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Great things come in small packages – Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

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When I was young, my parents instilled the idea that great gifts come in the smallest of packages and small acts of kindness and small suggestions can develop into awesome possibilities. My brother and I looked forward to searching our Christmas stockings for the smallest wrapped gift–it was always the most meaningful, selected especially for each of us to fit our personalities. One year my brother received a Hop-a-long-Cassidy watch (Oh, if he only still had it!) and I got a Cinderella watch. We were learning to tell time and were so excited to have our new timepieces. It was our beginning awareness of the importance of time in our lives.

As we encounter Jesus’ parables in Matthew’s gospel, we are awakened to the potential of the power of God’s kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim. The gospel’s promise had tremendous possibilities from very small beginnings. Matthew was a creative writer, who carefully arranged Jesus’ teachings by similar subjects and that concept rings loud and clear in Matthew 13. Jesus told of a mustard see which is very small and grows to be a great tree. Next, he told about what he had seen his mother do many times–she put a small lump of yeast into the bread dough, knowing that soon it would influence all of the flour. Jesus then speaks about a treasure hidden in a field and how a man spent a lot of money to get that treasure by buying the whole field.

One by one or taken as a whole, these vignettes teach a great lesson to us disciples who so often count the cost, the possibilities of failure, the meager size of the project compared with the problems to be addressed, and we never even get started in the first place. Jesus said, “Don’t underestimate how a little beginning can grow into spectacular results.”

If you have ever braved baking bread, you know that the dough has to rest after it is mixed together with the yeast to allow the yeast to grow and emit gas bubbles. The bubbles, working with the gluten in the flour, allow the bread to expand in a warm, moist environment. The recipe usually gives a suggested time period to allow the dough to rise. If left too long, the mass can grow out of the pan, all over the counter and–even drip to the floor producing a big, gooey mess. At the time the yeast was added to the dough it seemed to be an insignificant little bit of something–but oh, how it grew!

Jesus promised that same kind of result in his kingdom. “The Kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough” (Matthew 13:13) or “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed: when it grows it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree…” (Matthew 12:32). Jesus is telling us that it is an important understanding for us who are working at being faithful disciples, that the coming of God’s Kingdom causes a transformation in our lives as dramatic as yeast in dough.

When millions of people are starving, we do not hesitate to give our money to the CROP WALK or to put our pennies in the little house in the narthex for Presbyterian Women to send in to help alleviate hunger around the world. When so many youth in our culture are neglected and age out of “the system,” we can offer weekend food bags, school supplies, toiletries and basic clothing necessities. When the community asks for volunteers or goods to go to New Life Center or Eve’s Place to aid victims of domestic abuse, we report for duty by bringing in clothing, household goods and toys to help improve the quality of life in the kingdom. God can do great things with what others consider inconsequential, not big enough or valuable enough to make a difference. Sometimes a little thing like a thank you note or a phone call of appreciation becomes a small act of kindness that can develop into more acts of kindness.

Christianity can and does bring about big changes in lives. There are transformations of cranky people into kind and patient ones and greedy folks into generous, sharing ones. Whole communities can be changed with Christian leaven, changed to love people of all races, cultures and abilities. The homeless and battered can be sheltered from the cold and the hungry can be fed. It is not because we began a little bit for the kingdom here with great big designs. It is just that we took what little we could do & trusted that these simple parables of Jesus were correct descriptions of how it is in the kingdom–little does grow into much and is sometimes almost unseen and unheralded.

God has worked it out to provide our forgiveness, salvation, a spiritual life here, and eternal life beyond the grave. It was an unpromising beginning in a cave in Bethlehem, a ridiculed new kind of ministry, a resented-by-the-religious establishment’s relationship with the church, and a disgraceful crucifixion as a common criminal. The world and our own lives have been changed because of those beginnings.

The man in the third parable who found a treasure and bought the field had his priorities right. He spent a lot but he obtained his treasure. This tells us that sacrifice is appropriate in certain cases of kingdom work. In a day of “You will get what’s coming to you,” and “Don’t let anyone take advantage of you,” we have a lesson in kingdom priorities which says that for some things, it is still worth paying the price.

Because of this parable, we must search our souls to discern what price we and our family ought to pay in order to have what our culture says we should have to be happy. Often we are much older before we realize that true joy does not come from possessing things, but in quality relationships with others. Like Jesus’ first disciples, we are called to find ways to plant seeds, even if they are very small. We also must mix in and be the leaven for the whole loaves. God has called us to be workers in the kingdom. Jesus also teaches that there are treasures on earth for which we ought to sacrifice. In the kingdom sacrifice starts small and grows, and we also benefit from sharing our money, our time and our abilities for others. Sharing our whole self is very much called for in God’s kingdom (we pray: thy kingdom come, thy will be done). If we have a vision for the Kingdom of God, we will be warmed and encouraged by these three kingdom parables of Jesus. The smallest understandings of the Kingdom of God can produce great progress as we work together to make the world closer to the Kingdom God desires. Great things do come in small packages, doses, steps, however you want to describe them.

Amen

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Walking in God’s Shoes – Romans 8:12-25

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Last summer I traveled to Toronto, Canada, where I visited the Shoe Museum. It was a most interesting place displaying shoes from antiquity like Greek, Roman and other civilizations, plus “shoes” from Indian tribes indigenous to Canada, right up to contemporary time. Some of the recent shoes were from famous people like Sir Elton John. His shoes were bright red boots with appliqued initials on the calf: E on one boot and J on the other with seven inch platform soles. Would that bring him closer to God or endear him to his audience?

There is a website called Bored Panda that lists weird and some awesome inventions like a Pizza scissors (combination of spatula and scissors that makes it simple to cut and scoop up a slice), a Weight watch belt (with marks on it to help you see as you are getting dressed whether you are gaining or losing weight–boo!), LED slippers (with bright headlights on the front to make it easy to navigate a dark house) and my favorite: No Place Like Home shoes embedded with a GPS. Put on the shoes, let them know where you want to go, and blinking red lights will direct you turn by turn as you take a walk. Don’t worry about the GPS in your phone, these shoes will do the walking! It’s an interesting idea if you are willing to get up and actually walk somewhere. A friend in the first church I served more than twenty years ago said that our modern generation has “gasoline butt” and do not walk anymore–not even to the park only three blocks away! We could call these “shoes made for walking” God Shoes. According to Paul, we make wrong turns repeatedly and are guided more by our own desires than by God’s will for our lives. Paul’s letter includes a discussion of the Spirit in relation to the flesh, moving on to the hope of fulfillment. He notes first that we are debtors, but not to the flesh, for to live according to the flesh (our worldly desires) leads to death by sin that has corrupted our bodies by living within us. If we live by the Spirit of God, then the deeds of the body are put to death and we will live forever with God. All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s children and as God’s children, we are heirs with Christ. The Spirit leads us to praise God our Father by our witnessing to the power of the Spirit; by the way we live our lives in service to God.

