:  that they have the understanding to know me.’”  (Jeremiah 9:23-24a NIV)  It is through the character of Jesus that we learn about the character of God.  And God wants to be known by us.  Jesus and God are one.  We do not have a cruel God of the Old Testament and a loving God in the New.  God’s character does not change.

“So, if you’ve ever wondered what the God the Father thinks about death, look at Jesus, weeping at the tomb of Lazarus.

If you’ve ever wondered what God the Father thinks about your sin, look at Jesus, dying in your place so that you might be forgiven.

If you’ve ever wondered how God the Father feels about social outcasts who are shunned by everyone in society, look at Jesus reaching out and actually touching lepers and making them clean. Look at Jesus sitting down at a meal with prostitutes, sending them on their way forgiven, full of joy, and for the first time in their lives, feeling clean.

If you’ve ever wondered how God the Father thinks about religious hypocrisy, listen to Jesus denounce the Pharisees in righteous anger.

If you’ve ever wondered what God the Father thinks about disease and paralysis and blindness and deafness, watch as Jesus heals all who are brought to him.

If you’ve ever doubted whether or not God the Father loves you, listen to Jesus [as described by the gospel writer.  “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1 NIV)] 

If you’ve ever questioned how low God the Father might go in serving you, look at Jesus on his knees washing the filthy feet of his disciples.

If you’ve wanted to know how God the Father feels about exploiting religion for personal monetary gain, watch Jesus as he explodes in the Temple, turning over tables, and rebuking those who turned the house of prayer into a den of thieves.

If you’ve wondered what God the Father is like in the depths of his heart, look closely at the mercy of Jesus, look at his kindness and authority and power and compassion and joy and peace. Look at and listen and watch and meditate on all that Jesus is, says, and does.”  [http://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/in-seeing-jesus-we-ve-seen-the-father Italics Added]

“Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (14:10 NIV)

Let’s pray.

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GUEST SPEAKER:  SHARON WILCOX

TO MOTHERS, WITH ADMIRATION AND LOVE

Mothers’ Day * 5th Sunday of Easter

5/14/17

 

(With short notice to prepare I was looking around and found this profound sermon by Dr. Judith B. Carlson, which is perfect for us today. )

Let us pray:

Gracious God, on this day of celebrating your love, we lift to you those

who have given us life…those who have loved us…and those who have taught us…our Mothers. May your blessings pour out upon the women who gave us birth, and those strong women of faith who have been Mothers to us along our journey. Amen.

As the Easter season continues and  as we wait for Pentecost. Who could offer us a better lesson in the art of waiting that Mothers-to-be?! They wait…and they deliver!  Pentecost Sunday, the time for delivering the ‘promised reason for waiting.’ A perfect example in our congregation is Laura awaiting the birth of her child.

It seems right to celebrate Mother’s Day today…for there is nothing quite like a Mother’s nurturing comfort! Most of all our focus today is one LOVE, for love is the key ingredient to being a good Mother, just as it is the key ingredient to living a Christian life.

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Children tend to perceive this differently and to use it as a tool to get us to do what they want. They might say, “If you love me you will let me do this or that” or “If you love me you’ll buy me such and such!” Jesus had a sense of expectation rather than one of manipulation; he says “If you love me…then this is the way that love is shown so that all will know you love me.”

And that is how the woman who is credited with founding Mother’s Day spent her time! Looking at the origin of this special day, Anna Jarvis was inspired by her mother, who in the 1850’s organized ‘Mother’s Work Day Clubs’ in the area of Grafton, West Virginia. They provided medicines for the poor, inspected milk for children, provided nursing care for the sick, and ran shelters for those with tuberculosis. At the outbreak of the Civil War she called together her clubs & asked them to make a pledge of friendship & good will. Throughout the war the women nursed soldiers from both sides & saved many lives. She became a genuine peacemaker, bringing families together who had been torn apart. The first ‘Mother’s Day’ was organized in 1907. She campaigned for years to make it an American National event.

