Here is the sermon from last Sunday - hope it inspires your faith, especially in light of how do we respond to the tragedy in Las Vegas. Please take a moment and read it, and feel free to share it.


18th Sunday after Pentecost
October 8, 2017
 
Isaiah  5:1-7
Psalm  80
Philippians  3:4-14
Matthew  21:33-46
 
“I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the sharing of His sufferings by becoming like Him . . .”  Philippians  3:10
 
Let us pray.
 
So what’s the answer?  How do we stop the senseless violence and killing?  Is the answer more legislation . . . to at least ban all assault rifles?  Or is it more funding for mental health . . . and make sure people with mental health issues are taken care of before they become violent?  Or is it to enforce more values into our education and social standards, to dispel the hate and division?  Or, maybe everyone should return to church and be committed to practicing love and making sure our children learn to respect others and never resort to violence to express their anger?  What is the answer?
 
All I know is that everyone gets very passionate whenever people share what they believe is the answer, and many disagree so strongly that it becomes all too easy to forget that we all share the same goal, the same desire, to stop the violence.  Even our gospel lesson for today and the story Jesus tells the Pharisees and religious leaders has to do with seeking a way to stop the violence.  The landowner sends his servants to collect what is due to him.  But the tenants kill his servants.  He sends more servants with higher regard, but they kill them too.  Finally, the landowner believes the answer to stopping this violence is to send his son, surely they will respect him!  But out of their greed, what do they do; yes, they even kill his beloved son.  And so, Jesus warns the religious leaders that if they rely upon violence to keep their power, to allow their greed to get the best of them, then they will be held accountable by God . . . their actions will have consequences.
 
Doesn’t even God try to offer an answer to how to stop the violence?  From the day Cain killed Abel, God has suffered and desperately sought the answer to how to curb our violent ways.  Of course, as Jesus tried to tell the religious leaders, it is all rooted in sin, in pride, in disregard for another’s welfare; thinking my rights, what I want is more important than anyone else.  And, in the end, God’s answer is the same as the landlords, I will send my son, surely they will respect him and follow his example of integrity and compassion.  Surely they will discover the hope he offers them and the eternal treasures that far exceed what their greed hungers for, which is only temporary.  But we all know how the story goes.  The religious leaders did not heed Jesus’ warning.  Instead, they followed their pride and needed to remain in control . . . they had Jesus killed.  They thought violence was the answers . . . get rid of Him.  The people will turn to us again.  Little did they know that violence is never the answer . . . violence never provides a solution.  No, God has the answer after all and it is called love.  Love was the power that raised Jesus from the grave.  Love is what conquers hate and has the last word, for us all.  The answer God provides for how to stop the violence is The Resurrection power and how loves changes everything, including hearts bent on violence.  Our calling is to not only trust in this power, but to declare its truth in our words and actions  To listen to those we might not agree with, to be committed to work together, not just walk away, for we, too, are held accountable, not only to God, but by those who are watching us, our children, our co-workers, our friends and family.  And, there are consequences if we choose violence, or hate or greed or if we are not willing to listen and be respectful to each other.  But, even more than that, we have been given the privilege and opportunity to receive God’s son with joy and devotion, and let all others know that this is the Light that outshines the darkness, this is the Life that restores all life and is stronger than death, that this is our everlasting answer, the way, the truth . . . listen, obey, follow and trust in Him, for His love will have the final and eternal word, for us all. 
 
Amen.

 

 

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Sunday, October 1, 2017
17th Sunday after Pentecost
 
Ezekiel  18:1-4, 25-32
Psalm  25
Philippians  2:1-13
Matthew  21:23-32
 
“Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord.”
 
Let us pray.
 
Just like a family, the church also often has disagreements and members don’t always see eye-to-eye.  Which is why St. Paul is urging the church members to have the same mind and same attitude of Christ with one another. . . to be humble, turn from selfish desires or the need to be right and in humility, regard others as better than ourselves, be concerned about the interests of others, and in that way, God will be able to work in and through us for the sake of Christ’s ministry.
 
But we realize, more than ever, that it is not easy.  Our human nature and pride get the best of us.  And, isn’t this exactly what Jesus is confronting as he encounters the religious leaders of His day.  They thought they were so holy.  They knew what was right and loved to condemn others who, in their eyes, were sinners.  But Jesus challenges them, just like He challenges us, do our words, our showmanship of being good Christians really match our actions. . .especially in how we treat others?
 
Any parent here can empathize with Jesus’ little parable about a father asking his sons to do their chores.  We can relate, can’t we?  One complains and says, “No.”, but then later goes ahead and completes his chores, while the other one says, “Yes.”, I’ll do them, but in the end never gets around to them.  As a parent, we cherish the first one, because even though we don’t care for their complaining, we feel relieved and satisfied that they still did what we asked them to.  Nothing more aggravating than seeing full waste baskets or dirty dishes still on the counter long after you heard your child say, “Don’t worry, I will take care of them.”
 
Well, thru Jesus, God is asking the same thing of us.  “Do my will, complete my work, be witnesses for my truth, and most of all be examples for my love in your actions toward others.”  This is what the Pharisees just didn’t get. They thought they only needed to look like pious religious men.  They didn’t have to act like one, too, “You mean to stop judging others, heavens no, you can’t be serious Jesus”.  Well, Jesus was serious.  Those they judged as sinners were going to get to heaven before these self-righteous phonies.
 
Reminds me of a story I read this week which was actually written by my sister’s former Pastor and now Bishop of Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi, Bishop Gordy.  He tells the story of a physician who came to his high school to talk about the dangers of smoking.  He scared the kids with pictures of smoker lungs and tales of dying from lung cancer.  He concluded his talk by saying “Remember, fire on one end, fool on the other.”  Everyone was impressed, but as he and his friends headed home after school they saw the same doctor next to his car light up and begin smoking.  All his credibility was gone. . .everyone talked about how he said one thing but did another. . .it was almost better if he had never came to speak, because this message came up empty when his actions spoke louder.  and isn’t the same thing true from us Christians?  Doesn’t just talking about Jesus and how important it is to pray, to obey the ten commandments, to respect those things sacred to us. . .all come up empty when we resort to name calling, judging others, yelling at them and ridiculing who they are or what they believe?  Following through and walking the talk is what Jesus asks of us.  To humbly do what needs to be done so that God’s work is truly accomplished through our hands.  It always feels good after I make a donation to the Lutheran Disaster Relief Program that Lutherans are often the first on the scene providing food and water. . .Lutheran Social Services were on the scene in Texas and Florida, helping people apply for grants, etc.  Catholic Relief Services responded immediately in both Mexico and Puerto Rico. . .these are the specific examples of what it means to be a Christian. . .much more than just lip-service or wearing a cross.  We, too are called to demonstrate our faith in how we care. . .simply how we treat one another, with dignity and respect.  For we come before this table, we all kneel before God, we all are in need of the same grace and forgiveness. . .we all need to know we belong to God’s family and have a place waiting for us at God’s heavenly table as well. . .when we will indeed be truly one.
 
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Holy Trinity Sunday
June 11, 2017
 
Genesis  1:1-2, 4
Psalm  8
2 Corinthians  2:14, 22-36
Matthew  28:16-20
“Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations . . . . .baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Let us pray.
 
My sense is most Lutheran pastors today will probably quote Martin Luther when he says, “To try and deny The Holy Trinity endangers your salvation, yet to try to comprehend The Holy Trinity endangers your sanity.”
Yes, we often hear that The Trinity, One God, yet three persons, is a mystery and it’s better to just leave it at that.  But, doesn’t what The Holy Trinity tells us first and foremost, is that it’s all about relationships?  God is a relational God, we are relational people.  Science has shown us again and again, that everything is inter-relational, and inter-dependent.  What we do to our environment not only affects others, but also ourselves.  We are all inter-connected.  If we care and obey Jesus’ commandment to love, then when one member of the church suffers, we all feel their pain and together, seek to provide comfort and hope.
I like how one scholar, named Richard Rohr, described The Trinity, as dancing partners  -  one moves one way and the other responds.  We hear the stories of Jesus’ love and compassion, our hearts are moved by The Spirit and we want to express our gratitude to our heavenly father.  And, perhaps this is the best way to respect The Trinity, by praise and adoration, instead of trying to explain it.  I grew up in a church named Holy Trinity (and so did Ron Kvilhaug, in the same church) and we sang our opening hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy” almost every Sunday.  And let me tell you that leaves a lasting impression on you.  I would hear those lyrics in my head throughout the week, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty.  Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee.  Holy, Holy, Holy, all the saints shall adore thee.  Merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”
Wow, this God deserved my utmost attention and praise.  I really wasn’t sure who Cherubim and Seraphim were, but I guess if they knelt before God, so should I. “Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.”  This Trinity God was not just some temporary God who came and went, no This God was ever present and touching my life in my creation, in my redemption and in my being strengthened and sustained.  This was a powerful God and yet, gentle, merciful.  All encompassing, and yet ever-caring.  Yes, there is none besides you.  “Perfect in power, love and purity.”  Yes, one Lord, yet the blessed Trinity was holy and deserved our complete devotion and awe.  And, isn’t this exactly what Jesus commissioned his disciples and us to do, go out and share this amazing and awesome God.  To always remember who He is in our baptism as we make the sign of the cross and declare “In the name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit”.  Never take this awesome God for granted; never rise up in the morning without giving Him praise.  No this God is everywhere; His works are declared on earth, in the sea and sky.  This is one who gives s life and eternal life.  Maybe instead of getting caught up with trying to understand The Trinity, we should simply focus on The Holy part.  Sometimes I wonder if we have neglected this. We don’t show God the reverence God deserves in how we faithfully worship or serve Him, how we obey His commandments and generously give to His ministry.
Maybe that’s what Holy Trinity Sunday is all about, to never take the incredible nature and power of God for granted.  But to instead, join in the dance, be The Trinity’s faithful dancing partner, be moved by The Spirit, be inspired by The Son, be awed by The Father, and dance to your heart’s content.  Yes, this Sunday I invite you to take off your theologian hats and instead put on your dancing shoes and sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy” we adore thee and worship you alone.  We are dedicated to obeying your teachings, especially your commandment to love.  We love you Holy Trinity and how you are present everywhere and in everyone.
 
Amen.

 

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Pentecost Sunday
Confirmation Sunday
June 4, 2017
 
Acts  2-21
Psalm  104
I Corinthians  12:3-13
John 20:19-23
 
“Direct us by the light of your Spirit that we may have right judgments in all things and rejoice at all times in your peace.”
 
Let us pray.
 
As most of you know, last weekend, I was in Tennessee visiting my family as we celebrated my mother’s 98th birthday.  Last Sunday, I went to two worship services, Methodist and Lutheran, and it brought home the fact that just like my family, we all belong to one another, we are, indeed, united as one because of The Holy Spirit, for isn’t that the role of The Spirit, to make us one, to keep us united, no matter what, and help us to listen to one another and have the wisdom to make right judgments so we can live and rejoice in God’s peace.
 
Reminds me of a story that author Joel Ortberg once shared when he was in Tennessee.  Being from the north, he wasn’t accustomed to the traditional country-style breakfasts; always served with eggs, ham, biscuits and, of course, grits.  Well, he got to wondering, “What is grits, anyway?”  So, he asked the waitress, “Could you please tell me what exactly is a grit?”  The waitress looked down on him with a mixture of compassion and condescension, and said, “Sugar, you can’t get just one grit. They always come together.”
 
And, in some ways, isn’t this true about the Church which we celebrate today and its beginning in Pentecost.  There simply isn’t just one church, or one person who makes up the church.  No, it always comes together, it always is a wonderful mixture of people from all different backgrounds, who speak different languages and share different customs.  No, what makes the church the church by its very nature, is our diversity and how we become united to share the same body of Christ, the same Spirit and the same bread and wine.
 
That’s how it was from the very beginning, all those people from around the world were there to receive God’s Spirit and suddenly they could understand each other, suddenly, they realized they had the same mission and the same purpose.  And, isn’t this true for these confirmands today?  They are here today to affirm with us we all share in the same God-given mission to allow The Spirit to give us the courage to boldly declare that everyone who calls upon the Lord will know His grace and love through Christ.  As someone said, “No one goes to the North Pole alone, no one goes into outer-space alone”, and likewise, we should never try to accomplish the mission of the Church alone.  In fact, every single one of us is crucial, every one of us is needed, just as we need Cody and Jesse to truly be the church, for with their contribution, their unique and special gifts, we are able to fulfill God’s dream and God’s vision of forgiveness, healing and love.
 
May we truly affirm together with them that we are united in our baptism, we are the Spirit that makes us one, so that if one member suffers, we all suffer and if one member rejoices, we all rejoice.  Being the church runs deeper than any ethnic ties, being the church goes way beyond being a democrat or a republican, it even transcends loyalty to country or domination.  No, we belong to one another because we belong to God and, The Spirit has given us a mission that far exceeds our personal agendas.  Our common goal is to love as Christ has loved us.  And, we have The Spirit to empower to do exactly that.  So, at a time when people like to say we have never been so divided, it is the task of the church to declare, “No.  We have never been so close and united because of The Spirit, which gives us compassion and moves us beyond needing to be right or wrong.”  No, we are in this together, because that is what it means to be the church, and that’s what we are, God’s church, for all the world to see.  Happy Birthday to us.
 
Amen.

 

 

 

 

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Maundy Thursday
April 13, 2017
 
“Remember me whenever you eat of this meal.”
 
Let us pray.
 
Do you know what the word “Maundy” means?  Many think we are observing “Monday” Thursday today.  The word “Maundy” is Latin for “command” and we call today Maundy Thursday because Jesus gives us two commands; the first is love one another as He loves us.  He washes the disciples’ feet to show them He has come to serve, not rule, over them. He shows them that His mission is to love, so if we claim to be part of His mission, we need to also love.  The second commandment is to remember Him whenever we eat of this meal, to make sure to make Him and his gift of love central to what we are doing, and make sure we don’t just go through the motions and forget Jesus and His sacrifice in giving us His body and blood, His very life for us.  So, just by being here tonight, you are fulfilling Jesus’ commandments.  You chose to stop whatever you were doing and come tonight, to remember Jesus and affirm His love.
 
But, we know how easy it is for us to forget; to allow our lives to take over, and so Jesus gets put on the back burner.  But, tonight, you didn’t do that.  Tonight you wanted to put your devotion for Jesus first and to thank Him for His devotion to us, even to the point of dying on the cross.  And, you will be rewarded for being here, you will be blessed, you will be nourished and fed, you will realize again, just how much you are loved, you will understand what the true and lasting treasure really is – all by just being here tonight.  As the kids in The First Communion Class pointed out, the first part of the word “communion” is “come”.  And, it’s true, in order to receive all these remarkable benefits that God has in store for you, you got to come.
 
As good as staying home and watching the Ducks play tonight, in their first playoff game, no less, you won’t receive the gifts that God wants to give to you in this meal, unless you come and receive.  This indeed is the treasure worth seeking, worth giving up everything else for, for this meal is an everlasting treasure, it is a foretaste of the feast to come.  Yes, it has eternal significance for by the gift of love it offers, we are promised the gift of eternal life, forgiveness and joy.  Yes, that’s much better and provides much more than a hockey game can promise, or deliver.  This is the meal that fills our heart, that heals broken lives and restores relationships, especially our relationship to God. 
 
Martin Luther called Holy Communion the Sacrament of Love, and encouraged us to receive as often as possible for we need to hear those words, “I love you” over and over again.  He writes, “From God we received nothing but love and kindness, for Christ has given his all for us.”  Of that we could only comprehend this, that God is a glowing bake oven full of love that reaches from earth to heaven and back again.  So, give yourself over to this love and learn how it kindles love within your heart and makes you one.  Just as grains of wheat are kneaded together and assume one form in the bread, so we become one common body, and truly are “The Body of Christ to the world.”
 
Yes, just by coming tonight, you are changing the world, yes, it’s true.  You are receiving the gift of love, so you can become the gift of love to others, you are fulfilling Jesus’ commandment, by being His love to others.  But, just as with any gift, it depends upon our receiving it, putting out our hands and our hearts and taking ahold of it, so you can be re-shaped by its power and become the hands and feet of Christ to the world.
 
So, I thank God you are here, God is thankful you are here, only wish more were, because they are missing out of something precious, a treasure far greater than gold; a gift that changes everything; a love that will sustain us both now and forever.
 
Amen.
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5th Sunday in Lent
April 2, 2017
 
Ezekiel  37:1-14
Psalm  130
Romans  8:6-11
John  11:1-45
 
“Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness, “all of our days.”
 
Let us pray.
 
Today is like a mini-Easter  -  a prelude to the day Jesus conquers death and becomes our risen Lord.  This event is, indeed, remarkable, bringing Lazarus back from the dead, and yet, it is nothing compared to resurrection – the power to set us free from death once and for all.
 
I remember once seeing a cartoon that depicted Jesus raising Lazarus from the tomb, and suddenly beyond him there appears another mummy-like fellow, looking rather disheveled, to which Jesus turns and says to him, “No.  I am certain I said come out Lazarus, not Lackowitz.”  What I like about this silly cartoon is that this whole raising of Lazarus is a rather confusing event, so many strange things about it, but the main point is that Jesus has the power over death – maybe even to His surprise.
 
Yes, there are some odd twists and turns in this story.  First off, Jesus is told, “Come quickly, your dear friend Lazarus is very sick.”  And what does Jesus’ respond; he stayed two days longer where he was instead of rushing to Lazarus’ side.  Plus, Jesus says those strange words, “This illness does not lead to death.”  Well, guess what?  It did, he died.  And even though Jesus loved both Mary and Martha and Lazarus, he announced that Lazarus is dead and that he was glad he wasn’t there.  To which Martha later scolds Jesus; “If only you would have been here, then Lazarus would still be alive.”  Jesus tells her he will rise again.  Jesus gets the same greeting from Mary, almost sounding like it was Jesus’ fault that Lazarus died.  And then, Jesus does something very puzzling.  He cries.  Why does he cry if he knows he is going to bring him back to life?  Those who see Jesus crying say, “See how much he loved him.”  And he did.  In some respects, Jesus joins in the grieving process along with Mary and Martha, he shares their pain.  And, perhaps, that is necessary no matter how much we believe in the resurrection, we still mourn the loss of our loved ones.  They are gone and we miss them.  Oh, if only Jesus could bring them back for us like he did Lazarus!
 
But Jesus then, we are told, is greatly disturbed, as if He was angry at the power of death and the pain it creates.  And then He orders them to remove the stone, and, of course, the concern is the smell, he has been dead for four days.  But Jesus is more concerned about doing His Father’s work and to show His glory and He yells, “Lazarus, come out”, and then, “Unbind him and let him go.”  And, amazingly, that’s where the story ends  -  rats!  We never find out if he smelled or not.  The only thing certain is that Jesus has the power over death and that Lazarus will, one day, have to die again, because that’s not the end of the story.  And whatever happened to Lazarus?  How did he live out his second chance on life?  Was he no longer afraid of death?  I remember once being in Cyprus and our guide said in this church was the tomb of Lazarus.  I said, “What.  Wasn’t that back in Bethany?”  “No.  This was the tomb he did not come out of.”  Legend has it that Lazarus went to Cyprus and became the Bishop of Kition and he died of natural causes in 63 AD  -  30 years after his first death. 
In a novel, called Lazarus, the Man, it gives an imaginary account of what life was like for Lazarus after being brought back from the dead.  The author writes, “After that day, Lazarus was transformed in so many ways, he moved a lot slower, he even ate slower, absorbing each moment of life, so much richer and deeper than before.  No, he was truly set free when they unbound him, free to love, slowly, intentionally, and to love, just like Jesus.  Yes he cried at Jesus tomb on that Saturday, and yet, he knew it wasn’t the end.”
 
Lazarus was the only one who wasn’t surprised when he saw Jesus fully alive again.  And, after that, his only desire was to stay close to Jesus, and the only way to do that, was to live and love abundantly, until he is reunited, and death will truly be no more.
 
Now that is a great ending to this strange, but beautiful story.
 
Amen.
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The Great Chasm Sermon

POP 9-25-16

by Pastor Wally Burman

 

The Great Chasm

 

In the today’s Gospel passage we find Jesus doing a teaching through the use of a parable

Parables typically juxtapose or place different things side by side that normally would not come into contact with each other. This is done in order to create an interesting effect or to show how they are the same or different.  

This parable depicts the Rich Manwho has descended into Hell having a conversation with Father Abraham who is in HeavenThose 2 would typically not interact ever with each other, ever.

During his life, the Rich Man avoidedany recognition of his neighbor, Lazarus. Lazarus was a beggar living outside of the house of a certain Rich Man. The Rich Man probably strolled past Lazarus everyday, but apparently ignored him

In this Parable, both the Rich Man and Lazarus have died. The Rich Man observes Lazarus in Heaven resting in the bosom of Abraham and the Rich Man finds himself in Hell, which is his new place of residency, for eternity. I will read some of the verses & add comments

 

Luke 16 verse 22:

22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 

Already we see a difference between these 2 men. Lazarus, though starving & in ill health, was apparently in good health with God because he, unlike the Rich Man, avoids being buried and is ushered by the Angels into the bosom of Abraham. The Rich Man is listed as having died & is buried. End of story.

