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God, a Good Ally – Exodus 20: 1-17

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Message Delivered on March 8, 2015


A group of American tourists once listened to a story told by their Jewish guide, Moshe.  He claimed that he could explain why Moses came down the mountain with two tablets of stone containing the commandments of God.  First Moses met some Kenites and asked, “Do you want God’s commandments?”  “What do they say?” asked the Kenites.  “Thou shalt not kill,” replied Moses.  “Thanks, we will pass,” responded the Kenites.  Next, Moses encountered the tribe of Hittites.  “Would you like the commandments? asked Moses.  “What do they say?” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” answered the prophet.  “No thank you.  “We will just move on,” retorted the Hittites.  Finally, Moses came upon the Israelites.  “Here are God’s commandments,” he said.  “Would you like to have them?”  “How much are they?” they asked.  “Nothing.  They are free,” answered Moses.  “Fine, we will take two,” they replied.


 


In reality, the Kenites were a clan of the Midianites, who are thought to have been part of Moses’ exiles and later confessed Yahweh as their God.  Sinai was a holy mountain for the Midianites before being “discovered” by the Hebrews.  Moses met God in a wondrous way atop the mountain.  God chose to ally himself with the Hebrews and made an offer.  Spokesperson, Moses, extended God’s special favor and the “gift” of the rules of life uniquely to the band of slaves who had made a run for it out of captivity in Egypt.  The Hebrews had already experienced God’s favor or they never would have gained their freedom.


 


God deepened his relationship with Israel by proposing, “You shall be my people and I shall be your God.  Giving the “law” to the people constituted a contract, a law that was absolute: Don’t even think about disobeying!  A law can be a paritycontract (made between two equal partners to the agreement) or a unilateral contract.  It is a law between a much superior party to be subscribed to by a weaker party, which has been aided or rescued by the superior party.  In the ancient Middle East, a superior party (a king) might save the hide of the inferior party and the weaker recipient would agree to the terms of the contract out of gratitude.


 


In the case of the Hebrew refugees, God revealed a grace not capable of human desire or effort.  God did not say, “Look what I did for you, now guess what you get to do for me?”  God saved them and gave them an additional gift–guidelines for living life and for loving God, for loving those within the community and for loving those who would become Israel’s neighbors.  God’s gift and his unique partnership with those in the desert was nothing that could be denied by sane human beings.  The God of Sinai was proving himself to be a good ally.


 


The event of Jesus marked the birth of the new Israel.  The pact with God at Sinai, incorporating God’s goodness extended to people in the wilderness, was taken off the shelf.  Jesus came to endorse the contract and its stipulations and to elaborate upon them in his teachings.  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).  What does it mean to love one’s enemies in our culture today?  It is not easy for modern Americans to avoid making “graven images.”  A man began to lose his commitment to his church over a period of time.  HIs attendance waned, he stopped pledging and his occasional checks in the offering plate disappeared.  First class letters sent to his home were returned stamped, “No forwarding address.”  He was not angry at the elders or deacons and not offended by changes in worship.  He had no bone to pick with the pastor.  He just did not find church “exciting” anymore.  Christianity cramped his style, so he sought more interesting friends and more exciting diversions–and the thrill of less respectable activities.  One day he appeared at worship and the pastor said, “You have been gone a long time.  Why did you come back today?  His answer:  “I have missed the morning trumpets.”  (Was that a “wake-up call?”)  What will it be?  A lifestyle without responsibility?  A stimulating social life with the local movers and shakers or will it be trumpets in the morning?  It is difficult to imagine that God would condemn anyone who must work on Sunday.  How does one obey the commandment to observe the Sabbath in an industrialized economy?


 


What about the commands not to take God’s name in vain, not to steal and not to covet?  Some folks observing American culture are concerned about the passing of civility.  Jon Alter wrote a piece for Newsweek in which he lamented, “We see vicious politics, abominable manners and a dangerously atrophied civic spirit.”  He optimistically believed that people could still say “Thank you” on the bus and “Excuse me” in passing on the stairs.  There are still the cell phones that ring at the movies, drivers who exhibit road rage (even the ones with the Christian fish symbols on their bumpers) and the clerk at the checkout counter regards the buyer as if he/she was a robot or inanimate object.  What has happened to common courtesy?  The commandments are more than the sum of the total, they are guidelines for living in a community.  (After 200+ years folks want them removed from court houses and other public places where they serve as a reminder to better living.)


 


When God is our ally, God’s commandments are not mere “suggestions” as Roseanne Barr once said on her sitcom.  They are the backup system for the law written into the hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).  We already know the differences between right and wrong.  If the gift of the law was not enough evidence for our partnership with God, then there is more:  God’s Son died on the cross for us, bestowing the greatest gift of all from our strong ally–entrance into the kingdom where rules will not be needed.  For the ancients, graven images were poor divine allies.  The God of Moses spoke from the mountain; he did not threaten.  God gave the people of Moses a great gift: the gift of the law.  If the law were taken seriously, it would go well with the Hebrew people.  Nowthe law has been fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus.  The law helps us to get along with one another but it cannot save us.  Only God’s Son can do that, and praise God, Jesus did!


Amen

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Incredible Blessing – Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

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Message Delivered on March 1, 2015

When I was eight years old, I received a copy of Eggermeier’s Bible Story Book.  I was so excited because it had colored pictures to go with the stories and the words were easier to understand than the King James Version of the Bible my Sunday school class used.  Bible stories are formative, teaching us about God, God’s love, mercy, expectations and blessings.  They teach us how to live and plant seeds if we are willing to allow our minds and hearts to be fertile soil. 