She succeeded and in 1915 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the 2nd Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Julia Ward Howe, the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic & a fierce abolitionist, was another big promoter of the idea of Mother’s Day, as she was of obtaining voting rights for women & advocating world peace. So the central concerns of those who established Mother’s Day were civil liberties, international peace, overcoming poverty & ministering for the sick & the poor. Since its beginning, this day has been one for not only remembering our own Mothers, but a day to express the deepest form of love possible.

Biblically speaking, perhaps the story of Sarah, the ‘holy woman of old’ is one of significance for us today. Sarah is among God’s ‘Who’s Who of Faith.’ She was Abraham’s wife & God had promised that she would be the mother of nations. As we know, however, Sarah endured years of barrenness. Becoming impatient, she went to extreme measures to obtain a child by arranging for a surrogate mother with her husband. Her admiration for Hagar turned into explosive envy, a dilemma that affected her faith & drove her back to God, fostering a strong relationship & providing proof that God is trustworthy. Like Sarah, we all have areas in our lives that do not meet our expectations or cause us to envy what others have. She reminds us that although others will fail us, God will not. We are challenged to admire God!

Parenting in today’s society is a rigorous challenge. Both parents frequently must work in order to support their families. We also acknowledge single parents and blended families and realize the complexities. The home is such an influence in a child’s formative years, determining how he or she will live life in the future. If home is a place of unconditional love and grace, then those privileged children will generally perpetuate that.

In Proverbs 31:10-31 we note the ‘Description of a Wife of Noble Character.’ As a wife and as a Mother, her responsibilities are endless…and she is deserving of admiration and reward.

Proverbs 31:10-31New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

10 A capable wife who can find?
    She is far more precious than jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
    and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
    and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant,
    she brings her food from far away.
15 She rises while it is still night
    and provides food for her household
    and tasks for her servant-girls.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength,
    and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
    Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
    and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her hand to the poor,
    and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
    for all her household are clothed in crimson.
22 She makes herself coverings;
    her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the city gates,
    taking his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
    she supplies the merchant with sashes.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her happy;
    her husband too, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the city gates.

 

MOTHERS have provided some significant lessons for us. In the best sense, they Create an Environment of Love. God also shows his continued love through the power & presence of the Holy Spirit. We are called to live that love & to mirror it for others to see…because love builds self-esteem & self worth. Love helps keep lives centered and focused. Love helps us live in selfless ways.

MOTHERS also Create an Environment of Grace. They establish a home life. That is not judgmental, a home where children are given the opportunity to test ideas and attitudes without recrimination or guilt. It is a home life that allows for mistakes, and one that offers forgiveness when mistakes are made.

MOTHERS also Create an Environment of Faith. They guide their children in attending Sunday school & worship; ideally they do it together! An environment of faith implies being actively involved.

Finally, MOTHERS Create an Environment of Security. Our children live in a fragile society today where most things are constantly changing. The only thing that is predictable is that ‘things change!’ The changes our children experience today are different from the changes we experienced, growing up.

One of the best gifts we can offer children is the same gift God gives us…the security of love, and the stability of secure family connections. We offer them security by letting them know that no matter what happens, no matter how much they mess up…we still love them. Jesus says we must show love just as he shows his love for us. The point is that we love.

Sometimes our love and concern is misunderstood by children. Let me share with you a cute story:

A mother was sending her son off to kindergarten; he was walking but did not want her to walk with him. She wanted to support his independence, but also to assure his safety! She had an idea.

She asked a neighbor to follow her son to school in the mornings, staying at a distance so that he would not likely notice her. The neighbor agreed & the next morning she took her toddler son and set out following behind Timmy as he walked to school with another neighbor girl he knew. She did this for a full week.

As you would suspect, Timmy’s friend noticed that the same lady was following them, as she had done all week. She said to Timmy ‘Have you noticed that lady following us to school every day? Do you know her? Timmy replied, ‘Yeah, I know who she is.’ ‘That’s Shirley Goodnest & her daughter Marcy’.’

