Sermon, January 1, 2023
Today, on this first Sunday of 2023, we celebrate the Sunday of Epiphany a little early. It is not quite January 6, but the lessons in the story of the wise men, or magi, or kings are as important to us today as they were 2000 years ago.
Why is this story in the Bible? Well, if you believe the Bible is a living document, then you accept the fact that stories in the bible lead you to truth, to hope, to faith, but most importantly of all, they can lead you to knowledge of yourself, which is the most important knowledge of all.
Briefly, the story tells us that once the baby Jesus was born, men from the east followed a star to the house where the baby Jesus was living with his mother. The story tell us they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 21-2, 9-11) Look at the specifics: we are not told how many men came; we are not told from what country that journeyed from, we know only that they followed a star, found the baby, and gave gifts of gold (meaning wealth), frankincense (perfume), and myrrh (an embalming fluid.) Through the centuries, each gift began to have great significance to the Jesus story. Of course gold is wealth and in most historical cases wealth belonged to the kings, the leaders of a people. The story associated the gift of gold with Jesus as a king...of course he might and hopefully be king of your heart, but he was never earthly wealthy nor considered a king.
Frankincense was used by underling priests in the east to send smoke upward where God resides. Up, as in up in the sky. Some churches today such as high Anglican and some Catholics still use incense as part of their worship.
Myrrh was used in ancient times to consecrate priests and kings. It was also used in embalming. Embalming back then included some ideas that perhaps life would continue after death.
Again, through the ages, these three gifts were symbolized to help us see Jesus as our king, our priest, and our source for life after death.
The story never tells us where the men were from, but perhaps from Persia. The number of visitors is never mentioned; therefore people think because there were three gifts there were three men...plus the number three eventually led us to think of the Trinity in our Christian development.
Let’s see what this story can mean to us in the year 2023. Epiphany means “manifestation.” That is God showing up in our lives. That statement is vital to our existence. If we live to block God from our lives, we don’t really live they way we are inclined to do so. We all seek peace. We all want justice. We all need love. It is God and God’s way that ultimately provides all three. What is important to us as Christian believers is to ensure that God does manifest in us, that God does show up in our daily actions. How kind are we to people different from us? How giving are we to people in real need? How loving are we to people housed away in nursing homes or who live alone? How active are we in our community, our schools, our churches? God’s way brings light. And light is life giving in so many ways we can’t count them all.
Let’s look at the 3 men and 3 gifts in the story of the epiphany from a personal perspective. Are you a king? I hope and pray you are king of our own soul. No one else can ever be. You alone are responsible for the health and wealth of your soul. The health of your soul is your personal capacity to love, to forgive, and to care for others.
Are you a magi? That is an underling in Christian life? Do you say you love God, you want to follow and serve Jesus, but do you actually do so? Do you act on your love? Who do you love? How do you show this love you have, the compassion that keeps us growing in spiritual ways?
Or, are you a wise person….that is one who knows your national and religious history? We are not enlightened people until we understand from whence we have come...the joys and heartbreaks of the journey that has preceded us for thousands of years. Upon whose shoulders do you stand?
If you do write down New Year’s Resolutions, you might resolve to better understand who you are through better understanding of how you got here and why.
We can do that together in church, in conversations, in bible study, and in reading the bible then asking questions about what we read. Let’s work together to maintain and further the cause of Christian living. Otherwise, I dread to think of what might befall us due to lack of understanding and very little appreciation.
Together, as a church family, let’s put a hopeful attitude toward the New Year and do our part to fulfill its mission of making life better for more and more people.
Sermon, January 8, 2023
Importance of Our Spiritual History
Our Bible is unique in world literature because it is his-story...God’s story of us and our spiritual DNA. When Matthew, a devout Jewish man, wrote his gospel, he did so to make certain the history of Judaism through Jewish heroes would be remembered as forerunners to the new Messiah… Jesus, our Christ. Matthew recalled some of the most memorable Jewish historical people and put part of their story in the birth story of Jesus.
For example, Matthew used information about Noah, Moses, Joseph (one of Jacob’s 12 sons), Queen Esther, Daniel, and King Solomon. He used this information to assure us of the validity of Jesus and Jesus’ Jewishness.
Specifically, we read Jesus was laid in a manger. In the Hebrew language, the words basket, manger, and ark are all the same word. Noah and his ark saved the early races by surviving the flood. Noah is known as a savior. Moses, as a baby, was placed in a basket and was raised by the Pharaoh. He too grew up to be called a savior of the Jewish people because he rescued them from slavery and from the Egyptian army. Then Jesus was placed in a manger and he too became our savior because he taught us how to live with love, forgiveness, compassion...the three traits of faithful living.
By using a similar word for manger, basket, and ark, Matthew made Jesus to be like the heroes of the Jewish race.
Next, Matthew in his gospel, wrote in a story of magi visiting the baby Jesus by following a star. Here he used parts of the story of the Jewish Queen Esther to bring in a tale of visiting wise men. When Queen Esther’s husband was confused about how to save Esther’s Jewish people, he called in Wise Men to come help him solve the problem. The wise men brought with them gifts of wisdom. Through their gifts the Jewish people were saved from the plan to mass murder all of them.
Not stopping there, Matthew used the character of Daniel to promote the importance of Magi, and to involve a star to follow. Daniel had served as a slave to the empires of Babylon and Persia. He was known as Rab-Mag, meaning he was chief of all the magis. These magis studied the stars and prophesied about the future. Daniel told these magis that in the future a Messiah would be born and magis around the world would know when that happened because a strange star would appear at that time. Both of these are important aspects of the birth of Jesus, told by Matthew to assure us of Jesus’ Jewishness.
Then lastly, Matthew included a story about the Jewish king Solomon...David’s son. Solomon was known far and wide for his wisdom. The Queen of Sheba, from Ethiopia, came with many kings to visit Solomon. These kings came bearing gifts of gold, spices, and strange things and laid them at the feet of the King. The story continues that while Sheba stayed in the palace with Solomon, she became pregnant with a child by Solomon. When time came for her to return to her own country, Solomon sent hundreds of Jewish people with her to assist in raising his son as a Jewish man. To this day, there is a large Jewish population in Ethiopia.
These were all efforts on the part of Matthew to preserve the very foundations of Judaism through Biblical characters, proving Jesus is who they say he is, and asking Jews and Christians everywhere to keep the faith...because elements even today are trying to destroy our faith.
It’s important for us to understand the historical background of Jesus and our faith….because if we don’t know or don’t remember we may repeat the ills of it.
I urge each one of us to learn to enjoy reading the biblical stories of our own past history. This current generation of Christians, including you and me, must keep these stories alive and vibrant for the next generations...or there may not be Christianity beyond our own years. And when Christianity leaves so does law, order, human kindness, and hope for a better future for all of us. Each one of us must play a part in keeping our faith alive and pass it on.
Let’s not be part of the reason Christ dies again, permanently this time.
Sermon, January 15, 2023
The Joy of Serving
Let’s talk for a minute about a God-given joy that most of us seldom consider, and that is the joy of serving God and one another. We all know church, our Sunday and Tuesday gatherings, are not spectator sports! We don’t make the effort to come here to to watch, grab what little bits interest us, then leave. Just the opposite is true. We are called to come to be a part of the life of the church. Not watching from the sidelines or the back pew, or on Facebook, but being involved in supporting others who come, by praying and singing, and by just being yourself in the midst of other believers who may be having the same concerns that you have.
Our scripture today reminded us that Jesus asked his friends and acquaintances to help build the kingdom of God here, on earth. Jesus’s spirit is still doing that for us today.
All through scripture we find messages that tell us God has made us to serve our neighbors and our co-worshipers. There is absolute joy when we use the gifts God has given us to help encourage, motivate, and inspire those around us.
We show love when we serve one another. And to be clear, to serve, that is to provide a service to someone, is as simple as just showing up. Show up and call a friend you haven’t heard from lately. Show up and write a note to a shut in or someone who is ill. Show up at the grocery store by taking your cart back to where it belongs and not leaving it in the parking lot. Show up and hold a door open for someone behind you. Show up and smile at someone. Show up at church, or bible study, or in any related gathering because you care. It’s not always easy or convenient to show up at an event like for funerals, or weddings, or church services, but if it has to do with God or love, then nothing is more important...not business, not social activities, not even sports events should ever take the place of showing up for God and for those who are influenced by your presence. You as a believer carry in you the loving Spirit of Christ...our task is to share that love to as many people as we come in contact with in any given day.
When we serve others by showing up, we are witnessing to the goodness of our Christ spirit. We are actually sharing his love with others. We are providing a visible, real, and tangible display of God’s love for others. Centuries ago, St. Francis of Assisi taught “preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” That means actions, showing up, being where others gather. There is joy and peace when we use the Gifts God has given us to witness to and share his love with those who sit among us.