 


Today’s Old Testament lesson in Genesis conveys to us that Abram and Sarai were chosen by God to be blessed in order that they might be a blessing to others.  “I will establish my covenant (binding promise) as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:7).  God promised to make them exceedingly fruitful, which meant to have a large family, necessary to care for animals and properties to sustain all.  What a blessing!  Life would never be the same for them.  God even gave Abram and Sarai new names to start their new beginning as a nation.


 


There was a big problem with God’s promise.  Abram was about ninety-nine and Sarai was around ninety–well past child bearing years.  You can imagine the mixed feelings the couple had.  How would you plan a nursery for an infant if you were between ninety and one hundred?  I preached this text in a nursing home with the average aged resident at ninety-five and asked the folks what they would do if God told them to get ready for the pitter patter of little feet and late night feedings.  They did the same thing as Abram and Sarai–they laughed. Yet, about a year later, God kept his promise and Isaac was born, just as God had promised. (Isaac means laughter in Hebrew.) I am not sure aged couples today would be thrilled with the idea/responsibility of raising an infant in today’s times.  In our Judeo-Christian tradition, Abraham and Sarah have become classic examples of faith.  They recognized the voice of God, understood the call and trusted God’s purpose for their lives and followed in faith and obedience.


 


As we reflect over these faithful servants of the Lord, we need to recognize the big challenges placed before our own lives.  Where are we going with our lives?  How have God’s choices and blessings for each of us shaped our mutual journey so far?  What is it that God wants us to do in the future as a church in this community?  Since 1892 we have been privileged to lead others to faith in Jesus and the power of his resurrection.  We have been drawn together in fellowship to share the love and forgiveness showered upon us as gifts from the Holy Spirit at our baptisms.  We are the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, heirs of the kingdom of God promised to us through faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus said to his disciples, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).  Each of us were called as Jesus’ disciples to be servants of love, hope, joy, peace and forgiveness to others, not to expect those gifts to be served to us on a platter.


 


Who are we called to serve?  Are we called to be self-serving, focused on our own wants and desires, or to serve others in the name of Jesus, to share our blessings from God?  A colleague of mine asked the question, “Who is the customer?”  Are we customers because we have a lengthy wish list for fuller pews, a balanced budget, inspiring choir music, bell choir, and an entertaining pastor who says what is necessary in the fewest words possible so that everyone can get out of church early enough to pursue other interests?  The whole purpose of worship is to come together to praise and thank God for the incredible blessings continually showered upon us as a congregation and as individuals.  Maybe we need to re-visit our church mission statement:


       Building on our rich heritage of faith, we serve God in word,


       prayer and deed.  We witness to God’s love through worship, 


       education, stewardship and fellowship; reaching out to those


       in need.


 


Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests that we develop a personal mission statement in which we focus on the values and principles that are central to our lives. We should use as a primary principle, faith, and focus on what God has in mind.  What is God calling us to do as God’s people in this community?  Are we living up to God’s expectations?  


 


Peter Drucker, an American management consultant, educator and author wrote thirty-nine books contributing to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation.  He suggested that we focus on two very important questions to help us discover the unique role God wants us to explore: 1. What have you already achieved? (competence)  and 2. What do you care deeply about? (passion) The goal is to find something through prayer, that fits something you are good at and something that excites you.  It has been said that 20% of the people do 80% of the work, but remember, God always takes the initiative and usually approaches busy people.  Sometimes we think that if we take time off and go on a retreat, that God might break through to us and we might catch a new vision.  Such belief is not biblically sound.  God’s call to Moses came when he was busy with his sheep at Horeb.  Gideon was busy threshing wheat.  Saul was busy searching for his father’s lost animals.  Elisha was busy plowing.  David was busy caring for his father’s sheep.  Amos was picking figs.  James and John were mending fishing nets.  Lydia was marketing and selling fabrics.  Matthew was collecting taxes and sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, were busy homemakers.  On and on, God issues a call in a specific way for a unique task–that, friends, has not changed.  When we listen carefully and move out with our God-given abilities trusting obediently, great things can happen.


 


When I was called here in 2002, I promised to serve you faithfully, to deliver God’s word and to carry out my assigned duties.  I have grown to love you as family and you have loved me back.  I have been asked to continue the work I was called to do and to take an $8,678.25 pay cut.  I am willing to preach at 1, 2, 3, or more services of worship, as long as we work together to share God’s love, hope, compassion and fellowship, leading others to faith in Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection.


 


Arguing over the time to gather to show glory to God is not the way to honor God for the incredible blessings given to us.  It will not save money to go to one service that a number of people have said in verbal and written opinions they will not attend.  Why don’t we continue to worship at two services to allow for growth and the convenience people have experienced for over twenty-five years?  If you want to see more people in the pews with you, invite friends and offer to give them a ride here.


 


Many of us have heard stories about Dr. Albert Schweitzer.  He held PhDs in medicine, theology, music and philosophy.  He even wrote a book titled A Quest for the Historical Jesus.  In the midst of all his successes, Schweitzer heard an irresistible call from God to be a medical missionary in a small rural village in Africa.  He spent the rest of his life there and the hospital continues to thrive.


 


We need to wonder whom God will call next to make a difference in some small way in our broken world.  Would you like to be more fulfilled in your life and responsive to your faith?  God has a plan for all of us.  Maybe the plan is not as grandiose for us as was the case with Abraham or David or Dr. Schweitzer, but it is still significant, purposeful and rewarding.


