Sunday, October 15, 2017
19th Sunday after Pentecost
 
Isaiah  25:1-9
Psalm  23
Philippians  4:1-9
Matthew  22:1-14
 
“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice.”
 
Let us pray.
 
My uncle, who was also a Lutheran Minister, loved telling this joke, probably because it spoke volumes about being both a Christian, a Lutheran and a Pastor.
 
Once, while on a cruise ship, there was a man who claimed he was an expert in guessing professions.  So, a young man stood up and said, “Prove it.”  He replied, “See that man over there, he is a physician.”  The young man checked it out and it was correct.  “How could you tell?”  “Well, I saw the caring lines on his forehead and knew he had to be a man of great compassion.”  The young man said, “Try it again.  What about him?” pointing to another passerby.  “Oh, he is a lawyer.”  Sure enough, it checked out.  “How did you know this time?”  The expert replied that he had a scholarly look and was rather formal, indicating an attorney.  The young man was astounded.  “Okay, one more; how about the man over by the railing of the ship?”  The expert studied him and declared that he is a preacher.  “He looks so somber and serious.”  The young man went over and inquired, “Sir, are you a pastor?”  The man replied, “Oh heavens no, I’m just sea-sick, that’s why I’m near this railing.”
 
Well, sometimes our appearance doesn’t match who we are or what’s going on.  My uncle thought that was a good story because, all too often, the Christian, who should be always joyful, looks anything but joyful and often complaining, and can be angry, seemingly the opposite of what a Christian should look like.  Perhaps that’s why St. Paul exclaims, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I say, Rejoice.”  Why, because the Lord is near. Also, because we don’t have to worry and be afraid of anything, but always turn it over to God, and you will have peace and joy.
 
In some respects, according to Jesus’ parable, God’s people need to always be ready to party.  God invites us again and again, to share in His Kingdom, His mission, His table and all too often we are too busy.  “Sorry, God, can’t make it, can’t do it” and we recite all our excuse.  I’m sure we all have had the experience of preparing a party or a special event, only to have people cancel out on you, often at the last minute, or worse, yet, don’t respond at all, and you end up with tons of leftovers.  Well, guess what?  God feels the same way.  He invites us to His table regularly, to share in the nourishment of His own Son’s love, yet we often skip it, too pre-occupied with things that don’t have eternal consequence, for this is our path to joy and peace, or as our favorite Psalm says, “to not want”.  Maybe God should make us lie down, sit a while with Him so we can enjoy the green pastures and still waters . . . to be comforted and nourished at His table . . . for then, goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives . . . and, even now, we receive a foretaste of what it will be like to dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.
 
Yes, this is God’s promise for us, let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.  The world watches us . . . in us they see firsthand what it means to be “Christian,” a follower of Christ.   Do we let our joy shine forth, do we let our gentleness and kindnesses be known to everyone?  For, as St. Paul summarizes it for us in whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable and worthy of praise . . . it shall be our action of love, for that is the path of peace.  And this, to me, is the reason I walk for peace every year, to both give and receive the joy of God’s inclusive love.  I also walk because I know how much work goes into it and I have been invited, so it is our turn to say, “Yes”.  May we always be more than ready to say, “Yes” to God when He invites us and may we always be eager to give Him our best.
 
We thank God for the witness of Bev Henderson, who has faithfully said, “Yes” to worship, hardly ever missing a service, and, “Yes”, to serving God in so many ways.  And we thank God for Ron and Melinda, who also have said “Yes” again and again and have served God with a joyful heart, whether it be in a hearty welcome at the door, or a smile to the kids at VBS.  Theirs has been a witness we can all be inspired by and will always treasure.   May we continue to follow their example, even as they depart, because no matter where we are, we are God’s family and God shall, indeed, guide us along the right pathways . . . may the joy of Christ enable us to be joyful people . . . in every situation and deep within our hearts.
 
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.
 
Amen.
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Acts  10:34-43
Colossians  3:1-4
Psalm  118
Matthew  28:1-10
 
“And Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I am the resurrection and the life.””
 
Let us pray.
 