References in the Gospel of Lukeencourage us to not focus on earthly things, like gold & property that could weigh us down but in turn we are to focus on the heavenly things that are lighter & full of the Spirit that will not weigh us down when we die.

The Rich Man apparently focused on his wardrobe & gourmet meals, but avoided helping his neighbor Lazaruswho was starving & sick. The dogs were licking his sores…

Hence, the Rich Man died & was buried and due to the weight of his lifestyle choices, as noted in verse 23: descended down into: 23 Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 

 

24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

For whatever reason, Lazarus lived a life of poverty and suffered greatly. Apparently he chose not to strive to accumulate wealth or was not born into a wealthy family. Lazarus made the best of his lot in life and after his death he was taken to Heaven.

The Rich Man on the other hand, was now in agony because of his choices in life; as he chose to not share his wealth to help others, but to spend it on a fine wardrobe and lavish meals. 

 

Verse 26, Father Abraham continues: 

26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 

Verse 27: The Rich Man pleadingwith Father Abraham: 

27 “Please, Father Abraham, I beg you, send Lazarus to my father’s house. 28 I have five brothers there, and they are on the same path I was on. If Lazarus warns them, they will choose another path and will not end up here in torment.”

29 But Abraham said, “Why send Lazarus? They already have the Law ofMoses and the writings of the Prophets to instruct them. Let your brothers hear them.”

30 “No, Father Abraham,” he said, “Theyare already ignoring the Law and the Prophets. But if someone came back from the dead, then they would listen for sure; then they would change their way of life.”

31 Abraham answered, “If they are not listening to Moses and the Prophets, they would not be convinced even if someone comes back from the dead.”

This is an important point because the Law & the Prophets point to Jesus who was being ignored by many folk who chose to not follow him. 

Once the Rich man realizes that his eternal home is basically a fiery furnace, then & only then is he interested in interacting with the poor beggar, but only in an effort to cool his tongue or to save other members of his family. 

Even in his turmoil, he does not speak to Lazarus directly, but speaks to Father Abraham in Heaven.

 

I find it ironic that the Rich Man does not have the good sense to speak toLazarus and apologize for not helping him

Even more ironic, is the fact that the Rich Man does not even beg forgiveness with Father Abraham. I would think that his frozen heart might begin to thaw out once the fires of Hell are tormenting him

The Rich Man suspects that if his brothers see someone who has come back from the dead that they will repentof their sins. 31 Father Abraham said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Someone who rises from the dead? In this parable we find Jesus referring to hisdeath, burial, & resurrection. 

Jesus rose from the dead and many folk did not notice. God the Father performs the greatest miracle ever, bringing Jesus back from the dead, & some people did not even take note.

Yes, that is unfortunate, at that time in history people appeared to not care. 

The real question is, “How do we react to the risen Jesus in our day?”

It is fine to study history. It is easy to point fingers and wonder why these people did not have a clue. But, by reading this Parable, we are to examine our own thoughts and actions based on the resurrected Christ. 

From this parable, we learn that Jesus is interested in how we react to our neighbor, the people like Lazarus whom we interact with or choose to ignore on a daily basis as in the parable of the Rich Man.

Jesus challenges us to treat our neighbors differently so as to avoid being separated from God like the Rich Man.

We do not have to be rich to ignore someone. We do not have to own an expensive wardrobe or dine on lavish meals in order to build a great chasm between our neighbor and us.

found that the chasms I built between others & myself were based onmy fear of others and had nothing to do with my bank account, but hadeverything to do with my fear & pride.

 As I stated in previous sermons, I grew up in South Dakota and learned to avoid anyone who was different

That included anyone who drove a tractor that was not red, who drove a vehicle that was not a Chevy. Anyone who was not Lutheran. I was not sure why I needed to avoid all these “different” people, but that was what I was led to believe.

Yet, most of these people were my neighbors. We did not have any people of color around. It was just us White people from Northern Europe who looke& acted pretty much the same. They were all farmers, teachers, or small business owners

Later in life, I learned that these differences in our choices signaled diversity & that I did not need live in fear of them.

I still resist green tractors, but have learned that people who look different than me, live different, and who worshipin a different manner are not wrong, but are people who are making different choices in life.

I realized while writing this sermon, that my life is similar to this parable. God has put me along side the diversity of this world due to the fact that my neighbors look different, act different, and occupy various places on the religious, political, sexual identity, ethnic, economic, skin color, & vocational spectrums in an effort for me to see that God loves all people and most of them don’t even own tractors!

I need not create a great chasm to separate us, but to build bridges that connect us in an effort to share God’s love and to live in peace & harmony with one another.

This parable really boils down to how we treat our neighbor. 

I want to conclude this sermon with a verse from the book of Micah that will also serve as my closing prayer.

 

Micah 6:6-8 is entitled:

What God Requires

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;and what does the Lord require of yobut to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

 

Amen

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18th Sunday after Pentecost

September 18, 2016

 

Amos 8:4-7

Psalm 113

I Timothy 2:1-7

Luke 16:1-13

 

“Turn our minds to your wisdom and our hearts to the grace revealed in Jesus Christ.”

 

Let us pray.

 

What does it mean to be nice in the ways of God? There is a wonderful story from India about a poor farmer who had run up a huge debt to a rich money lender.  It was too large for him to pay and it looked like he was going to lose his farm.  But the money lender had a solution.  He was not only rich, he was ugly and quite mean, so no one was willing to marry him.

 

This farmer had a beautiful daughter, so the money lender had a plan; if the farmer’s daughter would agree to marry him, he would forgive the farmer’s debt. And to make the deal even better, because he knew the farmer would never agree to having his daughter marry him, he suggested that he would put two pebbles in a sack, one white and one black.  And, if the daughter reached in and pulled out the white pebble, then she would not have to marry him and he would still forgive his debt.  But, if she pulled out the black pebble, then she would have to marry him, but the debt would also still be forgiven.

 

This made it even harder to say, “No.” to the shrewd money lender. So the farmer went and talked to his daughter.  She was horrified by the proposition of having to marry him, but she didn’t want to see her father go to prison, which would surely happen if she refused to go ahead with it.  So, she insisted they would go ahead and hoped for the best, having a fifty-fifty chance.

 

When they met the next day on the road, there were pebbles everywhere. The money lender stooped down to pick up the pebbles and placed them into the sack.  Now, the sharp-eyed daughter noticed that he had picked up two black pebbles and placed them into the sack, knowing now he couldn’t lose.  Well, what should the daughter do?  What would you do?  If she refused, her father would be thrown in prison.  She could try and point out he was cheating, but that would undoubtedly get him angry and call off the whole deal and her father would still end up in prison.  Again, what would you have advised her to do? 

 

Well, the girl was very wise; she reached into the sack and pulled out a pebble, but then she quickly fumbled it before anyone could see it and it fell on the road amidst all the other pebbles. “Oops, I’m so sorry.  How clumsy of me.  Still, if you just pull out the other pebble in the sack, you can see which color I had chosen.”  The money lender reluctantly pulled out the black pebble and because he was unwilling to admit he was dishonest, the debt was forgiven and the girl went free!

 

Now, this is the kind of story or parable we can get behind. It is clear who is the good guy and who the bad guy is and, we rejoice over the girl’s wisdom and quick thinking that, in the end, won the day.

Well, wish I could say the same for the story Jesus tells us in today’s gospel. Who knows who are the good guys or the bad guys.  Who does Jesus want us to be like; the dishonest manager or the rich man?  No, this one is confusing to say the least.  Biblical scholars for centuries have tried to figure this one out and if you think I can solve it today, well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, because I’m just as mixed up as you; especially that a manager who stole from his master, who then sells his goods at a lower price, who only cares about his own future retirement plan, gets rewarded in the end by his master.  I mean, how stupid is this master?  And then Jesus tells us we are to be like this dishonest manager and make friends for yourself by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal home!  Say what!  Sounds more like something you would hear from crooked dealers on Wall Street and bankers than from Jesus.

 

Well, at least we can make some sense from his concluding words. We need to be faithful with what has been given to us, if we are to be entrusted with more.  And that a slave can’t serve two masters.  You have to choose who you are devoted to, riches of this world and our own desire for wealth, or serving God.  You can’t serve both.  Maybe this is the whole point of this parable; maybe the shrewd manager was teaching the master to not be so greedy; that in the end, by being less greedy, at least he got back something of what was owed and something is better than nothing.  And, perhaps the manager himself learned not to be so greedy, because that’s what got him into trouble in the first place.  And, perhaps, isn’t this Jesus’ whole point – wealth isn’t bad, it’s greed or our desire of wealth that undermines us.  In fact, it is what undermines people having their basic needs being met.  It really is the cause of war and violence and poverty.  And as Amos declares, God will remember those who are greedy and trample on the needy; and not in a good way.

 

So, isn’t this our challenge today, to resist greed and instead be wise and serve God first and foremost, by how we give, how we care for those in need, like refugees and the homeless. Let’s be wise and gracious and put God above everything else, then we will enjoy eternal riches.

 

Amen.

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14th Sunday in Pentecost
August 21, 2016
 
Isaiah  58:9-14
Psalm  103
Hebrews  12:18-29
Luke  13:10-17
 
“God’s dream of healing”
 
“Bless the Lord o’ my soul. Forget not all God’s benefits, who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.”
 
Let us pray.
 
Eighteen years being bent over is a long time.  Many of you, I know, suffer from what is called chronic conditions, where there doesn’t seem to be a cure.  But as Mark Twain once remarked, “We all suffer from a terminal illness called life, because there is only one cure – death.”
 
I suppose death is our cure all, but I think we are all looking for something more hopeful and immediate.  I love the fact that this woman didn’t beg Jesus to cure her.  No, she was just there to faithfully fulfill her religious obligation to worship God on the Sabbath.  Even in her pain, she still believed and still put her faith into action by worshipping God.  But, Jesus was filled with compassion for her and he didn’t seem to even hesitate, he just reached out, touched her and declared, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” and she was healed and began to truly worship God.
 
But, for the religious leaders there were many problems with what Jesus did.  First, men are not supposed to talk to women in the Temple, let alone touch a woman and then declare her to be cured; only God could do that.  But the one thing that really got the religious leaders goat was that he healed on the Sabbath.  Just goes to show that this Jesus was just some radical who had no respect for God’s laws.  And wasn’t that exactly the whole point, God is more interested in people, not in laws.  God cares more about helping and healing than being correct or looking good.  And, likewise for Jesus, God’s ultimate concern is for our welfare; and so what better day to do God’s work than on the Sabbath?  And, 18 years is long enough.
 
Funny how the people got it.  They knew God better than the religious leaders did.  They rejoiced in the God who cares for us at all times, and they rejoiced that before their eyes, this woman didn’t suffer anymore.  And that to me is one of the joys in ministry; when healing happens, when people get better, become cancer free, receive a new liver and are made whole again.  And, it is truly happening more often than ever before, and, I like to believe God is working in the research, in the new treatments and medicines.  And yet, it is never quite enough or thorough enough when either you or a loved one suffers.  And, sometimes, we just don’t understand a need to accept God’s ultimate healing and let go – and allow God’s eternal embrace to be the final cure.
 
But for now and for today, we are called to trust in God’s divine power to heal us, to restore our health, to make us whole and be grateful.  And the thing we need to realize that, just like Jesus, we can play a role in another’s person’s healing.  Maybe not like a doctor, but the laying on of a hand, or a kind hug or a phone call and the simple message that “I care.” all promotes healing.  
 
As it declares in our first lesson, “If you offer your food to the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom will be like the noonday.”  I love that verse and that promise.  When we reach out and touch those in pain, we are the very love of Jesus coming through, and that is truly our source of healing.  And as Jesus shows us, we need to be certain to not let things get in the way of our caring or healing touch.  We must not let our busyness, our shyness, our uncertainty or our thinking of what is acceptable or not to become a barrier, to not let others tell us what is right or wrong, when we know clearly we are following the way of Jesus’ love.
 
And, even when we are the ones who are suffering, we still need to reach out and care for another’s pain.  It might just be our saving grace, to keep on showing compassion and love even when we are feeling broken or distressed.  Because, doesn’t God work right through us, so we, in fact, can be wounded healers?  No, there is never a time or a reason we should ever stop caring and doing our part to be a messenger of hope and healing.  And, then get ready to rejoice in all the wonderful things God can do, more than we can even imagine, if we just trust that God always cares and loves us.
 
Amen.
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Wally Burman

Sermon: This Is My Song

POP July 3, 2016

  

This Is My Song

     

       Good morning. Today as a church we celebrate Independence Day. 

       According to Wikipedia, Independence Day of the United States is a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. Declaring that the thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, and no longer part of the British Empire.     

      

       Today I would like for us to look at our Independence through an 

Inter-dependence filter or lens. 

       Inter-dependence is defined as the quality or condition of being mutually reliant on each other.

       For an example of Inter-dependence, 

I want to comment on today’s Gospel passage that depicts Jesus traveling with his disciples through Samaria on his way to Jerusalem. 

       For this example, I want to use the Voice Translation of the Bible. The Voice Translation is used for dramatic presentations, like Reader’s Theater. 

       Luke 10 using The Voice Translation embellished with some comments of my own… Luke 10 verse 1: 

10 The Lord then recruited and deployed 70 more disciples. He sent them ahead, in teams of two, to visit all the towns and settlements between them and Jerusalem to every town he (Jesus) intended to go. This is what He ordered.

Jesus: 

It’s time for you 70 to go. I’m sending you out armed with vulnerability, like lambs walking into a pack of wolves. Do not bring a wallet. Do not carry a backpack. I do not even want you to wear sandals. Walk along barefoot, quietly, without stopping for small talk. When you enter a house seeking lodging, say, “Peace on this house!” If a child of peace—one who welcomes God’s message of peace—is there, your peace will rest upon that person. If not, do not worry; nothing is wasted. 

7Stay where you are welcomed.  

Become part of the family, eating and drinking whatever they give you. It is the 4th of July, so you will be getting hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, & baked beans. You are my workers, and you deserve to be cared for. Again, do not go from house to house, but settle down in a town and eat whatever they serve you. Do not be jumping from house to house seeking Chinese Chow Fun one night, Italian pizza another night, German Strudel & sausages another night, Mediterranean falafels another night.

 

Heal the sick and say to the townspeople, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

         In this passage we see Jesus being dependent on the 70 to visit the towns that He intends to visit on his way to Jerusalem and we see the 70 dependent upon Jesus because they are traveling with just the clothes on their backs. 

     They are trusting, by faith, that their needs will be met. They do not even have shoes! This is a biblical example of Inter-dependence for us to observe. 

Verse 10 

10 If you are rejected, walk through the streets and say, 11 “We are leaving this town. We will wipe off the dust that clings to our feet in protest against you. But even so, know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”

          

     Jesus gives the 70 His example of Peace. If they reject you Protest by wiping the dust from your feet. It does NOT say to strike them, or hit them with clubs, or to burn down their house, or to kill them. It says to Protest and leave. 

     In this passage Jesus gives them and us, as readers of the Gospel, a peaceful example of how to respond when we are rejected. 

     I have to admit that until I studied for this sermon, I did NOT know that Protesting was biblical! 

     I remember the protests of the late 60’s & 70’s where those opposing the Viet Nam War would stage protests and show up with picket signs and promote Peace & Love, Baby. Unfortunately they usually got their heads cracked open by the Police. Apparently things have not changed too much because we witness a lot of Police brutality in our cities today. 

     Jesus got the same treatment when the religious leaders arrested him. 

A Mob showed up with torches and clubs to arrest a Peaceful Jesus so that he could be tried, beaten, crucified, and buried in a tomb. 

     The leaders of that time believed that killing Jesus would put an end to the protests. Not so. People have been speaking truth to power for centuries.

     Next year we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, and others, stood up to those in power and noted that things needed to change.    

     Luther and others stated, “We need to get the Bible and church services into the languages of the people.  We need to have the Bible translated and available for the people to read for themselves.”

     Today the United States of America celebrates the anniversary of its Independence from the British Empire, but this country was founded with an inter-dependence from the get go. This nation was built on the diversity of the folk who immigrated to this land and who continue to immigrate to this land some 200+ years later. The immigrants formed the farms, towns, and cities out of inter-dependence on each other. For an example of immigration, I will share my own personal story.

     I grew up on a farm in South Dakota. I attended a Swedish Lutheran Church located in the country. The Irish were in town, the French were in another town, the Russian lived in colonies that were 9 miles away.

     My grandfather, Andrew Burman, was from Sweden. He was born in 1885 in Slayton Minnesota, the place depicted by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her books Little House on the Prairie & the TV series staring Michael Landon.

     At a young age my grandfather returned to Sweden with his parents because his father was a ship boat captain and did not like farming. At the age of 21, my grandfather returned to the U.S. and worked at a mercantile store where he interacted with the people of the various ethnic groups I mentioned. 

     He spoke Swede & English, and learned to speak Russian, Norwegian, & German so that he could communicate with those who shopped in the mercantile store.

                I learned patriotism while growing up on the farm because my grandfather would call and say, “Do you have your flag up? It is the 4th of July & make sure you shoot off some firecrackers to celebrate!”

       My grandfather, having grown up in Sweden, knew what it was like to grow in a country where his freedom was limited. So, he was very patriotic and was very thankful for the privilege of living in this country. He also voted at every election.

            The song: This is My Song, O God of All Nations resonates with me because, like many of us, our ancestors, and even some of us, were residents of countries with skies as blue as ours. With cloverleaf & pine…hence, in reality we have inter-dependence with the other countries of this world that has helped make this country as great as it is. 

       As I look around this sanctuary, I see members of this congregation who, biologically, have inter-dependence with other countries. 

       We also have financial, educational, medical, musical, theatrical, industrial, agricultural, mechanical, technological dependencies with other countries in the past, present, & future that cannot be ignored.

       Again, inter-dependence is defined as the quality or condition of being mutually reliant on each other. An example would be the Globalization of economies that leads to an ever-increasing inter-dependence of countries.

       Some of you might say, “Global industrial inter-dependence is all fine and good. But we are talking about Christianity, organized religion, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Where is the inter-dependence in that?”       

       Like the 70 people Jesus sent out, we as a congregation have inter-dependence on each other; We too have a dependence on Jesus and he has a dependence on us because Jesus continues to send us out into the families, neighborhoods, shops, work places, towns, schools, & cities that He intends to visit through us, His modern day disciples. We are dependent on Him to answer our prayers, supply our needs, & to guide us by the Holy Spirit.

       We too have the awesome opportunity to go before him and say, “Peace to this house” and to connect with other peacekeepers who, amongst the diversity of life, seek to find peaceful solutions to the problems that face our world today.       

       Another example of inter-dependency is from the ELCA website as The ELCA supports Global Ministries. The ELCA has deep, long-standing relationships with Lutheran churches around the world, and we are blessed to walk with these companions. Some of these relationships are with churches that have been around for many years, while others are new and fast growing.

In Conclusion

       Let us celebrate the 4th of July with a focus on our heritage so rich and full, acknowledging the fibers & threads, if you will, that make up Old Glory, our flag that waves for freedom, remembering that the fabric of our flag was woven together with the very being of our ancestors. 

              Our ancestors set an example for us to follow. By following that example, we are encouraged to: depend on each other, look past our differences so that we can live peacefully side-by-side and continue to form a great nation. 

       The United States is probably much more diverse than it was 200+ years ago. Let us seek out the diversity that can equip us to make this nation a peaceful place where we can all live and prosper.

       Today, my closing prayer is a line from the Hymn of the Day: This is My Song…

Please pray with me, Let us pray…

“O God of all the nations; myself I give you; let your will be done.” Amen.

Thank you for listening.

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Day of Pentecost
May 15, 2016
 
Acts  2:1-21
Psalms  104
Romans  8:14-17
John  14:8-27
 
“This is the spirit of truth . . . . you will know him because he abides with you and he will be in you.”
 
Let us pray.
 
A little girl was visiting her grandmother one beautiful spring morning.  They went out into the grandmother’s flower garden and as the grandmother was inspecting the progress of her flowers, the little girl decided to try and open a rosebud with her own two hands.  But guess what?  No luck.  As she pulled the petals open, they would tear or break off completely.  Finally, in frustration, the little girl said, “Grandma, I just don’t understand it.  When God opens a flower it looks beautiful, but when I try it, it just comes apart.”  “Well, honey,” the grandmother answered, “there’s a good reason for that. God is able to do it because He works from the inside out.”
 
Isn’t this the message of Pentecost, “God works from the inside out?”  Jesus, himself, promises the disciples and us, that The Spirit will come and dwell within us.  By the power of The Spirit, we will be literally, “in-spired” and given the strength to boldly declare our praise and devotion to Christ.  Jesus goes on to tell the disciples that The Spirit will teach us and remind us of what Jesus taught, namely, to love one another.  And if we rely upon The Spirit and trust in its power, we will have peace also within us – unlike anything else can, because this peace will enable us to let go of our fears and live as children of God.
 