You might think, well if I show up at church what good does it do me?
Well, actually medical science teaches we humans are hard-wired to serve and to show up where we are needed. We feel good when we serve and that, too, has been proven by science. Volunteering, being involved in a charitable group, being active in a church, are ways to contribute to your own better health. The author Marta Zaraska has discovered that the conventional thinking of diet and exercise as keys to healthier life can often be replaced by kindness, involvement in engagements that encourage love of others, and serving others. In fact, through years of research, she avows that serving others, showing up for the basic important aspects of life, reduces mortality by 22 to 44 %. Serving others is a life-saving action. God believes in life and life confirming actions….therefore we can honestly say God made us to serve and we are free to eagerly accept the healthy consequences of being who God has designed us to be….lovers, friends, motivators, and care givers.
So next Sunday, if you would rather stay home alone in your pjs and drink your coffee while you watch our church service from home, if you are physically able or live somewhere fairly near, please reconsider the health aspect of yourself and others by showing up here. You might be surprised to know that some folks here look around to see if you are present. When you are your presence is a comfort to that someone. It happens more often than you can imagine. You can even come in your pjs and still be part of something absolutely essential in the life of Christians...to love and serve God by loving and serving one another. Show up, hug someone, shake hands with a stranger, smile...we will all benefit from each other’s decisions to be healthier and happier by doing God’s bidding.
This week lets focus on the spiritual fact that you are loved and are vitally important to God. Share the power and grace of service to others, for a true test of our Christianity, that is Christ in us, is characterized by service. Jesus always, in every case, modeled the heart of a servant, all the way to the cross.
We can do our part, so let’s encourage each other to be very present servants to each other.
Sermon, January 22, 2023
Wedding at Cana: Gospel of John 2: 1-12
Many of you who read and study the Bible realize the Gospel of John is primarily one of metaphor, or symbolism. A metaphor points to a truth through a story about an ordinary event. In today’s reading the story is about a wedding which has in it the first of Jesus’ miracles, or signs, as John calls them.
Centuries ago, in the time of Jesus, official weddings lasted 7 days and nights with feasting, dancing, parading and celebrating. It’s was the groom’s responsibility to house and feed the guests for all 7 days...a huge and costly responsibility. There were no hotels or restaurants so the groom and his family had to find housing, provide meals, and entertainment.
The story tells us Jesus, some of his disciples, and his mother attended the wedding in a small village called Cana. Interestingly, his mother is not named in the story. The reason is that in this story Jesus’ mother is Israel, the nation of the Jewish people. It was not uncommon for people in ancient times to refer to their nation, their mother-land, as their mother. The Jewish people knew they were God’s chosen, yet they were continually oppressed and mistreated...therefore, Israel was always on the minds of concerned Jewish people.
In the story we are told the wine is all used up. John’s meaning here is that the wine represents Judaism. We know the author is telling us the Jewish faith is fading and changing...a change is a third day experience...and one such change was occurring in this story. The phrase “on the third day” does not refer to the number 3...rather it is a phrase used 64 times in the Bible to denote a major change is happening or about to happen. Basically, on the third day means a new direction for life is coming or is happening now.
In this case, the third day experience means Judaism as Jesus knew was disappearing at a rapid rate. Rome had destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. The new direction that was happening was a new faith with Jesus at its head, and for some, as its God.
When Jesus’ mother...here meaning Israel… recognizes the wine is gone, that Judaism is gone, she goes to Jesus and says, “Do something.” His reply is, “Woman, I am (the new faith) not ready to be killed...the true mission has just begun.” Israel says to the attendees, “Do as he says...or follow him.”
The six stone jars hold the ceremonial washing waters, and cleansing was important to the Jewish people. The author of the story has Jesus saying, “Fill the jars up like always, then draw some out….meaning some Jews will be drawn out of Judaism to follow him. Jesus gives the water to the servants and the story tells us it turned into the best wine..meaning the new faith is best because it is open to all people and not just Jewish people. Gentiles and heathens are welcomed and loved.
We said earlier that in a wedding the groom is responsible for everything having to do with the wedding. In the story Jesus is acting as though he is the groom...but then who is the bride?
Well, to whom, did he give the new wine? He gave it to the people. The people are the bride and people make up the church...so here is the beginning of the concept that the church is the bride of Christ. This then is a love story about the birth of the Christian church.
We are inheritors of that same church Jesus called into being by his unconditional love for all people, his eagerness to forgive all sins, and his joy in living...even though it is fraught with pain.
The church is quite an abundant inheritance for each one of us...and we mush cherish it, guard it, and participate in its life.
Let us do so with energy and love.
Sermon, January 29, 2023
I want to start this morning with a question. Are any of you anxious about anything? Are you anxious or worried about your health? Your family? Are you overly concerned about the rise in crime and violence in our communities? How about the possibility of a distant war that might affect all of us. These issues are of concern to each of us, and they exist because we live in a world that is not perfect. Our world has never been perfect nor will it ever be, certainly not in the near future.
It is normal to feel anxiety at times. But if it becomes your predominant state of being then something needs to change. When anxiety or fear become prevalent then action is needed to keep our balance.
Most of us agree there is not anything we as individuals or families can do about the conflicts in our nation and world….except to live lives of love and consideration of others on a daily basis. We are told that is some thing we can do. But do we?
Psychologists tell us the less self respect and self worth we have the greater anxiety we feel about situations and challenges around us.
I found this to be true several years ago when I was asked to do a series of workshops for Girl Scout professionals and leaders, and then again for high school teachers. The topic was, “Self respect impacts how well you do your job.”
At these meetings, I began by handing out a sheet of paper with the numbers 1-10 on it. I asked the participants to list the 10 things they liked best about themselves and do so in 60 seconds...one minute. When they were ready I set the timer for a minute. At the end of the minute I said, “Put your pencils down. Now raise your hand if you wrote 10 things you like about yourself.” No one raised a hand. Not one person could in a minute list 10 things he or she liked about self.
I made no comment, but I handed out a second sheet with the numbers 1 through 10. Then I instructed, now I want you to write in one minute the 10 things you dislike about yourself. I set the timer, and at the end of the minute I said, put your pencils down. Now raise you hand if you wrote 10 things you dislike about yourself. Nearly everyone did so.
I repeated this particular workshop over the next six months with 10 different groups. That was about 200 people in very important jobs. And not one in 200 wrote ten likeable things about self. But nearly all could quickly point out what they did not like.
My point in this exercise was to encourage the participants to realize negative thoughts about self impact everything else they do in life. We seem to be far more in touch with negative rather than positive aspects of the lives we live every day.
The rest of the workshops we discussed why we are anxious and how to overcome anxiety. Most agreed they developed very early signs of “not measuring up” through the kind of words and discipline used at home and school. When they were made to feel insecure or not measuring up or unworthy their attitudes turned inward and they began to live more negatively themselves. That was quite an eye opening experience for most.
One of the participants told the group she almost daily has to ask God to help her change her attitudes about herself, her home, her job and nearly everything else she was involved in. I asked her what helps her the most and she quoted Philippians 4:4-8 ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’
We did use that verse in our discussions over the next few weeks. Most participants agreed to read, say, pray, and remember this verse several times a day while the workshops were going on. Many did so.
At the end of the workshop I again gave them a paper with numbers 1-10 and asked if they would in one minute write ten things they liked about themselves. Not surprising, many wrote 8, 9, or 10 things they liked about themselves. And they agreed change from anxiety and fear to faith and trust can make a difference in the worst of circumstances.
Even though we live in a world filled with anxiety we as believers can find a way to be together in harmony even amid divisive battles of emotion and relationships.
If you want to be part of changing the world you live in for the better, if you want to live an upbeat positive life, start today guarding what you put into your mind, and what words come out of your mouth. Positive, holy, gracious, loving self-talk must be how you live moment to moment to overcome the cloud of gloom that hovers over our secular world. By acting as the Christians we say we are we can and must make a difference for a Godly world...we follow the teachings of Jesus, and do not take as truth the poor excuse for news and wisdom that comes through our media.
We might consider turning off the tv and tuning into certain scriptures that give us hope always, because it is the loving Lord we hope in and not the worldly messages.
Cast all your worries and anxieties on God. God can handle them because God cares for you.
Sermon, February 5, 2023
Intro: In America, February is designated as Black History month. To know history and teach it, one must do research. Thankfully, more and more research is being done by Anthropologists, archaeologists, and professors, and theologians to better understand the various ways earlier people were designated...for Christians especially those people who lived in what is now the mid-east. Our Christian history begins in the Old Testament and focuses on people from Egypt, Ethiopia, Israel, Judah, Canaan, and many other geographic places. People back then were not so much identified by the color of their skin, but by the tribe of people they are associated with. And each tribe could have varying skin colors and tones as part of their ancestral lineage.