Ah, joyous Easter  -  time to be happy, hopeful, to dress in bright colors and enjoy some candy  -  life is good at Easter, right?  And yet, in the story of Easter, as recorded in the gospels, it is quite the opposite.  We are told, again and again, “The disciples were afraid.”  They hid away in a locked room, afraid that they might be next to be put on a cross, and they were even afraid it was true about Jesus being alive, because where were they when he was dying?  They deserted and betrayed and denied Him.
 
Yes, the mood of the first Easter was fear, not joy.  And, so, is it any wonder that when Jesus does appear in their midst, what is the first thing He tells them, and not once, but again and again?  “Fear not – be not afraid”  And, I wonder, if this isn’t both the primary message of Easter and exactly how we live out being Easter people today, to live, not being manipulated, motivated or controlled by fear, but by a deep trust in the power of God’s love, in the Risen Christ, to defeat anything we might be afraid of, especially our fear of death.
 
I can think of at least three times in my life that I thought my time had come, that death was about to snatch me up.  (I won’t go into detail, because I think you have heard about them all in other sermons, and quite honestly, each time doesn’t make me out to be too bright, so don’t need to retell it.)   But, in each case, I could hear, as plain as I am talking to you now, the words, “Do not be afraid.  Fear not, for I am with you.  Yes, I am the resurrection and the life.”  And my fears subsided, which in one case made all the difference in me remaining alive.
 
Martin Luther, in one Easter sermon, once wrote, “Fear, not doubt, is the opposite of faith – for when we are afraid, we no longer trust that God is God and that Christ has conquered all things, even death, for our sake.  No, I will not fear, because the Risen Christ is always near.”  And so, isn’t this the best way to make Easter an every day reality?  And doesn’t living without fear affect how we treat others?
 
I sincerely believe we have been brainwashed to fear those different from us, be afraid of refugees, be afraid of Muslims, be afraid of immigrants.  When we let our fears get the best of us, are we not undermining and even disregarding the Risen Christ?  How are we living as Easter people if we live in fear and we can’t share the joyous message that Christ is alive and that His love is more powerful that death, and if we hold onto our insecurities and choose to blame others for our fears?  When, in truth, those fears belong to us and we need to let the Risen Christ enable us to let go of them, because our fears are destructive to others and to ourselves.  Are we not essentially denying Christ’s own words and promise,  “I am the resurrection and the life, do not be afraid.”  And that is what I am going to say anytime someone tries to convince me I need to be afraid of such and such or someone I don’t even know.  The truth is, I have seen the Resurrection power alive and well in those who have assisted refugees.  I have seen how lives of fear and pain have been transformed into hope.  This is the Resurrection.  This is the power of new life.  And our lives are changed and made new when we are willing to trust in the power of love over and against hate and fear.  No, next time you hear from elected officials of your neighbors, or even fellow church members that “Better be afraid”, you proclaim loud and clear, “No, Jesus is alive.  He has risen from the tomb and I shall trust Him with all my heart when He tells me, “Do not be afraid”.  Yes, I will choose love over fear and hate, ignorance and arrogance, because the love of Christ lasts forever.
 
Easter consists in living out that love, without fear, for then the Resurrected Christ will be living right in and through us, and our Easter joy will be lived out every day.
 
Amen.
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Isaiah  11:1-10
Psalm  72
Romans  15:4-13
Matthew  3:1-12
 
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of The Holy Spirit.”
 
Let us pray.
 
Advent is the season of waiting, anticipating, of hoping  -  and that’s not easy, is it?  Advent also reminds us to look forward to the day of our Lord’s coming – which for most of us will be the day we die.  Christ will come to us as we come to Christ and make him our eternal dwelling place.
 
And, I’m not sure about you, but I can’t wait until that day.  There’s a song I came across that says it perfectly.  In this season of waiting, I can’t wait.  (Song)  Sometimes I wonder if the best way to see things is to begin with the end, which is really just a new beginning; to see things from an eternal perspective  -  and not with eyes that only see things to worry about or be afraid.  No, as John The Baptist is trying to get across to the Pharisees and Sadducees, let God be God, live with humble repentance and hope, instead of trying to grab power and wealth, none of that is going to mean a hill of beans when we get to heaven.  No, now is the time to prepare the way of the Lord, by how we live, how we love, how we trust that God is in control, because isn’t that how heaven draws near to earth, and we behold The Lamb of God, our Savior, and our Redeemer right in our midst, right in our hearts.
 