 


George Bernard Shaw said, “Life is no brief candle to me.  It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.”  We have a lot to do to share our incredible blessings.  

Amen.


Categories: Weekly Sermon

Mark’s Brief History – Mark 1:9-15

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Message Delivered on February 22, 2015- First Sunday in Lent

Each year it feels like Easter is getting closer to Christmas and that Lent is racing forward. Mark’s gospel is believed to be the oldest and it contains the fewest words. My grandma always said that the best things come in the smallest packages. Mark’s gospel is succinct but its words and message are mighty.

Lately novels of more than 700 pages are having a comeback. Remember reading War and Peace, The Three Musketeers, and Gone With the Wind? You knew it would take time to read and digest the contents and maybe there were movies to clarify or embellish the stories. In high school and college we met Cliff’s Notes which provided summaries and helpful incites for essays and tests. There are some new books: City on Fire (900 pages), The Kills (1,002 pages), and others making “must read” lists but small, tightly written volumes that pack the right message can have powers to impact our lives; maybe to make us different and better than when we began to read them.

The gospel of Mark is brief and terse. In the seven verses for today’s reading, Mark covers Jesus’ baptism, temptation, the arrest of John the Baptist and the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry; complete with Jesus’ summary statement of his mission: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

As we begin our Lenten journey with Mark, we encounter the River Jordan which begins above the Sea of Galilee, feeding into the lake and continuing on to the Dead Sea. The northern end of the river is fed by mountain streams from Lebanon. Today there are two stops for pilgrims to rest and imagine the setting for Jesus’ baptism in the shallow, muddied waters. The further south, the shallower and muddier it gets. The desert where Jesus fled to fast and be tempted by Satan is closer to the southern stop and it seemed to me to be the more likely place of Jesus’ baptism. In our minds we visualize Jesus being immersed in crystal clear water, but in reality, that was not the case. So much of human life is not crystal clear and sparkling, but muddy and confusing. Our Lord entered the real and challenging human condition that we all face. He was washed within the muddy water and came up to meet a dove and hear a voice from heaven. Mark identified Jesus as the Son of God by quoting God’s proclamation, “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” (Today’s New International Version) Bursting up from the darkened waters is a foretaste of Jesus’ resurrection from the dark tomb. Mark is telling us of One specially sent by God to all people to preach repentance because the kingdom of God “has come near.”

Mark declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the One expected to restore Israel in his opening sentence. Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah, connecting Jesus with the Old Testament promises of a redeemer, and that aspect of Jesus’ work is relevant when we have sunk into sin.

When we look at Jesus’ baptism, we recall that it is our Lord who gives us new life, with water being a symbol of destruction of the old life (as in the account of Noah and the flood to rid the world of sinful living) and God as creator of the new life (God has a covenant with us to never again cut off life by floodwaters). The rainbow is the symbol of God’s promise to all people and living creatures. In baptismal water we have an image of ministry. The blessing and empowerment, the life-giving Spirit that Jesus received was not meant to simply bless or to remain stagnant in him, but rather it was given to bless us all. The Spirit is given to us all not to keep trapped within the confines of our buildings and our Bible studies, but rather we are given the Spirit of God to spread to every corner, every inch of the world.

Not only is Jesus the Messiah, but Mark also recognizes him as a unique teacher who instructs “as one having authority and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). Jesus had a connection with the Scriptures that enabled him to bring them to life in a convincing way.

Mark understood the ministry of Jesus as calling us to discipleship, following Jesus, implying that we be as obedient to the heavenly Father as Jesus is. Mark shows Jesus’ death on the cross as the will of God. It is Mark who first tells of Jesus’ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, bowing to the Father’s will about the crucifixion to set sinners free.

Jesus’ death is an atoning act. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Clearly, Mark perceives Jesus’ death as a path to God’s forgiveness.

All the gospel writers share a common goal–to bring their audience to faith in Jesus. Bible scholars have noted that Mark’s gospel ends abruptly at Mark 16:8, where the women who have come to anoint Jesus’ body encounter an angel, who tells them about Jesus’ resurrection and they flee in terror. Mark’s surprising ending allows readers to enter the story where Easter morning witnesses stopped. Perhaps he is calling us to be Jesus’ disciples, to tell the good news of salvation.

As we begin our journey this Lent, we do not create our own wilderness or impose all kinds of hardships on ourselves to prove our spiritual muscles or lack of them. We are looking around to see where the Spirit has led us. Just as Jesus’ wilderness experience was a testing of his baptismal call and identity, so it could be that most of our Christian life is a testing and a living out of our baptismal call.

In Mark’s gospel the humility and simplicity of God’s word comes to us. Lent is a time for eliminating distractions. It is a time to remember the clarity and simplicity of the life and name we were baptized into. Binding the voices of evil in our culture takes work and discipline. We can quiet the outer senses by focusing on prayer. We can quicken our spiritual memories by reading and studying God’s word. Maybe our own wilderness experiences will help us to recognize that it is not within our ability to meet all the needs and demands of those whom we come into daily contact with–fulfilling those requests will not make us holy. Acknowledging that Jesus loves us, that he lived and died to make us his own saves us. In baptism he claims us and makes us his heirs. The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.
Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Letting Go and New Beginnings Mark 9:2-9

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Have you ever known anyone who was extremely athletic who loved to run, swim, hike or bike? Athletes work at building up their bodies to get in “condition” to participate in their favorite sport. There is something about rigorous exercise that can help people to focus on setting goals for their individual sports–and in setting goals for the rest of life.