Paul does not consider the suffering of our present times to be worth comparing to the glory of God which will one day be revealed to us.

Biblical studies professor Richard Carlson, says that if we choose to live according to the flesh, we are: self-centered (our own desires at the heart of our decision making), self-serving (rather than neighbor-serving or God-serving), fractious (irritable and quarrelsome) and engaged in autonomous living (acting independently, without regard for the surrounding community). It means that we are more concerned about looking out for our personal interests and constantly asking the question, “What’s in it for me?” A pair of LED slippers will be no match for the darkness we will encounter if we choose to live by the flesh. Better for us to put on the “God Shoes.” They do not have to be bright red with our initials emblazoned on them. It is better to be filled with the Spirit; like wearing the fan-dangled GPS shoes that can show us the right way to go to keep from being lost. The leading of the Holy Spirit is God’s greatest invention, one that meets our needs at the most critical times, helping us through the twists and turns of life that lie ahead of us.

We realize that we begin to find our way when we accept that we have been adopted by God. We have a chance to step into God’s shoes. We can be like little kids who clomp through the house wearing Mom’s high heeled shoes or Dad’s hunting boots with dangling leather laces–untied, of course, and feel a connection to our Maker.

As adopted children, ones who are willing to call God our Father (or more intimately, Abba=Daddy), we have rights as “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” As heirs, we can expect to receive grace, love and the guidance of God, which are gifts given to us, not because we earn them, but because we inherit them. As members of God’s family, we are given the right and the privilege to step into God’s Shoes and to walk in his way.

As heirs of God, walking in the Spirit requires us to walk in the way of the cross. The path is other-centered (desires of others at the heart of our decision making), other-serving (rather than self-giving), reconciling (focused on healing broken relationships) and interdependent (acting in concert with people around us). This path is tough but it is grounded in hope. Paul says, “In hope…we wait…in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen. But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (v. 20-25). Hope is what keeps us walking forward; what motivates us to listen to our spiritual GPS when we are faced with fear and sufferings. Hope sets us free to throw away our old shoes of death and decay and to put on God’s shoes and follow the Spirit’s leading. We have this hope because we now know who our real Father is!”

When we follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and walk in the way of Jesus, we can be confident that we are playing a part in the plan that God has for the healing of the entire world. In time, says Paul, “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Until then, we keep walking. We have good days and bad, successes and failures. Some days our struggles are painful and we know that is our reality check. We are waiting for adoption, for the redemption of our bodies. So, tie on your God Shoes and allow yourself to be “led by the Spirit of God,” kind of like waiting as a pedestrian wearing a pair of GPS embedded shoes. Focus on being other-centered, other-serving, reconciling and interdependent, sowing unconditional love to those around you. Hope for what you do not see, and wait for it with patience. God will direct you every step of the way–sometimes through suffering and adversity–knowing that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Nothing in life or death or anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 38-39). Put on your God Shoes and let those shoes keep you walking.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

People Who Influence Our Lives – Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

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TIME magazine did a survey asking who was the most significant person ever.  The top results were not terribly surprising: 1. Jesus, 2. Napoleon, 3. Mohammed, 4. William Shakespeare and 5. Abraham Lincoln.  Presbyterians will note that John Calvin was listed as 99 out of 100!  All of these folks were real people.  Another list was compiled of the most influential people who never lived:  Sherlock Holmes, Wonder Woman, Ebenezer Scrooge, Betty Crocker, Rosie the Riveter, Mary Poppins, Indiana Jones and Romeo and Juliet.  These folks got a fictional life because someone created them.  Without fictitious people we could not speak of a man having an Oedipus Complex or a woman acting like Cinderella, or battle with Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster.  Our lives are richer because of the people who never lived.

The Bible speaks of a Prodigal Son, a fictional character created by Jesus to make a point.  The Sower is another fictional character created y Jesus.  Unlike a cultural character like the Marlboro Man, the Sower has spiritual depth.  No one comes close except perhaps the Good Samaritan.

Jesus has such a huge following on land beside the Sea of Galilee that he retreats to a boat and teaches from there as people stand on the shore.  Jesus teaches in parables, stories that do more than communicate information; they engage people, sometimes delighting them and at other times, forcing them to dig beneath the surface to understand what is being said.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says, “A sower went out to sow.”  In our minds we can picture the Sower in the field with a bag slung over his/her shoulder, scattering seed amongst the furrows.  While walking along some of the seeds fell on the path and the birds came and ate them.  The story never tells us about digging holes or making furrows or covering the seeds with soil.  The Sower just keeps tossing seeds–some on rocky ground and when they sprouted, they were scorched by the sun.  As the Sower continues his work, some seeds land in the thorns and they are choked when they begin to grow.  Some seeds fall on good, fertile soil and bring forth grain, a harvest beyond his wildest dreams:  30, 60, 100 fold.  At first, the farmer seemed a bit careless, tossing seed randomly and assuming that there would be a harvest in spite of the losses.  He believed growth would come.  Jesus tells the account in an effort to keep sowing the word of the Kingdom of God, even though the words land on religious people, some who think he is possessed, on disciples who struggle to understand his teaching, and on one occasion to a rich young man who is unwilling to part with his possessions in order to follow Jesus.  The Sower keeps sowing and Jesus keeps spreading the word.

The Parable of the Sower teaches us that Jesus throws good seed everywhere, knowing that most of it will be destroyed.  As followers of Jesus, we should do ministry and mission in the same way.  We need to welcome others as Jesus has welcomed us, and preach a message of unconditional love and unlimited grace.  Jesus calls us to be faithful to him and to the Kingdom of God, not to be successful in a worldly sense.  It is peculiar, but as Jesus explains this parable to the disciples, the focus shifts from the Sower to the Soil.  When the message emphasizes the Soil, it reminds us that we should all be good soil–people who hear the word of the Kingdom of God and understand it.  Jesus promises that the person who does so bears fruit and yields in multiples.

When you hear about the kingdom, do not be like the path which is susceptible to the evil one who comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart.  Do not be the rocky ground in which a plant has no deep roots and endures for only awhile.  Do not be thorny soil in which the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.  Do not be like Don Draper, a Mad Men protagonist, who never lived but vividly portrayed the dark side of worldly success.  The problem with the soil is that it merely sits and receives the seed.  It cannot choose to be good or bad.  If you saw a farmer yelling at his soil, ordering it to be good, you might wonder if he was what my husband used to say, “His elevator does not go to the top floor” or “He is one brick short of a full load.”

And then, we read that Jesus commands us to “listen!”  Listen to the story of the Sower and learn that Jesus is generous in sharing the word of the Kingdom with all the people of the world.  God’s Word is fruitful and a great harvest is guaranteed.  The Kingdom will come when God decides it will come.

The Sower reveals to us that Jesus is in charge, spreading the Word about the Kingdom of God.  Our job is to trust what he is doing, and to share this message with joy and generosity.  If we do, we will feel the influence of a person who never lived and we will be following a Savior who really lived and died, and rose to be with us forever.