His friend asked, ‘Who the heck is she & why is she following us?’ ‘Well, Timmy explained, every night my Mother makes me say the 23rd Psalm with my prayers, cuz she worries about me so much. In that Psalm it says “Shirley Goodnest & Marcy shall follow me all the days of my life” so I guess I just have to get used to it!!’

May the Lord bless and keep all Mothers; may He make his face to shine upon you & be gracious to you. May he lift His countenance upon you & give you peace. May YOU be comforted and Mothered. Though you have spent your life taking care of others, may you also take care of yourself. May you be pampered by small indulgences, and may you know the quiet & soothing grace of simplicity.

Conclusion

We bless our Mothers  (and fathers) this day, no matter what they have done or left undone. We do this because we believe in God’s love. For some of us our Mothers are but a cherished memory now; others are blessed with the opportunity to share good times, concerns & conversations. We honor our Mothers & we praise you, O God, for your gift of Motherly love. We are grateful for the loving hands that have worked so hard in raising us, cared enough to guide & encourage us, and to bless us in ways we could not have fully known as children.

Mothers of the world…you may be someone who has given birth, or you may have assumed the role of Mother…but you are God’s love in expression.

No matter your age, where you are, or who the children are who need you, you are there to reassure, to listen, and to love. Of all the roles you fill in life, Motherhood is a constant and rewarding one. God bless you! You are loved and honored for what you have done and continue to do in life as you nurture, love and care for all the children of God. This is the word of God for this day!

 

Amen.

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(Sermon, "THE VOICE OF JESUS" as Preached)

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GUEST SPEAKER:  REV. MONNIE CAINE

5/7/17 3rd Sunday of Easter

John 10:1-10

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(Sermon, "BORN AGAIN BY THE WORD OF GOD" as Preached)

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GUEST SPEAKER:  TOM MELHORN

4/30/17 3rd Sunday of Easter

1 Peter 1:17-25

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(Sermon, "ALL MY LIFE" as Preached)

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ALL MY LIFE

4/23/17 Second Sunday of Easter

(Sermon as Written)

Philippians 3:4b-14 (NIV)

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.  But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 

This Scripture from Philippians is truly a statement of Paul’s commitment to Jesus Christ.  He considered the gains of this earthly life as garbage in comparison to knowing Jesus.  He said he forgets the past and presses on toward the goal.  Paul gave up his entire life as a Pharisee, most likely wealthy, to walk around Turkey on this first missionary trip; and then travel throughout Turkey and Greece on his second and third missionary trips.  He truly left everything behind to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.  To literally emulate Paul in the same fashion today would seem rather silly.  How can we use Paul as an example?

In our Old Testament lesson today, we heard of Ruth’s commitment.  For her, it meant leaving her own country, her own family, and her own gods to serve her mother-in-law.  Her own commitment sounded like this, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17 NIV) Ruth didn’t just say the words, but lived her life from that moment on in obedience to Naomi.

Our Gospel lesson told the story of a young man unable to make the commitment that Jesus asked of him.  (Luke 18:18-30)  He wanted to know what Jesus expected to show his allegiance.  Jesus told him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22 NIV)  He couldn’t do it.  Contrast this lack of commitment to the commitment made by Ruth and Paul.

On Easter Sunday, we asked the question about proof of our faith in our day to day life.  This proof is surely reflected in our commitment.  When we are committed, it naturally happens in everything we do.  Parents who are committed to their children don’t have to tell themselves to do things for their children, doing things for their children happens spontaneously.  If they aren’t doing things for them, they are usually thinking about what they want or intend to do for them.

So, how is the commitment to our faith lived out?  Do we need to walk about Turkey or sell everything we own or leave our own family and friends?  Yes, if that is what Jesus requires of you.  But like a committed parent, our commitment to our God should happen spontaneously, involuntarily, even unintentionally.