This week I read about a man who loved to climb in especially high places. He was exhausted from the hot sun, slope and elevation, but also from carrying baggage. He eased the burden down and rested beside a tree as he listened to a songbird’s music. He eyed the top of the summit and continued his trek without his gear. He celebrated reaching his goal and started back down the mountain. To his surprise, he found his things strewn across the path in several boxes, a large backpack and an overstuffed briefcase. The first box contained mementos like awards, school report cards, and sport trophies. He set the box aside and felt taller, better. Next, he opened the large backpack containing all the beauty he had collected along his journey: some beautiful rocks, a photo of a rainbow and many books that described beauty in the world. He set those aside recalling the beauty from atop the mountain. Again, he felt a spirit of growth and freedom.

Next, he pored over the briefcase and found it stuffed with concerns, issues and initiatives that had inflamed his spirit and impassioned his actions. For some reason these things seemed less important. The overstuffed briefcase was placed with the other discarded items. The mature hiker felt more youthful–and taller. He realized that most of the baggage was no longer needed, except for a small backpack which he removed from the discarded items. Being relieved of multiple burdens and feeling rejuvenated, the hiker continued on with a hammer, saw, a few other tools and a bamboo flute. He gazed back at trail of the worn baggage he had carried so long and realized his journey had ended. Renewed in spirit, he played the flute and walked into the valley of his future. You may recognize this account as an allegory.

Today’s New Testament reading is a familiar story related in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus is transformed, changed externally for a few short moments–dazzling white and then returned to his normal appearance. What happened to Peter, James and John, who had accompanied him up the mountain? They were definitely changed–maybe not externally and not just momentarily. They were internally and permanently transformed to a new relationship with God. The Transfiguration of Jesus and its ability to transform the disciples challenges us to see our need to change, drop the past, and look to the brightness of the future. Rather than concentrating on what happened to Jesus, this stunning event is best understood by centering on what happened to the disciples.

After seeing Jesus in all his radiant glory, the disciples would never again be able to see him as a mere man. There could be no doubt that Jesus was the long-promised Messiah. White clothes are associated in Judaism with the apocalypse. Elijah and Moses appear to talk with Jesus. Elijah’s re-appearance was expected as a sign of the appearance of the Messiah. Moses’ appearance related to his parallel experience reported in Exodus 24. Moses had experienced the glory of God while atop the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments. His face reflected the glory of God and he wore a veil over his face for the rest of his life to diminish the brightness, so people could look at him. The disciples had seen Jesus transformed on the mountain, observed him in conversation with Moses and Elijah and heard the Father speak from the heavens, “This is my Son, listen to him.” Seeing and hearing Jesus in a new light transformed their thinking about him but also challenged them to realize that as Jesus changed, they must change if they were going to continue to be his disciples. What direction would they move in the future? Whatever baggage the disciples had taken from the past before their call from Jesus, would have to be changed. By dropping their baggage they could become transfigured in spirit. Christ was inviting them to walk a new road–albeit an uncertain road, but–they were asked to have sufficient faith to let go of the past and move forward.

Leaving the past and moving to a new future is an integral part of the salvation history in the New Testament. Mary’s call to be the mother of Jesus demonstrates one’s willingness to accept change and move forward. Whatever Mary had planned had to be cancelled and an uncertain future journey initiated. Mary accepted God’s invitation, confident that if she placed her trust in God, things would work out fine. The past was left behind and God’s plan for the salvation of humankind entered into its climatic stage.

The uncertainty of new beginnings, fresh starts in life, raises fear among many people. We tend to cling to the past as a source of strength. We find confidence in what is known and lose our sense of security when we are asked to move from our level of “comfortableness.” We can weigh ourselves down with past burdens and impede our forward movement in a new direction. Why be prisoners of the past? Why not let go of the past, free to move into the future? Through complete trust in God we can let go and move into our future. “Let go, and let God” is the old adage.

There is a tale about a group of botanists in the Amazon rainforest looking for rare and potentially non-catalogued forms of plant life. A leader of the expedition spotted a flower he had never seen while looking through his binoculars down a steep canyon. He wondered how someone could get down the steep canyon to obtain the specimen. A young boy happened upon the scene and one of the botanists offered him money if he would allow himself to be lowered over the side of the cliff on a rope to retrieve the rare flower. The boy agreed after saying, “Wait one minute.” He left and returned with an older man. The boy said, “Now, I will go over the side and get that flower for you but only if this man hold the rope. He is my father.” Who do we trust when we are challenged to drop the past and move in a new direction? Do we trust others, our father or family members, or our God in heaven? The choice is up to you.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Misquotations – Isaiah 40:21-31

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Message Delivered on February 8, 2015

There is substantial theological unity throughout the book of Isaiah, but possibly more than one person speaking for God as the prophet, Isaiah.  Some scholars feel that chapters 40-55 were written after Isaiah, who lived in the southern kingdom of Judah during the 8th century B.C.

Proclaiming and hearing are important to the prophet so that the people will know the mouth of the Lord has spoken to them.  He wanted to assure the people that God’s word will stand forever.  Isaiah asks if the people remember that from the very foundation of the earth, God has called everyone by name.  Isaiah has been sent to comfort the exiles, for whom God is preparing the way which will lead them home–out of captivity.  God’s word is constant but the word of human beings is inconsistent.  God will lead the exiles and feed them tenderly as a good shepherd.  They will experience God’s care and hopefully, their faith in God will be restored.  They will once again trust God and return to their homeland.