Recent research has opened the door to explore our ancestral and biblical heroes such as Moses, Samuel, and King David. If you read the words of the 69 Psalm you wonder, what in the world is wrong with King David. Well, David was a great grand son of Ruth who married Boaz. Ruth was a Moabite and she passed her Moabite lineage to David through David’s father and mother. Many scholars believe the Moabites were part of the Black Hebrew ethnic group. They were hated because they were the ones who did not provide Moses and the Israelites with food and water when they passed by on the way to the Promised Land.
David, having come to be known throughout that area, in spite of his being a king, was threatened and considered an outcast. Yet we know him today as, yes a sinner of great magnitude, yet one who was loved. He was brave, he was great, and he overcame those prejudices. In later years he was known as one of Israel’s greatest heroes. God said of David, “here is a man after my own heart.”
Dante Fortson has written a book entitled “King David, the Black Hebrew With Ruddy Skin.” Those who are interested by want to read it.
Sermon - Psalm 23
Psalm 23 is one of the best known and loved of all the Psalms. The assumption is that King David wrote the psalm late in his life. There is fullness of life experiences in the psalm...joys and peace, but also sin, sorrow, heartbreak, and pain. David speaks of a quiet confidence in his shepherd-God, the one who guides, guards, and gives what is needed. David tells us about his life...and how his heart has been mellowed trough the years by his encounters with his God. He talks of a faith made stronger trough the trials of his life.
In his memory, he recalls with peace the green valleys, so abundant where he and his sheep could rest and be cooled in the midst of the hot summers of the arid region in which he lived. He is thankful for the calm waters that nourished not only him but the sheep of his pasture. He realizes these comforts have restored his soul.
In thinking of that peaceful, calm time, I am reminded that today, with all the trauma and horror in the world, we all need to have our souls restored. We are a people somewhat bewildered about the chaos occurring in our nation and around the world. People harm others, act out in destructive ways, seemingly without consequences. We are concerned about our young people and what kind of nation or world they will face as they age. Perhaps the soul of our nation and our own souls need restoring, touching up, strengthened so that once again we feel at one with God...that is to know and experience his peace, his love, and a faith that heals and makes us whole.
In David’s 23rd Psalm he recalls the terrible fearful years when he was hunted down by King Saul who tried again and again to murder him. He remembers with pain and shame his own crime of having Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed in war so he could marry the lovely Bathsheba. He regrets the hundreds or thousands of his enemies he killed. Admitting to these terrible sins, he expresses great relief that God gives him comfort not only when facing external enemies who want to conquer Israel but also when he confronts the enemies within himself...those enemies of arrogance, too much power, too many bloody battles, and to many wrong, hurtful decisions he made for self and others.
Against all odds, David lives to an old age. He acknowledges in spite of his sinful wrong doings, God has granted him goodness and mercy all the days of his life and beyond. That was his acknowledgment of faith, that ultimately all things work together for good for those who love the Lord.
David felt God’s presence when he was alone tending his sheep for months on end. Later, David knew God’s presence was with him as he struggled to be a competent leader for Judah and Israel. God’s presence was also experienced in table fellowship, preparing good things for David in the midst of his enemies...nourishing, encouraging, strengthening him. Many times, too often perhaps, when our lives turn tough, sad, and hurtful, we abandon God and think he no longer cares about us or is with us. However, this psalm assures us God never leaves us...God is at hand, within us. Even though God allows us to leave him, his love and comfort continue wooing us back into his loving embrace of oneness with him.
In the psalm, David states without hesitation that the Lord is his shepherd. David will not need nor want anything outside of what God provides. What freedom! No more wanting things that limit us, no more desiring things that are bad for us, no more wanting. There is peace in knowing God’s plenty. As the creator of the universe, God owes us nothing. But God chooses to give us everything: rest, food, guidance, fellowship, comfort, abiding love and a holy work to do.
In his life David probably broke all ten Commandments...yet he was forgiven because he asked to be forgiven. Therefore, he was a man after God’s own heart. God is so steadfast, so loving and accepting, that when we ask and are forgiven we are once again whole, without the stain of wrong doing blocking us from the fullness of life and the beyond.
As believers in a gracious, loving God, what more can we ask than to trust God enough to not want anything other than what we willingly and abundantly gives us...lives of love, joy, and peace? Lets all focus on continuing to build our lives based on the foundation of God’s grace and mercy.
Sermon, February 12, 2023
In this age in which we live, high tech, new inventions, lives centered on or focused on hand held gadgets, like telephones, constant news and opinions we are inundated with way too much information every single day. Some of what we received daily is useful, some is blah, but much of it can be destructive. In reading articles by scientists, social scientists, and experts in nearly every field, we could assume that powerful ideas and energy are what shapes the world in which we live.
However, according latest research from people on the cutting edge of scientific endeavors, there is one most powerful force in the universe recognized by scientists from many different fields of knowledge. That powerful force is human intelligence. Not computers, not yet Artificial intelligence, but human intelligence. Some of the phrases used in discussing human intelligence are: human intelligence can build complex tools and systems, solve problems, plan ahead, think abstractly, comprehend ideas, use language and learn. Human intelligence can also reflect on itself, predict outcomes and avoid danger.
Human intelligence is who we are. Do we have any idea of our appreciation for the power of or minds and brains? Think about it. If the above information is true, why do we as humans limit ourselves? We are often nearsighted about life and thereby we do not take in the wonder of every bit of life...and all kinds of life. Intelligence can provide hope when all else fails. You can think yourself into hope , caring, faith, and compassion, or you can think yourself into despair and depression. Inside our own skulls we have a complex, creative, and competent thinking mechanism. What do you do with yours?
We know from the beginning the God we choose to worship created all life. Our job while here on earth is to enhance life wherever we find it...enhance our own, our neighbors, our fellow planet dwellers across oceans, and people who are very different from ourselves. To do so we create relationships, we make and support institutions which provide for the education, health, and safety for all. We are to lift up people who are not as fortunate as we are...and the basis of all these endeavors is to replicate the love God has for us and share it with others.
Just think of this for a moment: God, or however you address the guide in your life, has created everything that exists...and he has give you a mind/brain that is like God’s in many, many ways. You and God are a winning, intelligent, caring powerhouse right here and now. Look at your day. Do you spend your thinking time watching tv, or any media, or using facebook or YouTube for hours at a time? Or do you use some of your thinking time about how you personally can enhance your neighborhood, your local government, or your church?
In some religious organizations, rules, rites, dogma, and doctrine seem to be more important than the people who are involved in those institutions. What is desirable is for all religious institutions to re-look at why they exist. Supposedly, they exist to encourage their congregants to have a relationship with their God that involves compassion, conscience and unconditional love. The God of all creation lives both universally and within you. That God lives first in your mind and brain because that is where ideas and concepts originate. Then the mind and brain spreads into your hearts, hands, voices, and actions to continue to create your life based on love and not fear.
We need to be amazed every day, overjoyed all the time, that you are one alive element of God, your are one face of God, you are one intricate and needed link in the circle of life. Rejoice, rejoice always, and recognize who you are right now as an essential ingredient in God’s plan for his and our dreams and creations.
Every morning, wake up, kiss your brain! Thank God for creating you to be a helpmate every day. By loving God and being involved in enhancing life all around you, you should rid yourself of feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, anger, fear, and or depression. You are vitally essential and important today and every day.
The news we hear can be frightening. The world is not behaving the way we want it to. And it really never has. But look at the good that has been done through the centuries...the amazing accomplishments in nearly every area and aspect of living.
Perhaps we need to adjust our thinking, be more positive, more helpful to self and others, more joyous in spite of what’s causing concern here and abroad. Your attitude, your thought process is something you do control no matter what is happening on the outside of you. Together, let’s remind each other, there is still much to rejoice, still hope available to each one of us. And don’t forget, how your world looks to you is up to you. God has given you that power. It’s up to you to use it.
Praise God for all love, for all good, and for the peace, faith and joy that is available to us every minute of every day. God is good.
Sermon, February 26, 2023
The Lord’s Prayer
This prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer is designed to take God and his earthly representative Jesus off the written pages and make them real...real enough to have a conversation that includes both speaking and listening. Jesus’ disciples were familiar with the Jewish Commandments, the Jewish Psalms and Proverbs, the Judges and the Prophets. But Jesus wanted his people to know him and his teachings to help them cope in a time of national chaos. Jesus loved his disciples. He understood them because he was one of them. He wanted them to live harmonious, faithful lives no matter what dreadful actions they encountered nearly every day.