The choir sang for us Larnelle Harris’ song “I Give All My Life to You.”  Although that specific line appears nowhere in the song, he does list five things that he is committing to God:  Service, Problems, Family, Future, and Worship.  What does that look like today and for us?

If I give all my service to you, Lord, what does that mean?  Service for Jesus may mean anything we do as long as we do it for him.  When we get someone coffee at the office, if we are thinking of our love for Jesus at the time, it is service for him.  When we do a favor for a friend, if we are reminded of our friendship with Jesus, it is service for him.  You see, it doesn’t have to be only making quilts for those in need or serving dinner at Fairhaven.  Anything we do for another person or persons, known or unknown, and our hearts are full of our love for Jesus at the time, we are giving him our service.  What is our self talk when we serve?  If we can honestly say even if only to ourselves, “I do this because Jesus did so much for me”, then we are giving him all our service.

If I give all my problems to you, Lord, what does that mean?  This one may actually be harder to give to Jesus.  Oh, how we love to carry our problems.  Yes, we pray about them and turn them over to him; and then while walking away from that time of prayer, we go ahead, pick them back up and put carry them in our arms.  We like to think we can handle our problems better than God himself, especially when we have time periods where we see nothing change.  Peter wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7 NIV)  To truly believe he is our God and loves us and cares for us, we must give all our problems to him.  And no taking them back!

If I give all my family to you, Lord, what does that mean?  Let’s imagine a child raised in a Christian home.  At the age of 5, she told Jesus she wanted to live for him and believed he was God.  At the age of 9, she requested to be baptized.  In high school, she renewed her commitment in front of her church; and in college was the first woman to preach in the chapel of a Christian College.  But now she has walked away from all that.  If we give all our family to him, we must believe in the Good Shepherd.  For Jesus said, “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? ... In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”  (Matthew 18:12-14 NIV)  Giving family to him means we carry that burden no longer.  We trust the care of our family to the Good Shepherd.

If I give all my future to you, Lord, what does that mean?  The unknown is very difficult to give away.  Whether it is the future, things that have not happened, or whether it is a problem, something that has happened and is unresolved, God does understand us very well.  He tells us over and over to trust him.  Paul wrote “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)

If I give all my worship to you, Lord, what does that mean?  Worship is “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration.”  The first question we must ask ourselves is what do we adore.  The feeling toward anyone or anything of adoration is the beginning of worship.  Then as we begin to express that adoration, our worship is now demonstrated in our lives.  If we give the Lord all our worship, that means we adore only him.  This may be the most difficult part of giving all our life to Jesus. 

Let’s look at this a little closer.  If someone gives us a gift, do we appreciate the gift or the giver?  Receiving gifts has almost become a lost art in our society.  No matter what effort has been put into giving the gift, we tend to react to the gift rather than the giver.  Our reaction to the gift speaks volumes to the giver of the gift.  Whether we love the gift or hate it, placing the value on the gift will often hurt the one who gave it.

Our worship or adoration of only God recognizes that everything else in our lives is a gift of God.  Our worship should be toward the giver and not the gift.  Since we worship an almighty powerful deity, we need to recognize with Job “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21 CSB)  He deserves all our worship.

So, to give our Almighty God, our precious Lord Jesus and our spiritual guide all our life, we must give him our service, our problems, our family, our future, and our worship.  We could reduce this to three for giving him our problems, our family and our future means we give him our ultimate trust.  I Give All My Life to You.  I Give you my Service.  Each time I serve another, I serve you.  I Give you my Trust.  All my problems, my family, and my future are in your care.  I Give you my Worship.  I will adore you and appreciate your gifts.  I Give All My Life to You.

Let’s pray.