Isaiah preached that the Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  God does not grow faint or weary and God’s understanding is unsearchable.  God gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless in whatever situations people find their selves.  The key is to be patient and to wait for God to work in their lives. Be patient.  That is tough. Trust God.  “In God we trust.” (There is a quotable quote.)

Arthur Schopenhauer, a 19th century philosopher saw life as a pendulum between suffering and boredom, and the world itself as a form of hell.  He is what I would label a “glum guy.”  His thoughts are supposedly responsible for greeting cards with wishes like “just remember, once you are over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.”  In reality, Charles Schulz, beloved creator of the Peanuts comic strip, is likely the author of such a quote.  Didn’t Charlie Brown keep trying to kick the football after Lucy repeatedly pulled it out from under him?

Misquoting famous people has become something of a norm in the age of Wikipedia, one of the online search engines,.  People love to research on their computers and hand held devices, but most people do not check the accuracy or the context of the quotation before they click on “send.”

Some well known quotations:  1. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” was attributed to Mahatma Ghandi.  What he actually said was, “If we change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”  It is a little less Hall-mark-y.  2. “Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”  Mark Twain is often given credit for this remark, but research into the comment has attributed it to an anonymous government researcher in 1968. 3. Oscar Wilde, is another repository of misquotes and is credited with “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”  However, that never appeared in any of his works.  Scripture is full of quotations that get misquoted or taken out of context. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” in Proverbs 13:24, which actually says nothing about rewarding unruly children with i-Pads, game boys or other technological toys. How about “God won’t give us more than we  can bear?”  I am sure that some of you have heard or said that one before.  1 Corinthians 10:13 says that God won’t let us be tempted beyond our ability and that God will provide us a way of escape.  Jesus actually said that we would each get a cross which is more than any of us can bear on our own (Matthew 16:23).

To really know what God is saying to us today, we have to go to the source. Isaiah 40:31 says, “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  Did you know that quarterback Tom Tebow had some of that one etched on his eyelid when he was winning championships with the University of Florida?  For Tom, the reference to not getting weary and running without fainting had more to do with getting into the end zone than the prophet’s original intent.

The exiles as strangers in a strange land, under the yoke of slavery, were looking for any kind of hope they could muster.  The people of Judah were exhausted and God’s words spoken through Isaiah were uplifting–and quotable.  “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  God does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.”  God is vigilant, always working to save his people.

God spoke through the prophet to say that even if the future looked like a meaningless ordeal of suffering only alleviated by a meaningless death, God hadnot given up on them.  In our era we are good at outsourcing our wisdom and knowledge to whatever pops up on our social media screens.  In spite of frequent warnings, many people still believe that if it’s on the Internet, it must be true!

Isaiah called God’s people to listen to God who ordered all of creation.  We do not find the best wisdom in brainy quotes or pithy sayings, but rather in waiting on and trusting the God who made us and cares for us.  Our strength, inspiration and renewal are assured if we will patiently wait on God.  We need to remember that God has not abandoned us.  God never gives up on us.

Years ago I was asked to officiate at the funeral of a man who had left the Amish order in Millersburg, Ohio.  He had gotten divorced from his Amish wife and remarried an “English” woman (what someone outside the Amish order is called).  Bert had not been allowed to go to high school or college to pursue his interest in engineering.  He made sure that he put his three kids through college and his second wife helped him with that undertaking.  Bert had hemophilia and took Factor VIII, the treatment for his disease.  He had lived a long life on the medication and we had had a number of conversations about how blessed he felt he was.  I had shared with him that the doctor who developed the medication for hemophilia was one of my instructors at the University of Michigan.  What a small world!   Bert was a very gentle, loving man.  When I would visit him the birds would eat out of his hand and the squirrels would come right up to him for their treats. He never gave up on God and drew strength from God’s word.  Someone came to pick me up to take me to the funeral home.  When I arrived I saw fifteen vans in the parking lot.  My cell phone rang and the funeral director asked me if I was ready to do the service.  When I walked in, there were rows and rows of people dressed in traditional Amish wear.  The family was supposed to “shun” Bert and his wife according to the Amish custom, but their chairs were all around Bert.  They recognized him as a gentle soul and they loved him, even though he had left the order.  One of Bert’s sisters had come from Florida and she came up to me afterwards (traditionally not supposed to talk to me) and thanked me for my words and God’s words. She said, “You obviously loved our brother and reminded us of all God’s promises. You can never go wrong with God’s words.” Now there is a quotable quote!  God’s words stand forever.

It is fun to quote things we hear around us, but whatever you do, make sure  you check out the source.  With God, you can never go wrong!

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Recognizing the Voice of Authority Mark 1:21-28

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Message Delivered on February 1, 2015Growing up is always hard to do but even more so when a child challenges their parents by asking, “Why?” The child wants an answer that can be understood in language at their age level and more often than not, the response I received from my father was, “Because I said so.” Even when very young, I felt put off and wanted an answer that explained why my request was turned down. I felt unimportant and ignored; maybe like a second class citizen.

When the Hebrews went to the synagogue to learn and pray, the rabbis taught the scriptures and interpreted them from their individual perspectives. Varying oral traditions were woven into the explanations, which meant that the answers to questions were not always consistent. Different Pharisees could use their authority to interject their opinions about interpretations which might contradict the teaching of the local rabbis. The people were caught between the rabbis’ teaching and the legal experts, the Pharisees.