The prayer came about in a certain context. A that time Israel was in great distress... the Jewish people were angry, fearful, and confused because their beloved nation Israel was in trouble again, oppressed again, as always, it seemed. There was no real freedom for anyone. To encourage his disciples, he taught them the complexity of their lives could be simpler if they stop the worry and live the faith. Rely on and trust their God in every challenging situation.
The prayer he taught his disciples begins with the words “Our father.” He didn’t say “my father” or “your father” rather he said our father meaning he was one of them, and all of them together were of one family of faith...the Jewish family worshiping the Jewish God Yahweh.
Next in the prayer are the words “who art in Heaven.” Heaven is where God lives...therefore heaven is any place God is. God was in them, in their families, their neighbors, their community and their faith. God was in the Red Sea, on top of Mount Sinai, was in the wilderness, in the Ark of the Covenant and in the Holy of Holies in the temple. Heaven became an energized spirit of living rather than a space or place. God was known everywhere he was asked to be. In the heart where God is, there is harmony and peace in spite of oppression. That was the message Jesus taught his disciples...God is with you, in you, and available to be shared no matter how oppressed, dangerous, and scary their world had become.
In the phrase “hallowed be thy name” Jewish people knew they were not allowed to speak the name God or Yahweh...God’s name was too sacred to be commonly spoken of. Therefore to honor their God Jewish people used the words Adonai or Elohim when speaking of or to God. In the 3rd of the 10 commandments by which the Jewish people lived, to speak God’s name in a secular fashion was a violation.
One of the key phrases in the prayer is the phrase “give us this day our daily bread.” Remember the Jewish common people were being persecuted by Roman soldiers. Even though every family had their own small garden or fields, the soldiers confiscated all their fields and gardens to feed the huge Roman army. The families had no traditional way to get the food they needed. So, in the middle of the nights, the women and children went out and quickly grabbed up a few pieces of wheat or barley that had been overlooked by the army. The Jewish women took those small bits home and made bread to sustain them. This plea then was asking God to help them find these bits of barley and wheat daily to keep them from starving even though they were violating the army’s rule of “don’t eat your own food, it belongs to the army.” That is why the very next phrase in the prayer is “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” They had no choice but to forgive the soldiers because if they spoke out against them they could be killed. At the same time they were asking for their own forgiveness for violating the Roman law which they had to obey to survive. Jesus taught them inner freedom comes from forgiving themselves and their enemies..that freedom helps them cope in any situation.
The next phrase in the prayer is “lead us not into temptation.” Of course the Jewish people were tempted to continue “stealing their own food.” They wanted to hurt the Roman soldiers and to be rid of this horrible army that abused every aspect of their lives. Nonetheless, they pleaded with God to keep them from doing vengeful acts of killing or harming the soldiers. They needed God’s strength to keep them and their families in check...perhaps as we all do.
The prayer ends as only it can...”for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever”. In that statement they were reiterating what they knew in their hearts, the only real power and strength is God. Not in the pages of sacred scripture but in what those pages teach about being real, about God and Jesus being real, having to live in the real, non-harmonious world, like we all do. Jesus hoped through this prayer and the wisdom it offered that his people would remain faithful and true to these teachings….for their own safety, their own salvation.
Perhaps a version of this prayer for Christian Americans could be helpful. Some Americans feel their freedoms are being curtailed. We do live in a non-harmonious country where divisiveness seems to be the norm. And the world seems un-peaceful and threatening. Our version of this prayer could well be like this:
To the God we have in common, we shall not take your name in vain for it is a holy name with power in it. We ask for your kingdom of peace to be here on earth today and guidance to know how we can help being that peace to our country. We are hungry for food, sustenance, but more so we are hungry for love to permeate this entire nation and for the divisiveness to go away. We need to be forgiven for being unkind in words and deeds to each other and our enemies. We also need to forgive those who hurt us because only then will we and they ever experience a better way to live. We ask to experience your presence, God, and your power to keep us from being tempted to do wrong to those who wrong us. May we learn to leave vengeance to you and not take it into our own hands. Help us recognize and acknowledge that you, yourself, are the kingdom of peace, you are the harmony and glory now and forever.
The Bible is a source of wisdom...wisdom that helps us live faithfully and lovingly at all times. May it be so.
Sermon, March 5, 2023
Verses from Genesis 22:1-19
This story I am going to tell you is not literal…that is, it is not factual. It was never meant to be. Its meant to be a story interesting enough to make us want to listen and learn.
People a long time ago told stories instead of facts. Stories fill in the blanks, are more colorful, and therefore more meaningful and more capable of being remembered.
This story is actually a teaching story. It is told to teach us a moral, a truth, or something important about the God we worship and about us..
So here is the story……………...Genesis 22:1-17
God called out to Abraham. Abraham answered, “Here I Am; I’m listening.” God said, “Take your son Isaac whom you love and go to the land of Moriah. Sacrifice your son there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I’ll point out to you.” In deep dread and, Abraham got up early in the morning and saddled his donkey. He took two of his young servants and his beloved son Isaac. Abraham had split the wood for the burnt offering. He set out for the place God directed him. On the third day he look up and saw the place in the distance. Abraham told his two young servants, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I are going over there to worship; then we’ll come back to you.” Abraham took the wood off the donkey and gave the wood for the burnt offering to Isaac his son to carry. Abraham carried the flint and the knife. The father and son went off together.” (Are you feeling dismay? Thinking this is terrible! God would not ask this!) Isaac said to Abraham, “Father, we have flint and wood but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “Son, God will see to it that there is a sheep for the burnt offering.” And they kept on walking.
They arrived at the place God had directed them him. Abraham built an altar. He laid out the wood. Then he tied up his son Isaac and laid him on the wood. Abraham took the knife to kill his son!. Just then he heard God say, “Abraham! Abraham! Abraham said, “Here I am. I’m listening.” God said don’t lay a hand on your son. Don’t touch the boy. I know how powerfully you serve your God. You didn’t hesitate to place your only son, your dear son, on the altar for me.”
Abraham looked up. He saw a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. Abraham took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. Abraham heard God say, “Because you have gone through with this and have not refused to give me your son, I will bless you. Oh, how I’ll bless you. Your children will flourish like stars in the sky. Like sand on the beaches. All nations on earth will be blessed through your descendants because you obeyed me.”
This story reads like a horror story! Abraham who worshiped his God and adored his son Isaac was asked to do what we regard as the unthinkable!
At first hearing this story is terrible, a horrible thing for God to ask Abraham to do. But, we are not to judge God ever. We are to trust God no matter what he asks us to do.
So in this story, we see how Abraham dealt with this absolutely awful task God gave him. When God first spoke to Abraham, Abraham’s response to God was “Here I am.” In fact that is how Abraham always responded to God, “Here I am” meaning, how can I serve you?
Even when God told Abraham to take his only son, the son he loved with all his heart, put him on a fire pit, kill him with a knife, then light the fire, Abraham obeyed God. Abraham trusted God with his own life and the life of his son.
At that time history, 4000 years ago, human sacrifice to gods or goddesses was a common practice...but the Jewish God never had asked for that sacrifice before. So Abraham was startled, confused, most have surely thought “do I have to obey?”….but then knew he had no choice. God was God and Abraham was his servant doing all that God asked, with holding nothing.
Abraham gathers sticks for the fire, takes Isaac by the hand and they walk for 3 days to the mountain God had selected. When they arrived Abraham spread out the wooden sticks, bound the hands and feet of Isaac, and then put Isaac on the wood. He pulled out his knife to kill Isaac when he heard God’s angel say “Do not lay your hand on the boy. “You have not with held even your son from me, therefore I know you respect and love me as your God.” Then Abraham saw a ram caught in the thicket and realized God had supplied another sacrifice instead of Isaac.”
Here we have a colorful story with lots of detail...it is full of emotion and questions and despair. Yet experiencing those piercing emotions, dreading every step of the way, Abraham proceeded to do as God asked and was blessed in enormous ways for his obedience, his faith, and his trust.
Now in today’s world, we don’t have to face human sacrifice in America….though it is still going on in some countries. Nonetheless, we all experience deep heartbreaks, great losses, bewildering circumstances...many times leaving us with the question, what should I do?
The first answer is always, check in with God. We don’t always understand God or his ways, yet each of us has to ask, “How much do I trust God?
As you go through life, all the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows, do you believe that no matter what happens to you or to those you love, God is God, always wiser and more caring than you are, and always available to give you the strength and the determination to face unhappy circumstances with grace, peace, and most of all love? That is the goal each follower of Christ must move toward...spiritual maturity. Then peace rather than fear or worry will be our blessing and gift.