I like to recall stories told by well known radio broadcaster, Paul Harvey.  In 1978, at a Future Farmers of America convention, he gave a speech that was an extension of the Genesis narrative referring to God’s action on the eight day of creation.  Harvey described the characteristics of a farmer in each phrase, ending with the statement, “So God Made a Farmer.”

The speech was used by Dodge Ram in a commercial during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVII (February 3, 2013).  The ad featured photos of a portion of Harvey’s speech.  In collaboration with the Future Farmers of America, Dodge agreed to donate $100,000 for every one million U-Tube video hits the ad received–up to one million dollars!  The goal was reached in less than five days.

Harvey’s speech in reference to God’s creation work on the eighth day went:

  • God needed a caretaker for the land he created.  So God Made a Farmer.
  • God needed somebody with arms strong enough to wrestle a calf and gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild.  So God Made a Farmer.
  • God needed someone  to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to await lunch until his wife was done feeding visiting ladies, and then tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon, and mean it.
  • So God Made a Farmer.

Paul Harvey is a real man with faith in a genuine Savior, Jesus, who listened and understood the parable and related it in a way we can use to visualize the Kingdom of God.  And NOW we know the rest of the story.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Jesus Lightens Our Load – Romans 7:15; Matthew 11:16, 25-30

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Every year at this time we remember our country’s birthday and the amazing freedoms we have that came with a price, the lives of many who fought for independence. In my family we added my brothers birthday, July 3rd to the celebration and reminded him that he got fireworks for his birthday! Our forefathers compiled the Declaration of Independence, granting us particular privileges and freedoms in our nation.

In this morning’s New Testament reading from Romans, Paul. speaks of a law that is good, granting us parameters to abide by and we have a choice to make: we can choose to follow the law or we can opt not to follow the law. If we disregard the civil laws, we pay the price for our errant ways. God’s law has an amazing, generous proviso that would not stand up in the courts of our land. If we sin against God and God’s directives, then Jesus steps in to rescue us from death to sin. Jesus paid the price for us who place our trust in him. On Judgment Day, when we stand before the Lord God Almighty, we are trusting that the judgment will be stamped “PAID” in full by the blood of Jesus. Our court system, as wonderfully designed as it was, will not allow a proxy to serve out a sentence in place of the individual convicted for wrongdoing.

We live in the best of times that can also be called the worst of times, to borrow a line from “A Tale of Two Cities.” Jesus lived in a time period in which folks were just as confused, wayward and hardened of heart with inappropriate behavior–not quite so different from our era. The people of Israel were like children playing, but could not get the other children to celebrate, even when they played music. Some of the kids played going to a funeral” as others were celebrating nearby. How is it that people can be so fickle? We grouse about how burned out we are while enjoying the highest standard of living in the world, along with all the conveniences that minimize work. Who here is unhappy about conveniences like gas/electric stoves versus wood stoves/campfires, automatic dishwashers and vacuum sweepers (I used to marvel at the carpet beater Grandma kept in the laundry room to spruce up the area rugs over the clothesline–no wall-to-wall carpet either!)? Think about the squawking we do as we sit at our desks to answer e-mail or complain that it never lets us off the job. How often can you turn the radio on in your car and hear RAP music expounding/lamenting about the meaninglessness of life and the degradation of relationships between people?

The people in Jesus’ day had their own perverse ways of living and thinking, and attitudes which permeated their religious life. Today we tend to criticize some people for being too “extreme” in their religion, and then we talk about those who appear too life affirming to be “religious.” We are certainly inconsistent nit-pickers! Jesus continued his remarks by giving thanks that his teachings are hidden from the wise and intelligent. Martin Luther, preaching on this text, once said that people in the church do things the way they want and feel that they just improve on everything God does. Jesus, using his authority, attempted to alert listeners to the sins of their times and we need to be aware of the sin in our lives. John Calvin put it this way, “Jesus tells us that the reasons why most men despise his grace, is, that they are not sensible of their poverty…Let our miseries drive us to seek Christ, let us learn, that there is no venom more deadly than the slothfulness produced in us either by earthly happiness, or by a false and deceitful opinion of our own righteousness and virtues.” In modern day “speak,” Calvin means that only when we know how sinful and twisted we are, will we appreciate grace, God’s forgiving love and our need for it.

In spite of economic hard times and poverty around us, America is still the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. Wealth cannot buy the most important things in life–inner peace and love in marriage and family life. Have you noticed people who seem intoxicated with life, rushing from day to day, and wildly plunging into supposed happiness because they do not want to admit that they are unhappy and burdened? People spend a lot of time seeking happiness and wanting to be entertained. Some can become a burden to themselves and then realize that they need a person who can be fully trusted, a person who understands, hears, and bears all things. Webster calls a “friend” a supporter or sympathizer. A friend helps us to make the burdens we encounter a little lighter.

Jesus is a real friend, the one who makes God known to us, and in a way that demands so little of us, just as true friends make few demands of their friends. A good friend once gave me a plaque that read, ” A friend is someone who likes you just the way you are.” Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” In my life experiences, I have learned that friendship is an unearned, joyful gift, a relationship in which people are free to share life in memorable ways. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that Jesus is one who thinks and lives for others. In Jesus we have a full time intimate friend who helps make us sane. With all our squawking despite the machines and tools we have to make our lives easier, our moaning when we should be rejoicing sometimes over things that warrant mourning, we need a sane friend to do some thinking for us. I think we need a friend who will exercise authority, take charge and lighten our burdens.

Besides telling us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, Jesus is reminding us that he is “gentle and humble in heart,” that in him we can find rest. Jesus wants to give us rest from our burdens. Friendship with Christ is not a burden. He makes all our burdens feel so light. It is like the hymn we sang earlier:

“What a friend we have in Jesus., All our sins and griefs to bear!…Do your friends despise, forsake you? In his arms he’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.”

How does Jesus make our burdens light? Jesus takes away our sin and gives us companionship as we deal with personal problems and the social issues of the day. Jesus makes life more bearable and a little more firm by giving us the Holy Spirit. Having the Holy Spirit in the trials, challenges and duties in life helps lift us up and enables us to face them. Friendship with Christ and the Holy Spirit makes life easier and more fun.

Hanging out with Jesus and the Holy Spirit makes life fun and shatters a lot of stereotypes about Christian living, but then Jesus was a fun guy. At least, that is what the gossips said in verse 19. Critics say he was a glutton and a drunk who hung with a rough crowd. He is offering to hang with folks like you and me, so maybe we should party with him–and get the word out about our friend.

“We should never be discouraged. Take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness” and loves us just the way we are.

We have the freedom to choose our friends, who are gifts from God. Happy Birthday America! Thank you for freedom of religion.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Youth Program

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Last week’s message was done by the youth group.  Focus was on songs and the Montlure experience.  They also thanked the congregation for sending them to camp.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Sermon by Lisa Hein – Elder

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As I was getting ready for this sermon- My idea was to show God’s Faithfulness using the Israelites’ Years in the Desert, after God took them from the ruthless slave drivers in Egypt.