Even before stories circulated on the internet, I heard the plight of a much loved and greatly respected professor, who was called away to Washington D.C. to act as a consultant with governmental matters. He knew he would be gone two weeks and he did not want his students thinking that he was abandoning them, nor that they would not receive the necessary information for the next scheduled test. He came back from D.C. a day early and stopped by the classroom to observe the students listening to his recorded lecture. What he found was a classroom with tape recorders running on each desk–taking notes for each respective student recording from the professor’s recorded message. Sometimes when we think we have everything under control, events turn out much differently from what we have planned.

This morning we are looking at Mark’s gospel on an occasion when Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Capernaum is the home of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, whom Jesus called as his first disciples. All of them would have gone to the synagogue on the hill, just up the road from Peter’s house. We are told that the listeners present that day were astounded at his teaching, which was different from the teaching of the local scribes, most of whom belonged to the sect of Pharisees who relied on the teachings of the Torah, and the accumulated oral traditions down through the ages. There were so many different interpretations that the people were not always certain as to the “correct” interpretation. Jesus’ words were new and refreshing, spoken with authority. He did not quote other authorities from their perspectives. He spoke with authority and no ambiguity. It was like he believed that he had been “assigned” to speak on behalf of God.

In the midst of the synagogue service, a man with a demon, an evil power or authority, came in and asked Jesus, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.” WOW! What an endorsement for Jesus as God–God with power and authority. Jesus’ teaching showed that the scribes were shallow and stale in their teaching while Jesus’ was deep and original, and he had authority in his real power to contact the forces of evil. Jesus was orderly, rational and believable in his teaching. The people had never seen or heard anything like this in their previous experiences in the synagogue.

There was a letter to “Dear Abby” printed in the newspaper:

Dear Abby: Last week my sister-in-law had a garage sale, and right out front was displayed the gift my husband and I had given her last Christmas. It had never been used and was sold for less than half of what we paid for it. My husband said that it was hers to do whatever she pleased with, and that I was stupid and over sensitive to give it a second thought. What do you think? Signed, Hurt.

Abby’s reply: “Dear Hurt: Your husband is right when he says the gift was hers to do with whatever she pleased.”

A true gift leaves the giver exposed. The giver is out of control. His or her defenses are down. Each day we make plans and occasionally something backfires on us.

During World War 2 the Manhattan Project was started to produce an atomic bomb. The work went on secretly in places like Chicago; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Finally, near the end of the war, the A bomb was just about ready to be deployed. The scientists learned that Germany, weeks away from defeat, was not going to make the bomb. They questioned whether they should rush to complete their project but maybe it would not be needed to defeat the Japanese. Einstein was asked to write to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on behalf of the scientists to bring him up to date on the progress. The president never read the letter. It was found in his office after he died on April 12, 1945. The letter was passed to Harry Truman, FDR’s successor in office. A decision was made to drop the bomb first on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and then three days later, on Nagasaki. Einstein was at a cottage on Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks when he heard the news. His comment: “Oh, my God.”

One month later the scientists involved in creating the bomb signed a statement urging that a council of nations be created to control atomic weaponry. Scientists wanted something to be done to control this incredible destructive power that had been unleashed by their hands. The bomb had consequences that they had not foreseen. When the scientists began working on the project, they envisioned the potential good that could come out of their experiments, but by the close of the war they were horrified at the destruction that could come to all humankind. Advances in science and technology can be used with good and bad intentions. Even our brightest and best minds cannot keep everything under control, so we cannot expect those of us who are more ordinary people to think that we can have complete control over our lives. We have problems we cannot solve, heavy burdens, and addictions that enslave us. We have diseases we cannot heal and in the end, death that we cannot escape.

Mark spoke of evil power in Jesus’ earthly reign but he reminded us that there is also good news. There is One who is stronger than the evil we confront. Some one more powerful has come to the world and stands by our side to help us battle against evil. Will Willimon, Chaplain at Duke University, wrote an article in the Christian Century magazine in which

he used The King’s Speech” movie as a basis for speaking about the authority of preaching the gospel. King George VI, plagued with a stuttering speech impediment, worked with a speech therapist for years to be able to speak in public. Willimon contends that it is extremely difficult to teach seminarians how to preach and used King George VI as an example. The king was terrified at the prospect of being put in front of a microphone to say something important to a crowd of listeners, to dare to intrude into other people’s souls with words, to tell them the truth that they have been avoiding–is not a vocation for the faint of heart!

Recognizing the voice of authority is the key to overcoming potential chaos, “the out of control” aspect of so much of our lives. There is only one who speaks with an authoritative voice straight from God–that is Jesus, who astounded the congregation at Capernaum and who continues to astound today as he subdues the unruly powers that seek to torment us. Praise God for Jesus’ power and authority over our lives! Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Why Has Jesus Called Us to be His Disciples? Mark 1:14-20

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After Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and the time he spent in the desert, Jesus returned to Galilee to begin his traveling ministry. Mark’s gospel recalls the selection of four common fishermen to be his disciples. Think of these every day commoners and ask yourselves, “Why did Jesus choose these ordinary men for his important work?”