So, the question for us today, are we allowing The Spirit to live in and through us, are we allowing God to work his miracles, “inside out” and through us?  One of my favorite traditions of Pentecost is hearing, and in our case, seeing various languages being spoken.  It truly brings home the wonderful truth that our church family is very diverse.  We represent many different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, just like the church as the first Pentecost.  And, I appreciate Rosa pronouncing all those names, people from all the ends of the earth were gathered together, and, as they were filled with The Spirit, they could understand each other, which meant that they realized they all were one, even in the midst of their differences.  And, isn’t the same thing true about us  -  our differences only enhance the overall spirit of our community and we better understand how we all are one, united together in our experience and commitment to Christ.  And, the same is true when it comes to age and gender diversity, both young and old alike will see visions and dream dreams, both sons and daughters will prophecy.  Even economic differences are included, slave or free, poor or rich, The Spirit is all inclusive and readily available to everyone.  And, isn’t this the beauty of being God’s community, and something we need to show the world?  That, differences are not divisive, nor to be seen as one being superior to another, no, with The Spirit inside of us, we all are children of God, each one of us is to be valued.  And, isn’t this The Spirit of truth at work, which in turn, convicts and exposes the falsehood that some are better than others, that English alone is God’s language, that God’s image is predominately white and male.  No, isn’t it this kind of lie that creates division, that alienates people, and causes terrible injustice  -  isn’t this untruth that works against the very commandment Jesus gives us, “If you love me, you must love one another”?
 
One of my favorite role models of how to promote a spirit filled church is Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who has worked tirelessly to fulfill Jesus’ commandment of love.  In fact, he writes in his book, God’s Dream, “The church is a home for love.  A church is a place where we do our very best to think, speak and act in God’s way, not the way of a fear-filled world.”  He urges the church to follow The Spirit to move us beyond doctrines that can divide, and embrace compassion which can unite.  Doctrine and church traditions are meant to be signposts that hopefully, guide our way, but, only love alone is the hitching post, and how we can make our dream of being one family of God a reality.  And, that begins with us here, at PoP.  May the wind of the Spirit blow in and through us.  May it stir up inside of us the strength to love from the “inside out”, seeing only the face of Christ in each other.  This is what The Spirit of truth does, makes us drunk with love for each other, every person created in God’s image.
 
Yes, kindle the fire of love within us, empower us to serve you with our hands and praise you with our tongues.
 
Amen.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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May 1, 2016 
6th Sunday of Easter 
(Pastor Tom Carter Sunday) 
  
Acts  16:9-15 
Psalms  67 
Revelation  21:10, 22-22:5 
John  14:23-29 
  
“May God be merciful to us and bless us.  May the light of God’s face shine upon us.” 
  
Let us pray. 
  
I will always remember watching one of the nature programs that had to do with a small bear cub.  Sadly, its mother had been killed and suddenly, it was on its own.  A mountain lion had his eye on him, as he would make a tasty meal.  As the small cub wandered, he suddenly encountered a giant male black bear.  The small cub was frightened and kept his distance.  The giant male bear carefully looked around to see if there was a mother bear, but he seemed to know the little cub was on his own, and he gave him a little nudge.  After that, the little cub was happily railing after the larger bear, as he taught him how to grub for insects and catch fish and everything a bear is supposed to do. 
  
One morning the cub looked around and the father bear was gone.  The cub began to cry and look frantically for his new father, but couldn’t find him anywhere.  His cries caught the attention of a mountain lion who had quietly moved into position to pounce, a golden opportunity to finally get his meal.  The camera zoomed into the small, helpless cub, who began to mimic his father.  He stood up on his hind legs and showed his teeth, exactly as the father bear would have done and he let loose a growl, but only a squeak came out.  The mountain lion seemed undeterred and slowly came toward the cub.  I remember thinking, what an awful t.v. show to show us this, but, then suddenly, the mountain lion turned his head and ran off in the other direction.  The camera zoomed in again at the proud bear cub still standing on his hind legs, but then the camera zoomed out and you could see, standing behind in the distance, was the papa bear, ready to attack if need be.  But, even though he didn’t make a sound, he was there.  And even though the cub couldn’t see him, his adopted father was there, ready to protect him, but at the same time, allowing him to discover his own power and might. 
  
Isn’t the same thing true for us?  Jesus promises us that even though he must leave his disciples, they will receive the power of The Holy Spirit to guide and protect them – to give them the power and strength they will need. And, isn’t the same thing true when it comes to our loved ones?  We might not see or hear them, but they are there, lending us their strength and ongoing love.  And, certainly, we all can sense that to be true with Pastor Carter.  We may not have him with us in the flesh, but clearly his spirit and his love is ever present to inspire us to be the kind of church he envisioned us to be. 
  
The other day, I came across the letter he wrote to Bishop Nelson and the Synod Council, encouraging them to grant us enough funds from the sale of Shepherd of the Valley to pay off the loan we had taken out to pay for Peace Hall.  In the letter, he writes; “As the final chapter of Shepherd of the Valley is being written, we find support in the Lord’s words, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.”  He goes on to say that “The members of Shepherd of the Valley had found a new church home at Prince of Peace, that the vision here paralleled that which was attempted at Shepherd of the Valley, and now, as we are welcomed into this vibrant, growing congregation with open arms, we feel more fully integrated into the Body of Christ and can share the dream of expanding our ability to minister to the community and reach a wider population with the good news of Christ.”  He makes his request that a portion of the funds $700,000 be designated from the sale of Shepherd of the Valley to cover the expenses of Peace Hall.  And he concludes . . . “unless grain of wheat falls into the earth it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  As the “grain of wheat”, which was Shepherd of the Valley, “falls and dies” may its legacy be, in part, the increased ability to minister to the community by our new church home, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church.  In God’s service, Rev. Thomas C. Carter.”  This letter was dated February 12, 2007 and you can’t help but to realize and thank God for how this led to the new life and an incredible example of bearing much fruit. 
  
You can’t even begin to count the number of ways Peace Hall has touched both members at Prince of Peace and our family, but all the wider community, groups like The Handicapables and Foot Stompers, the high school cheer team and concerts, and many other churches and schools using it for their ministry.  For almost ten years now, we can’t even begin to realize what a  difference it has made to thousands of people and how it has, indeed, reached so many with the good news of Christ.  And, this is part of Pastor Tom Carter’s legacy and his ongoing dream, which continues today, just as his spirit of doing the work of God, and it continues with the scholarship program and how it touches and encourages so many to also do the work of God.   
  
So, let us affirm that through our loved ones, through their dreams and visions and strength, we are able to move forward, just as they would want us to, and declare that God is always with us, His love and mercy endures forever.  The light of God’s face is shining upon us and it is the light of love. Amen

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Fifth Sunday of Easter
April 24, 2016
 
Acts  11:1-18
Psalms  148
Revelations  21:1-6
John  13:31-35
 
“And God Himself will be with us; He will wipe every tear from our eyes.”
 
Let us pray.
 
Song by Jada Burns, “Lean on Me”.  Thanks Jada.  
 
Doesn’t this song sum up what true healing is all about in three specific ways.  
First off, it is realistic.  There’s no avoiding pain or sorrow; we all experience it one time or another, it’s simply a part of life.  To realize this is probably the first step to healing, to let go of the anger that it’s not fair to hurt.  Instead, accept that if I am alive, there is no avoiding pain.  
The second step is, as the song tells us, “To know there’s always tomorrow”.  Perhaps it’s not always completely true, but we have to admit that we have all experienced the reality that time heals, if we are able to move forward, and see things anew, both our hearts and our bodies often are able to heal.  It’s all a part of how God operates.  Maybe, it’s always too slow, but with each day things do get better and more hopeful.  
And then, we come to the third and without a doubt, the most important ingredient to healing, to lean on our friends and loved ones, to allow their strength to be your strength, to let them even carry you at times, until you are able to stand on your own.  And, yes, it often means to swallow our pride, for the only way for others to help you is if you allow them to see your needs and that you are hurting.  And, as I have told Julie, as I have helped her over the last few weeks, and she is so grateful for my help, that my time will come, and I, too, will need somebody to lean on, so be ready!
 
But, isn’t the key to healing calling upon those around you, who are near, to lean on and carry our load.  As God tell us both in today’s Psalm and 2nd lesson, He himself promises to be there for us.  We just call upon His name and God himself will be with us.  God himself will wipe away our tears, God himself will give us water to drink and will relieve us from our crying and pain, and one day, relief from it for good.  “Lean on Me”, declares God and I am there for you.  Embrace the love we receive from God and from those around us, for this is what prompts true and lasting healing.
 
And, isn’t this, in turn, exactly what Jesus is talking about when he tells his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you.”  There’s no room for apathy, or hate, if you call yourself a disciple of Jesus.  No, as Peter found out in our first lesson, everyone, including even those Gentiles, is a part of God’s family.  No more discrimination or judgement.  Peter realized God gives the same gift of Christ to everyone and everyone is made in the image of God.  And, doesn’t this kind of compassion and love promote healing, rather than division and more hurt?  Healing is needed, not just of physical ailments, but also of emotional wounds that come from being made fun of, or being put down or considered less than a child of God.  No, loves serve as the means to spiritual healing; healing that comes when we know deep down inside of us that we belong to God.  We belong to God’s family and that nothing can change that.
 
Peter felt sorry for how often he hurt others by excluding them and saying unkind things about those worthless Gentiles.  Now, his eyes are open and his heart is healed of the prejudice.  As our prayer for today proclaims, without love, our actions gain nothing.  We are, in fact, dead, while the love of Christ makes us alive, so that we both will know and promote goodness and peace.
 
So, out of love, let us take up the offer to lean upon God and lean upon each other, so that we can let the healing process begin, and then be ready and able to be there for others in return, when they need someone to understand and lean upon. 
 It’s what our small group, New Beginnings, is all about, friends who care because they know what you are going through. And, together, we are able to move through the pain and in turn allow God, himself, to wipe away our tears and ultimately cure all our ills, so that also together we can live in joy, and sing Hallelujah, Praise the Lord, I am healed.
 
Amen.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
February 21, 2016
 
Genesis  15:1-12, 17-18
Psalms  27
Philippians  3:17-4:1
Luke  13:31-35
 
“Wait for the Lord and be strong.  Take heart and wait for the Lord.”
 
Let us pray.
 
Psalm 27 was one of Martin Luther’s favorites.  Time and time again, he turned to it for comfort, peace and renewed strength.  This past Thursday, February 18, we observed the day as Martin Luther Day.  Since we don’t recognize him as a saint, we call it “The Commemoration of Martin Luther”, but, as he himself said, this is the day life truly begins.  But, he ended his time first re-confessing his work and his stance on the reformation of the church and then reading this Psalm one more time.
 
In fact, pull it out again and let’s take a closer look at it.  I remember this Psalm was used by many on 9/11 after the attack on the World Trade Center.  I remember using it here in this place later that day.  Because this Psalm declares that God is our light and salvation, the stronghold of our lives, so whom should we fear.  We shall prevail against evildoers because our God will never forsake us.  He will always be our place of shelter, our refuge, our constant hope, so, wait upon the Lord and be strong.
 
Yes, this Psalm has a long history of touching many lives.  There was a woman in England in the 1940’s who entered Oxford University.  She was very bright, but had no idea what she would do with her life.  She didn’t take much time for religion and really didn’t grow Christian, but then she meets the famous author, C.S.  Lewis.  (He wrote the Chronicles of Narnia, besides many other major works.)  She was taken by his conversion story and she, in turn, became a devout Christian.  She felt the call to help others and so she left Oxford, against the advice of her friends and family, and went into nursing.  She became a certified nurse after five years of training.  She was assigned to a cancer ward in London.  To come to see that the patients, who were deemed as terminally ill were placed in a separate ward, ignored by the doctors, even family were not allowed to visit, she would see them die virtually alone.
 
This greatly trouble her, and one day, she read this Psalm and the words, “Hear my voice, O Lord when I call, have mercy on me – hide not your face from me – cast me not away, forsake me not, O God of my salvation.”
 
She approached the hospital administration with the idea of creating a way for those who were dying to be surrounded by their family and friends, rather than isolating them in sterile rooms.   Her ideas were deemed too radical and were quickly rejected.  But, following the advice of the Psalm, she persevered and at the ripe age of 33 (especially for that time), she enrolled in Medical school and at 39, she became a doctor and began a movement that soon grew, making it possible for dying patients to live their remaining days in a comfortable setting of love and support.  He name was Dame Cicely Saunders and she named the movement “Hospice” after the idea of providing the gift of hospitality right up to one’s dying day.  And, many of us here have benefited from what has become a vital program and ministry today.  It all came about because of one woman’s vision and inspiration by Psalm 27, and her determination to provide the same kind of compassion and hope that is promised by God’ word.
 
And, likewise, wasn't this the same response of Jesus when told about King Herod.  Who is afraid when you have God as your stronghold?  I am going to move ahead and finish the work God has called me to do, and that’s that.  Jesus’ primary concern, just like Saunders, was to provide compassion, to all those who are suffering and shelter them just like a mother hen cares for her chicks.  And, are we not called to the same work of compassion?  To not let others frighten us, trying to get us focused on our enemies or dangers, but instead, like Jesus, we can declare who cares about the Herods of this world   No, I am going to keep being kind, loving and compassionate for this is God’s work and we can do it with confidence , since God is always with us.
 
May we all proclaim loud and clear, especially in our actions, “That I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  I will wait for the Lord and be strong.  I will take heart and trust my God will come through in the end.”
 
Amen.
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Blessed Epiphany to you!

The word Epiphany means to "make manifest" or reveal God's glory in Christ. We celebrate the journey of the wise men following the star to Jesus, who is the Light of the World, and our true hope and joy!

(see below for prayer and poem for Epiphany)

 


Lets reflect the truth that God is number one this Super Bowl Sunday - by bring 216 (for 2016) cans of soup for our Action Food Pantry. We begin this Sunday and go to Sunday, Feb. 7th - Super Bowl Sun. or what we like to refer to as Souper Bowl Sunday - as we demonstrate that supporting God's team of love and compassion is always produces a winner.
 
service in Peace Hall. 
So plan now to bring a favorite dish or dessert that reflects your own cultural heritage.
 
  Refresh begins again
 next Wednesday, Feb. 3rd, @ 6:30pm-8pm (you are welcome to bring a meal). 
Join us for a four week session learning about personality traits and why the way you are (and why those around you are the way they are)...and what kind of personality traits are found certain Biblical characters.
You are bound to have a number "epiphany moments".
Study will be lead by Dr. Alina Hernandez, professor of psychology at Cal Poly and Mount Sac., and by Pastor Thom.
Be sure to pick up a "personality inventory" sheet this Sunday (on back table) - fill it out and bring it next Wed.
 

The story is out; Jesus Christ, Light of the World has been born to dispel the darkness that covers its people. God’s glory appears in human form. Life on earth will never be the same again!

Father God, the star that led the Magi to the stable announced to the world that its Saviour was born. Today we live in a world that is still covered by darkness, and still needing to make that journey to the stable door. May our lives reflect your light day by day, as we seek to serve where you have placed us. That we might be the means through which others can encounter Jesus Christ. Amen


Arise, shine, for the Light of the World has come!
Darkness covers the earth and its people,
but the radiance of God's Light 
burns away its shadows,
illuminates the smallest corner,
and heralds in the start
of a new dawn,
where hearts no longer fear,
souls might be set free,
and sister shall follow brother,
nation shall follow nation,
and kings and princes bow down in awe
before the one who comes to reign.
Arise, shine, for the Light of the World has come!
Alleluia!

May the light of Christ shine brightly in all of us!!!!

Pastor Thom

~!!~!~!~!~~!~!~!~!~!~~~!~!~!~!~!~!~~!~~!~!~!~~!~!~!~~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~~!~!~!~
 "Why do we worship the way we do???"
This Sunday we will have a Narrative Holy Communion service - to help explain why we worship the way we do. You will find this approach to worship very enlightening and inspirational. 
Refreshments and fellowship will follow the service in the old Fellowship hall
 
 Rehearsals for the Christmas program continue this Sunday following worship in Peace Hall!
 
 Hope you are inspired by this devotional from Upper Room

The Upper Room daily devotional: Reaching toward Christ 


Rm.

- Luke 6:19 (NRSV)

Today's Devotional

When I come to church, I immediately begin to search for God. As the scriptures are read and preached, I listen for what God will say to me. God always has a word for me. I love singing for Jesus and spending time in his presence. 

Sometimes I struggle to get past the thoughts, anxieties, and busyness in my mind and soul. Worship allows me to reconnect with my faith and be immersed in Christ’s presence. It’s almost as though I can touch him. I am healed from hurt, anxiety, fatigue, and hopelessness. I love life again. I love people. 

Through worship we can be renewed and inspired to serve Christ and proclaim the good news. We have a place, the church, and we have a time, during the worship service, when we can reach out to the Lord and be filled anew with faith, hope, and love.

Tatiana Menshova (Hrodna, Belarus)

Thought for the Day:

What is preventing me from meeting with the Lord today?

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for always having a word to encourage us, time to be with us, and power to heal us. Amen.


Reaching toward Christ

Posted: 

In need of prayer? The Upper Room Living Prayer Center is a 7-day-a-week intercessory prayer ministry staffed by trained volunteers, call 1-800-251-2468 or visit The Living Prayer Center web site.

All in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

- Luke 6:19 (NRSV)

Today's Devotional

When I come to church, I immediately begin to search for God. As the scriptures are read and preached, I listen for what God will say to me. God always has a word for me. I love singing for Jesus and spending time in his presence. 

Sometimes I struggle to get past the thoughts, anxieties, and busyness in my mind and soul. Worship allows me to reconnect with my faith and be immersed in Christ’s presence. It’s almost as though I can touch him. I am healed from hurt, anxiety, fatigue, and hopelessness. I love life again. I love people. 

Through worship we can be renewed and inspired to serve Christ and proclaim the good news. We have a place, the church, and we have a time, during the worship service, when we can reach out to the Lord and be filled anew with faith, hope, and love.

Tatiana Menshova (Hrodna, Belarus)

Thought for the Day:

What is preventing me from meeting with the Lord today?

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for always having a word to encourage us, time to be with us, and power to heal us. Amen.


 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Psalm 122  (reminds us all we need to be peacemakers!!)

I rejoiced when I heard them announce,
“The time of warfare is past.
No more will brother hate brother
or violence have its way.
No more will they drown out God’s silence
and shut their hearts to his song.”

Pray for peace in the cities
and harmony among the races.
May peace come to live on our streets
and justice within our walls.
With all my heart I will pray
that peace comes to live among us.
For the sake of all earth’s people,
I will do my utmost for peace.


^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ 
Ezekiel  17:22-24
Psalms  92
II Corinthians  5:6-10,  14-17
Mark  4:26-34
 
“Those who are planted in the House of the Lord shall flourish and bear fruit.”
 
Let us pray.
 
We are told Jesus loved to share God’s message through the use of parables  -  stories with a twist, or sometimes just like riddles.  My son Nathaniel loved riddles growing up, and one of his favorites was this one  -  let’s see if you can solve it.  I know it drove me crazy until he gave me a hint.  “What is stronger than God, move evil than the devil, poor people have it, rich people don’t need it, and if you eat it you’ll die?”  What is it?  The line that threw me off was, “and if you eat it you’ll die.”  Well, the answer is “Nothing”.  Nothing is stronger than God, nothing is more evil than the devil, the poor have nothing and the rich don’t need nothing – and, of course, if you don’t eat nothing, you will die.
 
Perhaps the disciples thought they had to solve a riddle when Jesus asked them “What compares with the Kingdom of God.?”  What would you say?  Maybe a beautiful palace. Maybe a lovely garden.  Maybe a huge banquet table where everyone can sit down together in peace and all be nourished.  I think I would answer something like this, but of course, these answers miss the fact that this is a parable, which relies upon an element of surprise and a strange twist.  And in this regard, Jesus doesn’t disappoint does he?  A mustard seed?  What?  You can hardly ever see a mustard seed.  And yet, the results are very evident – beautiful yellow flowers that sometimes cover acre after acre in the fields.  I wonder if Jesus knew it really is a weed?  But, maybe that is his point, that which we often discount has the power to make a major difference – often we hear about having the faith of a mustard seed, but here Jesus compares the whole Kingdom of God to it and that it just happens once it has been sown, and continues to happen even when we sleep.  Our job seems to be to make sure we are planted, and then God will bring about the fruit.
 
Reminds me of what Martin Luther once said about this scripture text; “After I preach my Sermon on Sunday, when I return home, I drink my little glass of Wittenburg beer, and I just let the gospel run its course.”  Yes, I confess I have followed Luther’s example very closely in this regard for nearly 32 years.  But isn’t it true?  Isn’t God’s word not dependent upon my eloquence or how smart we are, rather, it is simply be being here, listening and being open to its message, that God’s word enters our hearts.  Isn’t this exactly The Holy Spirit at work?   And, isn’t our job to allow The Holy Spirit to do its thing by making sure we are here, and allow the word to be firmly planted into our lives.  Then, just as God promises us, we shall indeed flourish and bear fruit.
 