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(Sermon, "GLORY & POWER" as Preached - Includes Song "Simon Zealots")

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GLORY & POWER

4/16/17 Easter Sunday

(Sermon as Written)

 

[Song – Simon Zealots]

During Lent, we have been on a journey comparing the secular rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” to the gospels and the gospel message.  Today, we have listened to the song sung by one of his disciples, Simon the Zealot.  The Zealots were a political movement in the first century which sought to incite the people of Judaea to rebel against the Roman Empire and expel it from the Holy Land by force of arms.  Simon, not Simon Peter, was a member of this movement and Jesus had chosen him as a disciple, one of the twelve.

Although there is nothing in Scripture about Simon trying to convince Jesus to use his power to overthrow Rome, this song would still be perfectly congruent with a zealot’s thinking and the culture of the time.  Simon imagined Jesus receiving power and glory from such a conquest.  Although glory and power were in Jesus’ future, it would not be attained as Simon had declared.  Let us hear from John, the author of Revelation.

 

Revelation 5:6-14 (NIV)

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.  The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.  And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb.  Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.  And they sang a new song, saying:  “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”  Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.  They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.  In a loud voice they were saying:  “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to received power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”  Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:  “To him who sits on the throne and to the lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”  The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.

 

Revelation is written in what is now called apocryphal writing.  It is full of unusual imagery and often needs translation or explanation.  But we do not need a great deal of apocalyptic understanding to get the general idea from this passage.  Jesus is the Lamb of God, having been slain.  Heaven itself is worshiping this Lamb, declaring his worthiness of not only power and glory, but also wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and praise!  Yet Jesus did not overthrow Rome.  He died.  He was killed.  He was an innocent murder victim.  What a powerful reversal of earthly expectations for power and glory versus heaven’s expectations!  

In the “Simon Zealot” song, Jesus tells Simon that he and everyone else lacked understanding of power and glory.  Jesus ends this song by telling Simon that to conquer death, you must die.  Again this seems counter intuitive.  In chapter 12 of the gospel of John, Jesus says knowing death was coming soon “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. … Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”  (John 12:23-27 NIV)

Jesus uses nature itself to help us understand God’s great reversal.  Planting one seed produces more seeds.  But a seed unplanted produces nothing.  Jesus’ death brought us life, because Jesus was obedient to what God the Father wanted.  Jesus gave up everything and lived as one of his creatures.  In return for what Jesus has done for us, he wants us to turn our entire life over to him.

Instead, we tend to be more like the crowd in the Simon Zealot song.  “Christ, you know I love you.  Did you see I waved?  I believe in you and God so tell me that I’m saved.”  We could rewrite this to modern times.  “Christ you know I love you.  I came to church on Easter.  I was baptized as a child, so tell me that I’m saved.” 

Our Christian lives should not be as trivial as those who wanted to follow Jesus into a victory over Rome.  God’s plan for Jesus and for us is so much bigger than that.  He wants us to be his children.  He wants us to deny ourselves.  He wants us to carry our own cross.  He wants us to obey him.  He wants to be the number one priority of our lives.  He wants to celebrate victory in heaven with him.  Jesus cannot celebrate a victory with us if we are not a part of the battle against evil and selfishness. 

There is no question that God has told us “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9 NIV)  That is the only requirement to become a child of God.  But the question must be asked, where is the proof?  If we declare Jesus as Lord, he should have total control of our life.  Would there be evidence displayed in our lives of our commitment to this declaration?  If our judge were to examine our checkbook, would that reveal Jesus as our number one priority?  If someone were to analyze our time, would the total time spent in prayer, worship and Bible study reveal Jesus as our number one priority?  If someone were to look at the hours we spend in service to others, would that provide any proof?  And what if we only participate in one of the three?  Would that convince our judge?

I want to be in that celebration described in Revelation.  I want to hear the voices of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand when they encircled the throne.  I want to hear them in a loud voice say:  “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to received power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”  I want to be there to hear every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, say:  “To him who sits on the throne and to the lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”  And then with the elders, I want to fall down and worship.

I hope you will join me.  I hope you will want to be Jesus’ disciple, deny yourself and take up your cross daily and follow him.  He has already received his power and glory.  Why not join him?

Let’s pray.

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