Have you ever thought about the smartest people in the world and how they might make the world a better place? Ken Jennings won 74 consecutive matches on Jeopardy taking home more than $2.5 million. Garry Kasparov, 22years old, a Russian chess player, was the youngest undisputed chess player, later beaten at chess by an IBM computer. The World Genius Directory, developed by Dr. Jason Betts claims the smartest person in the world is Dr. Evangilos Katsioulis, a Greek psychologist with an IQ of 198, twice that of the average person. Access to some of these “brainiacs” might have major perks when trying to solve some of our church’s financial issues.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is in the recruitment mode, actively drafting members of his team. They are people that he knows will be given the task of igniting a spiritual movement that will eventually spread around the globe and endure for thousands of years. If you were Jesus, what criteria would you use to pick the members of this elite team? Would you hit up the World Genius Directory to find the biggest brain in Palestine and ask him/her to be in charge of logistics? Don’t forget to find someone

with an outstanding sense of humor to cheer the team on when the going gets tough. How about a strong-arm to defend the band when they meet with relentless opposition?

Oddly from our perspective, who does Jesus choose but the unqualified. Your Sunday school lessons taught you that Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John were respected fishermen in their day–but they were young men in a world where life expectancy was low and James and John, old enough to be established in a trade and to have a business of their own, were still working with their father, Zebedee, in the boat with them. The ideal career for most young Hebrews was not to be taking over the family business, but to be under the tutelage of a local rabbi. On the ancient site of Peter’s house, you can see the synagogue up the hill–the gathering place for Jews to learn and pray. The brightest boys who had shined in Hebrew school and stood out in their memorization of the Torah, would spend the next few years tagging along as disciples of the rabbi–if they made the cut! To be a man embedded in the family trade, most likely you were not the cream of the crop in Hebrew school and did not have what it takes to run with the rabbis. Those kids were the leftovers, the ones who did not get picked to play touch football or kickball or soccer.

If you have not seen “Spare Parts,” you might want to consider it. Al Heinz, longtime member and Elder here was a former principal at Carl Hayden High School. He taught shop and created the program to teach students necessary skills to work in the construction field. He built our Education Building with the help of church volunteers. “Spare Parts,” depicts kids who are considered discards, or cast offs–many illegal citizens and from poor families, determined not to have much potential in the future. A substitute teacher was hired to head up a Robotics Club that worked with four young men in whom nobody recognized their potential. Amazingly, with creativity and determination they built an underwater robot out of parts from the local hardware store and beat out the prestigious MIT team to win first place–and put Carl Hayden High School on the map.

God created each of us in his image and determined us to be perfect, equipped to do the work that he has set before us. Jesus did not pick the brightest kids from other rabbis and build a dream team. He went on a mission to draft the leftovers. Why? Jesus chose simple and unaccomplished disciples to follow him so that the love of God and the work of the kingdom would be undeniably evident in an unbelieving world. The simple, unschooled tradesmen would become living, breathing object lessons on the depths of God’s grace and the scope of God’s power. No one would be able to say that they were privileged to walk with Jesus because of their resume’s. No one could say that the growth of the kingdom would be credited to their IQ. It was all God’s doing. If you look ahead to Acts 4 and consider the post-resurrection activities of the disciples, the former fishermen are boldly championing the expansion of God’s kingdom. The Jewish authorities are blown away by the messengers and the contents of their messages. Luke wrote, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, they perceived that they were uneducated, common men (Acts 4:13), and they were astonished.” The gospel being delivered through such unexpected messengers, elicited an even greater awe of God and even clearer evidence of Jesus’ power.

The big question for this morning is why do you think God chose you? Ultimately, it is because God loves you. Did God call you to Christ through his Word and draw you to the waters of baptism, marking you as his own and placing every promise of the cross upon your life because God saw something awesome in you? NO. God called you for the same reason he called the first twelve:

you are an example of the depths of God’s grace and the scope of God’s power;

you have a rebellious heart;

you have secret struggles;

you have a lack of faith and a long list of faults;

you know you are unworthy to tie God’s shoes, let alone be called a child of God;

God chose you so that the world might look at you and see that God is indescribably merciful and incredibly powerful.

What did the first twelve do when Jesus called them? They dropped everything and followed. So, tomorrow when my annoying neighbor’s tree continues to drop pool filter clogging pods, leaves and flowers into my pool, I should see it as a gift of grace and a chance for God’s power to shine through my weakness. When Jesus calls us to follow him into illness or to endure a burden, it is a gift of grace and an opportunity for God’s power to shine in our moments of weakness. It simply is not easy! Every day there is an opportunity to be a disciple for the world to watch in astonishment as ordinary, unscholarly, undeserving people live as examples of God’s mercy and proof of God’s power.

God did not have to choose us but God has chosen us, to use us. The end result is not just a blessing for us and those God calls us to serve. The end result is glory for God’s name.

A colleague of mine has a phone message that ends, “God doesn’t call the qualified, God qualifies the called.” Go out and be a blessing to others to the glory of God.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