Scriptures say- God watched over their journey through the vast desert and HE was with them and they lacked nothing- And that is note-no praise- worthy since there were 600,000 men, not including women and children that came out of Egypt and traveled in the Desert 40 years .

Let’s see- there was Water flowing out from a Rock on more than one occasion- there was Bread from Heaven- called Manna- and for those of us who have never had Manna show up on the ground outside in the morning-.. the bible says, it was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.. Sweet ! And then for Meat- lovers- in the evening- Quail would come in and Cover the Camp, so much so- I am assuming you could step on one and make it a meal- no work involved there, except to cook it as you pleased. When I found this verse it amazed me… –“Neither the clothes on their back or the sandals on their feet wore out in 40 years”. As parents with growing children, that would be a huge savings/blessing, and that comment itself boggles my mind.

I’d say God showed himself Faithful and took good care of the Israelites.

As I felt lead to completely read Exodus which is where the story of the Israelites in Egypt begins and goes through the writing of the 10 commandments to writings of the Law.

It is interesting to see that the book of Exodus starts with the end of Joseph’s story-, the son of Jacob, the one with the coat of many colors- who was sold by his envious brothers and ended up in Egypt, where he became 2nd in power with the King of Egypt. God had put Joseph in that position, so that he would be able to provide for all of his family, the sons of Israel who numbered 70 in all when a 7 year famine hit the world and God was faithful to provide for all their needs and there they stayed.… THEN many years later, the Israelites were “fruitful and multiplied” greatly, becoming exceedingly numerous so that the land was filled with them.. I guess they outnumbered the Egyptians so much, that it freaked them out, thinking if Israel got it in their heads, they could fight against them and leave the country- which would devastate it. So they dealt shrewdly with them, put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, dealing harshly with them, and made their lives bitter with hard labor ruthlessly… wow- that got pretty ugly and then to top it off, the king decided they needed some serious birth control, so he made a law that said to kill all of the Israelite boy babies- Enter Moses- Mom- who believed in God and put Moses afloat down the River Nile, where the Pharaoh’s Daughter came upon him and adopted him for her own. He must have grown up knowing he was an Israelite, because when he was older, he went for a walk, down to where his people were working- He saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite, and got so upset that he killed the Egyptian. He thought no one had seen him, but when Pharaoh found out- he tried to kill Moses and Moses had to run for his life, so there you have it- Moses’s first experience with a King of Egypt, trying to help the Israelites- and it didn’t turn out so well…

Fast forward some years- Moses is married with children… He leading his sheep- he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There he saw a bush that was on fire- but it didn’t burn up.. amazed, he went over to the bush and God spoke to him from within that bush…As the story goes- God Calls to Moses- and tells him that He is GOD and what he wants him to do-

The Lord Said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land into a good and spacious land, flowing with milk and honey… ??This is note-worthy- this land flowing with milk and honey was a land promised by God to Moses’ ancestors- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Again further discussions of God’s Faithfulness

Pretty cool of God- makes the first move- came down to earth, spoke to Moses- telling him he heard Israel’s cries and wants to deliver them out of Egypt and into a great place… pretty well laid out plan, with a happy ending!

Moses conversation with God starts out ok, with- Here I am! But when God says-“So I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites out of Egypt.” Moses showed some reluctance by saying … Who am I, that I should do this thing? ..Wonder if they don’t believe me?,…Wonder if they don’t know who YOU are and what YOUR name is?… You think Moses is having flashbacks to his failed attempt to help Israel and deal with a King of Egypt.. think he is scared? You know when you are scared to do something, just having someone there with you- helps give you courage… and that is what God told him- that God, himself will be with Moses and go with him. Then He encourages Moses more by sharing about Himself as the dependable and faithful God, that Moses can trust-

God even gave him a cool staff-snake “trick” so Moses could do miraculous signs, proving to the people and Pharaoh what he was saying was True and from GOD. Do you think Moses believed God?  When he says – O Lord, I have never been eloquent in speech, I am slow of speech and tongue, Oh please send someone else.,, No, I think he is still scared and not trusting God… but God knows Moses and even though he is angry with him, God still looks out for Moses, and tells him, that his brother, Aaron, who he knows can speak well, is on his way to see him. God said He will help both of them speak and will teach them what to do and say. …So if you consider that God is employing these two to do this “Exodus job”-then you can see, that God is not one of those “employers” that tell you what to do, but give you not help to do it. God had a plan, was working it out and said he would be right there with them, helping and training- What a Patient Faithful God!!!

The chapter continues and is well worth reading, with Israel watching, still being slaves, while Moses and Aaron go to the Pharaoh to say everything the Lord tells them to say- mainly that God Says- TO Let My People Go! But God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and though He did multiply miraculous signs and wonder in Egypt, Pharaoh would not listen or believe that he was God the Lord.

These are the things that the Israelites saw-

The water of the River Nile- it turned to blood- so that all the fish in the river died –and then Moses outstretched his staff and all the ponds, streams, canals, buckets and jars were all turned to blood, all unsuitable to drink. Think of it- Blood everywhere- with no water to drink.

Then here were Frogs came up from the waters and were all over the place, then died and stunk everything up again

Then there were the Gnats, pesky little things all over the people and animals.

Then the swarms of flies- but with that- the Lord said he would show Pharaoh that he makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel- where the flies will be everywhere, EXCEPT in the land of Goshen where his people live, the Israelites. And it that is the way it happened until the last Plague.

Then the plague on Livestock- all of the Egyptian’s livestock died, but none of the Israelites… The plague of the Boils on Man and Beast, The Plague of Hail- God even warned Egypt ahead of time, but only some believed and put their people/possessions inside. .. With Moses stretched out staff toward the sky, the Lord sent thunder, hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields—both men and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree. The Worse Storm Ever Seen by Egyptians and Israelites Alike. The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived.

The plague of locust – ate everything that was left after the hail- Then the plague of darkness- where the Egyptians couldn’t see anyone else or leave his place for three days- Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived… I am not sure that that would have been a plague for me- as I don’t think I would have wanted to see the devastation that was outside my house after all that had happened.. 

Then the last- the Plague on the Firstborn- where all the firstborn sons in Egypt will die from the Pharaoh who sits on the throne to the slave girl- there will be loud wailing –AGAIN THE worse there has ever been or ever will be again.

Right before it hits- God gets the Israelites ready to leave…He tells Moses- I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh/Egypt. After that he will let you go from here and he will drive you out completely. I will make the Egyptians favorable disposed toward you so that when you leave Egypt, you will not go empty handed, and every man and woman are to ask the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and clothing, so as to plunder the Egyptians –now God has made the Egyptians WANT to give them gold and silver and clothes – to get them out of their country- which is the opposite of how this chapter started!! ! This shows the Power of God in matters of Man.

The Plague of the Firstborn hit Egypt- All the people tell the Israelites- GET OUT NOW- So all the Israelites left and God lead them in an incredible way… ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud nor the pillar of fire left its place in front of the people. …Is it bad to say- God provided the first flashlight of sorts?