Pray, believe in the goodness of God, live according to his teachings to love God, yourself, and others no matter what befalls you and you will have the correct path to take to resolve and cope with your deepest challenges. Praise God for building the space within us to love and believe and therefore have an abundant, faith-filled life.
As proverbs teaches us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to God and he will direct your paths. Proverbs 3: 5-6
As Christians lets encourage one another to trust more, live our faith more fully, and depend more completely on the gracious love God has for each and every one of us. Therein lies our blessings.
Sermon, March 12, 2023
Today’s scripture is a story about Jesus. It is a story to help us understand the difference in the older Jewish faith and the new faith of Jesus. This new faith is all about faithful living that produces the joy, peace, and love. By hearing the story of the change in Jesus helps us understand the changes we make when we choose to follow the teachings of Jesus. The story is about the transfiguration of Jesus and hopefully us. Just as Jesus was changed from a physical being to a spiritual one the mountain top, you and I change into spiritual beings when we live our lives like Jesus lived his...with love and forgiveness as the foundations for all other gifts.
In the story we recognize Jesus stood as the midpoint between our everyday world of the five senses and the elusive, mysterious world of the Spirit. Yet it is the spiritual world that energizes us, enlightens us, and makes our physical lives meaningful and vital.
In the story Jesus took Peter, James and John up to the mountaintop to pray with him. When they reached the top, his friends fell asleep. Jesus prayed. While was praying Jesus’ face changed and his clothing became dazzling white. Symbolically, Jesus became the bright light God calls us all to be.
Suddenly, Peter, James, and John awoke and they saw Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah. Moses represented the Old Testament Law by which all Jewish people were absolutely controlled...no freedom of choice. Elijah represented all the Prophets who were the conscience of the people. It was the prophets who encouraged the people to return to God and his way of being. This story is a confirmation that Jesus came to fulfill or replace both the Law and the Prophets. After their conversation, Moses and Elijah faded away, yet Jesus remained. The old way of living by dogmatic laws faded away, while Jesus introduced a new way of living where love for all people would guide our actions. Jesus gives us the freedom of choice. We can choose to live by love and reap the blessings of grace or we can choose not to which leads to darkness rather than light. In Jesus is new life and resurrected living.
What can we, Christians of the 21st century, learn from this story?
1. We can realize the bright lightness of holy living. God gave us a choice to live in darkness or the light of love. Whether we recognize it or not, nearly every moment of our daily lives we make choices between the two: love or apathy. Love offers joy, apathy brings fear and anxiety which in the bible is called darkness.
2. We recognize the wisdom of obeying the teachings of Jesus. His faith, his way of living, is true wisdom: Love your enemies, forgive 70 times 7, treat all people the way you want to be treated, get out of your comfort zone and risk loving the unlovable, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and offer freedom to the oppressed.
3. Sometimes when we experience a mountain top awakening, we want to stay there where life is clear and peaceful. Yet, we must come back down to act on the power of love to change ourselves and world into a kinder place.
4. Knowing Jesus is not a creed, not a formula, nor even just a belief...knowing Jesus is an experience of the holy and sacred.
5. Our tasks as followers of the Christ, are to rcommit to the practice of loving. We spend time developing our spiritual life...the life that pays homage to awe and wonder and the mystery we call God. We choose to see the divine in all people: the homeless, the poor, the oppressed, the imprisoned, the child who can not read, the mother who seems not to care...for each one is God in disguise waiting for us to show up and say “yes, we will love and serve you.”
All of us here, are servants of a loving creator. God created in each and every one of us a light that is God. We are not God but we are the body: the hands, feet, voice, and compassion of the Great God and Jesus the Christ. Today, we either make our spiritual selves relevant, more relevant than anything else, or we leave Jesus on the mountain with Moses and Elijah and he too will fade away.
Real life, God Life, is awaiting an opportunity to live through you every day. What is your answer?
Is it “yes, God” or maybe, God? Or no, not now, God? However you answer will either crucify Jesus in your life, or will keep him resurrected and relevant spreading peace and love abundantly.
God prays, for your own good and the good of your community, that your answer is yes God...now, and more so every day.
Sermon, March 19, 2023
Do you believe every person has a right to be loved? After Saul had an encounter with the risen Christ Spirit and became Paul, he did believe everyone had a right to love and be loved. That’s why Paul became a dynamic missionary spreading Christ love across the Mediterranean world.
As Paul was traveling, he looked for a place that could be a center of his missionary efforts. He chose the city of Ephesus...it was a vibrant, bustling sea port and trade center. Ephesus was located in Turkey directly across the Aegean Sea from Athens, Greece. In Ephesus there was a large Jewish population, however most of the people there worshiped pagan gods. Their primary idol was Artemis, a goddess of natural environment, the hunt, the moon, and virginity. Artemis had a tremendous following but she could not teach people to love. Paul could, through the power of the Jesus spirit. Paul had changed from an uncaring killer of Christians to a man who taught Christ love. If Christ could change him into a passionate, loving man, then anyone can change!
In Ephesus, every day Paul faced the Artemis worshipers. But he continually taught there is just one God who is more powerful than Artemis and all the other Roman and Greek gods and goddesses combined! The population in Ephesus listened to Paul. First in small groups then in larger and larger groups of curious people...some of whom, little by little, became very interested in this Jesus Paul talked so energetically about. How did Paul present Jesus to those Ephesians who did not know Jesus?
Paul stressed that Jesus was a poor man who shunned luxurious living. The lower classes of people in Ephesus could relate to this kind of man for they were poor, as well. Paul emphasized Jesus did not seek personal wealth, nor did he seek personal power, prestige, or fame. Rather, Jesus desired relationships with people of all races, religions, and ethnic groups. Jesus wanted people from all walks of life, all faiths, all socio/economic levels to not only know about the Jesus kind of love but to seek love and share it. Paul also taught that Jesus honored women and was an advocate for women to know, learn, and teach! Paul instructed people in the loving ways Jesus had for all people...and that inclusive idea was a powerful pull for people who often felt invisible, powerless, and hungry for respect.
Paul taught the Ephesians all people have a basic need to love and be loved, that an attitude of gratitude no matter what is a successful way to live, and Jesus does give sustaining support through his abiding spirit to those who ask for it. He told them Jesus provides inner peace even in the midst of chaos. Paul through the Christ spirit brought many people into the circle of love perhaps for the first time ever, and the people began to feel worthy.
If Paul could make headway by teaching about the light of Christ and his messages of love to a pagan world that worshiped false gods and goddesses, shouldn’t we be able to do the same thing in Gulfport? Many of our fellow neighbors and citizens do live in the dim light of despair. Maybe it is because they are not shown the love they have a right to experience. Maybe they encounter Christians who do not treat them lovingly and decide they want no part of that kind of faith. What do our words and actions tell the drug addicts, the gang members, the law-breakers, and the out-siders? Do we express compassion, do we offer love, or do we condemn them and ignore them and wish they would go away? These are the questions the inner voice in each of us is asking. What to do for and with those who choose to live in darkness rather than in the light of a loving community?
I want to remind each of us that the way you choose to live your life is a definite result of attitudes and choices you have made in the past. Your life tomorrow and ever after will be the result of the attitudes and choices you make today.
Your life is only partly yours...it mainly belongs to the God who created you and made it possible for you to exist. You are here in this time and place to live as a representative of your God to your family, your church, your neighborhood, and your community. We must all choose today to do what we must do tomorrow and that is we must practice love...the love of Christ to and for every other human being. And we must do so with commitment and joy which comes from loving your Lord and spending your life with and for him. To love another means to pray for them, bless them, sometimes offer a hand-up. No matter what kindness you offer one other human being, God will take that kindness and send more of it to people who need it at that moment. God is universal as is the love you offer to others.
Sermon, March 26, 2023
Matthew 14: 22-33
Can God calm a stormy sea? Yes, God certainly can. However, I don’t think that’s what this story is about. Remember, the Bible is not a history lesson or a compilation of facts. Rather, the Bible is a library of spiritual, moral, ethical lessons that enhance and enrich our personal lives. We are not to read a Bible story and ask, “is it true?” “Is it factual?” Those are history questions. Instead, we read a story and ask in what ways can this story or lesson add meaning and grace to my life? How does this story or lesson make me a more caring, loving person? Those are spiritual questions. Those are the questions we should ask as we read scripture.
Having said that, how does the story we read today add meaning and grace to your life?
One way is to acknowledge you migt be a bit like Peter. Impetuous. You want to trust but you worry about the problem instead of trusting God. You may pray about the problem at hand but you don’t really think God has time for your mundane existence so you try to solve the problem yourself. You might keep on praying that God will intervene instead of thanking him for the solution that already exists. When you, like Peter, take your eyes off of the available Christ Spirit for guidance and look only at the problem, then you sink, you fail. While you are flailing around in the midst of the storm of your problem, Jesus is walking on top of the problem, waiting for you to take his hand and solve it together. This story is literary allegory at its best, and one of the most profound spiritual lessons of all time. For every problem a human faces there is a divine solution. When you seek Godly answers, God responds.