I remember when I was probably nine of ten, my uncle gave me sunflower seeds to enjoy at a baseball game and I asked him, can you plant these and would they turn into one of those giant flowers?  He reached into his pocket and pulled some sunflower seeds that looked similar and yet kinda different to the ones we were eating.  He said, “Plant these and see what happens.”  So the next day I went down to the local park, I had just the place in mind to plant these seeds.  I took a small pathway through the golf course since it had rained that night before and wanted to avoid huge puddles but still had to go through some pretty muddy spots.  Well, when I got to the park, I reached into my pocket, only to find out I had a hold in my pocket and the seeds were gone.  I was really disappointed.  Well, a month or so went by and it rained hard again, so I decided to take the same pathway through the golf course to the park – and as I approached, I noticed some large, green, leafy stocks, standing there along the path.  Lo and behold, there were my sunflower seeds, now growing up strong and tall, some even had flowers on them.  I’m sure some of the golfers had to wonder why would anyone plant sunflowers in a golf course – but I knew where they came from and not because of my well-intended plans, but more out of curiosity and the willingness to give it a try.  
 
Yes, we reap what we sow, sometimes without even knowing it.  But hopefully, we sow because we trust in God’s loving grace and faithfulness so then, we will reap the fruits that come from simply being ready to receive and believe in God’s good gifts – such as His word.  So relax this afternoon, maybe have a beer, let God’s word sink in and run its course.
 
Amen.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 Blessed Epiphany to you all! 
May the light of Christ shine brightly and guide your path, so
you can follow in His ways of peace and love!

A Litany for Epiphany


What gifts do I bring to the Savior of all mankind?
What gifts do I have that are worthy
of the work of his hands,
the providence of his kingdom,
the beauty of his unfailing love for humankind?

I may bring mercy
when I am wronged.
I may bring love
when I am hated.
I may bring joy
where I find the downcast.
I may bring peace
where I find restlessness.
I may bring grace
when I am slighted.
I may bring patience
when I am working with others.
I may bring bread
when I see hunger.
I may bring gentleness
when I see the weight of the world
upon someone’s shoulders.
I may bring salvation
when I am truly present
with my neighbors.

For I was dead,
but now I am found.
For I was lost in shadows, but I have followed the light,
and I am alive,
in the flesh, asking every day
what child,
what man,
what Savior is this?

Glory be to God.

Amen

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Second Sunday in Christmas
 

Jeremiah 31:7-14 
Psalm 147 
Ephesians 1; 3-14 
John chapter 1:1-18

"And their life she'll become like a watered garden. ...And they shall never languish again."

Let us pray

Merry Christmas!
Yes it is still Christmas according to the church calendar and the 12 days of Christmas isn't through until Tuesday when we observe epiphany.

So how do you make the Christmas spirit last all year long?
Or more importantly how do we keep and practice the message that Christ is 
ever near and that his light always outshines the darkness?

A few years ago youth group return from our annual snow trip in the mountains, we drove past Fontana and I asked them do you want to see the church I used to serve.
They all said yes so we took a quick detour and went past Gloria Dei Lutheran Church... and we also took time for lunch.
I hadn't been to the church for many years so I thought it would be fun to see it again.
But I had quite a surprise.... all along the side of the church next to the driveway to the back parking lot.... stood these beautiful large pine trees!
They really stood out and you could tell they didn't seem to fit in.
I said to myself "I don't remember these huge trees being here"... and all of a sudden it dawned on me they were my Christmas trees!
Yes every year I'd buy a live Christmas tree and then afterwards planned
them by the church.
When I had left they still hadn't amount to much but now some nearly 20 years later they are grown and flourished to the point of anyone driving by couldn't help but to notice them!
To be honest, when I planted them I really wasn't sure if they would last or not,
 but now to see them are so tall reinforced my faith that what we plant matters.
 
And is it the same thing true want to comes to what we are planting or investing in?
Whether that includes providing good examples of being faithful and caring Christians to our children or youth members... what we do really matters!
And even though we can't always see immediate results of our investments and our actions...they do have a lasting impact if we trust in God to bless them.
 
I know that sometimes we can't help but to wonder  what difference will it make... you might despair or lose hope.... and even feel like giving up... and yet God promises that the day will come when he'll return our grief and mourning into joy, our sorrow in the gladness. if we just continue to trust in him and to do his will.

I went for a walk in the hills above my house on New Year's Eve
I remember only a few weeks ago taking the same walk and everything looked dry and lifeless.
I thought I never seen it so dry and barren before and I wondered if anything could ever grow again..... but now on this walk the rain had turned everything into a lush green fields.... everything seemed alive again and so vibrant.
And suddenly there were four deer that appeared and enjoyed the green grass and they seemed so happy and content.
Isn't this exactly the cycle of how life works? Year after year we will encounter the dry and lifeless times followed by renewal enjoy and it reminds us
yes it is worth it to remain faithful, to keep doing whatever we can
and keep on trusting in our Lord who promises to always bless our actions.
 
That's what I found out when I discovered how my Christmas trees did indeed last for more than just one Christmas.
And now I can appreciate it a whole new way why Martin Luther said that if tomorrow would be his last day on earth he would plant a tree today. 
Let's plant.... let's invest.... let's be faithful in 2015 and keep on trusting in the life-giving source of Christ this new year and every day! 
Amen
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Let us pray

In the latest through magazine it featured a story about a mother and her daughter looking at the beautiful nativity sets on display at the local gift shop.
The mother saw her daughter trying to read the small print on the box in which game, but knowing her daughter wasn't able to read yet, she offered some help in reading the label. But the little girl quickly said oh I know what it says "baby Jesus sold separately".


Today I can't help but to wonder if we haven't taken baby Jesus out of our Christmas celebrations....as if he isn't really there has a focus upon giving gifts to ourselves and try to make our Christmas the best one possible... for us!
Why do we do this?
Separate baby Jesus from the heart of Christmas ...and in the same way don't we also live our lives all too often as if Jesus some kind of separate entity just to be thought of on Christmas and Easter?
How do we keep Christ not just in Christmas...but within our daily lives?
In everything we do and say from Facebook to the football field to family gatherings to Starbucks?
For isn't the message of Christmas quite simply that Jesus is included ---at no extra charge!
Wherever you are Jesus is there as well for God chooses into our world...into in our lives....even to look just like one of us in order to let us know ....you don't have to be afraid 
I have come to set you free and give you lasting joy.
Growing up my mother began a tradition that she would make sure your extra good before Christmas.
One that would get us to help out has she needed for the holidays.
We had a manger scene on the mantle above our fireplace and next to the stable was a bowl of straw. She told us every time we did a good deed we could take a pinch of straw and place it in the manger so that baby Jesus would have a nice soft bed to lay on.
I guess it was her twist on the better be good for Santa message.
But I have to admit it worked, even if it was based on the principle of guilt.
I would go and shovel my neighbors walkway or help my father sell Christmas trees at the YMCA parking lot or help my grandmother wrap her Christmas presents... all to be able to put a little straw into the manger and make baby Jesus more comfortable on Christmas Eve.
And even though I question if you allergy of this practice today he still taught me a valuable lesson of living out my own faith and putting it into action....not just giving lip service to it but being a Christian meant practicing ask of kindness and truly caring every day!
Well I do remember one Christmas where there was still more straw in the bowl than in the manger on Christmas eve to which my mom scooped up the remainder of the straw and place to do the manger as she said "it's a good thing baby Jesus still comes with it we are good or not."
In one way her words cut us to the quick and yet in another way she send it up beautifully....baby Jesus still comes whether we deserve him or not. The gift of his love he is never sold separately but always included when ever we simply are willing to receive it.
And in order to receive it don't we need to show up and open our hearts?
Woody Allen one said the secret to life is just showing up and then being ready for whatever happens.
I am thankful for each of you for showing up tonight even if it is just because it's Christmas eve and it's what you do every year.
I'm even more thankful for those show up regularly to worship faithfully ...to help feed the hungry....to let those know who are going through dark times they are never alone.
They show up because they love the baby Jesus every day and want to let him know that he is included in their lives every day!
Is in that same spirit I encourage all of us to show up and demonstrate our love for Jesus in our acts of kindness...throughout the entire year and reveal to others that Jesus is always included...as he is born anew into our world....through us!
  Jesus is born anew 
  In me and in you!    Amen.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Read Psalm 103:8-13

[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness.

- 1 Peter 2:24 (NRSV)

Today's Devotional

Years after the fact, realization of my failure as a mother slammed me like a charging elephant. My children’s father had abused them, and I — their mother — had failed to adequately protect them. Because of my negligence, my sons suffered immeasurable mental, spiritual, and physical pain — pain that I could not heal.

Disconsolate, I lived in unrelenting sorrow and self-loathing. I had left my children vulnerable. How could I have done that? I felt I did not deserve to live. But in one of my darkest moments, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart: “Jesus has already died for that; you should live.”And I knew it to be true. Long before I realized the extent of my sinfulness, Jesus died for all my sins, even this one. I could never make atonement, but Jesus already had.

Thankful for God’s abundant grace, I began the journey toward healing. Through counseling I learned more about abuse and the way it distorts reality. I combatted condemning thoughts by quoting scripture to remind myself that I am forgiven and deeply loved by God. I live — forgiven, accepted, and loved.

Grace Linwood-Michaels (Virginia)

Thought for the Day:

God wants us to live.

Prayer: Father of mercy, thank you for being more willing to forgive us than we are to forgive ourselves. In the name of Jesus, who heals our wounds. Amen.

Prayer Focus: Victims of abuse

Carry Them to Jesus

 

Suggested Bible Reading

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the paralytic-- "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home." And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"

-Mark 2:1-12 (NRSV)

 

Today's Scripture

Then some people came, bringing to [Jesus] a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.

-Mark 2:3 (NRSV)

 

 

HOW many sermons have we heard about this paralytic and his four friends? We have made much of their camaraderie. But what if the four weren't the man's friends? What if they didn't know him very well -- or even at all? What if one of them just happened to see the paralyzed man, recruit three helpers, and carry the man to see Jesus because they believed something good might happen?


A worker in the school where my wife teaches told us about an 83-year-old woman living near us whom we did not know. This grandmother had reared her grandson from infancy and, in his forties, he had died of cancer. She was worried sick about being unable to pay the funeral bill.


I spoke with the funeral home staff, who agreed to reduce the amount owed by 25 percent if I could raise the rest within two weeks. I called some churches and organizations and told the story to a few friends, and God brought people to help. When I called the grandmother to tell her we had enough money to pay the bill, she could hardly speak. Later my wife and I went to the grandmother's home with the paid-in-full receipt. We stood on the porch, all of us in tears, as she kept hugging us. 


God calls us to be present even to the stranger. Were those men the paralytic's friends? Does it matter? 

Gene Cotton (TennesseeUSA)

Prayer

Dear God, open our eyes to your needy world. Amen.

Thought for the Day

 

Find an organization in your area that helps the poor and offer your help.

Prayer Focus


Grandparents rearing grandchildren

 

The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

- James 5:16 (NRSV)

Today's Devotional

Our men’s Bible study had just ended, and as I was heading for the door I asked Timothy to pray for a concern I had. I thought he would respond by agreeing to pray as I requested, but at a later time. To my surprise he said, “Let’s pray now.”

It’s so easy to say, “I will pray for you” and then go off into our busy day with all of life’s distractions. I know at times I have forgotten or failed to follow through with my promise to pray for another’s concerns.

What a privilege it is to be able to pray for others, to call on the power of God to be focused on someone’s need! To go to the Lord on another’s behalf is truly a blessing.

I have never forgotten that moment with Timothy. Now, when someone asks me to pray for them, I say, “Let’s pray now.”

Rich Robertson (Texas, USA)

Thought for the Day:

Thought for the Day Praying for others is a privilege.

Prayer: All-knowing and ever-present God, thank you for the peace we receive when we come to you in prayer. Amen.

Prayer Focus: Men’s Bible studies


These prayers flow out of real-life experience, particularly of the frail elderly.

The father declared, “This son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!”

- Luke 15:24 (CEB)

Our daughter found a stray cat on our porch. Without asking permission, she fed him. Then the inevitable happened: Old Tom made himself at home. Soon his furry grey body and quiet purr became an important part of our lives. But he had not given up his street life; he would disappear for weeks at a time. Just when we decided he was gone for good, he would return — a torn and bloody skeleton of a cat.

The prodigal son had some of Old Tom in him. But so do we! While we enjoy the comfort of being part of God’s family, our independent nature at times gets us into trouble, and we end up spiritually — and sometimes even physically — starved and wounded. No matter how many times Old Tom wandered off, it was a day for rejoicing when someone shouted, “Guess who’s back!” Someone would pour him a bowl of milk, and someone else would prepare a warm bath.

Our scripture tells us that God’s welcome mat is always out, no matter how many times we stray. Imagine the cheering for us from heaven when someone shouts, “Guess who’s back!”

Madeline Peterson (Nebraska, USA)

Thought for the Day:

When we stray, God is waiting to welcome us home.

Prayer: Dear Lord, our willful nature causes us to stray from your loving care. Thank you for welcoming back your foolish, straying children. Amen.

Prayer Focus: Teenage runaways and their parents

 

Today's Devotional

“Mommy!” My daughter’s middle-of-the-night whimper drags me from my cocoon of sleep. She is up yet again with a flu bug that won’t leave her alone, even at two in the morning. Her cries awaken compassion in my sleepy heart, and I use my gentlest touch and my softest voice to make her comfortable again. I pull the comforter up, smoothing her hair with my hand. “Go to sleep now,” I whisper. “Everything’s all right.” She sighs contentedly and closes her eyes.

Back in my own bed, I remember a phrase: the mother heart of God. I have heard the phrase before, but tonight I understand it in a new way. It means I am not alone. I feel alone sometimes. When I am the one with the flu or when I wake up in the dark after a bad dream, I long for my mom’s presence and help. I still need her, even though I am 35 and have been gone from her house for many years. I think I will always need her special love and protection. It comforts me to think that, although my earthly mother is not at my bedside tonight, God listens for my cry. With the heart of a mother, God whispers, “Go back to sleep now. Everything’s all right. I’m here.”

Sara Matson (Minnesota, USA)

Thought for the Day:

God tends to us as a mother tends to her child.

Prayer: Help us to depend on you, dear God, as children depend on their mother. Amen.

Prayer Focus: Mothers

Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

God loves a cheerful giver.

Several years ago, just before Easter, my brother and I took a youth group to visit young children at a group home. After playing with the children, we moved into a large living room for refreshments. I could hardly wait for the finale my brother and I had planned. For each child we had brought a giant Easter basket full of eggs and candy. In the center of each basket was a large chocolate egg decorated with pink and green flowers and “Happy Easter” written in icing.

We passed out the baskets and watched the children’s faces. My smile grew bigger by the second. Then the four-year-old girl who had become my friend during the day came to me and offered me her chocolate egg. As I started to say, “You keep it, Sweetheart,” her housemother, who was behind her, motioned for me to take it. I gratefully accepted the little girl’s offering.

Later, the housemother explained, “The kids receive gifts all the time, but they seldom have the joy of giving.”

Like that little girl, we can all find great joy in giving to others the gifts, both large and small, that God has given to us.

Gene Symmonds (Indiana, USA)

Thought for the Day:

Being able to give as well as receive is a blessing.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for giving to us so that we can give to others. Help us to be gracious recipients. Amen.

Prayer Focus: For opportunities to give.

Read John 11:21-27

Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life.”

- John 11:25 (NIV)

Today's Devotional

Ever since my son, Steve, died in 2006, I have looked at Easter a little differently. The first Holy Week after his death was hard, but after some reflection, it took on new meaning. As I thought about this Lenten period, I started with Palm Sunday — a day of celebration. We are on top of the world. We are triumphant and joyful.

Often our lives follow the pattern of Holy Week. We have to go through the trials, the days of prayer and preparation, the Thursdays of betrayal and the washing of feet, the Fridays of death, and the Saturdays where God seems silent. We think the Sundays will never come, but they do! Praise God! There is new life — the power of resurrection to sustain us.

I am learning and making note of this process. Life will have more triumphs, more times for fervent prayer, more trials, more suffering, more heartbreak, more betrayal, more death, but also more Sundays when Christ’s triumph over death leads us forward into new life.

Barbara Troutz (Texas, USA)


Thought for the Day:

Any week can be Holy Week.


Prayer: Dear Father, thank you for bringing us into your presence through your Son, Jesus Christ. As he taught us, we pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”* Amen. *Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV).

Prayer Focus: Those who are grieving

 
 
 
2015 Easter Message from Jerusalem
“Who will roll away the stone?”
Mark 16:1-8
Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan
Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Easter Sunday, the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord, is really a feast of Jerusalem. All across the world today, Christians in western traditions are remembering our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection, and when they do it they are thinking about Jerusalem. Whoever speaks of the resurrection naturally mentions Jerusalem, the city of resurrection.  Here in Jerusalem, after a long week of suffering and difficulty, after the cross, we rejoice with our sisters and brothers everywhere that Jesus is both crucified and risen. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the hope of the whole world, but especially here in Jerusalem we cling to the news of the resurrection as our hope, our strength, and our courage to face the challenges and obstacles in the Middle East today.  This is the only thing that has kept us in this Holy Land.
We notice in the Gospel text that it was three women who, after the pain and tears of Good Friday, went early to the tomb on Sunday morning, when the male disciples had escaped. After all, it is often the women who are present in the most difficult times – at childbirth, caring for the sick, nurturing the elderly and the dying. On this morning, it was women once again who came with both gentleness and strength to anoint the body of Jesus in the tomb. Although the sun was risen, the darkness of night and grief still covered them. As they approached the tomb, they faced a serious problem: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”If you visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (also known as the Church of the Resurrection), you can see very well what a concern this must have been for the women. In the Coptic and Syrian Orthodox areas you can see tombs which are similar to ones used in Jesus’ time. These tombs were meant for two or three persons, and the openings would have required a very large stone to close the entrance. This was exactly the worry of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome as they approached the tomb of Jesus: “The stone is too large, and we are just a few. The stone is stamped by a military order, and we have no authority. Who will roll away the stone for us?”This question remains for us today in the Middle East. Who will roll away the stone of extremism, of terror and violence, or the persecution of Christians and many ethnic and religious communities? Who will roll away the stones of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia? Who will roll away the stone of the ongoing occupation, of the separation barrier, of injustice? The obstacles are so large, and we are just a few. Who will roll away the stone for us?In this way, we can certainly identify with the women of that first Easter morning. Every day, we hear the terrible stories of Christians persecuted in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya. We see a wave of extremism which grows due to a power vacuum created by incorrect policies forced on the Middle East. We see people using the name of God to kill God’s people. We see shocking images which shake our bodies and silence us. Like the women who left the tomb and said nothing to anyone, we are at a loss for words. In the face of incredible obstacles and things we do not understand, we feel powerless and afraid. Who will roll away the stone for us?Of course, there are many who do have something to say about the Middle East today. Conferences are organized, articles are written, and everyone from politicians and pundits to theologians and television personalities are asking “How big is the stone? What shape is the stone? Who put the stone there?” There is much talk of solidarity from the world, but we worry that it is only talk, and by ourselves we cannot do much for our Christian brothers and sisters and others who are suffering persecution. I’m sure the people in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, and Pakistan are asking different questions: “Who will end this? Who will stop the extremists? Who will speak up when God’s image is humiliated and desecrated in the human being? Who will rescue us?”At the same time, the stone of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now seems bigger than ever. Some say the stone should just sit while other more important issues are discussed. Some argue that finding a solution is impossible, that the stone will never be moved, that equal rights and a just peace are just a dream.
Who will roll away the stone? Many believe military power and might is the answer. But when did military action ever bring an end to conflict? When did guns ever bring real and lasting peace with justice? When did tanks and bombs bring life? The women on that first Easter morning did not bring any media with them to the tomb. They did not bring an expert or a strong man or an army to roll way the stone. They came to anoint the one they loved! But when they arrived, they were shocked and surprised, for the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.
The stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back! This is the message which gives us hope today. We who are grieved for the present realities of the Middle East are like the women on that Easter morning, walking in the darkness of our grief, weighed down by fear. We come expecting to see the stone. We know well the reality of death, extremism, violence, and the denial of the rights of others in this world. There is no ignoring the occupation or the wall or the unjust policies which stand in our way. Who will roll away the stone for us?The Good News is that the living God has already rolled back the stone blocking our hearts and lives. The stone of the tomb, seen today as the forces of extremism, terror, and injustice, has already been moved aside by the power of the resurrection. These forces hold no power over us! The power of the risen Christ has cleared every obstacle lying between us and abundant life. The power of the risen Christ has rolled away every stone standing between us and the risen Lord. For this reason, we give no power to those who would kill the body, for we know they cannot kill the spirit of the people of the resurrection.
I join my voice with Patriarch Emeritus of the Roman Catholic Church in Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, who said, “Today is a time of martyria, a time of witness.” Martyria does not mean we offer ourselves up as lambs to the slaughter, but it does mean we willingly offer the martyrdom of our hearts and wills, as Christ offered himself on behalf of humanity, once and for all. As Archbishop Oscar Romero once said, “Not all’ says the Second Vatican Council, ‘will have the honor to give their blood physically, to be killed for the faith.’ However, God asks, of all those who believe in Him, a spirit of martyrdom, that is, we must die for our faith, even if the Lord does not grant us this honor.”
Therefore, this present very difficult situation in the Middle East must not be for us a time of groaning and despairing. Instead, in the midst of oppression, terror, and the boiling in the Middle East, we are to stand and ask ourselves, “How does the risen Lord motivate us to be a living witness?” After a long and dark Good Friday here in the Middle East and across the world, I point my sisters and brothers to 2 Corinthians 4:8-10: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”This is not a time to believe in the power of extremism or of those who want to harm the bodies of our brothers and sisters. Now is a time to believe in the power of resurrection, which is the power of embracing the other over denying the other. Christ risen is the power of goodness over evil, love over hate, light over darkness and life over death. Now is the time to be living witnesses to resurrection.One such living witness is Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church. After the killing of twenty-one Coptic Christians at the hands of terrorists in Libya, he proclaimed that now is not the time for revenge, saying, “We condemn these evil acts, but we forgive the perpetrators, as we have been forgiven.” He is a living witness to the power of resurrection over the power of death.Some would say these are stories of weakness. Some would say that the ones who forgive, the ones who show mercy, the ones who are a witness to the Gospel of love, leave nothing in their hands. Some would say it is easy to be a fatalist and throw everything on God. But the Good News of the resurrection is that love, mercy, and forgiveness are hallmarks of strength, not weakness. By his resurrection, Christ overcame evil, oppression, injustice and death, giving life to all. For “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27) and “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (1 Corinthians 3:19)Who will roll away the stone? The Middle East today does not need guns, or tanks, or extreme military might to counteract extreme political and pseudo-religious agendas. What the Middle East needs today is the power of love, mercy, and forgiveness. We need the kind of forgiveness displayed by a church which lost twenty-one of its baptized members. We need the kind of witness shown by the many fathers and mothers of the faith, on whose sacrifice the church has grown. We need the kind of love shown on the cross and at the empty tomb—a self-emptying, sacrificial love for the sake of the whole world. This is the love and hope we celebrate on Easter morning! And this sacrificial love, this living witness, is what will raise up the Middle East to a new day of peace, justice, freedom, and equal rights for all.Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb? In these last years and months, and especially in these last weeks, I know that many can identify with Mary, Salome, and Mary Magdalene. People all over the world see the situation here in the Middle East and are at a loss for words. Many of you here have been asking “Who will roll away the stone for us, Bishop?” And I admit, there are days when I am doubtful. There are days when the darkness seems too heavy and the stones too large. There are days of hopelessness which compel us to look only to the cross and the dying Jesus. There are days when Good Friday seems to last forever.But at this moment, I am telling my people to hold fast to the hope of the resurrection. We must always look to the empty tomb, trusting that because Christ is risen, God will never allow any stone to crush our spirit. Because Christ is risen, God will not allow the hearts of politicians and world leaders to remain cold as stone, caring only for their own interests and power. Because Christ is risen, God will not allow these peoples to be divided forever. Because the stone was already rolled back on that resurrection morning, we hold steadfast in the hope that God is at work even now, opening the eyes of the politicians, the churches, and the world—even as God has opened the tomb.The risen Lord is at work here in the Middle East and in the Christian community across the world. He has called us to be living witnesses to the power of resurrection! Therefore, I greet you with this two thousand year old greeting of Jerusalem:
Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!
Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!
Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!
Al Masih Qam!  Haqan Qam!
 المسيح قام             حقاً قامكل عام وأنتم وعائلاتكم بألف خير
~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~~