So there they are having been away from Egypt only a few days- when they see Pharaoh coming with all his chariots and army with him… and of course, they are terrified and cry out to the Lord… They say to Moses- Wa..wa..wa…. It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!! Really?? What a thing to say- after all they saw happen to Egypt to get them out! But Moses answered- do not be afraid, Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today… The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still… I would like to repeat this again for our sakes…

Do Not Be Afraid… Stand Firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you… The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still….. In Psalms it says- Be still and know that I am God… Stand Firm in the Promises of God- and in your believing that he will deliver you and fight for you! He will not leave you nor forsake you! Whatever it is = you are going through… and I know there is a lot of things we all are going through…don’t look at what you see- look at what God says.

So now the story of the parting of the Red Sea- where Moses raised his staff and stretched out his hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites could walk through the sea on DRY Ground…that’s right Dry ground

What I found Awesome is that the pillar of cloud that was traveling in front of them, now moved and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.  And yes those arrogant Egyptians did pursue the Israelites into the Sea, thinking they could catch them. When it was time- the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion, He made the wheels of their chariots come off so that they had difficulty driving.. the Egyptians said- let’s get away from them, the Lord is fighting for them against us- But too late- the Lord told Moses to stretch his hand over the sea so that the waters flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen. Not one of them survived. … and then it says here- finally- when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant…

Really- just now they are putting their trust in the Lord and believing what Moses is saying??

Well I guess that is right- because the next chapter says they got all giddy and started singing … I will Sing to the Lord for his is highly exalted… majestic in power… he hurled horse and its rider into the sea….woo hoo!!

And then this- which boggles my mind- 3 Days later- just 3 days… they are in the desert of Shur and they have not found water- along the way- and when they do it was bitter… so the people GRUMBLED- What are we to drink? Does God want us to Die? And just about a month later- the whole community Grumbled against Moses and Aaron- If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt. There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death… WOW… Couldn’t they have just asked Moses to Ask God for it? God’s answer to them – Manna and Quail…

Makes me think of Matthew 7- where God says- do not worry about what you will eat or what you will drink, what you will wear- as God know you have need of them… I guess it seems we are always worrying those things.. those are ME things- we can see and feel.

This next part I see as so dramatic- Please put your” sitting in a movie theatre hat” on…. This is only the Third Month after the Israelites left Egypt- when they arrived at Mount Sinai- the place where God gives Moses the 10 commandments. Just prior to that- there is some communication between God asking and Moses and the Israelites- saying that they would put their trust in God… God wants Moses to Consecrate them, “clean them up for on the Third Day- they will meet God-… I have to read this straight from the scriptures- On the morning of the Third day- there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses Spoke and the voice of God answered him.. The 10 commandments are right here- and then the bible says … When the people saw the thunder and the lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, Speak to us yourself and we will listen.. but do not have God speak to us or we will die.

Moses said to the people do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning. Then Moses stays on top of the mountain for the rest of the Lord’s law-…

Meanwhile back at the bottom of the mountain- when the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain they gathered around Aaron and said – Come make us gods who will go before us- they had him make a Golden Calf , for crying out loud- how is that a God- that can do anything- and an Animal??? And then they say– … As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt we don’t know what has happened to him…. WHAT??? I read it again- and just didn’t get it- after all they have been through, & seen? I could not understand

You can be sure- God was not Happy- he Called them Stiff-Necked- I looked that up- it said Stubborn, Haughty and I looked up Haughty- the definition says- arrogantly superior and disrespectful.. and it showed a lot of Selfish attributes related to this..

Then I found in Ps 106- “ But they did not believe his Promises.”… and then it hit me…that was the answer… those that don’t believe, don’t care about God, who He is, how He loves them, there is no respect for Him and what he has done- created us- provided for us, every breath we take- is from the Lord… It seems the way the scriptures are laid out- that after they heard the 10 commandments – they didn’t want to believe or do what was right- they thought it wasn’t

self-fulfilling?…they thought- I don’t want to or can’t begin to live up to those laws- so I will figure out another way- MY Way- with Golden Calfs to worship… I don’t get why they still have to worship something- Could that be- that God has made a place in our hearts to worship him, so without Him, we look for something else- maybe they are really worshipping their own self –centered- ness- worshipping a God who really doesn’t have any power- makes them feel safe in what a crummy life they are willing to live.???

 

Through all of this- I kept seeing in the scriptures, God reaching out to the Israelites- who he calls his own people, who he has chosen, he does all of these miraculous acts to show them that He is GOD, the- I am who I am, who desires the full trust of his people– His people that he created and knows them personally. He takes our imperfections, our refusing to accept Him, to Obey Him, our sin, and keeps reaching for us- Asking us to Believe Him, Trust Him, He set the Law- the Rules of the Commandments so that we would know the right way to live-“be righteous- but that Law is what condemns us .. Just knowing what all the law is- is WORK, so not breaking that law is even more Work- Our Work, our deeds- Us, alone, trying to prove we are good enough…to be called righteous- isn’t something we really have the capacity to do- Just Look at how many times the Israelites rejected God and Sinned!

Romans says- “ Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

“It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.”

Do you See that FAITH- He Believed- the things that God promised to him- even though he could not See it then- it was a promise for His future and about the faithfulness of God- And he still Believed it! It can be done!

God has provided a Way to be right with Him, through His Son Jesus Christ, who died that we might have life.

“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

Will you not Believe with Me today- The Faithfulness of God- The Love of God for Us- If you already believe in Jesus Christ- then continue to Believe God in all of His Promises and CLAIM them for yourselves- don’t look at what you ‘SEE” now, but Look to God- what His Word says, what He Promises and the Future that He holds for all of us.

If you haven’t Believed God and Faith in his Son Jesus Christ yet, then take that step today- it is easy- just say- God- I have sinned and I believe that Jesus Christ takes away the sin of the world- Show me Your Way- and He will bring Life to your Heart and give you an Eternal Life with Him in Heaven- and that is wonderful Happy Ending to Believe in! Forever!

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Always With Us – Matthew 28:16-20

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Have you ever been hard at work at something, concentrating, deep in thought, focused on a particular project and suddenly you are aware that someone, somewhere is watching you?  It is as though some sort of sixth sense kicks in and you can feel the presence of someone or something  close by.