Regarding today’s story, would you prefer your God through Christ to be a magician or a Spiritual Entity who uses ordinary people to do extra ordinary things?
In a subtle way, today’s story is asking you that question: Is Jesus a magician walking on top of the waves on a stormy night, or is he a holy man who has something amazing to teach us? How you answer that question may determine the very basis of your faith and your existence.
Today’s story brings to the forefront of our thinking the question of trust. We have assurance through scripture and life experiences that God is a God of grace we are to trust with our wants, our needs, our possessions, our actions...in effect, our entire lives, moment by moment. Yes, things may happen that disappoint us, devastate us, confuse or hurt us, but we are never alone. We do not have to face hardships on our own, because we have access to God’s power and goodness always and in all ways. We as believers know the truth. The truth. The Truth is that the ever present Godly, Christ spirit loves, cherishes, and guides each one of us. He is near at hand, he is within our minds and hearts, he can be, if we choose, to be in our hands, our decisions, and our solutions to every challenge.
My question to you this morning is: What will turn your life into a blissful existence of faith and trust, with less worry and more joy, no matter what is happening outside of you?
I think the answer to that question is to make trust in the grace of God, the goodness shown through Jesus, an action. Not a thought. Not a belief. Not a dogma nor an ism, but an action. Do live with God as your motivator, your protector, your main adviser. When you face a challenge, a problem, or a difficult situation, state aloud your problem; be specific. Then focus your mind and actions on the universal majesty of God’s holiness for your solution. Thank God as you seek the divine solution together. You are partners with God. He reaches out to you with his wisdom, his love, his encouragement...then you must depend on God’s grace and wisdom as if your life depends on it, because it does.
We often base our lives on our own wants, needs, and limitations rather than on the worthy God who created you. Without trust in God’s abundant care and love, then a peaceful, joyful life can become impossible.
But, if you choose trust rather than fear, then act on that trust. You would not exist if God had not called you to life. God is older and wiser than you are. God is more creative and powerful than you. God is certainly more loving and patient than you. So be wise enough to trust those traits that are available to you 24/7.
When a stormy sea begins to sink you, climb out of the boat and swim toward the divine solution. If you choose not to trust God and Godly wisdom, what do you lose?
You lose your life.
However, if you choose to listen to and act on Godly wisdom then whatever the outcome of your problem or challenge is, then that is exactly what needed to happen in your life. You can trust, fully trust, and stake your life on the outcome, because it is God’s offering to you. It may not be what you hoped for, but in the long-run you will realize it was best for you.
That can be the hard part of the Christ-filled life. We want to be in control always, but when we trust, when we have faith that God is always on our side, then whatever happens is what needs to happen. We can have peace in any situation, if we trust God and God’s wisdom.
Sermon, April 2, 2023
Palm Sunday was the beginning of Holy Week when Jerusalem would swell from a population of 50,000 to over 200,000 or more. It was the celebration of Passover, the holiest of all celebrations for the Jewish people. Rome, the nation which ruled over Jerusalem and surrounding areas, was fearful of a revolution. So a parade of thousands of Roman soldiers riding steeds of war were ordered to go to Jerusalem to quash any anticipated rebellion. The Roman soldiers came with pageantry, pomp, polish, and protest. They had come to show the Jewish people who the real people of power and presence were...Rome, Rome, Rome. These soldiers with the colorful armor and plumed helmets wanted to show the Jewish people that they were nothing compared to Rome and its elegance and power. Rome’s show of force was meant to condemn and laugh at all the Judaism held sacred.
While the Roman soldiers came marching into Jerusalem, there was another parade across town. This smaller parade featured Jesus riding on a donkey, a symbol of humility and peace. His disciples put their cloaks on the ground and the people placed Palm branches there too so that Jesus on this small donkey could be welcomed as their leader, teacher, master, and king. But something was missing. There was no show of an armed force; there were no soldiers to support this king; there were no swords, no blood, no devastation, no burned cities, no mangled bodies...just a Prince of Peace riding toward his final destination, asking his friends and disciples to love one another, to share joy, and to live in peace.
That is still the message today that should ring loud and clear in each one of us...Christ the King wants you to love as he loves: love extended as grace to others. That is one major reason we participate in the Rite of Holy Communion. We as believers in Jesus, as the one who teaches us how to love, how to share, how to sacrifice for what is ultimately important, come together to eat a symbolic meal. Grapes made the wine Jesus drank as they make ours. The bread is symbolic of freedom from oppression. Jesus made the sacrifice that has given freedom to all of us: freedom from fear, guilt, anger. Let us live by the tenets of this freedom and be grateful!
Let’s join together in the responsive reading you have in hand.
Sermon, April 9, 2023
Today is Easter Sunday...the holiest day in our Christian calendar. It is the day we celebrate the rebirth of Christ, not as a human being, but as a living Spirit, available to us human beings every moment of our lives.
When we read the Bible stories about what’s called the resurrection, we realize no one, not one disciple, family member, or friend of Jesus went to the tomb to welcome Jesus back from the dead. No one.
We read that 3 women went to the tomb early in the morning, but their purpose was to anoint Jesus’ dead body, not to greet him as the Risen Lord. Not one of the people closest to Jesus were expecting him to come back to life after being killed. The Gospel of Mark makes a point of telling us of the unbelief of the disciples.
Most of us admit we do believe Jesus was raised from the dead. But, is that just an idea in our heads because we’ve been taught the story over and over? Or is the resurrection of Jesus’ spirit a conviction that lives in our hearts, but more importantly, lives in our actions!
If we continue reading the story of the resurrection, we realize the disciples slowly came to believe the fact Jesus’ spirit is alive in them. They came to that conclusion and conviction in stages.
And so do we. Belief is a journey...it grows from a seed of an idea or concept into full flowering, motivating reality. Belief at first stays in your mind and you ponder it. You really can’t describe it nor identify it. But somewhere along the way you arrive at belief, and you realize it came to you through experiences, one after another.
Everyone’s God is a bit different from everyone else’s God. Everyone’s concept of Jesus, especially the risen spirit of Jesus, is also a bit different from everyone else’s. Each person must experience that spiritual awakening. That spirit is real. It may be unseen, but it is always felt and known. From that moment, you build a relationship with the inner spirit...the spirit that impacts and influences most of what you think, the words you say, and the actions you put out into the world.
The word “spirit” is the same word as “breath.” Our breath, breathing in and out, keeps us physically alive. The spirit within us keeps us spiritually alive...it also makes us aware of ideas, thoughts, experiences beyond the physical, beyond our five physical senses. Concepts like love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and freedom all add meaning and purpose to our lives. Those are spiritual experiences. And we all have them!
Once Jesus died physically, he was no longer limited to one place and one time. His spirit rose and still lives everywhere at all times. He is not in a tomb. He is not just up in the air somewhre, like wherever you think God may be. So, where does that powerful, loving, life-changing spirit live? The spirit of Christ lives in us as believers. We, individually and as a church, are the temples where the spirit of Jesus resides...we are are the homes of the spirit of the living Christ. Do you keep him in a dark closet of your mind, or are you a partner with him in spreading love, hope, and faith to those around you?
With all the doubts, the questions, the realizations that some things told in the bible are not literal, we can put all our faith and hope in the fact that the very spirit that energized Jesus to live and be who he was also lives in us. To deny that is to deny life...your own life. To believe and live it is to enrich and energize your life to have a loving and lasting impact on those you love, and even on those you don’t love. The fact that the spirit of the living Christ lives in us is the greatest gift ever given and it is ours to nourish and share. Only love, the love our Creator has for each of us, could make this gift to us. It is love incarnate. It is love that changes lives for the better. It is love that gives us strength and hope and faith.
This love God gave us, the gift of Christ living through us, is the greatest force in the universe. That love is the heartbeat of all morality and all caring acts. Whoever loves is a participant in the being of God.
Where did Jesus go when his spirit came out from the dark tomb? That loving, energizing spirit came to live with you. That is Easter. It is not a one time event but an every day event for those who choose to accept his gift of love and who also choose to follow his way of living and loving. We have been chosen as believers to be bright lights in a dark world. We can be the lights if we too bring Jesus out of his dark tomb and allow him to live through us...we are his voice, his hands and feet, we are the way to share his love...so let it be true for each one of us.
Sermon, April 23, 2023
Most of us are at the age where we think we know all there is to know about ourselves. That may or may not be accurate. Let me ask a few questions to prove there is more to us than we might realize.