4th Sunday in Lent
March 15th, 2015
 
Numbers  21:4-9
Psalms  107
Ephesians  2:1-10
John  3:14-21
 
“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive with Christ.”
 
Let us pray.
 
Today in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d do something a little different and share some of the beautiful reflections, or really, poems, written by St. Patrick and those who followed after him in establishing the Church in Ireland.  As you have heard, the story of St. Patrick is one of forgiveness and deep love.  After being captured and sold into slavery, he was forced to leave his homeland in Scotland  – yes, St. Patrick was not Irish  –  and leave- his family behind.   But St. Patrick escaped, following God’s call to find a way back to his home and family.  But then, he received another call to return to his captors, in order to share the Gospel of Christ with them  -  he not only forgave them, but devoted his life, out of love, so that they would know the richness of God’s mercy and grace. 
 
I wonder how many times he quoted John 3:16 to them.  “God so loved the world  -  so loved you  -  that he gave his only son for you so you might live.”  In this respect, St. Patrick worked tirelessly to get rid of slavery  -  he appealed to the owner of slaves, once both of them had been baptized  -  to now see each other as family  - together, set free from sin, now only let Christ rule over our lives and follow his example of healing and showing kindness to all people.
 
The other thing known about St. Patrick and those who followed after him is how they were able to blend the pagan appreciation of nature with a newfound worship of the Creator of Creation.  The Celts believe that to know God was to know God’s creation and to know God’s creation was to know God.  St. Patrick emphasized that the eternal word of God was reflected in every plant and flower  -  which I suppose is why he is also known for explaining The Trinity as a shamrock.  
 
Let’s read together a beautiful poem that is simply identified as an early Celtic prayer:
 
The Morning is Yours
Celtic Prayer
Author Unknown
 
Almighty God creator the morning is yours, rising in the fullness,
the summer is yours, dipping into autumn,
eternity is yours dipping into time.
Vibrant grasses, the scent of flowers, the lichen on the rock,
the tang of seaweed,
all is yours.
Gladly we live in this garden of your creating.
 
So beautiful  -  think of it  -  how often do you deeply soak in the evidence of God all around us in nature  -  how often do we really hear the birds sing  -  or crickets chirp  -  how many times do we just walk past the amazing blossom or ignore the smells of flowers blooming?  -  lately, the wonderful jasmine or orange blossoms.
 
Here is another Irish prayer – again, author is unknown  -  but it was written in an ancient Celtic style  -  and like our gospel lesson for today, it suggests that  the light of God shines brightly as we do good deeds and show kindness.
Blessing of Light
Celtic Prayer
Author Unknown
 
May the blessing of the light be on you, light without and light within.
 
May the blessed sunlight shine upon you, and warm your heart until it glows like a great fire and strangers may warm themselves, as well as friends.
 
And may the light shine out of the eyes of you, like a candle set in the window of the house, bidding the wanderer to come in out of the storm.
May the blessing of rain be upon your spirit, and wash it fair and clean and leave many a shining pool where the blue of heavens shine and sometimes a star.
May the blessing of earth be upon you, the great round earth.
May you ever have a kindly greeting for people as you’re going along the roads.
And now may God bless you and bless you kindly.
 
Showing hospitality just as God has shown us through His Son seems to be a common theme.  Which leads us to my favorite  -  now here is a wonderful vision of what heaven will be like, if I don’t say so myself.
The Banquet of Heaven
Tradition Irish 10th Century
Author Unknown
 
I would like to have the people of heaven in my own house with a vat of good cheer laid out for them.
I would like to have people from every corner of heaven.  I would like them to be cheerful in their drinking.  I would like to have Jesus, too.
Here amongst them.
I would like a great lake of beer for the Kings of Kings.
I would like to be watching heavens’ family drinking it through all eternity.
 
Now that one gets us into the mood for some green beer.
 
And finally, the one probably most familiar to us  -   a blessing for the road  -  and for meeting people out on the highway.
May the Road Rise to Meet You
Traditional Celtic Prayer
 
May the road rise up to meet you.  May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
May the rains fall softly upon your fields until we meet again.
 
I share these ancient Celtic prayers and poems for you to use again and again  - not just on St. Patrick’s Day, but through the year  -  to remind you of the awesome beauty of God’s creation, the joyous promise of abundant life, here and now and forever.  And to be grateful for God’s love given to us in Christ, who is our light and our salvation.
 
A Blessed St. Patrick’s Day to you.
 
Amen.
 
 
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3rd Sunday in Lent
March 8th, 2015
 
Exodus  20:1-17
Psalms  19
I Corinthians  1:18-25
John  2:13-22
 
“The fear of the Lord is clean and endures forever.”
 
Let us pray.
 
There’s a story about a man who comes to visit a local Church for the first time.  He pulls into the parking lot  -  only to encounter a fellow yelling at him  -  saying  -  “Hey, that’s my parking space  -  you are going to have to move your car.”  Okay.  The new visitor didn’t want to cause any problems so he graciously moved his car to another place.  Then, he comes into the Church and, you probably already know what happened  -  he sat down in an empty pew  -  only to have a couple come up from behind and tell him that he was sitting in their pew and he would have to move.  Again, he got back up and everywhere he started to head to, someone shook a finger at him indicating “Don’t take that place – it’s mine.”  Until, finally, he ended up in the front pew.  As the service began, something began to happen to the visitor in the front.  He began to change his appearance.  Someone called “What’s happening to him?”  -  and then suddenly, they recognized who it was, and, with his outstretched hands with nail prints in the center, he smiled at them and said  -  “I have come to remind  you, I have taken your place on the cross and I will always make room for you!”
 
Today’s gospel story challenges us to ask, are we the kind of Church that makes space for Jesus   -  and perhaps the place to begin is asking the question   -  Have we made room for Jesus in our hearts?  Or do we need to do some house cleaning?  What kind of clutter, or what kind of attitudes are not in line with making our hearts and our lives a place where Jesus would feel at home in?  I can’t help but to wonder if some of the problem is that we don’t take seriously our need to respect Jesus  -  to obey God’s commandments  -  to, in some ways, “fear” God in order that we are willing to be cleansed of all our idol worship so that we truly make our worship of God our first priority?  As our verse in the Psalm says, “The fear of the Lord is clean.” – rather odd, what does that mean?  Perhaps a healthy fear and respect makes us clean – and we learn that His commandments endure forever  -  and so does our need to obey them.
 
Isn’t this Lenten season a good time to ask ourselves – and our church community – what needs to be turned over and gotten rid of?  What would Jesus not be pleased about – and maybe even get angry about?  I know this is not the Jesus we like to picture  -  carrying a sheep  on his shoulders or with children all around him – no, this Jesus reveals himself in a way that reveals us to ourselves  -  and how all too often we only care about making sure no one takes our place – or how we are sure to get what we want.  Well, this Jesus demonstrates that this type of attitude is unacceptable – in fact, sinful. 
 
Yes, I suppose it would be nice to just have a little towelette to wash away our sins whenever we need to.  But that’s not how it works  -  and the Cross that Jesus bore in our place should remind us of that every day.  We need to confess our sins, be humbly repentant, and then have a true change of heart – to be more loving, accepting, showing genuine  hospitality in our homes, our Church, our lives and make our hearts a place where Jesus enters in and says, “Now this is the place where I not only feel welcome, but where I know I belong.”  Let’s clean our house so it can be a home for Jesus.
 
Amen.
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2nd Sunday in Lent
March 1, 2015
 
Genesis  17:1-7, 15-16
Psalms  22
Romans  4:13-25
Mark  8:31-38
 
“Let those who seek the Lord give praise, and your hearts will live forever.”
 
Let us pray.
 
According to baseball great, Yogi Berra, who is known for his wise sayings (and Aflac commercials), “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  This strange tidbit of wisdom seems to fit our gospel lesson for today and how we want to practice our Christianity.  As Jesus tells the disciples, the time has come to follow him even if it is by way of the cross.  Peter, speaking on behalf of the disciples says, heaven forbid, Jesus.  No, they want to have it both ways  -  they want to stick with Jesus while at the same time, they don’t want  any part of a cross or suffering.  And isn’t  the same thing true for us  -- we want to be seen as nice, good Christians, but want all the benefits and blessings that come from it, but not the challenge of being committed, which is required from those following Jesus all the way  -  even when it gets hard?
 
I remember a previous student once telling me, “Christianity is really wonderful and all, but I think it would be much more appealing to people if you got rid of, or at least downplayed, the cross thing  -  that is kinda depressing”.   And, he’s right.  The church would be more successful if we could market it more like Disneyland  -  all joy and happiness  -  Jesus will fulfill all your dreams!   Sadly, some of the churches that are growing are following this approach  -  but the problem arises when suddenly people encounter hardships, when they lose a loved one, or face illness or other crises  -  then this type of approach becomes shallow  -  no longer providing the foundation and hope to see them through these tough times, which is exactly why we need to preach and teach and bear witness to the cross and the Jesus who was willing to suffer, be rejected, and even be killed for our sake  -  for without that, there is no joy of resurrection  -  no hope for us that God intimately knows and shares in our sufferings and yet promises that if we remain faithful, if we are willing to follow Jesus and trust Him through the hard times, we too shall share in His victory.
 
I wonder how many have on their bucket list  -  to go and help the homeless, or visit those in nursing homes, or volunteer at a pet rescue shelter?  No, Jesus’ words to Peter and the disciples would probably not be the best to put on our church brochure  -  “If you want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”  But Jesus says this no less than seven times in our gospels  -  so I have a hunch it’s kind of important.
 
One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, for years, rejected Christianity essentially because of this notion  -   to have to deny oneself and follow Christ seemed way too extreme for him.  But then, one day, it dawned on him that it was exactly in doing this that he gained everything  -  that really it isn’t our life to begin with  -  it all comes from God and will return to God  -  so why not commit it to God right now?  He wrote, “This principle runs through all life, from top to bottom.  Give up yourself and you will find your real self, lose your life and you will save it.  Submit to death, death of your ambitions and the desire to just please yourself, and even the death of your whole body in the end, and you will find eternal life and joy now.  Keep nothing back, nothing that you have is really yours.  Nothing in you that has not died will be raised from the dead.  Look only to yourself and you will find in the end only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, greed and fear, which fools us into holding on to things for ourself.  But look for Christ, embrace Him and you will find Him and with Him, everything else is thrown in.”  Why is this  -  because Jesus chose the way of the cross  -  and asks us  - when we come to that fork in the road  -  we choose Him, above everything else, so that our hearts will indeed live forever  filled with true and lasting joy.
 
Amen

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

 

Jesus said: "I am the bread of life."

 

 

 

Let us pray.

 

 

 

 

 

On Sunday as I played the disciple Thomas in our wonderful production depicting the final days of Jesus' life leading up to Easter, I loved how the play began with Jesus taking the little boy's loaves of bread and fish and multiplying them, and then the boys, played by Jacob and Joshua, went out and shared their bread with all of us. It was delicious bread by the way--sourdough French roll, I believe.

 

 

 

Then as Thomas I went to the party up on the stage and lo and behold I received more bread and grapes--seconds then right after the party I went down to the place where Jesus gathered his disciples for his last Supper and guess what? I got more bread. You didn't know I was eating my way through the play, but it makes me think about how the bread always comes to me as a gift, blessed by Jesus, and it brought home the point of how Jesus gives to us so abundantly. His desire for us is to eat this bread so that we might have abundant life, life so full of love, hope and joy, it shall never end.  

 

 

 

And that's why, as I told the first communion students, my favorite word for Holy Communion is a Celebration.   We are here to celebrate the abundance of God's love, given to us in and through the love of Jesus. And yet, tonight and tomorrow, on Good Friday, we recall how in some ways Jesus gave away everything for us: His security, his own family's love, his health and well being, even his own life. He gave it all away, for us.

 

 

 

Our abundance meant security and sacrifice for him, and perhaps that is the key message of both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, that we need to make sure we don't take our abundance and all the gifts given to us by Jesus for granted, or even at times ignore and misuse them. At times don't we seem to think that the service of this abundance is ourselves, that we have earned what we have, and it's okay to hoard our abundance and not share it with others?  

 

 

 

But when we do that, are we not forgetting who Jesus is and the command he gives to us tonight, to wash each other's feet, to love the way He loves?

 

 

 

Did you hear about what happened at a church in Davidson, North Carolina?   Let me read the article to you.  

 

 

 

A new religious statue in the town of Davidson, North Carolina, is unlike anything you might see in church. The statue depicts Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench.   St Alban's Episcopal Church installed the homeless Jesus statue on its property in the middle of an upscale neighborhood filled with well-kept townhomes.  

 

 

 

Jesus is huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the crucifixion wounds on his uncovered feet give him away. The reaction was immediate. Some loved it; some didn't.

 

 

 

"One woman from the neighborhood actually called police the first time she drove by. She thought it was an actual homeless person."  

 

 

 

That's right. Somebody called the cops on Jesus.

 

 

 

"Another neighbor, who lives a couple of doors down from the church, wrote a letter to the editor saying it "creeps him out."   Some neighbors feel that it's an insulting depiction of the son of God, and that what appears to be a hobo curled up on a bench demeans the neighborhood.

 

 

 

The bronze statue was purchased for $22,000 as a memorial for a parishioner, Kate McIntyre, who loved public art. The rector of this liberal, inclusive church is Rev. David Buck, a 65-year-old Baptist-turned-Episcopalian who seems not at all averse to the controversy, the double takes and the discussion the statue has provoked.  

 

 

 

"It gives authenticity to our church," he says. "This is a relatively affluent church, to be honest, and we need to remind ourselves that our faith expresses itself in active concern for the marginalized of society."

 

 

 

The sculpture is intended as a visual translation of the passage in the Book of Matthew, in which Jesus tells His disciples, "As you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me." Moreover, Buck says, it's a good Bible lesson for those used to seeing Jesus depicted in traditional religious art as the Christ of glory, enthroned in finery.

 

 

 

"We believe that that's the kind of life Jesus had," Buck says. "He was, in essence, a homeless person."

 

 

 

The most high-profile installation of the bronze Jesus on a park bench will be on the Via della Conciliazione, the avenue leading to St. Peter's Basilica--if the city of Rome approves it. Schmalz traveled to the Vatican last November to present a miniature to the pope himself.

 

 

 

"He walked over to the sculpture, and it was just chilling because he touched the knee of the Jesus The Homeless sculpture, and closed his eyes and prayed." Schmalz says. "It was like, that's what he's doing throughout the whole world:   Pope Francis is reaching out to the marginalized.

 

 

 

Back at St. Alban's in Davidson, the rector reports that the Jesus the Homeless statue has earned more followers than detractors. It is now common, he says, to see people come, sit on the bench, rest their hand on the bronze feet and pray.

 

 

 

Jesus told us whenever you give to those who have little you give it to Me. So, whenever we share our bread it multiplies and we too experience even more abundance, not less. And isn't that how everything is with Jesus? He loses life as we gain ours, and yet in His giving of His life, God gives Him the resurrected life, the life without end, always and forever young.

 

 

 

So tonight as you take this bread and drink from this cup, let's do exactly what Jesus asked us to do. Remember Him, remember Him homeless, on a cross in pain, present in every person who suffers today, so that when we receive we truly do it with grateful hearts and hands ready to share, for with Jesus, as I found out on Sunday, there is always more than enough to fill our hearts.

 

 

 

Amen

 

 

EZEKIEL 37:1-14

 

PSALM 130

 

ROMANS 8:6-11

 

JOHN 11:1-45

 

 

 

 

 

I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me, even though they die, will live."

 

 

 

 Let us pray

 

 

 

I remember that I was in the fourth grade and every so often we would have a movie day--really looked forward to it. But what was especially fun was how Ms. Anderson would let us run the film in reverse after the movie was over. It was wonderful to watch things that had disintegrated suddenly reconstructed; buildings that were destroyed now come back together, people knocked to the ground spring back to life. I always wondered wouldn't life be great if you could simply push a button and run it in reverse, and especially, the loved ones would return to you.

 

 

 

Reminds me of a funny bit that the comedian George Carlin did when he said he felt we should live our lives backwards. He said "I think it would be a great idea if God reversed things in life. To live backwards, you start off dead and get that out of the way. Then you wake up in a nursing home feeling better every day, and then you get kicked out for being too healthy. You enjoy your retirement and collect your pension, and then when you start work, you get a gold watch on your first day. You work tor forty years until you are too young to work and you get ready for high school, you get to drink and party and just enjoy that time.  Then you go to primary school and you become a kid, and you get to play and have no responsibilities. Then you become a baby and get held a lot, and then you spend your last nine among then floating peacefully in luxury, in spa-like conditions. Central heating, room service on tap, and then you finish off as an act of love-making.

 

 

 

But seriously, today's gospel deals with the harsh reality of death and dying and the heartache of loss. And Jesus' reaction to all this is surprising to say the least. "This illness does not lead to death." Well, that's not what Mary and Martha and Lazarus experiences. He did die and they can't help but to wonder "Where were you, Jesus? If you can make the blind see, can't you heal your dear friend before it is too late?" Yes, it is all very puzzling. Even Jesus cries over the loss of his friend and seeing his friends hurt so....  But to Jesus isn't this all a part of life? Are not death and grieving natural rhythms in this over all harmony of what life, true life, is all about?

 

 

 

The key to everything is that Jesus is the resurrection. He has the power to not only reverse things, but transform everything, even death. This was his mission; this is the primary purpose of Jesus coming into the world, to unbind us all from our sin and the power of death. Also we might better know who God is and give Him all the glory and praise. And so isn't the question for us the same one Jesus asked Martha, "Do you believe that I am the resurrection, the way to abundant and eternal life?" And if we say like Martha, "Yes, I believe you are the one sent from God," then shouldn't everything be different? Then shouldn't we get up and get out of the darkness of fear, hate and pride, holding grudges, looking down on others, and all the other things that reflect death, not life?