One morning I was dozing peacefully in those moments before the alarm goes off…and suddenly, I had that feeling…like someone was there.  Close by.  I tried to convince myself that it was the haziness of a leftover dream but I could feel a hot breath on my face.  When I opened my eyes I was greeted by the furry face of our household pet, tail wagging and eyes sparkling with the pleading look of “Let’s get up, I really want to go out and then to eat breakfast!”  After jerking awake and peeling myself from the ceiling, it came to me.  “Just a few more minutes,” I said. Then I had that feeling again.  I had heard the dog leave the room and go down the hall but even with my eyes closed, it was clear that someone, somehow, was there.  Maybe this happens to you?  Today’s gospel reading tells us that Jesus will always be with us.  May father before he died said that he would always be with me.  Sometimes, in a very real way I can sense his presence, like when I am in the garage searching in my tool box for the right tool to get started on a repair project.  I always called Dad from my garage to ask his advice as to how to tackle one of those home repair challenges.  In fact, a few weeks after I had come home from his funeral, I told Nancy that I needed to call Grandpa to ask him to walk me through a home repair–he felt so near to me.  Nancy reminded me, “Good luck with that one, Mom.  You can call, but he probably won’t answer from heaven.”  I wonder if this sense of presence is the way that Jesus intended to be here?

Think about it.  Jesus gave the “Great Commission” to us all.  He said that “all authority” had been given to him.  He instructed his followers to go and create (make) disciples of all people, baptizing them in the name of God (Father), the Word(Son) and the Holy Spirit.  Then he proceeded to instruct his followers, that includes us today, to teach all new disciples to obey the Commandments that Jesus gave us.  I wonder if Jesus knew how difficult a task he was laying on us, because almost like an afterthought he said, “Don’t worry because I will be with you always…even to the end of the age.”

Remember learning to ride a two wheeled bike and the security of the training wheels?  They were great.  Mine were borrowed from a neighbor with the promise that they would be returned in two weeks when my friend was going to get a new bike for her birthday.  I could ride my bike and not have to worry for two weeks. The day came when I came out to ride my bike and Dad had removed the training wheels.  Oh no!  Where was my security now?  Dad offered to hold the bike by the seat and to run along beside me while I rode.  “Good,” I thought.  Of course, by the time I got to the end of the driveway and looked back, he was at the other end of the driveway grinning.  I had been on two wheels without him holding on and I did not realize it.  I am with you always, huh?  I don’t think so.  Dad wasn’t holding the bike, but he was there.  Not only was he there to pick me up if I fell he was really and truly there.  I could “feel” it.  Even though he was a couple of hundred feet away, I could sense his presence, watching me with a sense of satisfaction.  I knew he was there. 

Jesus calls his followers to go and create disciples.  We are not to make, coerce, judge, manipulate or threaten people to follow Jesus.  As partners with God, we are to create disciples in much the same way that God fashioned the world.  God created, shaped and formed the world out of love.  We are to create new disciples with love; to grow them, to nourish and lift them up gently, fully, wholly.  The days of standing in the street and screaming about the end being near or whacking someone over the head (they have been hit by the Word of God) with a Bible as though you have some superior start in life over him/her.  I actually observed these practices on the streets of downtown Detroit as I waited for the city bus to get me on the last leg of my morning bus journey to school.  Nonetheless, the call is real and true.  We are to go out and create disciples.

How do you feel about your responsibility as a Christian to go out and preach the gospel to those who have not heard it?  How do you feel about asking/inviting people to come to church on Sunday, to invite them into your life, your faith community, into the transforming and healing love of God in Jesus Christ? It seems to me that many people are uncomfortable about it.  Sometimes I feel like I could be on display or appear as a “goody two shoes” if I want to divert a person from a potentially harmful activity.  I do not want to push my point of view too far and have people think I am aggressive or offensive.  Why is it that we can go through a whole week without telling someone about the love we have experienced through God’s work in our church?  Why do we go through a whole week without sharing the acceptance we have gained in the love of Jesus?

First, people do not like to be “E”vangelized.  They stoned Stephan, beat Paul and even threw him into prison multiple times.  This offering of God’s love can be risky business.  People are so used to the pain and craziness of the world that they think it is “normal.”  Anyone who suggests it can be different is considered a little bit crazy.  That is why Jesus said, “I’ll be with you, even to the end of the age.”  Does that mean now?  Absolutely!  Wherever we are, Jesus is present.  You might become aware of it in the way I sensed the dog staring at me in my sleep.  You may experience it like an unseen hand guiding you down the driveway.  You may encounter the presence of the living Christ in a totally different and unique way, belonging to you alone, or you may have yet to experience that sense of presence.

I am here to say that as we examine the challenge to share the love we have in God, we need to know that love accompanies us wherever we go.  It is real and we can share it with others humbly and gently by our actions and in our words.  We are called to move forward, offering Christ to others.  I have met people who declare they are atheists and do not need God.  Most of them have not had experiences in life where they have been down and out in crisis.  What they do not believe in is the Church as an institution.  They reject the polity and hierarchical structure.  It is not the church we are called to believe in.  We are called to believe–to trust–in God’s love as it has been brought to us through Jesus Christ–and we learn about this love through the body of Christ–the Church and by worshiping and studying Scripture together.  We need to claim anew the Great Commission, to reject manipulation and coercion, the evangelism of guilt and shame and to cast upon the waters of life new bread, new hope, new offers of gentleness and love–given to us by Jesus.  We need to share the Christ we know in a loving faith community, to embrace ministries of compassion and justice with the Christ who holds us close and walks every step of the way–even to the cross to set us free from our sin.  I challenge you, I double dare you to:  “Go and create disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father/Creator, the Son/Word, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them about the love of God in Jesus Christ.  “Don’t worry, Jesus will be with you every step of the way, forever, even to the end of the age.

 

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Pentecost – Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23

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Have you ever asked yourself “Where would I look to find the Holy Spirit?  How would I know if I am in the Spirit’s presence?”

In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit is called “ruach” and likened to the power of blowing wind, blowing exactly where it wants, sometimes gently and at other times with gale force winds.  Ask anyone this time of year, the storm season, if they are eager to see a storm blow in from the Gulf Coast or off the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans.  When I was seven, I lived in Florida with my grandparents.  The biggest hurricane that had ever come inland raced across the state, moving the lake that could be seen from Grandpa’s back porch 600 yards, right up to the back door.  When the storm was over, an alligator had sought refuge on the back porch step and other creatures could be found in places I did not want to find them.  I was not allowed to go into the garage or laundry room until Grandpa checked them for displaced snakes.

In our search for the Holy Spirit, the life force within each person takes us deep within ourselves and beyond.  The Spirit is a force to be reckoned with.  It is concerned about the way we communicate with each other.  Paul describes the Holy Spirit as a catalyst within us motivating us to use our God’ given gifts.

At the Confirmation service last week, I prayed for God’s Spirit to watch over and to guide Kyle and Kylee all the days of their lives.  Even though we want God to work in us, do we want God’s Spirit to be disruptive, blow through us, stirring and unsettling us?  Is God’s Spirit unsafe at times, but good?  In the way that the Holy Spirit can move us in directions we are not sure we want to experience, maybe the stirring can be a step in creating new possibilities.  Pentecost marks the descent of the Holy Spirit of God.  It is the hurricane like wind that, if we have the courage to plan and act together, it will rearrange us into people who can be more than we are and to do more than we do–not just for ourselves, but for others.  It is the earth shaking the blast that motivates with power to choose love instead of hate and acceptance over judgment.