So, 1. How many times a minute do you blink your eyes? 20 times a minute or over ten million times a year.
2. How many taste buds are on you tongue? 8000
3. For every minute you are alive how many dead skin cells do you shed? 30,000. In fact, the entire surface of your skin is replaced every month, which put another way, means you have thousands of different skins in your life. These are just physical things about yourself you may not have learned in biology. So maybe you don’t know all there is to know about yourself.
Let’s look at some more. In just 60 seconds can you name five strengths you have? Of what are you ashamed? What are you key values? Fill in the blank: If I wasn’t afraid, I would _______. What do you do to show yourself compassion?
Maybe some of those you can answer quickly and some you can’t. But this is worth noting: You live with yourself 24 hours a day, 365 days a year which is 8,760 hours a year and if you are older than 40 your have lived at lease 351,000 hours. You must by now yourself very well indeed. Do you?
But just in case you don’t know yourself as well as you would like to, let scripture remind you that each one of you are wonderfully made. We human beings are the crowning glory of earth’s living creations for we have been given, by our creator, dominion over all the creatures on our planet. Dominion means being superior to. And here are some examples that we are more skilled, talented, and able than other creatures. Deer run and eat grass but can’t climb. Fish swim but can not fly. Birds don’t run as well as they fly. Squirrels can climb and run but they don’t swim well. These creatures are specialists, meaning they can only do one or two things well. But humans are made differently. We are generalists. Guided by our brain we can walk, run, jump, hop, climb, swim and design kites or planes to fly us because we have the ability to think cognitively, to imagine, to create, and to produce….we have the ability to change life for the better for all creatures on this earth. We are those people when we are a in relationship with God.
That knowledge is significant considering how marvelous, mysterious, and awesome our entire universe is. To be placed in a superior position on just one planet in our solar system is incredulous. As a human being you are the best, the brightest, the acme of all living creations. And yet, many of us don’t feel powerful nor majestic. Why not?
Perhaps it is because we don’t access our spiritual and soul power as we should. In order to enjoy life fully, we must live in balance...mind, body, and soul need to act harmoniously together. When we focus first or primarily on the material aspects of life and neglect the spiritual we feel empty, dissatisfied, depressed, and yearning.
Earlier I asked you how well you know yourself...we all have room for improvement in that area. However, perhaps the more pertinent question is: how well do you know your God? Do you know God put you here in this place and time for a specific reason? God chose you. Do you know God loves you to the same degree he loved and loves Jesus? God does not play favorites with love. We are all equal in his eyes. Equal...the same. Do you know that by having a worshipful friendship with God, which means you talk to him, you confess to him, you make requests to him, you grow spiritually. Then and only then, will you have the joy of living that can be found in both gladness and sorrow.
Not just the Bible, but medical and scientific research has proven that being aware of and nurturing your soul and spirituality lead to peace of mind, experiences of awe, gratitude, and feeling both accepted and acceptable...all of which brings a quality of life you do not want to miss!
To connect our souls, our ability to love one another, adds wonder to our lives and we feel sacred. To connect to the creator who gave you life to live abundantly with grace and love gives you a glow, a joy, a feeling of being special, wonderful, loved, full of meaning, and laughter you will find no other way.
My prayer for us this week is to find a friend or family member and ask the big questions. Get to know who you are in God and God in you. Who are you? Then get to know God on a personal level. Who is God to you? What does God give to you? What do you give to God?
Here in church we love each other. I love everyone of you and I pray for everyone of you. Get to know yourself and God better, expand your soul until that spiritual part of your becomes your first priority, it is well worth the time and effort. Grow and Glow.
Sermon, May 7, 2023
What shall we do? That is a question that moves back and forth across our brains nearly everyday. We either consciously or unconsciously ask what shall I do about my bills? My problem at work or home? What shall I do about the mistake I made? What shall I do about my car, it isn’t acting right? On and on. Those are pervasive questions which usually need to be answered. How we answer those daily questions determines the quality of our daily lives. If we accomplish the shall do’s we seem to cope well. If we fail to accomplish the shall do’s we often run into problems that can be more serious.
Those questions make up our daily physical lives including specific questions of home, health, family, work, friends, social activities, on and on. But as human beings, we are not just physical beings. We are spiritual beings.
In addition to questions regarding our physical lives, there are questions regarding our spiritual lives. The primary question is, “what does God want me to do? To answer that question we ask how may I show or live my faith? How helpful should my faith be to me and to others? And, what part of my life should involve religion, church, prayers, bible reading, or developing a relationship with my God?
One possible answer to those spiritual questions comes from our reading this morning: “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, or the poor, and do not devise evil in your heart against one another.”
Let’s look a how we can use these statements for guidance. The term “render true judgments” means judge as God judges with love and forgiveness. Many of us humans harbor anger, hurt feelings, and a desire for revenge. Not one of these feelings is helpful in any way. They are destructive. No matter what someone has done to you, your task is to forgive that person and pray for the one who did harm to you. That may seem strange to some of you, but God is the wisest asset we have and God says forgiveness is freedom. When you don’t forgive another, you are taking in the poison you had hoped to give to the other. Forgiveness is the only way to peace of mind that brings joy along with it. Forgiveness may not be easy, but it is the right thing to do. Forgiveness is always, always worth doing.
Another phrase in our reading is “show kindness and mercy to one another.” What is kindness? Kindness is treating all other people the way you want to be treated by all others. It is another way of stating the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Think about others. Most people today have worrisome problems. A measure of sincerity, a nice word or two, a spirit of love, a word of hope, all of these actions can lead to more peace in a community. Be merciful. Be helpful, be loving, extend peace, pray for one another.
Another way to show us what we shall do is also in today’s reading. Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, or the poor. Many people in our community are poor. They need loving help...sometimes with food, clothing, household items, but most especially kind words, encouragement, and a helping hand. Our Giving Place is a place where people can have some of their needs met without having to tell anyone what their problems are, or made to feel inadequate for not already having what they need. We need more items in the Giving Place almost daily because it is being used by many people every day that it is open. Please contribute….canned goods, clothing of all kinds, helpful items for the home. By giving there you are helping 20 to 30 families a day. Praise God!
The last statement in our reading, “Do not devise evil in your heart against one another” leads us to good mental and emotional health. How many times a day do you think or say, ”I’d like to get rid of that so and so; or you call someone a mean, hurtful name; or in your mind you do something to someone that smacks of revenge. None of these thoughts are good or helpful.
To enhance your spiritual self and become more helpful to yourself and others, perhaps you could include these spiritual offerings into your daily, physical life.
What shall we do? As followers of the way of Christ, we shall do what God put us here to do...serve him with love by serving his people with love. Put caring into practice. Show compassion to all you encounter. Be kind to friends and strangers alike. Try to understand some of the problems facing others in our community and willingly help where you can. Seek and love truth and peace.
Spend some time this week thinking about your relationship with your God. Every day live in the way God means you to live: with hopeful attitudes, a spirit of love for all you encounter, faith in God’s prescribed way of living. Your faith is needed in this church, in this community, and in your own home. God is for you in every way...please be more FOR God today and tomorrow.
Sermon, May 14, 2023
Everyone here had a mother for at least one day...the day she gave birth to you. For that loving act we give mothers our thanks. Growing up, my mother was loving, kind, fun, talked of dreams and ideas while she mopped the floors or changed the beds. She sang hymns while she mowed the lawn. She taught school and brought papers home to grade and prayed for each child as she marked the papers. She hugged, nudged, encouraged, and loved me. I knew early on I could never be a mother like my mother.
I loved my children with great passion but I felt too responsible for them. Then one day, when my last baby was a year old, a friend brought me a book by Kahlil Gibran. In that little book was a poem that set me free to be me...warts and all...for my children. Here are his words of wisdom: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow which you cannot visit not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; for even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Year after year I re-read those words and find deep comfort in them.
For a moment today, let’s think about family...our many families. Whatever kind of family you have, it arouses emotions within us. It is sad to think for some people guilt and anger are the emotions that power the workings of the family just a joy and gladness can be….and they probably provide more emotion but also hope and stability. Many scholars who spend lifetimes studying human behavior and families define a good, supportive, helpful family as one that is defined by just one thing...that one thing alone is love. Love that keeps you connected. Love that helps you forget the hurts we inflict upon one another. Love that motivates you to get up each morning and do what must be done. Love that holds you up when you think you are falling and failing.
As followers of the laws of love that Christ gave us, we all would like to live in a Christian family, a holy family. That kind of family is a Holy family where the love of Christ and love like Christ is shown. No matter the state or condition of your family and no matter the history you bear, a family of love is possible. It just takes one person to stand for the family and uphold that family with the power of Christ love. Each one of us can be that person, and our attitudes and hope can heal any situation.