Yes, Advent and Christmas send kind of really mixed messages, but it’s all good.  Get ready, be prepared, but wait and anticipate, open your hearts, make room for the Newborn King and yet, He is already here, in the flesh, every time we practice love over hate, community over division, compassion over needing to be right.
 
I guess this is the wonderful tension of Advent, I can’t wait, but I have to wait, I can’t rejoice yet, and I have so much to be joyful about right now.  All of it is bundled together in this thing we call hope  -  God is the one who is our source of hope, and, the more we rely upon Him, the more we will be filled with joy and peace, because The Holy Spirit is always working; before, after and during Christmas.  May we abound in hope so that our hearts may truly be filled with joy, both now and forever.
 
Amen.
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Jeremiah  31:31-34
Psalm  46
Romans  3:19-28
John  8:31-36
 
“For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  They are now justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
 
Let us pray.
 
“God doesn’t love you, you are not good enough.  You have sinned way too much.  You are certainly going to burn in hell.” I know.  Wonderful message for a sermon right?  But this is the message that went around and around in Martin Luther.  It pierced his soul and the harder he tried to earn God’s favor and prove he was loveable, things just got worse.  Can you imagine waking up every day with the fear of going to hell?  No matter what he did, Satan was clearly winning; all was lost.
 
Before we realize the profound good news of the Reformation, don’t we have to fully comprehend the bad news that Luther suffered daily, and perhaps sometimes we find ourselves feeling the same way, how could God love me?  It’s hopeless.  But then, Luther did something we all should do more often.  Yes, read the bible.  As he encounters God’s word first hand, it was like God was speaking to him.  It confronted his misguided understanding of who God was.  It challenged the way he was brainwashed by what the church taught him, and instead, he experienced the good news through Christ;  that he had been set free by grace, that he was saved by faith, and that God loved him exactly the way he was and nothing could change that.
 
Luther’s words describing this encounter and new realization are amazing; “At last, meditating day and night, by the mercy of God, I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely, faith.  Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open wide.”
 
Luther experienced freedom and grace, his fears were relieved, his whole life and view of life and God was reformed anew, and he just had to share it.  And, that’s what he did on October 30, 1517, and here we are 499 years later and still feeling the effects of his sharing the good news of God’s grace.  I like the cartoon someone sent me where it showed Luther by the church door with the hammer in hand, posting the 95 Theses, and he says to those watching him, “No, the door is fine.  I am fixing your theology.” and isn’t that what we are called to do today as we keep the spirit of the Reformation going, to fix bad theology, to challenge those who tell us we are going straight to hell if we believe that or do that or, for some, if we say we are Lutherans.  No, that is not who God is, and we know that with all certainty, because of who Christ is and what he has done on our behalf, he set us free and if Jesus sets us free, we are free, indeed.
 
Just like Linus and Charlie Brown after he set him straight about how God’s love is unconditional.  Charlie Brown says, “Wow, that’s powerful.”  And, Linus replies, “Yep, nothing like good theology to give you a good night’s sleep.”  I imagine Luther slept much better after his own theology was fixed.
 
And, today are we not the bearers of the same good news of grace?  This Tuesday, as the Pope and Lutheran leaders gather in Sweden, hopefully, they will affirm that it is bad theology to deny anyone holy communion and affirm that together we worship and serve Christ, first and foremost, above any church traditions.  It is a hopeful time.  Yes, even in the midst of a presidential election where some say we have never been so divided.  Well, I don’t buy that.  No, I see examples everywhere of people coming together, living out the power of God’s love through kindness, loving words and actions, all because, just like Luther, we realize this is the kind of God we have, and who desires us to be united, so that we can fulfill his all-important mission and reform us all by His grace.  Let’s follow Luther’s example and share the good news of grace, so that others will also be set free and rejoice over being fully loved, for eternity! 
 
Amen.
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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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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


 

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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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.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
 
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

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


 
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.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

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

 

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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 (Tennessee, USA)

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

 

February 21, 2018

WORSHIP TIMES10:15am

 

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