 

The past week 54 youth and teens, plus a whole crew of adult volunteers to direct crafts, recreation, snacks, discovery time, music, Bible stories and all kinds of lively activities was evidence that God’s Spirit was on “overdrive.”  Workshop of Wonders was the overall theme in which the kids learned to Imagine, Build, Grow, Work and Walk with God.  We all learned that God is with us to motivate us to be in relationship with God and the people around us in our community; whether it be in our neighborhood or in our faith community where we worship and study about God.  God works with us to help us to stretch and grow in our understanding of God at work in our lives.  It would be a mistake to assume that God’s Spirit is only disruptive, seeking to move us out of complacency.That is the wind part when it blows with hurricane intensity.  But then comes the breath part which lives deep within you and me.  The breath part says to us, “In the midst of all that is swirling around you, be still. Go to the place inside you where you find your core strength and goodness.”  This is the Spirit’s gift when we feel overwhelmed or overcome by what is happening around us, when life conspires to disconnect us from our core truth and keeps us on focus on the things that matter least in life, rather than on what matters most.

The Holy Spirit, Jesus told his disciples, “Lies within you.”  Writer Anne Lamott speaks at commencements and tells new graduates, “Your spiritual identity is something to feel best when you are not doing much–when you are in nature, when you are very quiet, or when you listen to music.  Music is the voice of the heart. When you listen to music, you can feel the Spirit and hear it in the music you love, in the bass line (boom-it-t-boom), in the harmonies, in the silence between the notes.  We can feel the Spirit if we pay attention to our breath–breathing in and out, allowing our minds to calm down so that we can listen from the core–where the Spirit lives and speaks most profoundly.

How can we sort out the Spirit’s voice from our own?  How can the Spirit speak to us to get our attention, to point us toward God”  It is the Spirit’s presence that buoys up my internal anxiety, with the assurance that when we are worried, things will turn out okay.  The Holy Spirit shifts our perception of another person or situation, giving us the capacity to be kind when we are hurt, non-defensive when we are challenged, accepting when we are disappointed and forgiving when we would rather exhibit anger.

Friends are another place where we can encounter the Holy Spirit in relationship to one another, by working and walking with God to take care of the poor and hungry, to lift up the hearts of those who are poor in spirit, are worried or have given up hope.  When we are willing to allow others to deal with their imperfections and to simply offer help, the Holy Spirit will meet us more than halfway.  When we take the time to be kind to one another, to meet the needs of annoying, sometimes neurotic folks, that’s where we see the Holy Spirit most brightly.

Let God’s Spirit blow all around you, gently or fiercely, and pay attention to what the powerful Holy Spirit might be saying: go deep within yourself, breathe deeply and pay attention.  Celebrate the beautiful children in our midst and their families who present them for baptism to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit to pray God will watch over them and protect them from worldly dangers, that goodness will prevail and the Kingdom of God will become a reality.  Pay attention to the ways you might be part of the blessing they are seeking.  The Holy Spirit is around, between and in us, a force to reckon with and God’s greatest gift to those who are open to receive it.  Image, Build, Grow, Work and Walk with God as we work together, to make the world be the place God intends it to be.  Utilize the power of God’s Holy Spirit. “May the force be with you.”  

 

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

The Misplaced Christ – John 20:1-18

Each of the gospel accounts of the first Easter are similar, but there are also some interesting and significant differences in them. John’s gospel, instead of mentioning that several women went to Jesus’ tomb on the first day of the week, individualizes the account and centers it around one woman, Mary Magdalene.

Mary is one we would have expected to come to Jesus’ tomb on an errand of love. She had ample reason to love Jesus, because he had done something for her that had radically transformed her life. We are not sure about the specifics of her condition, but we are told that Jesus cast out seven evil spirits/demons from her and healed her infirmities. In those times evil spirits were associated with physical ailments and moral and spiritual defects. Shame would have most likely been associated with her condition. Jesus had given her wholeness of body and spirit, and restored a sense of dignity and value, which gave her a new purpose for living. It is not a surprise that she chose to go early in the morning to Jesus’ tomb (for privacy).

I cannot imagine how shocked Mary must have been when she did not find Jesus’ body in the tomb! She had witnessed his crucifixion along with Jesus’ mother and other women. Mary lingered outside the empty tomb crying tears of distress and occasionally looking inside the tomb, hoping that she is mistaken. Through tears, Mary sees heavenly messengers who ask her why she is weeping and she tells them that Jesus’ body is missing. She turns around and sees someone she presumes is the gardener and asks if he, perhaps, has carried him to another location. If you remember, Jesus was hastily laid in a borrowed tomb before it got dark–before the Sabbath began at sundown, according to Jewish tradition. Women were not considered credible witnesses, so she went to find Peter and John and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him. ” If he was not in the tomb where he had been carefully placed, then his body, logically, must have been moved to another location.

Mary’s searching was misdirected. She was looking for Jesus in the place where she thought he should be. She expected him to stay where he had been placed but he did not. Do we deal with the same expectation today? We must remember that we are not dealing with a dead body. We may presume that Christ will not move around too much. We want to keep him located where we can easily find him, whether it be in a secluded garden tomb or in the thick of our common life.

Twenty years ago I was invited to preach on Good Friday in a Roman Catholic Church. I was “allowed” to do so because Jesus is proclaimed dead on Good Friday and the mass in which Christ’s body is offered to the people cannot be served as the host. But I KNOW that Christ does not stay put. He has broken the bonds of death and sin and cannot be confined to particular places.

Mary’s search for Jesus was focused on the past. Jesus had redeemed her and she cared enough to tend to his lifeless body. Fortunately, we know the rest of the “story.” The Resurrection tells us that Christ cannot be confined. He is our eternal contemporary. Jesus keeps bursting out of the grave clothes of the dead past to confront us as a living presence. To look for Jesus only in the past, is to be misdirected in our current searching process.

It is said that if you do not expect anything, you will not be disappointed. At times, in part because of our past disappointments, we may allow a spirit of unexpectedness to settle down over our lives, and Christ may be close at hand without our recognizing him. Mary’s preoccupation with her past experiences with Jesus may have contributed to the delay in her recognition of Jesus. She was so preoccupied in her search for a dead body or a misplaced Christ, that she could not recognize the living Christ. There are many things in life with which we may become preoccupied: our problems, our regrets, our guilt, our dreams, ambitions, pleasures, making a living, getting an education, succeeding, surviving, and on and on.

The gospel point of the matchless story of Mary’s search for the misplaced Christ is that in the end, it was not Mary who found Christ, but Christ who found Mary. Mary had been searching for him to no avail; then she discovered that he was seeking her and she was found by him. Jesus’ search for us always precedes our search for him, and when we finally deduce that, we have found him, we discover that we are the ones who have been found. God’s amazing grace: ” I once was lost, but now I am found.”