HART Pantry Update – January 2015

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I expect most of you are aware of the origination of the Peoria Youth Pantry. It began 3 years ago while I was standing in Pastor Pat’s office and a gal came in asking for monetary help feeding local teens. Being new to PPC myself this just touched my heart and as they say the rest is history. Dick and I worked out of our garage for awhile and then when PPC got on the band wagon, we got the storage cupboard in the Social Hall. Back then we served about 10-12 kids a week with weekend food packs of 10 items.
As of this week we are serving 50 teens per week with 18 food items in 4 schools and the Peoria Community Center. In addition to food we now offer monthly toiletries, refurbished bikes when we can find them, new and gently used clothes and shoes, graduation and Christmas gifts and through partners, future educational possibilities and jobs. We have been helped greatly by the church Mission committee, the members of the congregation, the Deacons (pay for more rented storage space); Pastor Pat, Eve’s Place, Heritage Presbyterian Church, VFW, community donations and corporate grants. We need to grow because the problem of teen hunger in our community and state continues to grow. 1 in 4 kids in Arizona go to bed hungry and do poorly in school because they are hungry.
All of this history is to explain why we need to grow more. We have been offered a partnership with Heritage Presbyterian Church Congregation. They are doing fund raisers and food drives for the Pantry. Our partnership with Eve’s Place has flourished and we now can offer more services because of them.
We are going to have a new Name and FACEBOOK page: Helping At Risk Teens Pantry; HART PANTRY.  The page can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/HARTPantry.   This is necessary because I found that folks looking to help kids will search the WEB for “at risk teens” We need to be there. Secondly Eve’s Place has offered the Pantry free storage and room to pack bags at their new location in Sun City; no financial strings attached. That means the Deacon’s donation, if they so choose, can now go to food purchases instead of storage fees. In addition to these situations we can save considerable dollars, hundreds in a calendar year, if we can be sales tax exempt. Since our church is really not in a financial position to allow for any growth and since we are actually spending considerable money for sales tax (the PANTRY cannot be exempt as an arm of the church) and feel that storage we now have and share with the church on the 3rd floor of the storage facility is still not adequate and is costly, I have applied for independent 501(c) (3) status as a Faith Based charitable community outreach program; all costs to apply for this corporation at my expense.
To do this makes financial sense; for the Pantry and for Peoria Presbyterian Church. I might add that this change has been endorsed by both the Finance Committee and The Session. My hope is that the HART Pantry will remain a mission of PPC just as Habitat and Agua Fria are. I see no change in the congregation’s role as they care for the kids and gift accordingly. My present staff is aware of this change and understands the positive impact this will have on our efforts. I would be happy to continue monthly reporting to the Session and will do likewise for Heritage PC.
I have been told that if you are passionate about something, you must follow GOD’s lead and “if you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.” I hope and pray my church will walk with me.
If you have questions or concerns or if you want to join or support us, please call me, 252 259-5331; or email me, quilterruthl@gmail.com; Soon you will be able to find up to date information on our FACEBOOK page as well.

Sincerely,
Ruth Langford
HART PANTRY

Categories: Newsletter

Volunteer Article – January 2015

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A SHOW OF HANDS OR VOLUNTEERING

During some sleepless minutes of the night, I got to thinking about Pastor Pat’s sermon about figs. All I remember is her asking for a show of hands if we had eaten figs. DO NOT tell her my last statement, because I want her to think I remember every word of her sermon all year long. I did not raise my hand, but I love figs.

Being in the army, I learned not to volunteer for anything, with some exceptions. In the first few day of my military life, we were asked, “Who knows how to drive?” Hands went up thinking of a soft job of driving a jeep. This was followed up with “Come with me and drive this wheel barrow filled with dirt today.” Or, “Who can type?” Hands went up again. “Come with me because you are the type to clean latrines today.” Again, looking for an easy job was the thinking.

When I started Basic Training, we had new wall lockers to put together with 1/4” bolts. I bought a wrench to fit the bolts, thinking I could get my locker put together and tightened. I would be out of there, as we were on our own time in the evening. WRONG! “Hey trooper, the one with a wrench, you are to stay and tighten the bolts since you have a wrench. The rest of you are dismissed.”

Now, do you see why I hesitate to volunteer unless, it is for a good deed like helping someone in need?

My next article will be about the fig tree in the back yard of the church along with the fig trees on the Johnson farm in earlier years. I do not want to bore you with too much history, which to some who may be thinking it does not amount to “a hill of beans”. So, if this your feeling, please let me know and I can easily take care of the problem.

Ken

Categories: Newsletter

Pastor’s Corner – January 2015

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Dear Friends,

After the tree is down and the Christmas decorations are stashed away until the next year, there is a feeling of loneliness and emptiness. The church sanctuary is so bare. Is it empty and calling to worshipers to bring new enthusiasm to re-dress its spaces? I miss the cheery red and green finery and the twinkling lights trimming my house outside and the tree inside. When all is packed away in boxes, the church and house seem so hollow. The hustle and bustle have dissipated and a new year has begun.

Winter is finally here in Arizona–a reprieve from the 100+ degree nights and days and what seems to be a more restful pace. Some of us resort to relaxing with a book in an easy chair and enjoying a fire in the fireplace. We await the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, and a new calendar of celebrations to come. Winter is an ideal time to slow down and ponder what God in the heavens is planning for us in the near future. Is it a winter season in your life; a time of depression, loneliness, or being spiritually “on hold”? Do you wonder if your soul will ever thaw?

God is always present, waiting for us to approach God. You might feel like a dry spell has crept into your life and you would rather curl up and cry, rather than stand up and sing. This too, shall pass. When the winter season ends, you will be wiser, deeper and stronger. Psalm 115:12, 13-18, “The Lord remembers us and will bless us: he will bless those who fear the Lord-small and great alike. May the Lord make you increase, both you and your children. May you be blessed by the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to man. It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to silence; it is we who extol the Lord, both now and forevermore. Praise the Lord.”

God has great plans for you in 2015. May they unfold in a delightful way as God blesses you to be a blessing to others. Happy New Year!

Rev. Pat

Thank you for your prayers and many acts of kindness throughout the year!

Categories: Newsletter