Our scriptures tell us God created family. He did not want us to live lonely lives. He put within us the desire to be with others, to love self and others, and to have the courage to reach out to one another with a helping hand, a kind word, an understanding that each of us is important, and a willingness to treat all people as brothers and sisters...we are one in Christ.
Together we are that family that God has made...we are a church family. When we love each other, when we nurture and forgive each other, when we respect and honor each other and offer one another help with burdens, then we are living the way God asks us to live. Joy, gladness, and peace are our rewards. Perhaps just living in a family of love may be its own reward, but certainly a blessing.
In closing, let’s hope the families we are part of can be like this: In this house we are real, we make mistakes, we say I’m sorry, we give second chances, we laugh and have fun, we give hugs, we forgive, we do really loud stuff, we are patient, we love. Yes, we love.
Sermon, May 21, 2023
Life. Human Existence. Self awareness. What’s the point of living?
Many Americans report being disillusioned, disappointed, or depressed. Some claim they are no longer interested in much of anything. These responses have a common denominator. Discouraged people may realize organizations or institutions don’t live up to the values they proclaim. Or, they discover relationships that are supposedly trustworthy, secure and supportive don’t prove to be reliable, perhaps even when most needed. The basic institution of family is changing. It is no longer the expected norm for children to be raised by both a mother and father living in the same home. Economic activities where individual people work to earn money are failing too often in too many places. That leaves Americans even more divided. In America 51% of our people survive by transfer payments leaving 49% of our citizens to fully support the other half. Some schools and educational experiences are highly successful, some are less so. Job markets are not hiring people in areas that once were prominent. Faith and worship were standard ways of staying balanced. Those today seem less important than they once were. Churches across the country and across denominations are closing their doors and giving up.
A recent survey of people who have admitted to being disillusioned report they quit going to church or being involved in religious activities. They no longer believe in God nor the things having to do with the God. Likewise, these same disillusioned people report they are disappointed in American government, educational opportunities, the military, and society at large. What has happened to us, to our society, to our nation?
We might wonder what’s the point of existence. Why both struggling to survive?
One answer may be we do not take the time or energy to affirm our sacred selves. Homes, schools, churches or other organizations for many years kept our society more or less balanced. The entire universe in which we live should and could give us daily inspiration if we would take the time and pay attention to the natural world around us.
If, and it is a big if, each one of us would read or re-read some powerful scriptures, believe them and live into them...life might just get healthier and happier. Look at Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14. ‘Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter. Know God and keep his commandments for this is the purpose and duty of all human beings.” Or, go to Proverbs are read verse 19:21 “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Or go to the very end of our Bible are read Revelation 4:11 “Our Lord and God, you are worthy to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being”...and I might add we are part of His being.
Part of the problem many Americans face is there are too many distractions that are barriers to intentional attention to the health of our souls and sacred lives. Here in church, with beautiful music, time to sit quietly and worship God together, cars fly past on the street, some of you are on your telephones, folks come in late and distract your attention, on and on.
Many of us pay far more attention to news and movies on tv or I pads than make an effort to go to the beach any morning or evening to experience awe as we witness glorious, amazing sunrises or sunsets. Full moons that light the night sky, ancient oak trees, early morning singing birds are in themselves sacred gifts to us. But. How often do we pause to pay attention?
Watch any new born baby who has just been thrust out into a cool, strange place fight to exist, to experience what we call life.
Toddlers innately seek experiences and get lost in them. If you watch toddlers their curiosity is amazing. They want to see, touch, taste, smell, and hear. They are whirlwinds of activity consuming moments of sensory perceptions. Do they pause in eating a crumb they found on the floor to determine what it is? How did got there? No, they see, they touch, they smell, and taste and then move on to the next oddity, or object of interest.
All too often parents try to shape the child’s actions and responses way too soon. The first year or two of life is an act of perceiving. Tangible things are the first items of interest to a baby or child, and nouns are the first words they speak. Mama, ball, pillow, tree. They are in the process of identifying their existence. They cry, they laugh, they sleep, they eat, their joy and sorrow are just natural products of what they experience. No judgment. No complaint. If something doesn’t suit them, they let it go and look for something else more interesting to them.
However by the time humans reach adulthood the mystique, the wonder of life, seem to grow dimmer by the distractions we allow into our thoughts and space. When we take the intentional time to experience the moment with NO distractions we are truly living, experiencing, enjoying, laughing, loving, and being in touch with our spiritual selves. That is the point of living. Recognizing the God who created us and all else, wants to be known through our five senses and our intentional attention. In fact research demonstrates awe inducing experiences positively influence mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual benefits. By being mindful, and ignoring distractions, we can cultivate more awe and wonder in everyday living. In fact, cultivating more awe, wonder, amazement, and paying attention might just save us all.
Sermon, May 28, 2023
Tomorrow is Memorial Day. There are probably some here today who have only an inkling of what Memorial Day remembers….some think it is to celebrate the military, or veterans in particular. But actually it is not a celebration at all. Rather, it is a day to remember and contemplate the high cost of freedom. The cost of lives lost. The cost of towns and cities destroyed. The cost of the plague of evil on all human beings. Yes, the cost of freedom is high indeed.
Some people remember the past as the glory days. The 1920’s, the 1950s and 60s, for some are days we desire to re-capture, to re-live. When those memories are our focus rather than a reminder of what was, then our hope is in the past and not for the future. Other people consider the present day with all its rapid changes and technological advances as the best time...then our attention is only on the present and we fail to recognize and honor all that has occurred to help us arrive at this present time.
Memories are important. Nearly every family has stories about their own ancestors, their own family heroes, or despair about the family’s history and descent into mediocrity. Whatever memories you have of your family, seek the good parts, the parts that have helped you become the citizen you are, the caring person you have become.
Some memories are vital and well worth a day to remember. Our holy scriptures are filled with stories of memorials...Passover is still celebrated 4000 years after the event to remember the people of Israel were freed from being slaves in Egypt. The Lord’s Supper, or Communion, is a remembrance of the last night of Jesus’ life when he asked his friends to remember him every time they gathered for a common meal. Our Christian churches still remember and act on that memory even after 2000 years. Easter for Christians is a yearly memorial of the sacrifice of Jesus and hope of spiritual ascendancy for each and every one of us. All through the bible there are stories of remembering special times. One way these memories were recognized was to tell the stories over and over again to each generation, to write documents recalling the memory, build structures, and have specific times to remember and honor how we arrived here and what it might take to preserve our common values and history.
In our country today there seems to be fewer common memories or values held by most people in America. Diversity is good, always has been. But for a family or a nation to survive its citizens must be willing to at least know our common history and values and be willing to participate in them. When those things do not happen, when there is no common shared history or memory, our society and civilization breaks down. And when our civilization diminishes, we become a lost people unable to generate together the actions necessary for us to continue to live in freedom. Are we moving in that direction today?
Perhaps its time to seriously consider our options. It will take an effort by people who still live the values that have served us for generations to increase emphasis on recognizing what has gone before us and honoring it….like this Memorial Day. America was built on the concept of freedom. Through our history of nearly 400 years, men and women have been willing to serve our country to save freedom...and millions have died for that cause. Look at what our past wars to save us and freedom have cost. In WWI, 116,516 died and their families suffered. In WWII, 405,399 died, leaving families back home without sons, dads, brothers, husbands. In the Korean War 36,516 died and in Vietnam 58,209 died, again leaving families destroyed. These men and women are worthy of a moment or a day of saying “thank you!” We are here today because of you, your willingness to serve or die to allow us to live with the ideas of freedom and peace. Those concepts can rise again when more of us stand up for what is right, and good for all people...every race, every religion, every ethnic group who work together to share common values both again and for the first time. What are those common values? Respect for one another even in our differences; love and acceptance of individuals; a positive encouraging education for every child; being willing to serve one another even when it might cost us something; and the desire to be free people not in bondage to our government or a foreign one. These are values every person who lives within our borders must honor by the way we live every day.
We must be proactive and not re-active. I pray each one of us will take a moment today to thank our God and members of our military, past and present. We should be willing to pray to keep America safe and to have a hope for peace. We all must do our part, however small it might seem, for there is nothing small about desiring to pass the possibility of a future on to the next generation.
To this end, we must have days set apart of remember and offer gratitude to all who have worked and sacrificed for freedom. We must care enough, through prayers, military service, and civic participation to do what we can to help preserve our nation and what it stands for...peace, real justice for all, and a broader understanding of commonality even in the midst of differences.
Let’s give our best effort to promote the kind of love God created. Promote it through sharing love and respect to more people, more often, in more ways. We can do this. We must.
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