The good news is that if you are astray from God, you can be certain that God is not far from you. When you think you have lost contact with God, accept the fact that God has not gone off somewhere and left you alone. To Mary, Jesus was the misplaced Christ and sometimes it might feel like that for us, as well. We long for his fellowship, but struggle to find him. If we expect Jesus to stay where we put him while he is busy bursting the bonds we try to wrap around him, then we may be focusing on the past while Jesus wants to be a living presence with us.

We need to go back to John’s account of Jesus’ resurrection and Mary’s joy when she realizes that Jesus is alive in her midst. Jesus can arise in the midst of any death that may surround us. If we have ears to hear, we may hear him call our name. Jesus comes to each of us who are willing to welcome his love, forgiveness, joy and strength. That is the Easter Good News, Jesus LIVES and is available to us all, all the time! Hallelujah!

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Shake, Rattle and Roll – Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-45

On this fifth Sunday of Lent, our scripture passages explore the dimensions of death and affirm the ways that God empowers life. The dramatic oracle (vision) in Ezekiel vividly evokes the image of a battle scene, with dead bodies of the defeated lying grotesquely on the ground. All that remains of the bodies are the dry bones, with no possibility of life. In poignant, unforgettable words, the dead bones receive all of the tissue they need, and the breath of life. The oracle assures the dejected, devastated community that God can restore them to vitality.

In 586 B.C. the Israelites had been exiled to Babylon (modern Iraq) before and after the complete destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Many of the exiles’ family members were killed, wounded or missing. They wondered if God had abandoned them forever? Would they cease to exist as a people so far from home? Would they ever be able to go home? How could they survive in a strange land?

The Lord, directly or through a vision, set Ezekiel down in a valley of dry bones. It was as though a vast army had been slaughtered, their armor and clothing stripped, and their bodies left unburied for scavenger birds and animals to pick clean and scatter, and for the winds to scour and the sun to bleach the bones. Ezekiel must have shuddered when God asked him if the bones would live. An astonished Ezekiel must have responded, “How should I know, Lord? Only you could possibly know that.” God told Ezekiel to speak to the bones on God’s behalf and God would cause the wind of the Spirit to blow and enter them; to breathe life into them. Ezekiel did as he was told and rattling, rumbling and shaking of seismic proportion could be heard like an earthquake. The bones came together with muscles and skin, and Ezekiel prophesied that the breath of God should animate them, and they lived. The bones are identified with the whole house of Israel and reminded them of the covenantal relationship they had with God, who had put his spirit within them to give them life. He calls them “my people.”

This account in Ezekiel has been fodder for many years, inspiring thrill rides at theme parks like Denver’s Elitch Garden Water Park, with rides like the Tower of Doom, the Mind Eraser, the Half Pipe ride and others. Sixty years ago a singer named Big Joe Turner gathered with a group of rhythm-and-blues musicians in New York City. In the offices of Atlantic Records, they pushed the furniture to the walls, and recorded a song called “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” which was quickly picked up and recorded by Bill Haley and the Comets, and then by Elvis Presley to become an international rock ‘n’ roll hit. It was Bill Haley’s first gold record and best seller for Decca in 1954. Even earlier, James Weldon Johnson, credentialed as a lawyer in 1894 worked on Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential campaign, was appointed as U.S. Consul in Venezuela, and later, Nicaragua. He became an early civil-rights activist and served as head of the NAACP. He is best remembered for his poetry and song writing ability creating “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” His most widely known composition was inspired by Ezekiel 37: “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones (3 times). Now hear the word of the Lord.” When my brother was seven years old, my mother was a Cub Scout den mother and we had eight little boys in our basement meeting every week. The Scout Pack had a talent show and I remember my mother coming up with costumes and an act for the boys. They wore jeans, white t-shirts, my Dad’s sailor hats and their faces were blackened for their vaudeville rendition of “Dem Bones.” They sang and danced and won first place. I do not know if my brother remembers that event, but I can still see it in my mind.

More recently, “Schindler’s List” was a movie of a true story about World War II, focusing on the heroism and self-sacrifice of Oskar Schindler, a Christian from Krakow, Poland. Schindler went from being a wanton war profiteer to a conspirator who worked at freeing condemned prisoners from Hitler’s concentration camps. I was reminded of his life-saving work when I got on an elevator in Israel with the name of a prominent elevator company stamped over the control panel. It was not OTIS, no. The name was Schindler. In one scene of the movie, Jews were herded like cattle onto freight trains, hungry, hot, and very thirsty. The train was destined to various death camps. The German soldiers were lolling about and enjoying the suffering they were witnessing. Schindler appeared in a white suit (the “Good Guy” suit, like The Lone Ranger, riding up on his horse) and the Colonel offered him a refreshing drink. Schindler had a bright idea. “Let’s hose down the cars!” He convinced the Colonel to give him a soldier to man the hose, and they began spraying the cars. The captives entrapped in the cars could drink and be cooled. Schindler pretended to be having so much fun with the fire hose, he even got the Colonel to order another length of hose to be able to reach the last car. The prisoners were squealing and reaching for the much needed water and the Colonel said, “Oh, Oskar, you are too cruel! You are giving them hope.” In that scene people on the trains were condemned to certain death, and had no hope, while Oskar desperately wanted to save them and to give them as much hope as he could (not unlike a prophet trying to bring hope to God’s people).

Ezekiel was a temple priest carried off to Babylon in 586 B.C. and called by God to prophesy in great mystic visions to the people of the Exile. He wrote to those back home about God’s judgment, and of restorations and promise. Ezekiel asked God if the bones could live and God proves, “Yes, the bones can live.” Asking if bones can live is like reaching the point of the rebirth of faith –or the birth of a new faith. It is out of the death of hope that the hope of life springs. Hope and joy can spring from loss and pain–it only takes a willingness to step away from the apparent loss and grow with the situation. Ezekiel’s message brings hope for people who have lost all grounds of hope. There is a God who can achieve the impossible. The human end of it is to continue in the knowledge of that God.

The account of Lazarus’ resurrection to life in Bethany sets the scene for Jesus’ coming resurrection at Easter. Martha was distraught that Jesus had not come running to prevent her ailing brother from dying–he purposely arrived days later to call him out of the tomb, so that new life could be breathed into him. Imagine the testimony (not mentioned in Scripture) that Lazarus would have given to any and all who would have listened about the power of God to give life, hope and joy. We live in faith that we have eternal life. Life is lived here and now, and we have eternal life here and now. That is the truth that makes us free. The most amazing thing about eternal life in the here and now is that we can live each day in faith, no longer in fear of dying. In the midst of the uncertainties of life, the Christian has one great certainty: God loves you, whomever you are. God has shown the depth of his love by giving his Son for you, whatever you have done. The greatest act of God lies not in the creation of the world, but in the giving and raising of his Son as the Savior of the fallen, sinful world.

Ezekiel has his eyes opened by the knowledge of God. We have the grave opened by the knowledge of Jesus Christ. In him we know the grace of God,” God’s answer to the tragedies of life. That is our hope. Can these bones live? Shake, rattle and roll. Easter is the best answer we can have!

Amen

Categories: Weekly Sermon