 

 

 

Yes, even during Lent, we never stop being Easter people, people who walk in the light, who know how to live life now, set free to love; to be joyful, proclaiming death has no power over us. No, we may not be able to live our lives backwards, or push a button and go in reverse, but we have something even better. We are intimately connected by love to the One who has the power to be fully alive, both now and in the future. He has the power to say to us, "Come out, unbind and let us go." Set us free to stop being dead, even now, so we can truly give God all our praise, all our love.

 

 

 

Amen.

     

 

In the love of Christ 

Pastor Thom Johnson 

 

The More I Understand, The Less I Know

John 3:1-21   

 This may sound contradictory to you, but I’ve discovered that the longer I stay in ministry, the less I understand about preaching. In fact, I know less about preaching today than I knew thirty-five years agowhen I was a seminary student. Back then, I Knew what constituted a good sermon; I knew the rules.And if I had any doubts, all I had to do was ask one of my homiletics professors.

 

Today, I'm not so sure they knew all that much. Why does a sermon "work" when, by all the “rules,” it ought to fall on its face and die? And why does a sermon not work when it has all the right stuff, just the right blend of humor and drama... and lasts less than twelve minutes? I just don't know.

 

Do you know what an oh-no moment is? It's that split second that occurs just before the latch catches on the car door when you've just noticed your keys dangling from the ignition. "Oh, no!" You see it, but it's too late to do anything about it.

 

For a pastor, it's getting half way through the sermon and seeing a sea of glazed eyes and nodding heads.Oh, yes, we can see you... and we can feel the boredom.

 

The fact is that sermons sometimes backfire, or roll over and play dead, or just limp off into well-deserved obscurity. On other occasions, however, they work and we don’t have a clue what happened!

 

Unfortunately, sometimes we just don’t “feel it.” We find ourselves telling the old, old story using old, old stories. We trot out every worn-out cliché we can remember--- tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree; he ain't heavy, he's my brother; Christ has no hands but our hands. And we pray that you nice folks sitting in the pews will suddenly develop temporary amnesia and forget that you've heard it all a million times before.

 

Then the service is mercifully over and we're standing in the doorway, preparing our excuses, "Well, everybody has an off day... I'll do better next week.”

 

And Joe Jones grabs your hand, and his eyes are all misty-looking, and he's having trouble getting his words out. Finally he manages to mumble, "You don't know what those words meant to me, pastor."

 

Right behind Joe is Sue Smith who says, "Pastor, I'm going in the hospital Tuesday for some surgery. After that sermon, I'm ready for anything that happens."

 

The more I understand how it works, the less I know WHY it works!

 

Late one night, a leader of the synagogue, a learned man named Nicodemus, came to visit Jesus. He said, "Teacher, we've seen you do some pretty impressive things, like turning ice water into Mogen David at that wedding reception. You really ought to be careful about doing things like that. The local wine-makers union registered a complaint about you, and they're a pretty influential group. Now, I think I understand most of what you've been saying in public. But what I want to know is, how do I get into the kingdom of God?

 

Now, Nicodemus had obviously been listening to Jesus. But the more he thought he understood, the less he actually knew. Outwardly, Nicodemus is the picture of confidence and self-assurance. The first words out of his mouth are: "Rabbi, WE KNOW..." But what exactly does Nicodemus know? He THINKS he knows the source of Jesus' power and the goal of his ministry. He THINKS he has God all figured out and nicely packaged in a neat little box. He THINKS he knows how God can and cannot act in the world.

 

He THINKS he knows all this. But something, maybe something he heard Jesus say or saw Jesus do, hashim confused and has caused him to question whetherhe really understands everything he THINKS he does.

 

Nicodemus comes in from the dark, seeking more light. "What do I have to do? He came to Jesus that night looking for a formula, a tried and tested set of rules to add to the church's already lengthy list of rules.

 

But Jesus responds with surprising image. "You want to get into the kingdom of heaven, Nicodemus? It's easy! All you have to do is be born from above."

 

This is where Nicodemus “doesn’t get it!” In allfairness, however, the Hebrew words for "again" and "from above" do sound a lot alike. And the two menwere probably speaking in low tones, maybe even whispering. So when Jesus said "born from above," Nicodemus thought he said, "born again."

 

"How is that possible?" Nicodemus asked. "How can an old man be born again? Is that some round-about way of saying it can't be done; that there's just no hope for an old codger like me; that too much water has passed under the bridge?"

 

"No, no," says Jesus, "I didn't say 'born again,' I said 'born from above.' If you want to get to heaven, you have to be born from above, from the Spirit." Jesus is telling Nicodemus that the kingdom is a gift given by God, unearned and unachieved. No set of rules, no formula, no activity is going to get you there.

 

"You must be born from above," Jesus says. The "you" here is in the plural, so what Jesus was really sayingwas, "Y'all must be born from above." Jesus was, after all, from SOUTHERN Galilee.

 

But many still misunderstand the meaning of this passage just as Nicodemus did (maybe even more so).They talk about this passage as the absolute essential passage for understanding the Christian faith;” they speak of it the way Nicodemus misunderstood it, rather than the way Jesus explained it. They tell you, "You must be born again," if you are to be savedIt’s almost as if they feel that, since Jesus said he didn't come to condemn the world, God must have appointed THEM to do it! Jesus said, "You must be born from above. What is born of flesh is flesh, but what is born of the spirit is spirit." God wants to give us a completespiritual renovation, a head-to-soul makeover.

 

But that isn’t so easy, is it? The fact is that, like Nicodemus, we’re a nation of pragmatistsWe want to know what we have to DO. Is there a technique that produces the best results? Is there a "Christianity for Dummies" book I can buy? How about a web site I can visit that has illustrated directions?

 

But that’s not the way it works... do you know what it's like to come in here on one of those Sundays when you didn't really want to be here, when your mind was somewhere else, and to be honest, maybe your heart was somewhere else, as well? Then, during the worship, in the singing, or the praying, or the communion... possibly even in the sermon, something gets hold of you, some mysterious force that somehow lifts a burden from your shoulders, or helps you understand something that had been puzzling you. And your step is a little lighter when you leave than it was when you walked in... That’s being touched from above.

 

I don't know as much about preaching as I used to. But I understand this much: preaching is more an expression of the Spirit of God than the imagination of the preacher. A sermon is a giftas much a gift to the preacher as it is to the congregation, and the name of the gift is grace.

 

So when you are present on those rare Sundays when a cool, refreshing breeze ripples across the congregation from the pulpit - instead of the normal output of hot air  cherish it. Where it came from,where's it’s going... who knows? Certainly not me. But when it happens, it's mysterious, it's amazing... itsgrace. AMEN

 

 
Okay, it's called a selfie, and it's all the rage these days.  It's when you take a picture of yourself--perhaps along with others and then post it on Face book or Tweeter.  At the Academy Awards the other night, the host, Ellen DeGeneres, took a selfie of her along with many other famous celebrities and it actually shut down Tweeter because so many wanted to share the photo with others.  Well, okay, I'm sure we won't have the same response, but instead of just talking about it, let's do it ourselves.  Let's do our own selfie, and show off the Ashes on our forehead (take picture, post it).  Now that should make anyone who sees this feel guilty, because they weren't here tonight.  Oh, wait, could that be exactly what Jesus is talking about, when he calls the Pharisees hypocrites for showing off how much better they thought they were than others?  Well, I think He is as he tells us to practice our faith out of our love for God and not to show off to others.
 
In some way, isn't this the whole point of Lent?  I like the fact they call it a selfie, because it's all about me.  See what I am doing; look at me, now cool I am.  Now don't get me wrong, I think selfies are fun and all, but I can't help but to wonder if it isn't a rather perfect metaphor for how we live today.  How we like to make ourselves the center of the universe?  Look at me and my life, it is better than yours.  Isn't so much energy spent on me that we tend to forget others and push God out of the picture?  Which is why we need Lent, which is why we need Ash Wednesday?  "Return to me" says the Lord "with your whole heart." 
 
Are not the ashes to remind us in no uncertain terms that our lives are just temporary, that we can't justify ourselves or make ourselves eternally significant without the very grace of God.  Isn't Lent and Ash Wednesday our opportunity to be completely honest and confess all the ways we give our hearts out to everything else but God?  First, we need to begin with the love that created us, that breathed life into us.  If we put God at the center of our world, then His love will mend our hearts, so that we give our hearts completely back to Him.  But doesn't it take remembering again and again, and why we need "holy reminders" like ashes, like a daily devotional booklet, like a bracelet across our wrists, all to remind us we need to depend upon God for our very lives, both now and forever.
 
And yet, the beauty of all this is that God wants to take a selfie with us.  Yes, God wants to be included in our lives, especially in what's important to us, our friends, our family, our daily habits, our struggles, our joys.  And that's why I love what it says on our bracelets, "I have called you by name, you are mine."  When you hear those words, what do you think of?  Baptism, of course, we have those words on our baptismal banner.  And yes, even on Ash Wednesday   it is time to remember our baptism.  That even as we confess our sins and death, we also affirm the love that promises us life. 
 
And so again this; year, I invite you, as you leave, to wipe away the ashes and then make the sign of your baptism with the water in the font, which we will move to the back of the church and invite you, if you wish, to do this during the final hymn tonight.    Because besides just ash and dust, isn't it also true that we are stardust, because of God's love that is stronger than death?  And that we have a God who is always eagerly waiting for our return, waiting to have our hearts fixed on Him, waiting to give us nothing less than life everlasting and our true self-hood  comes as we are embraced in His love.
 Amen.
 
  Take time to use the Lenten Devotional prepared by POP and Rock of the Foothills in LaVerne. Here are the first few devotions to get you started and once again an attachment for the entire booklet.
 
 
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March 5                                                  Isaiah 41: 10                                                                Philippians 4: 6-7      The theme of this year’s Lenten devotions is “be not afraid.” Be not afraid – that sounds ridiculous. How in the world can you not have some fear, what with wildfires and earthquakes, an uncertain economy, the threat of terrorism, accidents and sudden sickness? Life is full of scary things, and we’re told that we shouldn’t be afraid!? But that’s what the Bible says. Look at Isaiah 41:10 – “Do not fear.” Look at Philippians 4:6 – “Don’t worry about anything.” But words are cheap. How often, when something has been bothering you, haven’t well-meaning friends told you, “Don’t worry.” How are you supposed to turn the worry off?   It’s easier said than done. But God, through Isaiah says more than just, “Don’t be afraid.” He adds, “For I am with you.” Now that could help. If we can be sure that God, the Almighty Lord of all, will be with us, no matter what, then maybe “Fear not” is possible; maybe “Don’t worry” can be more than an empty platitude.  Still God did more than say some words, inspired though they may be. He acted. He lowered himself, became one of us, died for us—and rose, telling his followers, “I am with you always.” In other words, “He put His money where His mouth was.” He lived the same stressful life that we all do, and died the same death we all face—and He conquered! That’s why we can believe those words, and that’s the message of Lent, Good Friday, and Easter. And if you’re still not sure, read Romans 8:31-39, and when you get to verses 35-37, add in your own worries and problems. One final thought; don’t worry about worrying. He took care of that sin too    March 6                                                  Romans 8: 31-39 “31 What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; 34 who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”In 1937, the great Golden Gate Bridge was completed. It cost over $35 million to build and was completed in two phases: the first slowly and the second rapidly. In the first stage, no safety devices were used. As a result, twenty-three men fell to their deaths. However, for the final part of the project, a large safety net was used as a precaution. At least ten men fell into the net and were saved from certain death. Once the net was installed, production increased by 25%. Why? Because the men were assured of their security and they were free to wholeheartedly serve the project.Romans 8:31-39 may be the most comforting and encouraging passage in the entire Bible. These verses definitively declare that: security leads to stability and productivity. Paul offers three hopeful assurances: (1) There is no opposition (8:31-32); (2) there is no condemnation (8:33-34); and (3) there is no separation (8:35-39).In verses 31-32, we are sure, but not secure. These people believe that they have confirmed reservations in heaven.   But they are self-deceived. They are like the legalists of Christ’s day who mistakenly thought that God would accept them on the basis of their own good efforts. In verses 33-34, we are secure, but not sure. Such a person has trusted in Christ as Savior and is held firmly in the protective hand of God. But, when failure occurs and guilt comes in like a flood, or when mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion set in, such a person becomes confused by feelings.In verses 35-39, we are both sure and secure. This person has trusted in Christ and continues to affirm his/her security is based upon the promises of God’s Word. It is as if you were to ask me whose son I am. I would tell you I am the child of my parents and I have proof that would stand up in a court of law—a birth certificate. A piece of paper assures me that I am their son. God has given us a piece of paper—the inspired Word of God. It assures us that once we’ve trusted Christ, we are His. Our salvation is based upon a promise that cannot be broken. It comes from a God who cannot lie.I sincerely pray that you are both sure and secure. If not, I urge you to make sure you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior. Recognize that there is nothing you can do to escape the penalty of your own sin. Throw yourself on the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ. Trust in His death and resurrection for your sins. He will give you new life, immediate assurance, and eternal security.   March 7                                                                 Psalm 56: 3                                            Back in David’s time, he and others were fearful that their enemies were coming to do them physical harm. Fortunately, today, most of us don’t have that same fear. So what am I afraid of? Am I afraid of doing something wrong and then doing nothing? Am I afraid of moving from my comfort zone? Am I afraid of losing my loved ones, losing my job? Afraid how my children will behave as adults? I’ve been reading these devotions for decades and have never contributed to a single writing except for this year. What held me back? Why am I doing it now? Who cares why! Too much thought on the question “why” only leads to further negative thoughts.  To me the important point is to trust God; who relieved my fears and will move me further on this Divine Road. Do you want to join me? Put your trust in God and come along.      March 8                            Deuteronomy 31:6  Peter 5: 6-7      Be Not Afraid “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not fail you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God so that He may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (Peter 5:6-7) Our Lord’s Prayer is a pathway to keep us from missing out on the tremendous joy of love, friendship, family, and dealing with health issues, aging, and the loss of work or livelihood. We can live in the power God has given us and make a decision to deal with fear. God does not give us fear. From God we have the power to turn our needs and desires into action—not to be afraid. Life can bring us many tough times, yet we can stick it out as we ‘cast our anxieties on him and we know he cares for each of us.’    Sometimes when fear tries to direct my thoughts, I think of the hymn “He’s got the whole world in his hands. He’s got you and me brother in his hands. …” and even with disappointments and concerns, I know that God has a plan and I don’t have to figure everything out. I can stay positive because I believe and know that God is in control of my life.
http://www.sharefaith.com/category/peace-clipart.html&;ei=9VEGU_S-K-TB2QX_uYHQBQ&usg=AFQjCNHeWUvBLdW3CK76aj-PsESNZCK_Kw&bvm=bv.61725948,d.b2I" target="_blank">
      

 

 

SERMON FEBRUARY 16, 2014

SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY

 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Psalm 119:1-8

I Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:21-37

 

 "Happy are they who observe your decrees and seek you with all their hearts."

 

Let us pray.

 

Okay, in honor of this President's Day Sunday (and Valentine's Day Sunday), I thought I'd share some quotes by George Washington and by Abraham Lincoln, and I'd like to see if you can guess who said what. Oh, yeah, just to make it interesting, I'm going to throw in a few quotes from Martin Luther, too, since we are a Lutheran Church and all. Okay, let's see how you do.

 

Who said "In politics as in religion, my beliefs are simply and few. The leading one is this, which truly embraces all the rest; to be honest and be just, meddling as little as possible in the affairs of others where it does not concern us. If this maxim was adopted, wars would cease and our swords would be converted into tools to reap our harvests, which would be more peaceful and abundant."

 

Right answer: George Washington. Like the wisdom Jesus offers in today's gospel, this too seems like solid advice.

 

Okay, who said "My concern is not whether God is on my side, my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."

 

Yes, Abraham Lincoln said that. Those who paid attention (and receive my emails) will remember this quote I sent out last Wednesday on the actual day of Lincoln's birthday. But it is a good challenge for us today to ask ourselves, and our leaders, are we concerned about being on God's side and following his commands of forgiveness, humble reconciliation and not prideful vengeance or the need to be right. Actually, Washington said something very similar, "Make sure you are doing what God wants you to do, then do it with all your strength.

 

Okay, who said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand. It will either cease to exist or be united to serve the greater cause."

 

Yep, Abraham Lincoln again, who did all he could to keep the Union united. Perhaps his words would be useful in today's congress, and they also are in harmony with what St. Paul tells us in our second lesson, "For we are all God's servants, working together, whether you are in God's field or in God's building.'

 

Okay, who said this, in light of Valentine's Day, "Let the wife make the husband be glad to come home and let him make her sorry to see him leave."

 

Actually, the same fellow who said, "Who loves not women, wine and song remains a fool his whole life long."

 

Okay, the extra quote probably gives it away. Yes, Martin Luther said it. Luther actually had a lot to say about his Katie, at one point saying he would not trade all the riches in the world for her and that after Christ, no one deserves more credit for making Luther who he was. One quote that is practically identical for George Washington and Lincoln is how they felt the same about their mothers. Lincoln said, "All that I am or ever hope to me, I owe to my angel mother." While Washington said, "All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her."

 

Nice to see both paying such nice tributes to their moms. Not sure what Luther said about his mother, couldn't find anything specific, but I'm sure he was grateful for her, too.

 

Okay, who said, which is one of my favorite quotes, "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?" Almost sounds like something Jesus said.

 

Right, Abraham Lincoln said this. He also said, "The only person who has the right to criticize someone else, is the one who has a heart to help.

 

Just like Jesus, the message is clear, we need to follow the example of forgiveness and compassion for others, for even to insult someone is to bring judgement upon yourself. Isn't it interesting how Lincoln and Washington, men we hold in such high regard, seem to uphold the values and principles Jesus declares as truths to live our lives by. Although both Washington and Lincoln are clear that the government should never be one specific religion, over and over against other religions, they both concur that the Bible offers both the wisdom and inspiration to govern our nation with both mercy and justice.

 

With this in mind, so who said, "The gracious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which the author of heaven itself has ordained."

 

Yes, George Washington.

 

Perhaps a good way to honor these great men on President's Day is to take time to read what Jesus has to say to us, to truly absorb his words and put its wisdom and truth into practice, just like Washington, Lincoln and Luther did. For them, we truly will make Heaven smile, and we will be on God's side, turning enemies into friends and promoting peace, unity and justice for all of God's children.

 

Amen.

 

 

SERMON FEBRUARY 9, 2014

 

FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY

 

 

 

 

 

Isaiah 58:1-9

 

Psalm 112:1=9

 

I Corinthians 2:1-12

 

Matthew 5:13-20

 

 

 

 

 

"The light shines in the darkness for the upright, and the righteous are merciful and full of compassion." 

 

 

 

Let us pray.

 

 

 

One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons is the one where Peppermint Patty is talking to Charlie Brown, and says, "Guess what, Chuck?  The first day of school and I was sent to the principal's office for not being considerate of others.  I tell the principal it was your fault, Chuck." 

 

"My fault," responds Charlie Brown, "How could it be my fault?  I wasn't even there, why do you blame me?"

 

To which Peppermint Patty responds, "Well, Chuck you are my friend, right?  You should have been a better influence one me." 

 

 

 

Sounds reasonable?  Or is Peppermint Patty asking too much of Charlie Brown? 

 

 

 

Likewise, is Jesus expecting too much from us when He says, "You are the salt of the earth."  Or  "You are the light of the world."  Does that mean it's our fault if people are being inconsiderate to each other, or choosing darkness over the light of Christ?  Well, maybe it is, if they look to us and instead of seeing love and mercy, they witness prejudice or expressions that are judgmental and hateful?  How can others see the light of Christ, if by our actions we only reveal more darkness?  Yes, Jesus has high expectations of us, to be more righteous than the Scribes and Pharisees.  Well, what we know about the Scribes and Pharisees that might not be too difficult, but Jesus is very serous about our responsibility to be a good influence to others, because isn't it true how else if not by our example can those around us see firsthand what it means to walk in the light of Christ?

 

 

 

To say this can't help but to recall the example of so many of the saints here at P.O.P., whose light has inspired me over and over again.  And again, it is such a treasure to walk out in the Memorial Garden and see their names.  I was moved to recall Pat and Sid Corpe and how they were such a bright, shining light when they stepped up to keep the food pantry going so that today, as we added our 275 cans of soup last Sunday, we can continue to provide hope and light to those struggling with the pain and darkness of being unemployed and being hungry.  I also fondly recall their shining example of love as they struggled to take care of each other.  Never once did I see them get depressed or seem overwhelmed, but instead they said over and over again, "It's all in God's hands." 

 

 

 

Take a moment and recall, who has been a shining light for you in the midst of your darkness?  Who has been the salt that has made your life more fulfilling and worth living?  If you can write them a note of thanks this week or give them a call, or maybe send them a Valentine O'Gram to say thanks to them, or let us honor thee memory of those who go before us in how we in truth can now be a shining light to others. 

 

 

 

So ask yourself, are you being the kind of influence you want to be to those around you?  Are you allowing the light of Christ to shine right through you in your actions and your words?  Just like the flashlight, doesn't it all begin from what is inside us and how well we are taking care of our soul or spirit--don't we need to take care to put in fresh batteries or receive the energy we need from the Holy Spirit, or how else can we shine forth?  How can we be fresh and vital to others? 

 

 

 

So, our checklist as Christians from Jesus is pretty simple.

 

 

 

  1. Keep your inner spirit always refreshed and full of the energy it needs from the Holy Spirit.
  2. Don't hide your light by feeling insecure, or don't distract others by turning off your light. 
  3. And always remain a little salty (Okay, you can take that any way you want).
  4. Be sure to teach others what it means to follow Christ, not just in our words, but in our actions. 

 

 

 

Yes, I suppose it is a lot to ask, but then, let's remember who is doing the asking and recall all that He has done for us, all out of love.

 

 

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

SERMON JANUARY 12, 2014

 

BAPTISM OF OUR LORD SUNDAY

 

PRINCE OF PEACE

 

 

 

 

 

ISRAEL 42:1-9

 

PSALM 29

 

ACTS 1034-47

 

MATTHEW 3:13-17

 

 

 

"See, the former things have come to pass

 

and new things I now declare;

 

before they spring forth I tell you of them."

 

 

 

Let us pray.

 

 

 

The other day the difference between Southern California and Minnesota was 95 degrees.  The other difference was three feet of snow while in California we only had 3 inches of rain all year long.  In fact, last year was the driest year ever recorded. 

 

 

 

Yes, we are in the midst of a drought and we never should take the gift of water for granted.  Likewise, how many of us suffer from spiritual drought where one's life of faith seems dry or lifeless, when we feel unmotivated to practice what we believe, and sometimes wonder what difference does my commitment to Christ and to my church really make?  And I wonder if the problem again is the tendency to take both the church and God for granted, just like the gift of water.  We totally assume it will be there when we need it, that we can turn it on and off just like a faucet.  Well, the truth is, yes, God will also be there for us, but having hearts to both receive and share Him may in fact dry up and become hard and barren as a lifeless desert, which is why I'm always thankful that Baptism of Our Lord Sunday comes at the beginning of the New Year. 

 

 

 

For isn't affirmation of our baptism just the opportunity we need to once again be revived by the waters of baptism and truly appreciate being a child of God and realize just how exciting it is to share in the very mission of Christ, to be His servant and to light to each other and to the world.  I know, you are well familiar with my emphasis on the need to reaffirm our baptism on a daily basis, because it is the crucial key to living a life of faith that is vibrant and overflowing with joy and enthusiasm.  But I am not the only one who feels that way, in fact, Martin Luther expressed it even more radically and forcefully when he said, "Indeed, if I had the matter under my control, I would not want God to speak to me from heaven or to appear to me, but this is what I would want, and my daily prayers are directed to this end, that I might have the proper respect and true appreciation for the gift of baptism."  Wow, why would he say such a thing, I mean, it's just a little water sprinkled on our heads and a few words uttered out loud?

 

 

 

Well, just like water make plants become alive and grow, our very souls and spirits grow as we receive God's promise that we belong to Him and He is well pleased with us and nothing can change His love for us. 

 

 

 

This is so powerful.  After Jesus' baptism he had the strength to go into the wilderness and face all the devil could offer, because he had experienced the nourishment of God's Spirit and received the promise from God's Word.  And isn't this exactly what we need when we face our own wilderness?  When life becomes dry and lifeless, turn back to the fountain of your baptism.  Now be honest, how many of you are using your baptismal bowls and remembering your baptism everyday?  Which is why we offer something like Refresh, or other Bible Study groups and devotionals. 

 

 

 

I like what Bonnie Bowman said the other day that perhaps we should advertise "Refresh is our Spiritual Drought Buster," or maybe we should call it your "Weekly Spiritual Shower so You don't get stinky."  Likewise, Sunday worship is the very nourishment we need to remain ever growing so that when we face a life crises, the loss of a loved one, we realize we never do it alone.  We are God's beloved child and we belong to a family that truly cares. 

 

 

 

So as you make your New Year's resolutions, I encourage you to put one at the very top of:  Remember your baptism everyday.  Watch what happens, how life itself becomes more meaningful and joyful. 

 

 

 

No, baptism is not a one time event, it is something that takes our lives to grow into, a life-long process that enables us to grow ever closer to Christ, and to one another, because we all share the same baptism, the same Spirit, the same Lord, and the same mission of love as we begin a New Year.  Let's turn to the song sheet that has been handed out and affirm who we are, what we are about and that God is leading us into tomorrow by strengthening our sense of purpose and mission today.

 

 

 

 

 

Building on The Promise of Tomorrow

 

Lyrics

 

Chorus
Building
on the Promise of Tomorrow
Standing on your grace for us today
For your love has bid us come and follow
Precious Lord: light the path, lead the way

 

Verse 1 - Fellowship
We are your people, your family, your own
By water and Spirit begun
Lead us to love with the love that you have shown
Bind us together as one

 

Verse 2 - Mission
Open our eyes to the harvest, ripe and full
Darkness in need of your light
Send us to shine out to every darkened soul
Send us to waken the night!

 

Verse 3 - Discipleship
Feed us and lead us that by your grace we grow
Give us a heart that is true
Deepen our faith, and your will teach us to know
Build up our lives in you

 

Verse 4 - Service
All that we have, all we are, and hope to be
All this we offer to you
Make us your body, your hands, your voice, your feet
Willing your service to do

 

Verse 5 - Worship
O Lord, we long to be where your praise is heard
Come to us now in this place
Here ‘round your table, and spoken in your word
Blessing shines forth from your face 

  

 

SERMON DECEMBER 8, 2013

 

SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT

 

PRINCE OF PEACE

 

 

 

Isaiah 11:1-10

 

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

 

Romans 15:4-13

 

Matthew 3:1-12

 

 

 

 

 

"I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is more powerful than I is coming after me."

 

 

 

Let us pray.

 

 

 

So who was John the Baptist?  What better figure to discuss than just after celebrating the joy of baptism.

 

 

 

Well, the main thing we know about John the Baptist, besides liking water, is that he was forerunner for Jesus--The voice crying out to help us prepare for his coming.  He is the one who tells us to wake up and repent while there is still time.  Well, to help us better understand John the Baptist's role, we have a little song written by him that I want us to sing together in his honor, okay?  Messiah Christ is Coming to Town (to the tune of Santa Clause is coming to town.)

 

 

 

Messiah Christ is Coming to Town

 

 

 

Oh, you better watch out and listen to my cry

 

You better get ready, I'm telling you why;

 

Messiah Christ is coming to town.

 

 

 

He's not making any list,

 

Or checking it twice,

 

He already knows we're naughty, not nice.

 

Messiah Christ is coming to town.

 

 

 

That's why I'm out here crying

 

That's why I was sent

 

The whole world seems dying

 

It's time to wake up and repent.

 

 

 

So you better watch out and listen to my cry

 

You better get ready

 

I'm telling you why,

 

Messiah Christ is coming to town.

 

 

 

Okay, there you have it.  John's mission is to make sure we know what's coming; yet do we know what's coming?  Do we know what or who is coming and perhaps more importantly do we know when or how He is coming this Christmas?  We are told by John the Baptist that the one who is coming will baptize us by the Holy Spirit and fire.  Well, not sure if I saw any fire a few moments ago, but I certainly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Precious little Joann's face reveals to us once again the face of the one who is coming.  The face of a mere infant so that we are more apt, more ready to receive God, not as some heavenly old guy in the sky, but no, with a face that is easy to love.  And isn't that the wonderful mystery and joy of who is coming? 

 

 

 

Through the gift of the baby Jesus, we too shall be born anew, just as we proclaim the waters of baptism,  and that through His birth we receive all the gifts intended for us.  Gifts better than those you can get at Macys or Target.  Were you paying attention?  What part of the baptismal service comes directly from the words we heard in our Old Testament lesson?  Okay, who is awake out there?  Right, the verses in Isaiah serve to tell us what gifts that Joanna as well as all of us receive through our baptism.  The gift of wisdom and understanding, the gift of counsel and might, the gift of knowledge and fear (or what I think better translated as respect) for the Lord.  Gifts that come from the Spirit.  Yep, no doubt about it.  John the Baptist was right.  As we baptize in Jesus' name, we experience the gift and power of the Holy Spirit.  And isn't it the Spirit that teaches and guides us how to best prepare and receive Jesus as he comes to us?  For the answer is so simple we often miss it.  To receive Him as a child, be like a child.  For only as a child do we see His gift of love and only as a child is our hearts open enough to both receive and give His love.  Yes, John the Baptist is right. It's high time we learn to live out our baptism, to repent, forgive and be renewed as disciples of the one who is coming.  As William Sloan Coffin, pastor of Riverside Church in NYC, put it this way:

 

 

 

           "We have learned to soar through the air like birds, to swim through the sea

           like fish, to soar through space like comets.  It's now about time we learned   

           to walk on the earth as children of our God." 

 

 

 

Which means to live in harmony with each other, that we see Christ present in each other's face, that together we will be united in our song of hope and peace.  That just like Joanna and John the Baptist, we belong to God and can rejoice in his coming.

 

 

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SERMON DECEMBER 1, 2013

 FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT

 PRINCE OF PEACE

  

 

Isaiah 2:15

 Psalm 122

 Romans 131:11-14

 Matthew 24:36-44

 

 

"Keep awake therefore for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming."

 

 Let us pray.

 

 Okay, I know most of you here probably heard this one before, but I can't resist sharing it again because it fits so well with our Advent theme and today's scripture lessons.

 

 The local pastors were standing by the side of the road holding up a sign that said, "The End is Near!  Turn yourself around before it is too late."  As cars passed by, they planned to hold up their sign and yell out their message.  The first driver saw them and he yelled out in response, "Oh, be quiet, you religious nuts!"  And he sped on, but then from around the curve, they heard a big splash.  One of the pastors looked at the other one and said,"Maybe we should change our sign to read, "Bridge out ahead" instead, what do you think?

 

 The message of Advent is "Be prepared--wake up--for the end is near."  Yet, today's gospel lesson leaves us with a rather disturbing image of Christ coming suddenly and taking one home to glory, while leaving the other behind.  Who wants to be left behind?  No one.  But I wonder if this message of Advent needs to be changed.  Instead of being motivated by fear and judgement, and to turn ourselves around before it is too late, that the message of Advent is to simply warn us that there are plenty of pitfalls that we need to watch out for, not only for how we prepare to celebrate another Christmas, but in general as we practice our faith on a daily basis.  And how do we receive Christ is he comes into our midst day in a day out?  Instead, isn't the session of Advent our wonderful opportunity to slow down, to light candles, to pray for peace, to read God's Word and essentially put ourselves in harmony with God's ways and be able to walk on His paths instead of our own? 

 

What does it mean to be in tune with God's ways?  I love the example given to us by the prophet Isaiah, "We shall beat our swords into ploughshares, our spears into pruning hooks.  Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; they shall learn war no more." 

 

Rick Steves is the famous traveller's guide who is on every night with his commentary on places to visit throughout Europe, and I love watching his show.  He also happens to be a good Lutheran as well!  But he has recently completed a show on Israel and Palestine and had a preview that I watched last week on a special web cast.  And what I love about his approach is how crucial it is to see and appreciate people for who they are, that if we can see others as God's children, the path to peace begins.  And what I also love about Rick Steves is his optimism, his hopefulness, even in the midst of what seems to be a hopeless situation.  

 

A few years ago he also did a powerful show on Iran and showed to us a people who really wanted peace as much as we do.  I highly recommend going to his website and watching it as well as clips from his upcoming show about the Holy Land that will come out in April.  But to me, Rick Steves is a powerful example of an Advent prophet, someone who tells us never give up hope, never get tired of walking in the light of the Lord, because this is the path to peace and salvation.

 

I encourage you to follow what today's Psalm urges us, to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, to pray for unity and harmony through God's word and this might be exactly a way for us to become ready and turn ourselves around and follow God's ways. 

 

 I close with a poem called "Toward the Light" that encourages us to head toward the light this Christmas.

 

 Toward the Light

 By Ann Weems

 

Too often our answer

 to the darkness

 is not running to

 Bethlehem,

 but running away.

 

We ought to know by now

 that we can't see

 where we are going

 in the dark.

 Running away is rampant

 Separation is stylish

 Separation from friends,

 from self,

 from God.

 Run away,

 don't talk about it,

 avoid.

 Run away and join the

 army of those who have already

 run away.

 

 When are we going to learn

 that Christmas Peace

 comes only when we turn

 and face the darkness?

 Only then will we

 be able to see

 the way forward

 in the Light of the world

 

 Amen.

 

  

 

 

SERMON NOVEMBER 17, 2013

 TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

 PRINCE OF PEACE

 

 

Malachi 4:1-2

 Psalm 98

 II Thessalonians 3:6-13

 Luke 21:5-19

 

 "Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right!"

 

 Let us pray.

 

 "By your endurance, you will gain your souls."  Hey, Jesus, this sure doesn't sound like good Lutheran doctrine.  Hasn't Jesus heard about being justified by God's grace through faith?  Salvation is a gift, not something we earn by our endurance.  So, what's going on?  Does this mean that Jesus really wasn't a good Lutheran?  For that matter, even St. Paul, the one Luther used to develop and realize the principle of grace in today's second lessons, seems very concerned with doing good works.  He is pretty straight forward, "Anyone unwilling to work should not eat."  St. Paul urges that everyone should do their part, there's no room for laziness in the church community.  Everyone needs to work and earn their way, and to never get weary at doing what is right. 

  

So what is going on here?  Where is grace found in today's scripture readings?  Well, I must admit, even though these scripture readings make me uncomfortable, they do seem quite appropriate for Commitment Renewal Sunday, where we emphasis that our commitment and how we put our faith into action really matters.  Yes, everyone does have to do their part for the Lord's ministry to be successful and effective. 

 

But you all know this, and I was thinking this is probably my 19th Commitment Renewal Sunday with you, and so the whole notion of pledging one's allegiance to God by offering of our time, talent and treasures is old hat for you. But I wonder what would happen if I preached the sermon Jesus preached today.  You know, I confess that at times I have always wanted to be a hell and brimstone kind of preacher, just once, although it is truly out of character for a Lutheran pastor and especially for me who always emphasizes God's love and grace.  But what if I told you that your commitment to Christ may require you to forsake all the comforts of this life?  What if I proclaimed that you have to be ready to be persecuted, hated, perhaps even arrested and thrown in prison all because you signed that commitment renewal card?  What then?  Would you do it?  What if it meant being forsaken and betrayed by your family members or friends?

 

 If some of them would even want to put you to death, what would we say then?  Would you still sign your name to it or declare that Christ comes first in my life?  Maybe this is exactly what Jesus is getting at, that by our endurance, our willingness to be truly faithful, that we will discover how precious the gift of grace truly is.  Maybe then we'd realize that Jesus said "yes" to all these things for our sake, His commitment went all the way to the cross, that with Him grace comes at a price.  Not cheap grace, but a costly grace that in turn asks us to be just as dedicated and willing to pick up our cross for the sake of following Jesus.

 

 I don't know, at first when I read today's gospel lesson, I thought wow, Jesus must have been having a bad day to say such awful things to his disciples, to expect so much from them. Yet, now I think, well, Jesus himself didn't hold back on any of these things.  No, he endured it all for the sake of our souls. 

 

 Let's ponder that, let it truly sink in, as we renew our commitment to Christ.  Our action is simply in response to what Christ has done for us.

 

 May we simply look to the cross and then say, "I will never become weary in doing God's work.  No, it is always a joy to serve our Savior. 

 

 Amen.

 

 

 

SERMON NOVEMBER 10, 2013

25TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

PRINCE OF PEACE

 

 Job 19:23-27a

 Psalm 17:1-9

 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

  Luke 20:27-38

 

 "Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living, for to him all of them are alive."

 

 Let us pray.

  

A man went to his lawyer and told him "My neighbor owes me $500 and he doesn't want to pay up.  What should I do?"

  "Do you have proof?" asked the lawyer.

  "Nope" replied the man.

  "Okay, then write a letter asking him for the $1,000 he owes you" said the lawyer. 

  "But it's only $500" replied the man.

  "Precisely.  That's what he will reply and we will have the roof we need to nail him." 

 

 The Sadducees were also looking for proof, but not really about what is life like after death.  No, they wanted to prove that Jesus was just a hoax, so they were determined to set up a trap, a trick question that nobody could really answer, and it was a whopper.  A woman married to seven brothers?  Come on, but they wanted to show how silly it is to believe in the resurrection and that if Jesus believed in it, then he too must be a lunatic, a false prophet.  But how does Jesus answer their riddle?  By showing how preposterous this question really is--marriage in an earthly institution, established to serve us here and now, but in the life that is to follow, everything is brand new.  You simply can't compare apples to oranges.  No, heaven is a whole new ball game and the reason Jesus says the Sadducees don't get this is because they have limited God to this life, and made him the God of the dead, not of the living.  Isn't that the whole point of the resurrection?  You can't die anymore; you are fully and abundantly alive. 

 

 Which reminds me of another story about how a little boy's cat died while he was at school, and the mother was very concerned about how to tell the boy about the cat dying.  So when he came home, his mother set him aside and gently said "Good ole Tiger has passed on and is now in heaven with God." 

 

To which the little boy responded, "What does God want with a dead cat?"

 

 And isn't this the point?  God isn't interested in that which is dead.  No, he is the God of the living, the one who makes all things new and declares to us even now we are "Children of the resurrection."  Now, isn't that a cool thing to say?  I think I'm going to put that on my business card.   "Hi, I am a child of the resurrection!"   Wow!  For isn't that in a nutshell what this whole being a Christian is all about?  We put our complete trust and even our lives into the hands of the Living God, because in His eyes we never die.  We shall always remain alive and vital.  And Jesus Himself is our proof.  He rose from the dead so we too live, which makes death nothing to fear. I think of that when we consider all the veterans who gave their lives for our sake, that even though in many cases they were so young, at least death is not the end.  No, the power of their sacrifice lives on, just as they do all because God is the God of the living, and in heaven there will be no more war, and no more fears shed over such a terrible loss.  Jesus himself ends the hopeless tragedy by being our eternal comfort, by opening the door to life everlasting once and for all.  That changes everything.  And why shouldn't we live today as if Jesus rose from the grave, yet, why shouldn't we live as children of the resurrection here and now?  Why shouldn't we live the way God sees us both now and forever, fully alive? 

  

To quote Dietrich Bonheoffer, who wrote this while he sat in a prison cell waiting for his death in Nazi Germany:

 

"I have discovered that it is only my living completely that one learns to have faith to completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself or act like it's all in our hands. No, we must throw ourselves completely into the arms of God and the arms of Christ upon the cross, as we share in God's sufferings we share in the hope of a true life and love like His, and His mercy and grace will lead us to God himself, who is the source of all life."

 

Yes, why shouldn't we be fully alive now?  Because we shall live forever, and I know my Redeemer lives.

 

 Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SERMON NOVEMBER 3, 2013

 

ALL SAINTS SUNDAY

 

PRINCE OF PEACE

 

 

 

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

 

Psalm 149

 

Ephesians 1:11-23

 

Luke 7:20-31

 

 

 

 

 

"I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the Saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you ..."

 

 

 

Let us pray. 

 

 

 

All Saints Sunday is kind of a paradox.  On one hand it is a time to remember past Saints that have gone before us and now dwell in God's eternal Kingdom, and yet it is also a time to affirm that we all are saints here and now because of Christ living in us.  In both cases, isn't it all about relationships?  Not even death can end our relationships with our loved ones, and through Jesus' death we are united to him in sharing a new life and it all comes together at this table when we share in the feast without end.  So, in this Spirit, please join with me in a prayer written especially for this day and for this time of thanksgiving.  And when it comes time, please feel free to mention aloud those you would like to remember this day.  

 

 

 

PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING

 

 

 

 

 

It is nice to be remembered, isn't it, which is why our Memorial Garden is so meaningful as we look over those names out there and recall their examples of faithfulness and devotion for God.  And don't you wonder at times how will you be remembered once you leave this world and enter God's home?  What stories will be told about you as others see your brick?  Will your example of faith inspire others?  Will they say, "Wow, he really served Christ by how he served others!"? Or "Boy, remember how generous she was.  She gave her last penny to help the Lord's ministry at the church."  Yes, what will they say about you?  Will you be remembered the way you'd like to be?  Well, guess what?  Sainthood begins today, here and now. It is never too late to be one of those we remember as feeding and clothing the hungry, or welcoming the stranger or offering mercy and forgiveness to those who have gone astray.  No, you can begin today and carry forth a witness that will be remembered in how you care for the sick, visit the lonely, be there for each other in time of grief.

 

 

 

Jesus tells us quite clearly you will not only be remembered later, but be blessed now if you do these things.  Now, Jesus clarified being blessed isn't the same thing as being happy or satisfied now.  No, being blessed could mean being hated, excluded, and made fun of now.  But later on, because of your devotion to Christ, you will be joyful and experience God's own gratitude. No, you may not be remembered or honored now, but if you remain faithful to God, your example will live on.  Jesus himself promises us that, and backs up that promise with his own life, his death and suffering, his new life, which turns us all into Saints.

 

 

 

So, All Saints Day is indeed a paradox--if we live for Christ today, and not for ourselves, then our lives will live on as others recall our love for Christ.

 

 

 

Sainthood comes from being united to Christ, both now and forever.  And what better place then to be united to Christ then at this table, with this feast to strengthen us in our desire to be disciples for Christ.

 

 

 

I close with a poem by one who is remembered as a saint because of his legacy of love while he was alive, although for such a short time.  Mattie Stepanek only lived to be 15, became an ambassador for Muscular Dystrophy through his books and appearances and his heartfelt faith in the God who created him and was ready to welcome him home. One of his last poems is entitled Eternal Echoes.

 

 

 

 

 

ETERNAL ECHOES

 

 

 

Our life is an echo

 

of our spirit today,

 

of our essence

 

as it is caught between

 

our yesterday and our tomorrow.

 

It is the resounding

 

reality of who we are

 

as a result of

 

where we have been

 

and where we will be

 

for eternity.

 

                                      by Mattie Stepanek

 

 

 

Live for Christ today and you will be remembered and treasured as a Saint forever.

 

 

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SERMON OCTOBER 27, 2013

 REFORMATION SUNDAY

 PRINCE OF PEACE

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34

 Psalm 47

 Romans 3:15-24

 John 8:31-37

 

 "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."

 

Let us pray.

 

 I love the story about a woman named Georgene Johnson.  At 55 she decided to enter her first race, a 10K race throughout a beautiful part of Cleveland in the fall.  She trained hard to get prepared for it and felt she was in the best shape she had been in for years.  On the day of the race she lined up with the other runners and off she went.  After about an hour or so she began to wonder, this sure is taking longer to get to the finish line than she thought, but she just followed the other runners and the scenery was beautiful.  After two hours she knew something wasn't right, and then she saw the sign, "only" 12 more miles to go!  What?  Turns out Georgene Johnson had lined up with the wrong group of runners, not the 10.K group where she belonged, but with the 26 mile group where she didn't belong. But she decided to just keep going, to do the best she could and see what would happen...  And she prayed, "God, give me strength."  Well, lo and behold, she finished the marathon in 4 hours and 4 minutes.  Afterwards when asked about it she replied, "Well, it isn't the race I trained for, and it wasn't the race I entered, but for better or worse, it was the race I was in."  

 

 Aren't her words so true for all of us?  The race we find ourselves in isn't always the one for which we had signed up.  And I wonder if this wasn't especially true for Martin Luther?  I mean, all he did was put some suggestions for reform up on the church door, and suddenly he found himself in a race he hadn't planned for.  And yet he hung in there and did his best to finish the race, and what kept him going?  The ever-present strength of God's grace. 

 

Today's Psalm, Psalm 47, was Luther's favorite.  I think that's why it is always included on Reformation Day.  In fact, he used this Psalm to inspire him to write A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.  God is our refuge, our fortress and strength.  He is always there to help us in trouble while we are running a race that turned out to be much more than what we had bargained for.  The Psalm was the one so many turned to give comfort and hope after 9/11.  And the basic message is one we need to hear over and over again, "Be still, then, and know I am God...I am with you.  I will be your stronghold." 

 

So how is your race going?  Getting tired yet?  Feel like you are running it alone?  Well, Luther felt the same way at times, and wasn't shy about saying so.  Yet in his honest confession, and in his most desperate moments, God would come to his aid through a spiritual father in the monastery, through the local Prince who protected him, and through a loving wife who often challenged him to keep going.  All these things were unexpected and signs of God's mercy.  When I lived in San Francisco. I participated in a race called Bay to Breakers, as it started in the downtown area by the bay and finished out by the sea through the Golden Gate Park.  It included going up a steep incline they called Heartbreak Hill.  And it more than broke your heart.  Well, after you go up and over it, you feel spent, and enter what they call the Panhandle, the entry way into Golden Gate Park.  Well, just as I was about to give up, suddenly two unexpected things happened.  First, all the houses along the Panhandle were simultaneously playing the famous Jackson Brown song, Running On Empty, which made me laugh and feel inspired, along with the people with water cheering and yelling, "You can do it!"  The second thing was the Chaplin I was working with at the time suddenly appeared from behind me.  He had given me my T-Shirt that said, "Run the good race and always persevere."  He just smiled and said   "I've got your back--Hey, I think I can smell the ocean."  That's all I needed.  I was able to keep going, sensing God's strength.

 

Reformation Day is our chance to declare A Mighty Fortress is Our God--an ever present help and refuge.  So we, like Luther, can affirm we are never alone, but are always completely embraced by God's grace and love.  So keep running, no matter what race you find yourself in, God is with us and cheering us on to the finish line.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

SERMON OCTOBER 6, 2013
WORLD-WIDE COMMUNION SUNDAY
 
Habakkuk 1-4, 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-9
II Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10
 
"Commit your way to the Lord, put your trust in the Lord and see what God will do."
 
Let us pray.
 
Martin Luther once preached on today's gospel and how the disciples just didn't get it.  They thought faith was a commodity, and so they foolish asked, "Increase our faith," while Jesus says size doesn't matter, it is all about what you do with it.  Luther said think of faith as a key that opens the door to God.  The size of the key doesn't matter.  It could be big or small, what matters is for us to use it and open the door so then God can act in our lives, and it will be God who moves the mountains.  We just need to trust in His power. 
 
Someone who was an example of faithfulness in my life was my Uncle Raymond Johnson, and I thought of him and felt his presence as his brick is right over there.  Isn't that what's so wonderful about this new Memorial Garden--taking time to remember our loved ones, seeing their names, affirming their love, rejoicing over their new life? 
 
Well, my uncle was also a Lutheran pastor.  In fact, he was the one who thirty years ago placed his hands upon my head and asked God's blessings upon me as I promised to fulfil my vows of ordination.  And Uncle Ray wasn't flashy.  He never needed much attention.  He simply did what God asked him to do, the epitome of a humble servant for God.  And his role model gives me insight into Jesus' words in our gospel today, which perhaps sounds rather puzzling at first.  Doesn't sound like grace or love, that the slave should simply do what he is commended to do.  There's no room for complaining or protesting according to Jesus.  They simply need to acknowledge that they are slaves, only doing what they are supposed to do." 
 
I know, sounds strange to our ears, but I wonder if it is because we have such a sense of entitlement.  We feel we've got the right to sit and get what we want and when we want it.  Nobody better tell us we need to drink or eat later, no way.  I deserve the very best, need to get my way because I am worth it.
 
But this was not Uncle Ray's attitude.  No, to him whatever came his way was just fine for him and considered it such a blessing. No, to him the only one who was entitled and worthy of special treatment was Jesus.  And yet, isn't this what makes Jesus' words so powerful that of anyone, He is the one who came to serve us, to kneel and wash our feet, to do God's bidding without complaint or saying "Hey, I'm the son of God, I deserve better.  No, Jesus is speaking to himself--my mission is simply to do what God asks of me.
 
The question for us then, are we willing to do what Jesus asks of us?  Or do we think we are too good, too busy, too tired...or go ahead and fill in the blank.  What is your excuse?  The disciples excuse was that their faith was too little.  But Jesus essentially says, "Excuses, excuses, excuses.  You got everything you need, because God gives it to you.  It's whether or not you decide to use it or put into practice, or simply trust and turn that key! 
 
That's what I learned from my Uncle Ray.  He was always willing to turn that key, always ready to humbly serve His God.  And why? Because he put God first, and that way no excuse was good enough to let him off the hook. 
 
And today, it seems rare to find Christians who live like Uncle Ray, although this garden is a testimony to many here, who did come plenty of Saturdays and gave hours to complete it.  No excuses, but rather a commitment of their love for God. I can't help but to wonder if my Uncle Ray was alive today and was preaching this sermon, he would call it like it is.  We worship ourselves, our time, and our sense of entitlement above God, instead of simply saying well, of course, Sunday Worship comes first, of course service and bible study is a priority above everything else, because that's what God expects and my number one desire is to do my Lord's bidding.  He alone deserves my utmost, He alone is my God and I do love Him above anything--yes, everything else.  I am the Lord your God, you shall love no other Gods before me.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind, soul and strength.  No excuses.
 
Sounds like crazy talk for our modern ears..."But Pastor, come on, get real."  Well, what could be more real than the word of God?  What could be more true when He tells us, no, orders us,
"Commit your way to the Lord, put your trust in Him and what God will do."
 
Amen.

 

 

 

 

SERMON SEPTEMBER 28, 2013

 

MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS SUNDAY

 

PRINCE OF PEACE

 

 

 

Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3

 

Psalm 103:1-5, 20-22

 

Revelation 12:7-12

 

Luke 10:17-20

 

 

 

 

 

"Bless the Lord, you angels, you mighty ones who do God's bidding, who obey the voice of God's word."

 

 

 

Let us pray.

 

 

 

So can anyone tell me who is Michael and all his Angels and if anyone says Mike Trent and the Anaheim Angels of Los Angles, well, I'm sure that's not who we are talking about.  No, today is Michael and All Angels Sunday.  Who here ever remembers hearing such a thing?  I know your thinking sounds pretty Catholic to me.  So again, who is Michael?  Not even St. Michael for that matter, just Michael.  How many remember the movie a while back called Michael starring John Travolta?  He was just an ordinary kind of guy who just wanted to do good and then when being threatened by evil forces we saw his true nature as suddenly these huge wings sprouted from his back. 

 

 

 

I really don't remember too much more about the movie than that, but yes, Michael is mentioned in the book of Daniel, our Old Testament lesson for today, very briefly, and he is described as the good prince and protector of the people.  Here he is not portrayed as an angel, but someone who will deliver us.  But then the author of Revelation picks up on this, as we heard in our second lesson, and Michael here is shown as the leader of the angels to fight against Satan and his angels.  And he is depicted as the one who slays the dragon or the ancient serpent, the Devil.  Now we suddenly remember all those statues we've seen, especially all throughout Europe and all those paintings that show this guy with a sword or a spear, killing a dragon, or cutting off the head of a snake.  Ah, you have seen what I'm talking about.  One of the favorite images of many artists, I guess because it is so dramatic, but that's good ol' Michael.  Well, now that we got that cleared up, what are we to make of Michael and all angels?  Surely, I mean what does it have to do with my life?  Well, I think of a story that the author Rob Bell tells in his new book, What We Talk about When We Talk about God.

 

 

 

And if you think this is a plug for coming on Wednesday night to our Refresh program and attend our wonderful Adult study where we are discussing this amazing book, well, you're absolutely right.  It is a plug and by golly, you need to take time and join us.  Okay, back to the story.

 

 

 

A few years ago I was speaking in the Boston and afterward a woman told me about the time she had been in the hospital for ongoing cancer treatment, lying in bed thinking that she wasn't going to make it.  She remembers being lower than she'd ever been before, filled with despair, wondering if she was going to die soon, when the night-shift nurse entered her room and began to lovingly care for her.  Throughout the night the nurse returned repeatedly, checking on her and calming her and reassuring her and speaking to her in a way that lifted her entire being and gave her hope.  In the morning she woke up feeling like a different person.  She then asked the morning nurse for the name of the woman who had been caring for her, giving a detailed description.

 

 

 

The nurse said that no one who fit that description worked on that floor of the hospital, not to mention the night before in this woman's room.

 

 

 

What do you do with that story? 

 

 

 

As a pastor, I've heard countless stories like this one over the years.   People sitting at their kitchen table, realizing that they don't have enough money to buy groceries, when the doorbell rings and they open the door to find their front porch filled with bags of food.  Really strange, odd, surreal sorts of stories.  Some of them can be attributed to basic coincidence, but over the years I've heard tons of them--and not just from really zealous religious people who carry large Bibles with their names engraved on the covers, but also from educated, somewhat cynical people with PhDs who own companies and have expertise in fields so technical I barely understand what it is they do all day.

 

 

 

Now some people hear a story about the woman in the hospital and immediately say, "Yes, of course!  That was an angel taking care of her!  They're all around us, watching over us and guiding us and protecting us."  And then they proceed to quote verses from the Bible while telling their angel stories. 

 

 

 

Others hear people responding like this and roll their eyes, dismissing it all as crazy talk that belongs in the same category as talk of demons and spirits and blind people suddenly seeing.  They are quick to point out that no one has any proof of such things and that it's superstitious ideas like these from earlier, mythological religion that, if left unchecked, lead to wars and ignorance and all sorts of really bad religious shows on cable television.

 

 

 

One says, "Of course she was an angel!"

 

The other says, equally emphatically, "Angels don't exist!"

 

 

 

I tell you this story about the woman in the hospital because when I talk about the God who is beyond all limits, I'm talking about the kind of intellectually honest faith that is open-minded enough to admit that some phenomena have no rational explanation.  To be closed-minded to anything that does not fit within predetermined and agreed-upon categories is to deny our very real experiences of the world.  We're here, this is real, subatomic particles travel all possible paths and then choose one when observed, and there is no precedent for such a thing.  This is not avoiding important things, like evidence and proof and logic; this is the honest acknowledgement that some events, experiences, and truths simply exist outside of those particular categories.  To believe that this is all there is and we are simply collections of neurons and atoms--that's being closed to anything beyond that particular size and scope of reality.

 

 

 

But to believe that there's more going on here, that there may be reality beyond what we can comprehend--that's something else.

 

 

 

That's being open. 

 

 

 

I think it is also what we call faith.  And isn't it faith that leads us to come and receive a prayer for healing?  Yes, it may be just some symbolic gesture, but then again who knows what power and hope is delivered through the laying on of hands, of submitting to God and say I trust in you to provide for my needs, and I really don't care if you use angels or medicine or both, as long as I sense you working in my life and my need for healing. 

 

 

 

Personally, I believe God uses us as His angels, to reach out and provide the care needed to heal and give hope.  In fact, as it declares in our Psalm, didn't we all fit the category of angels when we do God's bidding and obey the voice of God's word?  Yes, God uses us again and again and we are all a part of this wonderful mystery of how God accomplishes His will and purpose.   Sometimes, perhaps we don't have to be too concerned over who Michael is and if angels exist or not, but rather to affirm that with God, all things are possible. 

 

 

 

As Rob Bell puts it so well:

 

 

 

I believe God is with us,

 

around us,

 

beside us,

 

present with us in every moment.

 

The question then,

 

the art,

 

the task

 

the search

 

the challenge,

 

 

 

The invitation is for you and me to become more and more the kind of people who are aware of the divine presence, attuned to the spirit, present to the depths of each and every moment, seeing God in more and more and more people, places, and events, each and every day.

 

 

 

Now, you all have to get this book and come this Wednesday, right?  And that's why I am thankful for Michael and All Angels Sunday, that it might push us to be open, ready to receive angels in our midst, ready to experience and celebrate God for who God truly is.

 

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SERMON SEPTEMBER 15, 2013

 

SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
PRINCE OF PEACE
 
Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51:1-10
I Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10
 
"Have mercy upon me O God according to your steadfast love; in your great compassion blot out my offenses." 
 
Let us pray.
 
I don't know about you, but as I heard in today's first reading about Moses having a rather heated discussion with God about the fate of the people, we have this amazing verse and conclusion:  "And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that He planned to bring on his people."  What?  Can God do that? 
 
We usually don't think of this all powerful, eternal God changing His mind.  Yet, he does.  And why?  Because of his very nature.  God is a compassionate God.  It takes Him a lot to get angry, and He judges not on whether we deserve it, or whether his patience is at an end, no, he judges according to His steadfast love.  God may change His mind, but His love never changes.  And with love, isn't there always a better way?  Sometimes, at the minute things change for the better, like we saw this week with the whole dilemma of what to do regarding Syria.  Even though there are still a lot of details to be worked out, wasn't it a surprising change of events when Russia said it would back a proposal for Syria to get rid of its chemical weapons?  Who saw that coming? 
 
And isn't the same thing true when it comes to the parables Jesus told in our gospel lesson?  I mean, it seems utterly hopeless.  How can you find one sheep and in the wilderness?  Most likely it already has become dinner for the wolves.  Surely chances are pretty good that the sheep is history, but still the shepherd goes out looking for him.  And if that isn't crazy enough, he then leaves the other 99 unattended out in the wilderness.  Even as a kid I thought to myself this shepherd is out of his mind.  Why not just be content with the 99 you have safe and sound than risking it all for just for one sheep.  And we all thought it, didn't we?  If that one sheep is stupid enough or so easily distracted as to get lost, well, he probably deserves to die.  It's his own fault. 
 
Well, that's clearly what the religious leaders in Jesus day thought.  Sinners will always remain sinners.  Why bother with them?  Why not concentrate on the 99 who are easy to care for?  Well, this is why Jesus probably would be so scandalous to them.  I mean, how can there be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents versus those 99 who do what's right, always there for the potlucks and are such nice people.  Come on, Jesus, this is crazy talk, and also very offensive.  But does he stop?  No, he tells another crazy story about a woman who loses a coin and stays up all night looking for it and doesn't give up until she finds it.  And then what does she do?  She has a party to celebrate.  All her friends and neighbors come over to enjoy good food and drink.  And I know we've all thought it, she probably spent more on that party then what the lost coin was worth!  Craziness, and yet Jesus doesn't let up, and even rubs it into the Pharisees faces right in the midst of their grumbling.  Don't you see it?  God changes his mind.  God judges based on love and compassion and rejoices in the sinner who repents. 
 
Today I can't but wonder if we have lost some of the edge in these stories.  If they are lost, how truly scandalous and offensive they are.  Perhaps we need to put it into context, ask who is it that you feel is unworthy of God's love, who deserves to remain lost or are out in the fringes?  Maybe at times that is how you feel about yourself.  But the good news is that we have a shepherd who never gives up, calling out our name, who searches out the darkest places possible to shed the light of His saving grace.  Because Jesus knew and wants us to know that's how valuable we are to God, that's how valuable every single person is to God, whether they are in Covina or Syria. 
 
God's compassion knows no limits, not even to God.  God will find us and then let the party begin--as God declares, "Rejoice with me."
 
Amen.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SERMON SEPTEMBER 1, 2013
FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
PRINCE OF PEACE
 
Proverbs 25:6-7
Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1 7-14
 
 
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever...  so do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."
 
Jesus' lesson about humility reminds me of the T-shirt we gave to Bishop Nelson at his farewell luncheon--"I am proud to be a humble Lutheran."   No, it just doesn't seem too fitting to brag about being humble.  No, you just do it, you serve others and quickly do good and not to get the attention or praise of others, but simply because you want to please God and make him happy by both our actions and attitudes.  For doesn't Jesus remind us that in the end "all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted?"  And one thing is for sure, God sure does a good job at keeping us humble!  And yet, in our society today, isn't it all about getting ahead, trying to be first or the best, because don't we think we deserve it?  But again, isn't the truth that we undermine and run against God's way when we help out or share what God has given us only for our own personal gain?
 
I love the way comedienne Lily Tomlin puts it, "The trouble with the rat-race is that even is you win, you're still a rat."  Which takes us to today's theme, "Thank God for Work."  Yes, we have this wonderful irony of Labor Day, the day when no one works!  Well, I need to add a brief side note.  Since tomorrow is my birthday and it falls on Labor Day, which it did on the day I was born, so as my mother loves to remind me, she truly labored on Labor Day, but as she says, all her work was worth it when she got me.   Ahhh.  "Ok, got to keep humble."  But isn't it interesting how we call giving birth or going into labor, and it is hard work, isn't it?  I'm sure Stephanie would agree, but then comes Zoey and the work is worth it, isn't it?  And isn't this the beauty of doing God's work?   It always makes a difference, especially to God.
 
I remember once Mother Theresa was asked, "How do you measure the success of our work?"  She thought about it and gave the person asking the question a puzzled look and said, "I don't remember that the Lord ever spoke of success.  He spoke only of faithfulness in love. This is the only success that really counts." 
 
Being faithful, that's all that's required when it comes to the job description of being a disciple of Christ, yet being faithful means being willing, doesn't it?  It means saying, "Oh, God, here are my hands, let me do your work."
 
I heard our new Bishop of the ELCA say that the problem with the decrease in membership in the Lutheran church isn't with those who are not members or don't seem to be interested.  The problem is with those who are members and are not being faithful themselves in their commitment to Christ who have become uninterested and lazy and reflect that back to those who are watching and wondering if they want to come and be a part of the church.  The truth is we have a lot of work to do, but we do it simply by being faithful and because we want to please God. 
 
Isn't this the mission of the church?  To please God by how we invite and care for others, especially those who often feel left out?  It is our job to provide hospitality in a world that is way too often inhospitable and even down right mean and uncaring.  To Jesus, everyone who has become uninterested and lazy and reflect that back to those who are watching and wondering if they want to come and be a part of the church, the truth is we have a lot of work to do but we do it simply by being faithful and because we want to please God.  Isn't this the mission of the church?  To please God by how we invite and care for others, especially those who often feel left out?  It is our job to provide hospitality in a world that is way too often inhospitable, and even downright mean and uncaring.  To Jesus, everyone belongs at this table, which means we need to invite everyone to that font, and just like Zoey, have the chance to truly affirm they are a child of God; they truly belong at the banquet.  God intends the church to be one big party--a happy hour no one wants to miss!  Think about who you can invite, and think about how you can be faithful in wanting to attend God's party as well.  Yes, we have got some work to do, but it's God's work, and it is always worth it, and it sure makes God happy!
 
Amen
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July 16, 2018

WORSHIP TIMES10:15am

 

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